February 24, 2011

An Election Season Primer

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If you missed the Student Assembly Presidential Debate in Uris Auditorium on Tuesday, you’re not alone. Approximately 25 students wandered in, ate a few slices of Pudgie’s Pizza and casually listened to the candidates for president and executive vice president discuss their platforms. I think the seeming lack of interest is more a product of communication failure than actual apathy. In fact, if this year’s candidates live up to expectations, the opinion of student government on campus could very well change dramatically. I’ve worked with all four executive candidates in some capacity, so I won’t use this column to play favorites or pick sides. Rather, I think it’s important to focus on criteria by which we can evaluate their respective platforms.

Mental Health Initiatives

In a fantastic piece published Tuesday, Sun columnist Steven Zhang identifies how student mental health has not improved considerably since last year’s tragedies. Like all of you, I can attest to the stress students continue to face on a daily basis (yes, ILRies are burdened with work too) and I’m actually putting off a history paper to write this piece. EVP candidate Adam Gitlin ’13 said the major issue the S.A. failed to address this past year was mental health. And he’s absolutely right.

The administration still hasn’t addressed stress or depression sufficiently. When prompted to address mental health initiatives, presidential candidate Adam Nicoletti ’12 (full disclosure: he’s a good friend of mine from high school) stressed outreach and making students aware of resources while his opponent, Natalie Raps ’12, reiterated her commitment to the Caring Community initiative and creating a mental health day for students. I appreciate both suggestions but feel they stop short of addressing the lack of administration-student dialogue on fundamental stress-related issues. Hopefully, the eventual President and EVP will engage in dialogue that needs to take place regarding mental health.

Student Organization Funding

The difficulties associated with securing Student Assembly Finance Commission funding came to the surface this year when The Hangovers a capella group missed a paperwork deadline and was not reimbursed for the semester. Through an S.A. resolution, the group was able to receive funds necessary to make a payment, but at the expense of some future funding. As treasurer of a new club (Cornell Model Congress, e-mail me if you’re interested) I was very confused when introduced to the process by which student groups secure funding. From what I understand, I’m not alone.

It’s clear that something needs to be done to ensure student organizations correctly apply for and receive appropriate funding. After speaking with an SAFC member, however, I am convinced the problem lies more with how deadlines and requirements are communicated to student organizations than with the process itself. Nicoletti, the only candidate to address funding, proposed a plan to fix the SAFC and many elements of his plan warrant consideration. I would be most in favor of a policy that allows for more transparent, direct communication between the SAFC and student organizations without overburdening the SAFC. If student groups knew the ins and outs of the funding process, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a huge problem.

The Campus Pub

In case you haven’t heard, both Raps and Nicoletti have been instrumental in the potential creation of a Campus Pub. The Pub would be an over/under establishment (18 to enter, 21 to drink) and is being touted by both candidates as a solution to the dearth of late-night activities on campus. I applaud this effort but by no means feel it addresses the impact of the changes to the University Recognition Policy. All four executive candidates are members of the Greek community, so they understand how the policy changes affect open parties, mixers and recruitment — all pillars of our under-21 Cornell experience. I’d like to see the creation of late-night activities for underclassmen or an affirmation of the rights of underclassmen to party safely. EVP candidate Alex Pruce ’12 pledged to “defend the Greek community,” and I hope he follows through if elected. A pub where under-21s can enter but not drink is a start but far from adequate. Many of us felt blindsided by the announcement of the administration’s attack on Greek life, and I am disappointed none of the candidates’ platforms take the policy changes into account.

The Role and Visibility of the Student Assembly

The (probably few) of you who regularly read my column know I have advocated for an increase in communication and dialogue between the S.A. and students. In fact, I co-sponsored a resolution authored by Raps and Gitlin that would have allowed the S.A. to communicate directly with students via e-mail. It passed almost unanimously but was vetoed by President Skorton. Both candidates, however, still recognize the need to build stronger communication networks and have suggested restructuring S.A. committees in the interest of outreach. I think this is a fantastic idea and also support Raps’s effort to create an S.A. social network where students, representatives and student organizations can exchange ideas and commentary on campus issues.

For his part, Nicoletti identified the need to increase awareness of S.A. activities and outreach. I propose that, in the coming year, the S.A. hold meetings on North and West Campus and host open forums. Most of the candidates seemed to have reached a consensus that the S.A. can be an active voice and mediator for the student body without becoming a programming board or infringing on the autonomy of other student governing bodies. I wholeheartedly agree.

Rapping Ability

Just kidding! In all seriousness, though, I am in favor of anything that increases awareness of important campus news and events. I wish our resident Cornell Gangster (and another friend of mine since high school) Adam Belfer ’12 produced videos more often.  Next week’s election is one that will have implications for each and every undergraduate on East Hill. By all means, take a few minutes to cast an informed ballot — and ask not what you can do for the S.A., but what the S.A. can do for you.

Jon Weinberg is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at [email protected]. In Focus appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg