Every fall, members of the Cornell Board of Trustees and the Cornell University Council arrive in Ithaca for a whirlwind weekend of meetings, presentations, speeches and socializing. While we always appreciate the presence of Cornell’s supreme authority on campus, we hope that the trustees and councilmembers seize this brief opportunity to interact as much with the student body as possible, and we hope that the University administration addresses the need to bring trustees in contact with students in unstructured ways.
Members of the Board of Trustees have the unenviable task of performing two full-time jobs at once. They are CEOs and managing partners, NBA owners and philanthropists, and for much of the year we understand that Cornell may not be their primary focus. But for these four days, they have the ability to reconnect with their alma mater in a substantive way that too often goes underutilized.
Cornell is an institution in motion. It is not the same university it was 20 years ago, or 20 years before that. The pressures on students, both academic and financial, exist in ways that may be unfamiliar to those who experienced Cornell last century. It is imperative that the trustees appraise the university as it really is now, not how it was when they graduated, or how the administration chooses to present it during the highly organized events this weekend. The best way for the trustees to do this is talk to students.
While certain students are afforded the opportunity to interact with Cornell’s governing body, it is unreasonable to think those few instances can expose the trustees to the depth and breadth of the Cornell community. The Board already insists on limiting student representation to one undergraduate trustee (in previous years there have been as many as five undergraduate members), and even when they find themselves physically on campus, the trustees largely interact with students hand-picked by the administration to comment on specific issues. Again, this is no way to fully understand a community.
To the trustees, we implore you to take advantage of your time in Ithaca. There are 361 days of the year for progress reports and fundraisers and chicken dinners. There are only four days when you can walk up to a group of seniors lounging on the Arts Quad and get a truly unvarnished assessment of life at Cornell. There are only four days when you can chat with a sophomore before their history class about how difficult it really is to find affordable housing in Collegetown. Four days to hear how humanities students and faculty are adjusting to an increasingly STEM-focused academic space, to find out how the campus climate really feels for students of color following last month’s events and to speak to students whose voices often go unheard
Chairman Harrison, Vice Chairmen Winokur and Croll, trustees, councilmembers — there is so much to discuss. Let’s chat.