August 22, 2011

An Orientation to Student Governance

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Returning Cornellians and newcomers, welcome (back) to campus! Starting a new academic year means something different for each student. For me, two characteristics stand out: (1) I’ll be teaching a new class this semester, and (2) student governance is now back in full swing. This bi-weekly column speaks to this second characteristic. Each edition of this column will touch on major (and often contentious) issues affecting student life on campus and the role your elected student leaders can play in remedying students’ concerns.

For those of you unfamiliar with the role and importance of student governance at Cornell, I’ll offer a brief introduction. The Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly are the primary conduits for student voice to reach to ears of Cornell administrators. Any student can bring any non-academic issue affecting the student experience to these assemblies. The elected student leaders on the assemblies will then work with President Skorton, Provost Fuchs, the University vice presidents and their staff to reach a solution that benefits both the student body and the rest of the Cornell community. The S.A. and GPSA also set the student activity fee every fourth semester, a process that will be happening this fall. Each undergraduate currently pays $216 annually to subsidize a range of activities available to all students; graduate and professional students pay $76. The assemblies dictate how these dollars are allocated.Beyond the assemblies, two additional students work intently to ensure that the University’s administrators hear and address student issues and concerns. These students are YOUR elected representatives on the Board of Trustees. I am your graduate student trustee and Alex Bores ’13, who alternates with me in writing this column, is your undergraduate trustee. Whereas the S.A. and GPSA address issues related to the daily functioning of the University, such as concerns about facilities on campus, availability of non-academic programming and transportation regulations, the Board of Trustees handles matters relating to broad policy objectives of the University. Examples of questions that the trustees may tackle are whether Cornell should have a language requirement, whether Cornell should alter its financial aid policy, and how the University should allocate resources to foster and support diversity.While the assemblies and the trustees focus on different sorts of issues, all of your elected student leaders are here to guarantee that student voice plays a meaningful role in shaping and focusing this institution, its daily functioning, its mission and it goals. This year, the Presidents of the S.A. and GPSA and the two student trustees have committed to an unprecedented level of collaboration that will make your elected student leaders more effective at communicating important issues and concerns to the administration and working with the administration to devise solutions. When one of the assemblies or one of the trustees presents a student concern to an administrator, the administrator certainly takes that issue seriously, but the importance of that concern is magnified exponentially when both assemblies and both trustees work conjointly to identify for the administration the most important issues facing the student body.This year, President David Skorton, who has always made transparency a hallmark of his administration’s leadership style, has likewise pledged to include student leaders in even more conversations about important University decisions affecting students. Additionally, he has committed to involving students in discussions earlier in decision-making processes so that student perspectives will be brought to bear when they can be most useful in shaping the direction of major transitions at Cornell. To any student who experienced last year here, it should be clear that Cornell is undergoing myriad changes at an expeditious pace. While changes have the opportunity to improve Cornell for all members of the University community, including students, ensuring that these alterations serve students in the best manner possible will require a new level of student leadership and increased student voice. Numerous decisions to be made this year will substantially alter Cornell. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the issues that matter most and how Cornell can best serve its students. As always, I am available via e-mail or to meet in person. Please do not hesitate to shoot me a line at dte6@cornell.edu.

Darrick Nighthawk Evensen is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the graduate student-elected trustee. He may be reached at dte6@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen