October 3, 2013

Student Assembly Divides Over Proposal to Create ‘University Student Court’

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Members of the Student Assembly clashed Thursday over a resolution that, if passed, would establish a University Student Court that could hear disputes raised by student organizations against the S.A.

The resolution was proposed by S.A. President Ulysses Smith ’14 and Scott Seidenberger ’16 with the intent of providing an avenue for students, student organizations and student governing bodies to express their grievances against the S.A., according to Seidenberger.

“Currently, there is no method for students to contest an action of the S.A.,” Smith said. “This court allows student to do that. The court can evaluate whether or not an action of the S.A. causes harm to an organization … and keep it from being implemented.”

Smith added that the court would not govern the everyday actions of the S.A. Rather, it would be “mediatory” in nature.

Seidenberger echoed Smith’s sentiment, saying the court would help create a neutral environment in which conflicts could be resolved.

“The court provides remedies for problems that exist between [student organizations] as well as a system for people to seek justice,” Seidenberger said.

The court’s structure was customized extensively over the past year to fit Cornell’s judicial system, Smith said.

“It was first drafted in the summer of 2012 and went through markups by the [Judicial Administrator], the Ombudsman, multiple S.A. committees and even last year’s sitting assembly,” Smith said.

However, at a meeting Thursday, many S.A. members said they opposed the resolution, with some saying they dislike the way the court is designed and others saying they are against the court’s creation.

“I’m concerned the S.A is creating another layer of bureaucracy that is not needed and considering giving significant power to students who can arbitrarily wield it,” said Geoffrey Block ’14, vice president of finance for the S.A.

Block urged members of the S.A to vote against the resolution and seek alternatives.

“I’m less against the broad idea of having an alternative resolution dispute body and am more against this particular resolution,” he said.

Juliana Batista ’16, S.A. vice president for outreach, agreed with Block, saying she thinks the resolution inappropriately gives the court power to issue temporary restraining orders in disputes.

“I do not feel that the court has the underlying authority to enforce restraining orders and injunctions; that should go to a different power,” she said.

Alfonse Muglia ’14, director of elections for the S.A., said he thinks the creation of the court is a conversation that concerns the entire campus.

“The student court would be a fundamental change to the way student groups interact with each other,” he said.

Defending the resolution, Seidenberger said plans to create the court still have to undergo several more revision before they are complete.

“It’s still in discussion mode. We’re still going through the evolution of it, getting feedback and amending the bylaws,” he said. “It’s not a finished product yet.”

He emphasized that the court, a separate entity from other governing bodies on campus, would provide a way to check S.A power by ensuring its actions are within its charter and bylaws.

“A student can bring a complaint to the student court and they will determine if their claim is valid,” he said.

Smith said he was frustrated that so much of the S.A’s discussion about the court was focused on its ability to limit the assembly’s power.

“Unfortunately, I think much of the discussion by this year’s assembly seems to be on the ability for students to contest an S.A. action and for the S.A. to no longer adjudicate its own matters,” he said.

He added that a separate judicial body is needed because he thinks the S.A currently has too much autonomy over campus issues.

“As the person who has had to already adjudicate a few matters this year on the S.A., I think it is a huge conflict of interest for the S.A. to be the body that creates, enforces and adjudicates issues,” Smith said.