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October 15, 2015

Faculty Senate Talks on Finance, Romance

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The Faculty Senate addressed the rising costs of the University’s financial aid program, plans to resolve the University’s deficit and proposed revisions to Cornell’s policy on romantic and sexual relations between students and faculty at its meeting Wednesday.

Dean of Faculty Prof. Joseph Burns Ph.D. ’66, astronomy, began the meeting by announcing an upcoming faculty forum will discuss the feasibility and educational sense of Cornell’s current financial aid policy. According to Burns, the forum, entitled “Financial Aid Policies: Unimaginable Outcomes,” is intended to be a little bit provocative.

“There are large expenses in the University. We knew building costs are expensive. Our salary costs are expensive …. and financial aid is a growing cost to the University,” Burns said. “If you look at the amount of funds that we’re spending [on financial aid], the curve has a very steep slope — an increasing slope over the last few years. So I think that the faculty should look at that growing cost and whether or not it makes sense.”

Burns said he see two possible outcomes if the University continues to spend as much as it currently does on financial aid. He said that it is very important to balance the needs of faculty and students at Cornell in order to avoid what he called two “equally unacceptable and unimaginable” results.

“If we spend all our funds on financial aid, we won’t have enough funds for the faculty,” Burns said. “If we spend all our funds on the faculty, we won’t have the funds we need to carry out financial aid and we’ll end up with a University which is not as diverse — not the Cornell that we know and love.”

Also discussing finances, Provost Michael Kotlikoff delivered a 75-day report on activities he had been engaged in since the start of his appointment in August. The Provost’s Office faced a recurring structural deficit of $55 million for the last five years until it announced drastic budget cuts  to be implemented for this current fiscal year.

The current goal of the cuts is to eliminate the structural deficit by the 2017 fiscal year, according to Kotlikoff. In order to carry out this plan, Kotlikoff said he will shift the University’s colleges to five-year plans to allow long term planning instead of constant annual discussion of each college’s budget.

“We have several strategies,” Kotlikoff said, “One is controlling costs. The second is allocating many of the costs that had been in the center of the University to the colleges and some financial aid also to the colleges. [The third is] reinvesting in the colleges to a net zero balance using historical financial data. The bottom line here is that going into fiscal year [20]17, we will have a balanced central budget — something we did not have for some period of time. We also will begin paying off the aggregate deficit that we’ve accumulated over time after the 2008 downturn.”

Prof. Elizabeth Atkins-Regan, psychology, chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Status of Faculty, also presented revisions the committee proposes to make to the University’s “Romantic and Sexual Relationships Between Students and Staff” faculty resolution.

The resolution, approved by the President and the Provost on Sept. 18, 1996, currently prohibits staff or faculty from engaging in relationships with undergraduates whose work they supervise or oversee, but permit faculty to form relationships with students who are not in their classes or subject to their supervision. Burns and Dean of Students Prof. Kent Hubbell ’69, architecture, proposed six changes to this policy that would make it much stricter.

“The first one is probably the one of greatest interest to faculty because it proposes substantial change,” Atkins-Regan said. “It prohibits faculty and staff from pursuing or engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with undergraduate students period, not just in cases where the faculty member had a supervisory or other authoritative relationship to the student of an academic sort.”

Atkins-Regan said that this more blanketing version of the policy already exists in institutions such as Yale, Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Connecticut. The Faculty Senate is expected to discuss the proposed changes further at its next meeting.

Alan Mittman ’71, University Title IX Coordinator of Investigations and trustee, also gave a presentation on recent developments in federal and New York legislation on sexual violence.

“Enough is Enough,” a newly implemented New York state law, went into effect on Oct. 5. Shortly before the law took effect, the University revised Policy 6.4, the provisions governing sexual assault cases, to conform to its affirmative consent and bystander amnesty requirements. Mittman explained what the new law will entail for Cornell.

“[The ‘Enough is Enough’ law] is something that the University and all universities in New York State are obliged to comply with, setting the floor, not the ceiling that we aspire to,” Mittman said. “Some of the items there include a mandated definition of consent, known as ‘affirmative consent in sexual relations’ and sometimes shortened to ‘yes is yes,’ not the ‘no is no’ that you might have heard about.”