April 24, 2014

Supporting Free Bus Passes, Students Call Skorton’s Office

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In an act of “political theater” Thursday, students from across campus exchanged cookies for calls to Day Hall to protest recent University deliberations over discontinuing free first-year Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit bus passes.

Though the University Assembly amended its resolution on Tuesday to increase subsidies to TCAT rather than call for the removal of free bus passes for freshmen, President David Skorton will have 30 days to respond to the U.A.’s resolution regarding the future of TCAT bus passes.

The “mock bake sales” — held outside Mann Library and Willard Straight Hall — were intended to initiate conversation between students and administrators on the issue at the grassroots level, according to organizer Rudy Gerson ’15. Following the sale, students dropped off a “letter of demands” at President Skorton’s office.

“Bake sales are the cliché way groups fundraise, so we satirically flipped this tactic on its head by handing out free cookies in order to start the conversation with students … in an organic way,” he said.

According to Anna-Lisa Castle ’14, an organizer of the event, student involvement during the mock bake sale was significant.

“While I wasn’t able to keep track of all the calls, I will say that I was on Ho Plaza for three hours, and there was always at least one person calling if not multiple,” Castle said. “We also had students sign the brand new online petition which now has over 400 signatures.”

The University was unable to comment on the number of students who called Day Hall in regard to the issue Thursday evening.

Organizers said that they thought the claims that the University cannot afford the bus passes are “inappropriate” and “absurd,” given “multimillion dollar building” projects such as Gates Hall and Cornell Tech.

“In light of these projects and also the increase in tuition, if the University can’t afford this then they should rethink things,” Nadia Shebaro ’15 said. “[In] particular, [they should think] about what’s important to the students and community in general.”

Gerson said he thinks widespread concerns raised by the potential cutting of the first-year bus passes shed light on broader issues of University accountability.

“When President [David] Skorton and the Provost’s office decide to cut a basic amenity, students demand to know why,” he said. “Other Ivy League [institutions] give them out to all students — it almost seems like the least the administration can do. The very act of calling the office and hearing a complaint heard was in itself a liberating experience, especially on a campus where strict codes of conduct have become normalized.”

Castle said she believes access to TCAT bus services is “something all students can get behind.”

“Broader questions this issue brings up are important to a lot of people: student autonomy, university budget priorities, Cornell-Ithaca ties, workers’ rights and our commitment to sustainability among others,” she said.

According to Carrie Freshour grad, the University’s proposal would not only adversely affect first-year students, but graduate and professional students as well.

“I see this issue as particularly affecting graduate and professional students who live far from campus,” she said. “I’ve spoken with many staff members in my department who work for Cornell and who can’t afford a parking pass, and who are worrying about bus lines being cut if the University makes this decision.”

Castle said she hopes the event will help to build momentum around the effort to save the bus passes and “demand accountability” to Cornellians and the community as a whole.

“We wanted to educate students about the issue while making an impact, but also demonstrate how accessible political action can be by using humor and encouraging friendly participation during the bake sale,” she said. “We wanted to show the administration how much this issue means to students by generating calls and encouraging people to voice their concerns.”

Gerson also said he hopes to keep the issue of TCAT accessibility and budgetary accountability “on the minds and hearts” of students.

“Too often political demonstration takes itself so seriously that people who want to join or listen feel intimidated and simply spectate,” he said. “This performance was a way to bring others into the conversation … our small coalition grows every day and we will soon demand what we and Tompkins County rightly deserve — bus passes for all students.”