February 21, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Shared Governance

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To the editor:

Shared governance and student participation in University decisions has been an integral part of Cornell’s structure since 1967. Throughout the history of our University, we have seen students challenge their role in the policy making system and question whether student opinions and experiences are fully considered. The recent decisions of the Board of Trustees and University Administrators once again test our faith in the shared governance system.

Students are given positions on various committees that govern the University such as the Board of Trustees, the Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, the University Assembly, the Provost’s Financial Aid Committee and the Student Health Fee Advisory Committee, but we question what tangible impact the student voice has on major University decisions. Why is there usually only one student allowed on such committees to represent the concerns of a wide variety of constituents? At what stage in the process are students brought into the conversations? Did student voice have any impact on the decision to include only Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students as domestic students for financial aid or the transition to need-aware admissions for international students?

Though students have been made members of several councils and committees, they often face limitations that create barriers in representation, such as obligations to sign confidentiality agreements, which prevent open discussion between student representatives and the student populations affected. Additionally, when students admit to their limitations in delivering appropriate representation, they have been barred from giving their position to other students.

At the Feb. 11 Student Assembly meeting, the Provost reminded students that not every student could have a seat on every committee that they wanted. We do not believe that this is the current demand of students. Rather, students are asking for an opportunity for their voices to be heard before radical decisions that greatly impact us are made. While we expect our voting representatives to vote in the best interest of their constituency, the importance of sharing students’ lived experiences requires a more nuanced approach to selecting student representatives to fill these committee positions. Student opinions in these decisions appear to be mere formalities for the administration. Moving forward, we ask the administration to move away from this “tick-the-checkbox” attitude and show a genuine concern about student opinion on campus. We request that the administration introduce ideas to students before they are fully baked, and instead involve students, including members of the populations that will be affected by new policies, in the development of initiatives and policy changes.

Shivang Tayal ’16

Julia Montejo ’17

Jordan Berger ’17