Grappling with an influx of controversial campus conversations, the University Assembly convened Tuesday to discuss plans to make Cornell carbon neutral by 2035, change the name of the Cornell Plantations, ban tobacco on campus and reform the way disciplinary issues are noted on student transcripts.
Carbon Neutral by 2035
The U.A. discussed the possibility of completely eliminating Carbon emissions on Cornell’s Ithaca campus by 2035, a plan that has been supported in varying degrees by a succession of Cornell presidents.
Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, a faculty representative, spoke on behalf of the Senior Leadership Climate Action Group, detailing a report that was released on Tuesday. The report outlined different strategies to make Cornell a carbon neutral campus.
“We are encouraging the community to look at this as a big step forward about how carbon neutrality will be reached,” Howarth said.
Howarth explained that over 60 percent of Cornell’s total emissions come from heating the campus, and said research universities use about twice as much energy as teaching institutions because of the intensity of energy they require.
“It’s a challenge,” said Howarth. “We live in a cold climate. We are perhaps the largest university in a cold climate that has agreed to do this.”
Howarth explained that there are two ways of heating the campus. One, he said, is deep resource heating. This would involve drilling down a few kilometers into the earth where it is naturally hot, and extracting heat in a closed loop system. The second and more expensive option required shallow ground heat pumps.
Howarth said that both of these options exceed the total allocated energy budget of 42 million dollars a year.
Still, he maintained that the University is committed to moving ahead with more sustainable options, stressing their environmental benefits.
“One should consider the impact of methane when we use natural gas a fuel,” Howarth said. “The carbon footprint is much higher when we consider this.”
Howarth explained that economists were brought in to calculate the cost of greenhouse gas accounting and emphasized that the University has enough engineering talent to arrive at an efficient and effective solution.
“The University Assembly is one of the groups that pushed hard for the provost to take this on,” he said.
Renaming Cornell Plantations
The U.A. moved to join the Graduate Student Association in supporting a name change of the Cornell Plantations to the Cornell Botanic Gardens. The movement was passed unanimously by a vote of 14-0-0.
Manisha Munasinghe, the graduate and professional student representative to the U.A., explained that the issue is going to the Board of Trustees for a final vote next month.
“[The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly] said that we believe the name should be changed,” she explained. “We wanted to support that as strongly as we could moving forward.”
Ulysses Smith, Employee Assembly chair, emphasized that as for now, the name change is just a proposal and has not been approved. Dean of Faculty Charles Van Loan motioned for the assembly to support the actions of the GPSA and endorse the name change and the move was received favorably.
Tobacco Free Campus
The U.A. also debated the controversial idea that Cornell become a tobacco free campus. Smith related the results of a meeting that was held by the committee about the effects of smoking on campus.
According to Smith, representatives from Gannett Health Services, Tompkins County, Wellness Programs, Environmental Health and Safety, Cornell faculty and the student body were present at the meeting. Attendees discussed how the campus might proceed with banning tobacco and explored what that move would mean for employees specifically.
“We’re not advocating for one side or another,” explained Smith. “We just wanted to have a conversation.”
Smith said that the group discussed the current state of research and also touched upon how the current policy is implemented.
“People asked a lot of questions,” he said. “Some people advocated and said yes we should go tobacco free. Others thought we should think it through and what the actual impacts would be.”
According to Smith, the Campus Welfare Committee had a similar discussion. “Most committee members were not sure where they stood about if we should go tobacco free or not,” Smith noted.
The committee proposed multiple options. The first was that the campus go tobacco free. The second was that Cornell establish designated smoke areas. The third was that the University extend the distance away from buildings that people are allowed to smoke to be more than 25 feet.
The next Campus Welfare Committee meeting will continue this discussion and vote on one of the options.
Changes in Transcript Notation
The U.A. also heard a proposal to change the transcript notation procedure for students who are suspended or expelled from the university.
According to Brian Murphy ’16, the changes were proposed by the new Judicial Administrator Michelle Horvath at the Codes and Judicial Committee meeting.
Horvath feels that when students commit a violation against the code of conduct that results in a suspension or an expulsion, it should be annotated on their transcript.
Currently, Murphy explained, the administrators are only authorized to make this mark when the offender also violates New York State law.
“This would be things like murder and robbery,” said Murphy, prompting some laughs in the room.
Murphy explained that Horvath feels the Codes and Judicial Committee, as well as the U.A., should amend the code to move toward a clearer transcript notation policy.
Horvath also wants to change the requirement that the J.A. annotate the transcripts of every student who has a pending disciplinary charge, which she feels conflicts with the requirement that the University maintain student privacy in such situations, Murphy said.
According to Murphy, Horvath feels this annotation is an important issue and she wants to move quickly to change the Code of Conduct.
“A lot of the members of the CJC were interested in seeing data on how many students were actually suspended and will be affected by this, so there will be data associated with this soon” she said.
The assembly was generally in favor of these changes.
Van Loan suggested that Horvath come to the U.A. and explain the proposal in more detail before the assembly formally votes on the changes.
Rebecca Herz, the Student Assembly representative, agreed, saying that it can be difficult to get the full picture of what changes would entail without hearing Horvath explain in person what she wants to amend.
“Based on the way the code is interpreted, the Judicial Administrator can’t annotate transcripts so that people can tell the difference between someone who has their transcript suspended for any reason and someone who had it suspended because they broke the Code of Conduct,” said University Assembly Chair Gabriel Kaufman ’18.
He explained that it has become much more difficult for employees and grad schools to examine students’ transcripts to see what was element of the code violated.
“This is very important,” he said. “I personally urge the CJC to consider it quickly.”
The University cannot rule on these proposals until they pass through the Codes and Judicial Committee.
A previous version of this article misidentified the assembly’s new Graduate and Professional Student representative as Jackqueline Frost. In fact, the representative is Manisha Munasinghe, but she was using Jackqueline Frost’s name-card.