April 10, 2017

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | A Restoration of Faith in Shared Governance

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On April 17, Cornell will have its 14th President, Martha Pollack. As we begin the process to welcome a new leader, it may also be an appropriate time to be thinking about our interaction with the president through shared governance at Cornell. Shared governance is the practice of having different constituencies within the University have a role and voice in shaping the decisions that impact them. At Cornell, shared governance translates to organizations like the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Student Assembly, University Assembly, Faculty Senate and the undergraduate, graduate, faculty and employee trustees.

The changing hands of the presidency also coincides with the changing hands of the role of the undergraduate student trustee. This marks an important transition because student trustees, along with their faculty and employee counterparts, have the opportunity to truly voice student issues and concerns with the shared governance process. While this may be a time of transition, it is important to re-establish our faith in the shared governance model and propose means to make it better.

In a historic time such as this, we would be wise to think back to the roots of shared governance at Cornell, which dates back to the mid-1950s. Student involvement in governance was a product of the Willard Straight hall takeover of 1969. Following the takeover the Board of Trustees established the University Senate (now Student Assembly) and  the Division of Campus Life. One of the other products of these protests was the creation of the role of the student-elected trustees.

In both of our experiences, shared governance has resulted in the opportunity to serve on the board, on different committees, and obtain access to administrators. In the past few months, we have seen instances that have made us question the nature of shared governance and the voice that we have in the decisions of the University.

Your voice matters. While you may not see results instantaneously, know that the work that you do makes a difference. As students, we are the ones who live the decisions of the administration. Have a say in your experience.

Our administrators and trustees care about our student experience. We have seen their tireless work to better our time here, but we also see the red tape that restricts us from making momentous change. We understand the frustration and difficulty that accompanies  fighting for what we believe in when we are faced with structural challenges, but that is no reason to stop speaking up.
As we experience this shift in leadership, let’s ensure that the student voice is heard. Engage with shared governance. Email representatives of your respective assembly. Keep your voice loud. Do not lose faith. A united student voice is an incredibly meaningful force in reforming Cornell. There are people who will listen and with time, your voice will have lead the change.


Yamini Bhandari is the current undergraduate student-elected trustee. Dustin Liu is the undergraduate student-elected trustee-elect. Trustee Viewpoint appears monthly on Tuesdays.