March 14, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Giving students a say

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To the Editor:

Re: “Open Discourse on Transparency,” Opinion, March 14

The author’s (and the administration’s) focus on increasing transparency is a laudable goal, but one that misses the motivation behind many students’ irritation with “Day Hall.” Increasing transparency clearly benefits students. But as Nighthawk points out, “transparency could involve telling students that all decisions will be made by specified committees of faculty and senior staff, with no student input.” The main source of tension is not how much the administration tells students, but whether students are given a voice in how their school is run.

Cornell students have a long history of demanding a say in key decisions.  The takeover of Willard Straight Hall not only resulted in the creation of the Africana Center but also a student seat on the Board of Trustees. Today, the increasingly bold resolutions by the Student Assembly (e.g. banning bottled water) are an expression of students’ desire to control the decisions that affect their daily lives. But in response, students have seen the administration hand down proclamation after proclamation, without involving students in the decision making process.  As Candace Katungi grad said outside the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, announcing a unilateral decision “four hours before the end of classes is not public engagement.”

The students that are upset with “Day Hall” do not deny that “senior administrators at Cornell are real people who care deeply about the student experience.”  What we contend is that these administrators keep control of the university too close to their chests, and do not truly engage students in solving campus problems. The University (and the students) can only benefit from having students more involved and administrators more responsive.  This is not an issue of transparency, but of how much control Cornellians have over Cornell.

Alex Bores ’13