April 17, 2016

Cornell Student Elected Trustee Candidates Debate Platforms

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Graduate and professional student candidates for the position of student elected trustee met Thursday to participate in debate held by The Cornell Daily Sun in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room.

In their responses to three questions from debate moderator and Sun editor-in-chief Sofia Hu ’17 and several questions from the audience, candidates utilized the forum to elaborate on their respective platforms.

The first question prompted the candidates to share their perspectives on the Cornell Graduate Students United — a union founded to ameliorate graduate student working conditions. In response to the recent denial of graduate students’ employee status, candidate Nathaniel Rogers grad said that a “key factor” in the union’s discussion is how the CGSU chooses to define its bargaining unit.

“T.A.’s might be a good bet, but if you try to open it up to all graduate students in general, such as myself, I think it’s a little tricky to argue that we are employees,” he said.

Dara Brown grad said that as trustee she would seek to mediate the concerns of faculty, the Board of Trustees and graduate students.

“I definitely support the cause — I find that as a representative of the graduate students we have to hear them out, and [these students] do deserve some sort of increase in recognition for what they give to the University,” she said. “A lot of them are giving an equal amount of their service and time as faculty members who do receive full benefits.”

Amy Molitoris grad said she would like to pursue further communication with graduate students to gauge their needs within the CGSU, and if possible settle employment issues within respective departments before consulting the union. Tiffany St. Bernard grad praised the organization’s “diverse membership.”

When asked about their positions regarding the 2012 budget model reform, the candidates expressed differing viewpoints. Molitoris emphasized the need to balance money and “educational components vital to the culture of the university as a whole”, including smaller and less lucrative educational programs, but said that she prioritized fiduciary concerns.

Rogers disagreed with Molitoris’s outlook, calling an attendance based financial model “shortsighted.” He argued that while departments of popular undergraduate classes benefit from increased funding, this funding must be dispersed among the varied educational programs that students encounter throughout their academic careers.

Brown and Tiffany St. Bernard voiced their agreement with Rogers’ view on this matter. Brown cited the DREAM organization as an example of a small program that that “makes more substantial changes than groups with many participants” and would benefit from changes in the method of fund allocation. She proposed that “funds could be allocated to overhead organizations to retain the contributions of such organizations.”

Brown also expanded on one of the tenets of her platform — the preservation of the programs comprising new College of Business. She said that where schools or programs essential to the University are financially endangered, the revenue model may be beneficial in allowing the reallocation of funds to larger organizations that can better sustain these programs. Otherwise we should be cautious of how the model could affect smaller but impactful programs.

However, St. Bernard expressed concern for this proposed reform’s effects on smaller arts programs.

“I believe that this model could put some restraint on smaller programs,” she said. “As a trustee voting in funding situations, it’s a balancing act to make sure that the whole University is supported, but that the smaller programs are well funded and that students are happy.”

Multiple questions allowed the candidates to discuss the campus’s current climate in respect to diversity and inclusion. St. Bernard and Rogers both said that they support initiatives encouraging the University to diversify its faculty.

Calling it a priority for both of their campaigns, St. Bernard and Brown shared ways in which they have promoted and plan to promote diversity on campus.

“In forming my diversity international committee, I made sure that it had diverse mindsets and backgrounds, including people of majority groups, different ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities, because I wanted it to be representative of Cornell,” St. Bernard said. “The way we’re going to be able to make the most impact is by being able to relate with the diverse community that exists here.”

Brown said her current focus is on limiting unconscious bias and encouraging inclusion at the student level.

“We should encourage students to limit unconscious biases through orientation programs similar to those used on the faculty level, and enhance graduate-undergraduate and undergraduate-high school mentorship programs to make sure we attract and retain underrepresented minorities on our campus,” she said.

In reference to attendance at diversity programs she proposed holding more informal events that “students would feel comfortable bringing their friends to” and creating a need amongst students to “feel that they would benefit from the programs by ”showing them how interacting, working and learning about diverse cultures will be useful in their life and careers”.

Other topics discussed included carbon neutrality, regarding which all candidates shared a desire to increase campus wide understanding and commitment, and expectations from the future president.

Candidates shared their political desires for the future president, as well as their shared insistence that the president be attentive to the needs of a diverse student body.

“I would love for the president to be innovative in terms of policies,” Molitoris said. “I would also like for them to be aware of the mental health crisis, the changing view of mental health should be addressed.”

After answering the final audience question, the candidates finished the debate with a brief overview of their platforms and strengths. Elections for the candidates will be held from April 18 to 20.