April 12, 2011

Straight Talk

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THE WILLARD STRAIGHT STUDENT UNION BOARD may have made the right decision in announcing the closing of the ceramics studio at semester’s end, but it certainly did not approach the issue in the right manner. The Board was wrong to announce the closing in such a forthright manner, as though it were the only logical decision to be made, and without any seeming consideration for those who do in fact use the studio. The Board, instead, should have taken a more sympathetic and balanced approach, accurately gauging the number of people who use the studio and adequately planning to find a replacement location before making the announcement. This is especially true of a ceramics studio that has been housed in the same place for the past 54 years.The Board’s conclusions do have some merit. Willard Straight Hall is underutilized and the vast majority of students do not consider it as a destination, save for a quick bite to eat at one of its dining halls. If one were to poll the undergraduate student body, he or she would likely be hard-pressed to name a single event that occurs regularly in the Straight, other than the handful who might be able to point to the weekly Student Assembly meetings. For a building that was founded as a hub for undergraduate student life, it certainly is not achieving its purpose.The Board has already announced its intentions to “revitalize” the building, as Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 put it, in order to attract more undergraduates, which we believe to be the appropriate move. The Straight could benefit from several structural and programming changes. Incorporating better lighting to make it more welcoming, including more seating and tables, offering more accessible food and refreshments and hosting big events that students are made aware of could all serve as better draws for the undergraduate community. Some of these suggestions Dean Hubbell and other members of The Board have already alluded to, and we are encouraged by the progress towards the creation of a better-utilized Willard Straight Hall.With this in mind, it seems that the ceramics studio no longer falls in line with a renewed vision for the Straight as a central destination for undergraduate student life. The number of undergraduates who used the studio, while never officially counted, does not seem to be incredibly significant. Though the value of a studio to the greater Cornell and Ithaca communities cannot be denied — as evidenced by the roughly 700 people who signed a petition in protest of the closing — we believe there is little harm done as long as it is relocated to another readily accessible location on campus. The space can certainly be used for something that aligns better with Willard Straight Hall’s founding purpose as a center for undergraduates.  With that being said, the manner in which The Board went about planning and announcing the closing is entirely indefensible. It is unacceptable that yet another decision was handed down with little, if any, consultation with those it affected. From a framing perspective, The Board was wrong in calling it a “closing,” when it should have been labelled a “relocation.” And it is reprehensible that The Board announced the decision before finding a suitable location on campus that the ceramics studio could be placed. It owes it to those who valued the ceramics studio to find a replacement location on campus with similar accessibility and space. We hope that over the next weeks, The Board recognizes the value of the ceramics studio to so many on and off campus and works quickly to find a comparable replacement location for it to be operational by the beginning of next semester.