April 16, 2013

Cornell Student Trustee Candidates Share Stances on Divestment, Greek Life

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Student-Elected Trustee candidates participated in a debate Tuesday, discussing their vision of  the duties of a student trustee and what their main priorities would be if elected. Candidates touched upon a wide array of campus-relevant topics including Greek life, divestment and rising tuition.

Sponsored by The Cornell Daily Sun and moderated by Sun Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Harris ’14, the debate featured six of the seven registered candidates. Gregory Zalevsky ’15, one of the candidates, chose not to participate.

The candidates began the debate by each explaining the role of a trustee and what makes them most qualified. All candidates highlighted the need for a trustee to make changes for issues on campus by meeting with students.

Candidate Laci Taylor ’16 stressed the importance of being an “advocate for the student body.” She said she has gained experience advocating for students through working on the Student Advisory Council of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“I have very specific ways to facilitate issues that I want to advocate for,” she said.

Each candidate was also asked a specific question related to his or her platform.

Candidate Amy Frieder ’15, who has  expressed her support for divestment in her platform, was asked how she would handle her views when they conflict with trustees’ opinions.

“I think we can come together and think of a way in which we can divest from fossil fuels without hurting the endowment financially,” Frieder said. “With enough collaboration and research, this can happen.”

Although she acknowledged that  President David Skorton has said divestment is unlikely to happen, Frieder said advocating other initiatives could promote environmental consciousness at Cornell in other ways.

“Even though [divestment] may not be possible, reaching for [a] more sustainable goal will result in a more sustainable campus,” she added.

Garrison Lovely ’16 addressed his self-described “ambitious proposal” to change the Greek system.

“A lot of changes to Greek life have not been good for student safety or happiness,” he said.

In his platform, Lovely has proposed creating a “damp period,” or a new member period that is not entirely dry. He said restrictions on drinking at registered fraternity events “push dangerous activity underground or off campus where it can’t be regulated.”

Lovely said this issue relates back to the Board of Trustees because students in Greek life who “feel like the administration is out to get them will not feel keen to donate to the University.”

The Greek community became a larger topic of discussion later in the debate when candidate Ross Gitlin ’15 was asked about his history as the former president of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity, which lost University recognition in January following a hazing-related incident.

Saying he has never denied his affiliation with TEP, Gitlin said he has the most Greek life experience –– “both good and bad”–– compared to any of the other candidates.

“Once I joined the Greek system, I had brotherhood and camaraderie,” Gitlin said. “I sure as hell don’t want anyone else to experience what my fraternity experienced.”

Gitlin added that administrators have noted that he “acted responsibly and showed extremely strong leadership” throughout the investigation of TEP.

Like Gitlin, candidate Don Muir ’15 said one of his initiatives will be to “fight for the traditions of the Greek community.”

Muir said he hopes to communicate to the board that promoting safety within Greek life is integral to its preservation. Muir said his fraternity, Delta Chi, has many brothers who are trained emergency responders, and that as philanthropy chair and vice president of his fraternity, he has “saved lives.”

He said one of the reasons he joined his fraternity is because he thinks “it’s one of the most responsible chapters on campus.”

The candidates also discussed how they would respond to rising tuition rates.

Frieder said there is a need for more transparency between the University and students regarding annual tuition increases, adding that tuition should be guaranteed to be fixed for current students in order to better accommodate students and their families’ financial planning.

Candidate Veronica Dagostino ’15 suggested introducing a plan that would only allow tuition increases that equal the rate of inflation.

An audience member contributed to the discussion of Cornell’s costs by asking the candidates’ for their opinions on student health insurance, which she said has been rising at eight times the rate of inflation.

Gitlin, noting that student health care costs have risen 10 percent since 1998, said the Board of Trustees needs to create innovative solutions like hosting 5K runs during reunion weekends to directly benefit students who need copays.

Frieder added that she “would be an intermediary for people who want to advocate for an issue themselves and would want to make their voice heard.”

Online elections for the Student Elected Trustee begin on April 22 and end on April 24.

Original Author: Dara Levy