January 26, 2016

EDITORIAL: Holding the Student Assembly Accountable

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On Nov. 22, 2015, the S.A. held what some of its members claim was an “executive session” to discuss how to allocate its $39,000 surplus, raising many red flags about its conduct. Because it was closed to the public, no minutes or notes from the meeting are available. Calling an “executive session” preempted public deliberation on how the S.A.’s surplus should be spent — a hypocritical move for an assembly that demands budget accountability from the student organizations that it funds.

The S.A. may convene executive sessions “only to discuss confidential matters.” The bylaws state that confidential information includes information that, if publicly exposed, would endanger any member of the Cornell community or breach an individual’s rights. Based on how some members of the S.A. are classifying the meeting, we are hard pressed to see how a discussion about budget surpluses and allocations could threaten the safety or privacy of an individual, and no S.A. representative has mentioned any other issue discussed during the meeting.

Further complicating matters, members of the S.A. are contradicting each other over the nature of this meeting. The assembly’s Parliamentarian Jordan Berger ’17 called this same meeting an “informal meeting” and not a executive session, contradicting how President Juliana Batista ’16 described the meeting.

In calling this executive session to discuss budgetary issues, the S.A. violated the assembly’s bylaws and failed to serve the student body. Every undergraduate pays well over $200 a year, which the S.A. spends — the least the assembly can do is to ensure this money is allocated in a transparent process. S.A. representatives are accountable for their actions not only during election season, but also throughout their entire tenure. If transparency and accessibility are goals they seek to achieve within the S.A., then representatives should act like it.