October 8, 2015

Student Assembly Appropriations Committee Rejects Cinema Funding Increase

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Correction appended 

Student leaders from Cornell Cinema are speaking out against a recent Student Assembly Appropriations Committee recommendation to not grant a funding increase in the organization’s allocation from the student activity fee.

Cornell Cinema currently seeks a $1.40 per student funding increase, raising the allocations from $10.60 per student to $12 per student. However, the S.A. Appropriations Committee, which recommended against a funding increase wrote in a statement that although Cornell Cinema provides “some value to students,” the committee did not find a funding increase justifiable based on recent attendance numbers and its insufficient operational model.

Elijah Weber-Han ’16, president of Cornell Cinema, said the S.A.’s remarks on attendance are “unfounded.”

“Undergraduate attendance has increased by 1,300 in the last year and we have the largest student advisory board in the history of the organization,” Weber-Han said. “As Cornell Cinema is a popular student activity it would seem logical that the activity fee would be beneficially allocated to ensure a sustainable cinema program.”

Additionally, the committee wrote that it does not have an obligation to “continually and consistently cover the rising cost of doing business within the cinema industry” and encouraged Cornell Cinema to explore new ways to lower their costs.

“Moving forward, the committee suggests that Cornell Cinema determine ways to reduce costs by either more selectively showing screenings, reducing the number of days that Cornell Cinema is open or find alternative mechanisms to reduce their costs,” the statement said.

But the organization maintains it has already done all that is possible to reduce overhead costs without jeopardizing the integrity of its mission. Mary Fessenden, director of Cornell Cinema, said her organization cannot afford any further cuts.

“I think Cornell Cinema has acted in good faith over the years. I am not sure I can say the same for the Appropriations Committee,” Fessenden said. “Any further cuts to our program will lead to a reduction in the diversity of our offerings at a time when it’s more important than ever to maintain or, ideally, expand upon this kind of programming, programming that Cornell Cinema takes great pride in presenting.”

Fessenden also said the program has been very cost-conscious over the years, only seeking financial support from the S.A. when appropriate.

“It’s also important to note that we had to deplete our general reserve account to cover the cost of the necessary upgrade to digital cinema,,” she said. “We did not seek additional support from the Student Assembly to make this expensive upgrade, and yet now, when we request just $1.40 more per student to restore our financial stability, we are turned down.”

Cornell Cinema and its supporters expressed their discontent via Facebook, creating a public event called “Save Cornell Cinema” that encourages students to attend Thursday’s S.A. meeting to oppose the funding decision. As of Wednesday evening, the event had over 150 supporters, according to the event’s attendance list.

The S.A. is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation at Thursday’s general body meeting.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Elijah Weber-Han’s class year. He is in the Class of 2016, not 2015.