March 7, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Remember to Vote

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The importance of voting has been deeply emphasized in past the last few months. While many may feel disenfranchised by the larger political system, Cornellians can find solace in knowing that the university prides itself on its shared governance system. By no means perfect, shared governance at Cornell allows for students to have the chance to have a voice in administrative decisions. This week, the elections for the undergraduate student-elected trustee are taking place. Voting goes from March 8 at 8 A.M. to March 9th at 8 P.M., and is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. All students will receive an email with the link to vote.

Having served in the role for the past two years, I want to take this time to share some learnings, and emphasize how important it is that students vote. Few students know the relation the Board has with the university at large (to be fair, I didn’t either until I joined). For some background, the Board of Trustees is charged with “supreme control” over the university. The undergraduate student-elected trustee serves on the Board of Trustees of the university as the sole undergraduate voice. Cornell is the only school in the Ivy League, and one of few schools across the country, with student trustees. Cornell’s board is also unique in that it has representation from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, employees and alumni.

When I joined the board, one of the trustees reached out to me with advice that I consider deeply reflective of my experience. He noted that the title is not “student trustee” but rather “student-elected trustee,” and as such I was on equal footing with the other 63 trustees. I have been pleasantly surprised and honored in this role because of the respect my fellow trustees have shown me. I’ve had the opportunity to use student opinion to help in making better decisions and been challenged by my peers to push for changes.

As students, we all go through Cornell with our unique circumstances. The role of the student-elected trustee is to understand those perspectives and elevate issues to the highest level of decision making. That being said, I cannot stress how important it is that students vote in this election. The student whom you elect will have the power to shape decisions that will directly affect current students, and also shape the long-term trajectory of the university.

The past two years have been tumultuous for Cornell. We inaugurated a new president only to mourn her tragic passing months later, we founded a new college, we discussed important issues about the environment and diversity and we found a new president. It has been an honor serving in this capacity and watching the university grow and change. To my eventual successor, I hope that you continue advocating for students and think carefully about the university’s next steps. To all the undergraduate and graduate students: please remember to vote.


Yamini Bhandari is a senior and the current Undergraduate Student-elected Trustee. Comments can be sent to 

  • Sammy

    Yamini, all due respect, what exactly have you done for us the past two years? We’ve had unprecedented increases in tuition. I’ve never once heard from you since you were campaigning for the position. Perhaps I missed it, but to my knowledge you’ve never held office hours or a town hall to hear student voices, you’ve never taken an informal poll of students when there’s an important vote coming up, and you’ve never made any attempt to reach out to various student groups and hear from them.

    I think shared governance can be realized. But you did nothing to advance it and Dustin Liu will just be more of the same.

    • student

      I don’t think shared governance is about taking polls before votes or town halls or office hours. Those things have been tried in the past, but have led to limited participation. There was actually a town hall with the trustees hosted last year by the student trustees where students could ask any questions they wanted — clearly very few students came.

      I also don’t see how you could host a poll of students when the details for what you’re voting are required to be completely confidential. I think the student trustees have a representative role, which is definitely not utilized to its max (partially because they are students too), but i think its a bit unrealistic to expect the level of engagement of an election over 2 years. I do think she has made attempts to reach out to student groups when relevant issues have come up. As a student in the international community, I worked with the student trustees on engaging with administration after the need-aware vote happened.