If you ever want to see Cornell’s version of C-Span, just pop into the weekly student assembly meeting at Willard Straight Hall and observe some brash politicking. It is open to the public, and while it is not something I would recommend for a first date, it is the place to be if you care about the path Cornell is going to take in the coming months.
The funny thing about student politics is that the students who sit on the assembly are still developing their political identities, and in turn their principles. As a result, we witness ideas that are more fully formed than their creators. This often leads to spouts of well intentioned dialogue that can backfire with a dramatic thud.
For instance, Thursday’s point of contention was a defunct carpool initiative that had been organized by a Student Assembly representative. She didn’t seem thrilled about what had transpired. The carpool initiative was designed last year to help first generation and low income students get around Ithaca. An email from the S.A. representative had been sent out to get Cornell Students to volunteer as drivers for those students. The program was a success — a sufficient number of people had signed up, and there was no shortage of drivers available.
But when she had asked for money to compensate the drivers, she had been denied. The Executive Board, which controls the Assembly’s finances, had pointed out that since the drivers had been recruited as volunteers, they weren’t eligible to be paid. This riled up a lot of people on the Student Assembly, especially the representative who had pioneered the program, mainly because a good cause was going unrewarded. Perhaps more jarring was that just minutes later, the Executive Board admitted they hadn’t spent all of their available money from last year, which seems like the last thing you would want to say in a situation like this.
Another speaker on the Assembly chimed in. In a rising tone, he began to call out the inaction of the Executive Board. He may have been upset. He may have also used the term “BS” to describe the lack of support for the program. When he was done, you could hear a pin drop in the massive hall. And just like that, an entirely mundane issue had become the most thrilling thing to happen on Cornell’s campus since those Bollywood Dance performances.
I don’t think the Executive Board was exactly pleased with what was happening. Being called out in a public event is not something I imagine to be particularly pleasant.
The board had likely already talked this topic to death amongst themselves. They were probably tired of it, and their reaction to the whole matter was summarized when one of them pointedly asked the whole group for better communication, and then turned his stare to the offending representative, stating that her miscommunication had led to this escalation. There was a difference, he said, between “compensating” and “reimbursing” the driver — if she had noted they were reimbursing the driver, they might have acted differently. He then asked her, in a short tone, that maybe these conversations were better held in private than in a public meeting.
At that moment, you could almost hear an audible gasp escape out of the room. I squirmed in my seat. There was such a thing as overkill. Then again, I really think if people knew how astonishing the exchanges were in these S.A. meetings, the Executive Board could sell tickets and add to that pile of money they’re not going to spend.
The rest of the meeting was fairly quiet. Backtalk and high drama can can only be sustained for so long before becoming a parody of a Sorkin film. The next topic on the agenda was about the push for free digital Wall Street Journal subscriptions for Cornell students. It is a topic that is going to become big within the coming weeks — the idea is essentially that The Wall Street Journal will be a big boost to students applying for jobs and internships in the financial Industry, and free access will remove cost barrier for most students. It’s a good cause, supported by business students such as myself, but given that The Journal has a reputation as a conservative newspaper, it’s going to become a hot button issue very quickly.
So if anyone is interested in seeing the Student Assembly debate that doozy, along with a host of other issues, live, the group meets weekly on Thursdays at 4:45 p.m, in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room. It’s definitely worth the time.
William Wang is a sophomore in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester.