The Student Assembly Appropriations Committee voted on Monday to allocate $0 to Cornell Cinema in 2018-20, according to a statement released by the committee, in advance of the S.A. meeting on Thursday, when members of the Assembly will debate whether or not to approve the Committee’s recommendations.
In the last byline cycle, the Cinema requested $12 per student, but was given $10.90 — which was still a 30-cent increase in funding from the byline cycle before that. This year, the committee voted to cut its allocation to the Cinema entirely.
“This may mean the end of Cornell Cinema by fall 2018,” Yuji Yang ’19, president of the Cinema’s advisory board, told The Sun.
During this cycle, he added, the Appropriations Committee’s allocations from the undergraduate student activity fee has accounted for 26 percent of the Cinema’s budget, which pays for film rentals, guest filmmakers, space rentals, film screening, maintenance costs and five long-time professional staff members who run the operations.
“Because 6,000 undergraduates, or 40 percent of the undergraduate student population, attend Cornell Cinema every year, it is without question that the community finds Cornell Cinema to be an important program worth funding,” Yang said.
The Appropriations Committee on Tuesday denied the Cinema’s requested allocation of $8.50 — a 22-percent reduction from the current $10.90 allocation since the 2016-18 byline cycle. Cornell Cinema had said in the proposal that that decreased amount would help the organization phase out of student activity funds toward a goal of becoming independent from S.A. by 2019.
But in a letter outlining the Appropriations Committee’s rationale, Gabriel Kaufman ’18, Appropriations Committee chair, said funding the Cinema “is not presently the appropriate place for activity fee funds,” calling the Cinema “an insoluble enterprise” and expressing skepticism given the Cinema has historically requested increases in byline allocations and ticket prices.
As one of the largest organizations on campus, Yang said, Cornell Cinema has in the past year attracted more than 18,000 attendees, 10,000 of whom were undergraduates, at 300 different film screenings and other events and seen an increase in attendance.
Events in the past byline cycle included a fully-packed free screening of Beyonce’s Lemonade last fall, the sell-out premiere in the spring of the Academy Award–nominated documentary I am Not Your Negro and another sold-out screening of A Fish Called Wanda with Monty Python co-founder John Cleese this fall.
So far, Cornell Cinema has received more funding than the average student organization, which spends approximately $5 to $6 from S.A. funds per member each byline cycle, because its operations are so large, Yang said.
The Appropriations Committee has recently attempted to cut other groups’ funding as well. In September, the Appropriations Committee proposed cutting one of the programs offered by the Women’s Resource Center by 75 percent, The Sun previously reported. In the end, members of S.A. overturned the committee’s decision and granted the Women’s Resource Center their requested allocation.
“Cutting down on these programs would work against the interest of the constituents that the Student Assembly serve to represent and further marginalize those students who these programs seek to represent,” Yang added.
The letter said that the per attendee cost subsidized by the student activity fee, added to the $5.50 the Cinema charges for each ticket, leads to an estimated true cost of $17 per attendee, which Kaufman said exceeds the cost of a comparable movie ticket.
Cornell Cinema — supported by funds from the S.A., Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, College of Arts and Sciences, New York Council on the Arts and some smaller grants — has been breaking even for the past few years and for 2017-18, and is projected to have a $200 surplus this year.
Losing funding from S.A., Yang said, may lead to an increase in ticket prices, which S.A. would need to approve.
The Committee has also complained that the Cinema has used student activity fee funds to pay staff wages. The Cinema, however, has told the Committee that it is committed not to use student activity funds to pay its staff starting in 2018.
The exchange between Cornell Cinema and the Appropriations Committee was complicated by salary privacy laws, which prevented the University from releasing the Cinema’s business data, including staff wages. Members of the committee were unhappy that those salaries were supported in part by the student activity fee.
“The student activity fee will not cover any part of this, and those wages will be covered by other sources,” Yang said.
Meanwhile, Yang said, the GPSA’s Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to recommend a slight increase in the Cinema’s funding for the next byline cycle, from $10.54 to $11 per student, with the understanding of the Cinema’s commitment to draw down its dependence on the S.A. beginning the next cycle.
Cornell Cinema said it will be present at this Thursday’s budget cut recommendation when the Assembly meets, inviting students to attend the meeting to express their concerns.