April 22, 2014

RITHOLTZ | The Next Task for Student Democracy

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The past two weeks have been two of the most politically heated weeks of the Cornell academic year. The tabling of Student Assembly Resolution 72, the Ad Hoc Committee for Student Democracy and the vote on University Assembly Resolution 14 have all challenged students on this campus to stand up for their beliefs. The number of editorials, letters and columns discussing these topics in The Sun serves as a testament to their importance. Now, in the wake of the 45th anniversary of the Willard Straight Hall Takeover, the question I pose is what can students learn from the events of the past two weeks and from our own university’s history of student action?

There are a lot of potential answers to my question, and I’ll be blunt in giving my answer, as it’s the subject of my column this week. We must continue to hold this university accountable and we must continue to fight for the changes we would like to see. It’s an important lesson to recognize at such an important moment in Cornell’s history: the upcoming sesquicentennial celebrations and the search for a new president. This coming year, we will have the rare opportunity to influence the University at its highest level by being engaged in the presidential search committee process.

While most of us will never know how the search committee decides on their candidate, they do offer students of the University the opportunity to have their voices heard. On April 28, the Committee will be in the Memorial Room in Willard Straight Hall from 4:45 to 6 p.m. to listen to the thoughts of the students. In addition, the Committee has openly stated it welcomes any thoughts of students by email. We have this unique opportunity to ensure that the future president of this University represents our values and we should not hesitate to express our opinions. In fact, I would argue that it is our responsibility as students to express our opinions.

President Skorton’s tenure will be defined by his fundraising prowess, his mental health initiatives, his strong stance against hazing and Cornell Tech — among many other things. But his time at Cornell will also be marred by the absorption of the Africana Studies and Research Center into the College of Arts and Sciences, the struggle to curtail sexual assault and racial bias on campus and the unpopular calendar change. While not all of these issues can be blamed on the President, we must identify the certain values necessary to prevent the reoccurrence of these unpopular initiatives. The question I pose next is what are the values that we hope to see in our new President, whoever she may be?

To start, I hope to have someone who will continue to be accessible to students and engage willingly with undergraduates on a constant basis. A consistent dialogue is necessary for any hope that our voices are heard. Our next President should also be bold and progressive. Now when I say bold and progressive, I mean in the sense of pushing Cornell to new horizons, but I also mean bucking past trends of her predecessors. I think having a President that sees more than just the bottom line, defines success in terms of students’ happiness and works to understand the source of students’ frustration would help greatly in preventing another unjust situation similar to Africana’s absorption into Arts and Sciences. Lastly, I hope this next President embodies a sense of community and works to foster an environment that allows for a productive, critical discussion between opposing bodies. The events of the last two weeks have highlighted the need for this skill enough.

Now that I have expressed some of my own thoughts, it’s your turn to express your own. So grab a pen, write them down and I’ll see you on Monday.