February 18, 2010

Student Assembly Votes Yes On Anti-Discrimination Clause

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During yesterday’s weekly meeting, the Student Assembly took steps to prevent discrimination in independent student organizations by passing a resolution which would extend full membership rights to all student members.

All students — regardless of color, ancestry, gender identity, religion and a variety of other characteristics and beliefs — can now vote and hold leadership positions in independent student organizations. Because Resolution 44 is a legislative resolution, President David Skorton must approve the resolution before it can be implemented.

This resolution comes in response to gaps in the anti-discrimination clause passed recently by the University Assembly. The U.A. resolution was prompted by the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship controversy in which a student, Chris Donohoe ’09, was removed from a leadership position after revealing his sexual orientation.

“We must ensure this controversy never repeats itself,” said Andrew Brokman ’11, who sponsored the resolution.

The S.A. meeting opened with a moment of silence for Bradley Ginsburg ’13, the student who died this week, as well as for Prof. Kenneth Torrance, who suffered a sudden heart attack on Monday. From that moment on, the Memorial Room in the Straight was anything but silent; after a great deal of heated debate, the resolution passed by a narrow 9-8 margin.

President Rammy Salem ’10, said, “Obviously it was an extremely contentious issue but I think it’s a great example of how people with fundamentally different views can coexist and I think the S.A. could be a great model for how other groups can welcome and accept people of different views without undermining their core purpose.”

As the assembly’s president, Salem usually presides over its voting sessions and thus does not usually cast a vote himself.

“I have to remain unbiased like an impartial umpire [but] I can make or break ties,” he explained. When the initial vote was tied 8-8, Salem opted to cast his deciding vote and ensure the approval of Resolution 44.

Chris Basil ’10, vice president for finance, was staunchly opposed to the resolution, which he said would limit groups of like-minded people from coming together and thus infringe on religious freedoms. He said, “This is not the way to get across what we want … I support the spirit of the resolution in its progressive message, but I’m hesitant for choosing some rights over others.”

At issue was the right of the group to choose a leader who relates to their values. Audience member Sam Ramsey ’11, speaking out against the legislation, asked, “If you don’t agree with the core values of the group, how can you lead its members?”

Freshman At-Large Rep. Ulysses Smith ’13 discussed the issue of conflicting rights. “How are we supposed to protect the LGBTQ community with the Fourteenth Amendment and protect the Christian community with the First?” he said.

Basil and Freshman At-Large Representative Roneal Desai ’13 urged members not to view the vote as a vote for or against discrimination. “A vote ‘no’ is not a vote for discrimination,” Desai said.

LGBTQ Rep Matt Danzer ’12, the resolution’s second sponsor, said that the University should not recognize student groups who discriminate and that these groups should meet on their own time. He added, “If those organizations want to get together and do what they do on their own time, God bless them.”

According to its opponents, though, the resolution does not prevent outright association of Cornell students, but it does make it more difficult for these students to meet on campus. University recognition — in addition to creating the potential for a group to seek University funding — allows student groups to reserve conference rooms and classrooms, something that cannot be done by individual students.

By the time S.A. finally passed the resolution, the assembly had been debating the bill for some time; yesterday’s meeting represented the third time the bill had been presented to the S.A., though these previous versions of the legislation were tabled before ever seeing a vote. During the lengthy most recent debate, two amendments were proposed, though ultimately they were both voted down.

Salem does not expect Skorton to approve the resolution. “I’m expecting he’ll consult the University Counsel and they’ll advise him not to sign off on it for fear of impending lawsuits,” he said. “I chose to vote ‘yes’ because it’s worth putting it on his desk and because it will help continue the dialogue [on anti-discrimination policies].”

The S.A. also heard Paul Streeter, associate vice president for planning and budget, who talked about the Strategic Plan for the University. Streeter talked about the Budget Model Task Force, which plans to pool tuition received from students into one pool for distribution to the different colleges by the provost.

“Funding is a shared responsibility across the colleges,” he said. “This reflects the cross-disciplinary nature of Cornell.”

Streeter told the assembly that he does not expect this and the administrative cost savings he also discussed to impact students negatively.

“Our view is that we’re not affecting students, we’re impacting colleges and the way they plan,” he said.

Original Author: Juan Forrer