April 16, 2010

Graduate Trustee Hopefuls Debate in Open Forum

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Graduate students Nighthawk Evenson and Christoffer Heckman participated in a question-and-answer “Candidate Forum” at the Big Red Barn Thursday night in preparation for the upcoming graduate student trustee election. One of the two candidates will replace outgoing trustee Mike Walsh grad and join current undergraduate student-elected trustee Asa Craig ’11 on the Board of Trustees.

Cornell is one of only a few universities in the country with students serving as full voting members on the Board.

At the forum, moderated by Craig, Walsh and Keenan Weatherford ’11, editor in chief of The Sun, the candidates were notable more for their similarities than for their differences.

“We both have strong platforms, and either [one of us] would be a great addition [to the Board],” Evenson said.

“Our agendas are not very different,” Heckman added.

The candidates differ primarily based on their prior experiences.

Heckman completed his undergraduate study at University of California, Berkeley. He said he gained policy experience there, working as an I.T. policy analyst for residential services. He currently serves as a voting member on the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and co-authored the GPSA’s response to the University’s Strategic Plan, according to his campaign website.

Evenson completed his undergraduate study at Princeton University and is currently president of the GPSA and has served on the assembly for three years.

“I’ve had additional exposure to the administration which has allowed me to think about issues in a different manner,” Evenson said.

At the forum, the candidates discussed the University’s strategic planning process and the ongoing need for educational excellence.

Evenson approved of the University’s Strategic Plan because of its “explicit stated commitment to improve teaching. Research brings in dollars, whereas teaching does not. But the fact that [the strategic plan] recognizes that teaching is important is a step forward,” he said.

However, Heckman said that one thing he would have done differently with the Strategic Plan would have been to get students more involved in the process. “When the strategy is mapped out and the decisions made, students should be able to ask, ‘how will this affect [me]?’” he said.

Heckman said that as trustee, he would focus on strengthening an integrated student experience and mentorship between faculty and students and between grads and undergrads. In particular, he said, an emphasis on mentoring would “foster increased academic excellence, catch problems with academic affairs and increase awareness of mental health issues.”

Evenson said that above all, he would try to represent all of the students at Cornell — not just the grad students. “I want to be mindful of representing all of the constituents,” he said.

Regarding the fences recently erected on bridges across campus, both candidates agreed that the barriers were a good first step.

“The fences were a knee-jerk reaction [to the tragic events on campus], and the University had to react quickly,” Heckman said, but added, “I’m not convinced that they’re the best option and they shouldn’t stay permanently.”

Evenson said that he “basically agreed” with Heckman’s remarks, emphasizing that the erection of the fences was based on research and the input of health experts at Gannett Health Services.

In his closing statement, Evenson said that he should be elected the next student-elected trustee because in his role as GPSA President, he has worked closely with the Cornell administration and has interacted with the Board of Trustees.  “I’m familiar with the issues facing both undergraduate and graduate students,” he said.

Heckman said that due to his experiences on staff at Berkeley and his legislative work in committees on the GPSA, he has experience with the strategic goals of organizations and the ensuing decisions to be made.

However, he added, “I will continue to be involved in student government regardless of the outcome of this election.”

“Please vote!” Heckman  concluded.

Online voting for the Graduate Student Trustee Election will begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Apr. 20 and end at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Apr. 22.

Original Author: Elizabeth Krevsky