The Student Assembly voted unanimously on Thursday night to urge Cornell to publicly condemn President Donald Trump’s revocation of a federal directive that ordered public schools to let students use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
The directive, issued last May under President Barack Obama, told public schools to allow students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity — not necessarily their sex assigned at birth — and threatened to pull funding from schools that defied the order.
After some squabbles over the grammar of the bill and arguments over how long it should be discussed, Resolution 30 passed unanimously.
Cornell “allows students, faculty, staff and visitors to use the restroom or facility that corresponds to their gender identity,” the resolution said, citing the University’s May 2016 Restroom/Facilities Guidelines.
Assemblymembers, pleased by Cornell’s standing policy, want the University to not just adhere to an inclusive policy, but to publicly criticize Trump’s reversal of Obama’s directive.
“Cornell University should publicly condemn the Trump Administration’s revocation of federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity,” the resolution, sponsored by Executive Vice President Matthew Indimine ’18, reads.
S.A. additionally reaffirmed the importance of students reporting bias incidents by anyone in the local and Cornell community. Three current and former S.A. LGBTQ+ liaisons signed on to the resolution.
S.A. tabled the other resolution brought forward on Thursday — sponsored by Assemblymembers Mitchell McBride ’17 and Diana Li ’17 — that would have requested private financial information from the University about its administration and administrative employees.
The resolution, which was previously reviewed by the Executive Committee in February, asks Cornell to provide general salary breakdowns of administration members at the level of assistant dean or above. This information is generally available for public universities, but not for private ones like Cornell.
Resolution 31 also asks the University for financial information relating to the allocation of funds to various divisions and departments of the University so that the S.A. Appropriations Committee can review the information and issue a report to Cornell recommending changes to eliminate waste in the administration or to reduce possible overpayment of administrators.
“I think we need to serve as an outside check on the University to make sure the students’ will is being expressed,” McBride said to the Assembly. “It’s using our formal power to gain information from the administration.”
Assemblymembers, while generally supportive of shedding light on University finances, questioned whether there was any possibility the University would actually comply with the resolution, if the Assembly would be able to conduct the audit and whether it was the best use of its members’ time and resources.
“I think that if we do find a way to afford this, I wonder how a lot of our constituencies will feel when they’re losing a lot of money,” said Assemblymember Traciann Celestin ’19, adding that it would be difficult to justify spending money on an audit while minority student groups are unable to get funding to attend conferences.
Other students said they believed in the mission of the audit and believe there would likely be controversial information in the finance reports, but thought the resolution was essentially hopeless.
“I don’t disagree that the University has a lot of issues and financial problems,” said Gabriel Kaufman ’18, chair of the University Assembly.
“It is borderline embarrassing to even think that this could happen,” he said of the University’s compliance with the resolution. “An audit of the University, that is a Board of Trustees Audit Committee thing and there’s no way they would give it to us.”
“I completely agree that the University finances need to be reviewed by students,” Assemblymember Alexander Iglesias ’17 said. “I don’t think the administration or the Board of Trustees will pressure either party to release this information, knowing that this pretty sensitive information … is a big deal.”
But sponsors and supporters of the resolution appeared frustrated by other assemblymembers’ reluctance to pass the bill, arguing that putting pressure on the University is important even if Cornell does not comply.
“I recommend Student Assembly members and members of the community to not have a defeatist attitude to any resolution which we put forward to the administration,” Assemblymember Hamish MacDiarmid ’19 said. “Whether it’s financial, ethical [or] moral, … we’re here to represent the students.”
“What we don’t know really can hurt us,” added Li, who also serves as vice president of finance. “Any chance I have at getting that information, I’m going to take it.”
Assemblymember Richard Wang ’18, echoing many other assemblymembers’ concerns, said he worried that Cornell is spending too much money on administration expenses and not enough on students and financial aid.
“At the end of the day, [Cornell] is a business and we are paying for it in one way in another,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to pay more for less … even if you politically disagree with this being possible, I think [the resolution] shows that the student body is actually active and paying attention to the University.”
Some S.A. members warned that any financial document provided to S.A. by the University would quickly leak. McBride offered that members of the Assembly could sign a non-disclosure agreement before receiving the documents.
Kaufman, who said the documents would undoubtedly leak, said he thought it was irresponsible that S.A. would consider the resolution in the week after an internal University report — showing that Cornell was considering need-aware transfer admissions and a host of other measures — was obtained by The Sun.
Indimine, the executive vice president, told The Sun that Provost Michael Kotlikoff will address an open session of the S.A. on March 9 specifically concerning the documents obtained by The Sun.
Also on Thursday, Ellie Reppy ’17 was sworn in as the newest member of the Assembly.