The Faculty Senate gathered to discuss policies revising financial aid policies, redressing imbalances in judicial proceedings and reaffirming academic freedom on Wednesday afternoon.
Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and chair of the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group, presented a summary of AFAWG recommendations surrounding the issues of fairness and financial sustainability.
“In general, our charges are to monitor admissions policies at Cornell and to monitor over time, financial aid policies procedures at Cornell, both with the aim of maintaining high quality undergraduate student body access and inclusion to a Cornell education and doing this all within the constraints of Cornell’s resources,” Knuth said.
In terms of fairness, Knuth said this was the “notion of considering the extent to which undergraduate financial aid programs fairly distribute resources across … the student body that is demonstrated to have need.”
To increase fairness, the committee recommended widening the income bands for how maximum loans in the annual financial aid packages are set. These income bands have not been changed appreciably since they were set up in 2008-09, according to Knuth.
In terms of financial sustainability, Knuth said that this process involved evaluating cost control options that Cornell could consider in case of another economic downturn like the one that occurred in the 2009-12 period.
Knuth added “a caveat that none of those options may in fact be implemented if one, there isn’t a serious economic downturn like we experienced several years ago or if the provost and University leadership would decide on different revenue or cost streams to achieve the cost control and not touch the financial aid policy and procedures that we have.”
In addition, Prof. Richard Bensel, government, brought up a resolution that “requests that proceedings in which a senior administrator prosecutes a member of the Cornell community be open and public if the defendant requests that they be open and public.”
This resolution is in response to a current case involving Mitchell McBride ’17, in which the senior vice provost filed a complaint with the Office of the Judicial Administrator due to a possible breach of confidentiality in his position as a student member of the AFAWG. However she was then told that the complaint could not be withdrawn when she tried to do so. McBride is also deprived of counsel during the proceedings.
“As a result, McBride faces a proceeding which was initiated by a senior administration official who longer takes responsibility for the allegation,” Bensel said. “The substantive issue in the McBride case is whether a verbal order by a senior administration official in an informally organized working group binds all the participants to confidentiality.”
The same senior administration official sent an email to all graduate students the night before the unionization election even though he said it was an explicitly forbidden action, according to Bensel.
“This was a much more serious violation of the code of conduct than what the central administration has charged Mitch McBride with doing,” he said.
Bensel went on to emphasize the important role of the faculty senate in deliberating on these types of issues.
“What I want to see us do is not be afraid or hesitant about bringing these issues before our body,” he said. “If we are going to have our conscience and our soul in this University, you will not find it in the central administration. The only place you are going to find it is here. That’s the reason why this resolution is important.”
The resolution will be put to a vote next month, and Bensel said it is only a small step in redressing the balance between the central administration and the rights and liberties of students.
“Whether or not it passes, I urge the faculty senate to become a more open deliberative body in which the area of issues such as these becomes our normal practice,” he said.
Finally, Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, elaborated on the reasoning behind a resolution endorsing a statement on academic freedom that will be voted on next month. Lieberwitz was one of six senators co-sponsoring this piece of legislation.
According to Lieberwitz, this resolution holds its importance particularly due to the current political climate.
“The immediate impetus for having a statement on academic freedom and asking the senate to endorse it has to do with the political climate we find ourselves in,” she said. “Given the stress people have felt in academia and elsewhere … following the election of Donald Trump, there’s been a concern with the unleashing of some real attacks on academics as well as other kinds of attacks and an increasing chilling effect on individuals in universities … that would include faculty as well as staff and students.”
Given these circumstances, Lieberwitz said that they thought it was a good idea not only to get Cornell to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom but also to look over its current policies and determine if they need to be revised.
“So to some extent, there’s absolutely nothing controversial about this, and that’s good news,” Lieberwitz said.