September 1, 2014

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT: What Is a Student Trustee?

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During the spring Student Trustee election, you may have wondered, “what is a Student Trustee?” I have been asked that question a lot recently, so I wanted to take a minute to explain what I’ve learned so far about the position and the Board.

My name is Annie O’Toole, I am a second-year law student, and I am the newly-elected graduate/professional student trustee. 2,619 of you — undergraduate, graduate and professional students — voted in the recent trustee election, and a majority of you elected me to serve as a full voting member of the 64-member Cornell University Board of Trustees for a two-year term.

Cornell’s Board of Trustees is large compared to its peers, which is a combination of the University’s structural complexity, breadth of fields of study and simply what works best for us. The Board includes Cornell students, alumni, faculty and staff, the Governor of New York, the President Pro Tem of the New York State Senate and the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. Emeritus members of the Board are also encouraged to attend meetings and often remain very involved with the Board and the University after they retire as active, voting trustees.

Immediately after the election, I was thrown into my responsibilities as a new trustee by joining the Presidential Search Committee to find Cornell’s next President. Joining the search committee has been an excellent introduction to the Board. Those working on this important task are incredibly devoted to Cornell and I have had the privilege of closely working with and learning from them about the University. As the Presidential Search statement indicates, Cornell is a “remarkable community of scholars, educators, students and staff with deep roots in tradition and a set of cherished founding principles; a world-class research institution known for the breadth and rigor of its curricula; and an academy dedicated to shaping young people into well-educated, thoughtful citizens of the world.” Choosing the next person to lead this incredible institution is the most important role I will play throughout my time on the Board.

Over Commencement weekend this spring, I attended my first Board meeting as the graduate student trustee-elect. The Board of Trustees meets four times a year, during which there are meetings for the entire Board, committee meetings and other events for trustees to attend. University administrators, student leaders, faculty and staff often participate in some of these meetings and events as well in order to educate Board members about the issues facing Cornell. While attending the Board meetings and committee meetings, I was surprised and encouraged by how warmly I was welcomed, how my opinion was not just respected, but also solicited and how devoted the trustees are to learning about and improving Cornell.

New Trustee Orientation in New York City was the next major opportunity for me to learn about my role. The other new trustees and I were given an extensive look at the Medical College, Cornell Tech and the overall structure of Cornell University — a private, not-for-profit institution. The orientation provided me with a better sense of the many component parts of Cornell, from Ithaca to New York City to Qatar to Geneva, and how they work together. Cornell is a complicated place to understand, that no one person probably even fully understands, but let me take a stab at giving you a brief overview of what I’ve learned about our structure.

Cornell University is both private and public, given Cornell’s status as the land grant institution of New York State. The privately funded schools and colleges in Ithaca are: the College of Architecture, Art and Planning; the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Engineering; the School of Hotel Administration; Cornell Law School and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

In New York City, we also have Cornell Tech, and the endowed units of the Medical College: the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College and the Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences of Cornell University. The Medical College serves as the academic and teaching component of the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Weill Cornell, with funding from the Qatar Foundation, established the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and in 2008 graduated its first class of physicians.

In Ithaca, there are also four Contract Colleges, which are supported by New York State: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; the College of Human Ecology; the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, we also have the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva and the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Throughout the remainder of our terms as student trustees, Ross Gitlin ’15 and I will be writing this bi-weekly column to be your liaisons to the Board of Trustees. I will use this column to better inform you about the Board, to speak on the issues facing Cornell, to introduce you to interesting opportunities at Cornell and in Ithaca, and to celebrate the accomplishments of this extraordinary University.

I will also hold office hours every Wednesday during this semester, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. at Libe Café in Olin Library. Please feel free to stop by my office hours, or email me at [email protected], if you have any issues you would like to discuss or questions about the University, the Board, the Law School, or anything else. Cornell elects students to the Board of Trustees because the Board values the input of students and also believes that students should have access to the Board. Please be in touch so that I can best represent you to the Board and best represent the Board to you.

Annie O’Toole is a second year law school student at Cornell Law School and the graduate student-elected trustee. She can be reached at [email protected]. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.