January 27, 2010

Cutting the Big Red Tape

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For anyone who has tried to organize an event on campus, you know that life can be frustrating. As President of the Student Assembly, take it from me: big red tape severely limits the responsiveness and effectiveness of student action. For example, in order for the SA to send out a campus-wide email we have to endure a 10-day waiting period before it can get approved.

While it may not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, try telling that to the hungry, homeless and injured people in Haiti. Even though we have thousands of Cornellians ready to help aid their devastated nation through fundraising efforts, these efforts take weeks to come to fruition because of institutional rules and procedures.

Luckily we were able to send out an email outlining all the relief initiatives on campus through our collaboration with Class Councils. But the fact of the matter is that some situations require an immediate response to an immediate need. Life and death scenarios have no place for slow-moving bureaucracies. We need to get services to Haitians immediately. We need to prevent them from dying now.

At its most basic, this is an issue of rules. All my life, I have been constantly bombarded with orders, and constrained by rules: “clean your room,” “no diving in the swimming pool,” or (for those of you from Lexington, Kentucky), “no ice cream in your back pocket!” As you grow older, you develop a filter discerning which rules make sense, and which rules you can benignly neglect. However, when dealing with cooperative efforts that impact the greater community, rules become more difficult to benignly neglect. On the community level you will have to deal with the exhaustively exacting, painstakingly particular preservers of the rules.

When running through the rigamarole of acquiring necessary approvals and providing proper documentation, resilience is key. More likely than not, the first time you propose your stroke of brilliance it will be met with a letdown. Hopefully, it is not the type of dramatic denial that sends you out the door with tears and coffee dripping down your face (cf. Will Ferrell’s Mugatu in Zoolander), but the more gentle yet ambiguous, “Well, I agree with the idea (or the apparently departed “spirit” of the idea), but not the details.” Once confronted with this situation, there are three possible routes you can take:

1. Go Through Them: If you are so certain that your recommended action needs to be taken, shout, pout, and let it all blare out! Mobilize the masses and raise hell! Strap yourself to a tree; go on a hunger strike. In his 2006 address to the Student Leadership Institute at Cornell, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell said that students from time to time have no other option than to protest, and this just might be that time. (Caution: this may cause you to get knocked out, but if you truly feel that you are fighting for a good cause, it will all be worth it).

2. Go Around Them: Circumventing, or avoiding naysayers may be even more effective than facing them head on. Speak with higher ups, or in the rare event that none exist, form a coalition of underling allies to exert more pressure on the topdog.

3. Work with Them: Probably the best course of action. Ask for suggestions to improve your proposal, and see how you can work together to make some variation of your idea work.

If you have an idea, we on the Student Assembly want to hear it, and we’ll do everything we can to make it work. If the status quo is insufficient, then there must be a better solution and we are determined to find it.

A penchant for pushing boundaries will always lead to obstacles, but lest we forget that you empower us. It’s our job to best represent you, and if that puts us in hot water with the higher-ups, then so be it.

So whenever that lightbulb flashes in your head, you should instinctively think of contacting your SA representative (each college has at least one) to air out your grievances or propose your innovative solutions. As the Reimaging Cornell initiative continues, it is vital for us to know what you value most on this campus because if the SA doesn’t speak out, no one else will.

In order to ensure that we best reflect your sentiments we will continue distributing monthly polls and welcoming students to bring any campus issues to our attention during the Open Microphone sessions of our meetings. In the words of Larry Page of Google fame, “have a healthy disregard for the impossible.”

From this day forward, I’ll be carrying scissors in my bag, so let’s get to work.

—Rammy Salem

Rammy Salem is the President of the Student Assembly and a senior the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at rms84@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Rammy Salem