March 30, 2011

All in the Timing

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FOR THE THIRD TIME OVER THE PAST FOUR ACADEMIC BREAKS, the University has waited to make a major announcement until students had already or nearly left campus. Most recently, the University announced Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s five-year suspension late Friday afternoon shortly before Spring Break. In December, the Africana Studies and Research Center’s restructuring was announced just prior to fall semester classes ending. And last spring, the University announced the construction of the temporary bridge barriers in the days leading up to spring break. While each of these decisions is certainly defensible, the timing of the announcements is not.

It remains unclear whether these announcements were intentionally timed. Many in the Cornell community have pointed to a recurring pattern in important announcements just before academic breaks as proof that the University is purposefully attempting to evade dialogue, feedback and campus input on the issues. President Skorton, in turn, has responded that this is far from the truth and that important decisions have no timetable in relation to the academic calendar –– they are simply made when they are made.

But, in the end, intentions matter much less than perception.

These delayed announcements have left many feeling angered, detached and removed from Day Hall’s decision-making process, at the same time as administrators have promised greater inclusiveness and transparency in all decisions. It is not only that students and faculty in some cases do not have the physical chance to offer feedback and reaction to major announcements, but that they feel as though they do not and that they are purposely being excluded from major decisions.

This is not to say that Day Hall has not done its part communicating to faculty, students and administrators. In the run-up to many of its most recent controversial decisions, the University has indeed held meetings with some of the parties affected. These meetings, however, are certainly not reaching enough individuals and without timely University communication, many are not receiving their rightful opportunity to respond.

When students and faculty are given this opportunity, their voices make all the difference.

The American Indian Program and education department changes serve as a case in point. Though College of Agriculture and Life Sciences administrators originally desired to move AIP to Kennedy Hall, they did not make a finalized unilateral decision, but instead discussed it with affected students and faculty. They valued dialogue and communication and ultimately opted not to move AIP after hearing responses. In addition, after listening to student and faculty feedback, CALS opted to retain an education minor and teacher certification program, instead of eliminating all education studies at Cornell.

Student or faculty involvement in University decisions does not necessarily have to lead to a reversal or a modification of an original decision. But when changes affect the majority of the campus community, students and faculty have a right to know about them and have the chance to respond. The University must renew the commitment to hearing feedback, facilitating dialogue and practicing transparency that it continues to profess.

We ask that the University make its announcements not at the start of academic breaks, but at times when the entire campus will have the opportunity to offer its response –– a response that should be heard, valued and considered. In this manner, the student body and faculty will feel involved in the University’s decision; and even though the parties may disagree, the situation will certainly not incite the same anger, backlash and feelings of exclusion in the process.