September 13, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Ignoring the student voice

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To the Editor:

Re: “Provost Approves Divisive Calendar: Markes three modifications to final plan,” Sept. 13

On Wednesday, Provost Fuchs announced to the Faculty Senate that the Calendar Committee Recommendations, passed through the Faculty Senate last May despite significant student opposition, were accepted.

I respectfully dissent.

Today, I write solely from my position as one of two undergraduate students who were members of the University Calendar Committee. The Committee was formed in the Fall of 2010 to “explore whether revisions to the calendar could help to alleviate student stress.” Funny then that the Committee ignored the overwhelming student consensus that the changes would do little to ameliorate, and could potentially increase, student stress.

I am upset and dismayed about the changes to the Calendar. The University will reduce the study period before exams, hold exams throughout Saturday (in the past, only language exams were offered on Saturday) and has eliminated Senior Week for the Class of 2014 and beyond. The benefits to students? A two day break in February that is placed less than a month after classes begin and the elimination of the half day of class that exists on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving break.

While the physical changes are a detriment to both current and future Cornellians, most significant to the decision is the lack of importance the administration and specifically, the Committee, gave to the concerns of students. Over 2,000 students signed a petition decrying the changes, presidents from student groups ranging from Cornell Minds Matter (who know a thing or two about mental health), to the IFC to Hillel, over 60 in total, all signed on in support against the changes.

At the end of the Spring semester, The Student Assembly, with the support of Class Councils, Senior Week, and many other student organizations passes Resolution 47 which simply asked for the Committee to hold off the vote on the changes until the start of the Fall semester to allow students to fully evaluate the calendar. Even this request went unheeded. I fear that in order to bring the agonizingly long process to a conclusion, the Committee did not adequately attend to its original purpose of alleviating student stress.

Quite frankly, the Committee’s decision to proceed, even with both undergraduate representatives opposed to the plan, undermines the need for any student input into the Committee. I can imagine of no purpose, other than show, to allow students to sit on the Committee while simultaneously ignoring their position.

What does it say about the administration’s decision making structure when thousands of students decry the changes and yet those voices are ignored? What does it say about the Committee when it is so focused on enacting change that they refuse to extend a multi-year process for a summer to allow for further consideration?

Time will one day heal the wound to the relationship between student leaders and the administration that was caused by this decision. One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the effects of the calendar changes on student mental health, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is students’ confidence in their ability to effect change and partake in a productive dialogue with the administration.

Geoffrey Block ’14