April 14, 2011

Undergraduate Trustee Candidates Square Off

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Five candidates for student trustee candidates all stressed the need for communication and transparency between the administration and the student body on Thursday in a forum sponsored by The Sun.

The candidates, Kat Balram ’13, Alex Bores ’13, Lauren Ritter ’13, Nathaniel Rosen ’13 and Felema Yemane ’13, also discussed the possibility of adding a second undergraduate student trustee to the board.

The five candidates are running for a two-year term on the Board of Trustees, in which the winner will serve as the only undergraduate student representative on the 64-member board.

Whoever wins will join current graduate trustee Darrick “Nighthawk” Evensen grad as the two student voices on the board.

Bores pushed for increasing the number of students on the Board of Trustees, citing the precedent of past decades, in which have had five student trustees.

“This is a time when we’re reimagining Cornell and there are substantial changes happening. When students are taking a role in making those changes happen, why can’t we have additional seats on the board?” Bores asked.

Other candidates echoed Bores’ position, with Balram arguing that the number of undergraduate and graduate trustees should be proportionate to their the student groups’ ratio on campus.

Yemane argued for the “embracement of diversity” by the Board of Trustees.

“I believe that Cornell is really good at creating student polarization,” Yemane said. “To a certain extent, polarization is good because it makes you find what you’re good at, but as far as bringing all your attributes to the table, when do you actually see that?”

Michael Stratford ’11, former managing editor of The Sun, moderated the debate, posing questions to both individual candidates and the panel as a whole. 20 to 30 students attended the debate.

While all the other candidates proposed the use of “office hours” to understand student concerns on campus, Rosen said he did not think this was the best way to engage the student body.

“The reality is that most students on this campus aren’t going to go to office hours,” Rosen said. “They aren’t going to reach out to elected individuals.”

Rosen instead proposed a “proactive” effort on the part of the trustee to seek out students’ concerns.

“It is as simple as going up to students and saying, ‘I’m supposed to represent you; I’m supposed to represent your concerns. I want to make them heard,’” Rosen said.

Ritter called for a change to the role of the student trustee.

“[Students] are losing their voice in matters, and we need to change that,” Ritter said.

With a board of 64 members, the graduate student trustee, Evensen, said one student “does not really make a difference as far as voting is concerned.”

According to Evensen, the student trustee makes the biggest difference on a smaller scale.

“These students really stand to make a difference by serving on committees,” he said.

Reflecting on the forum, Evensen commented that some of the candidates’ goals are unrealistic. He said he would like to serve on the board with “at least three of the candidates.”

Original Author: Shane Dunau