We are writing as the undergraduate student staff of Cornell Cinema and members of the Cornell Cinema Student Advisory Board. This past week, the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee voted against Cornell Cinema’s requested allocation of $8.50 per student from the Student Activity Fee — a 22 percent decrease from its current allocation of $10.90 per student — and instead recommended $0.00 for the next byline cycle, effective beginning next fall. This would be a cut of about $150,000, or 30 percent of Cornell Cinema’s budget.
The Appropriations Committee based their recommendation on the fact that a portion of Cornell Cinema’s allocation of the SAF goes toward professional staff wages, and claimed this to be a misuse of funds. The Student Assembly’s governing documents, however, do not stipulate that a byline-funded organization cannot use its allocation to pay wages.
Furthermore, the 2015-2016 Student Assembly approved that a portion of Cornell Cinema’s allocation from the SAF be used for professional staff wages for the 2016-2018 cycle. The 2016-2017 Appropriations Committee raised concerns regarding the usage of the SAF to pay for staff wages, but restrictions imposed by the SA on diverting these funds to other spending categories prevented Cornell Cinema from adjusting or cutting its spending mid-cycle. The earliest Cornell Cinema can cease its usage of SAF funds for professional staff wages is at the start of the next byline cycle, beginning Fall 2018. The Cinema’s commitment to doing so is reflected in the 22 percent reduction requested in its 2018-2020 byline funding application.
The SA website reports that 70.5 percent of the budget for Cornell Cinema goes toward professional staff wages. These wages are paid mostly through subsidies from the College of Arts & Sciences and outside grants. In fiscal year 2017-2018, Cornell Cinema charged its activity fee account $37,495 for wages, or 10.6 percent of total staff wages. Thus, the bulk of the $150,000 that the Cinema would lose as a result of the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation would be from funds spent on programming, not staff wages.
The members of the Appropriations Committee have stated numerous times, in their written recommendation, as well as during last Thursday’s meeting, that their decision to defund Cornell Cinema is based on the assumption that the University will cover the deficit. The Appropriations Committee has not specified a source within the University that they expect to provide this aid. Cutting 30 percent of the Cinema’s funding immediately, without the time to find replacement funds, would likely mean the end of Cornell Cinema. Without any comment from the University, the SA will make an extremely significant and permanent decision in the absence of vital information.
During last week’s Student Assembly meeting, Jaewon Sim ’21, Freshmen Representative At-Large, stated, “Students should not have to pay an annual fee regardless of whether or not they watch movies at the Cornell Cinema, and then have to pay an additional $6.50 [sic] ticket fee to use their services.” Such a reckless approach to funding student organizations sets a dangerous precedent. Like other organizations funded by the Student Activity Fee, such as Slope Day Programming Board, Cornell Concert Commission and Cornell University Programming Board, Cornell Cinema needs SAF funding to subsidize affordable ticket prices in order to be accessible to every student. Many services that are funded by the SAF, such as those that promote mental health and/or support identity-based communities, are used by only a portion of the student body. But it is critically important that these resources are available and accessible to all students. Performing a cost-per-attendee analysis on a non-profit student resource denies the unquantifiable value that such a resource provides.
If students pay for only the organizations that they use, many crucial student organizations on campus will become available only to those who can pay. By attending Cornell, students are always paying for resources they will never use, classes they will never take, and professors who will never teach them. But doing so is essential, because universities thrive when they have vast offerings — academic and extracurricular — that are open to all.
That said, a significant portion of the student population does use Cornell Cinema. Last year, 18,743 people attended Cornell Cinema, 10,212 of whom were undergraduates. Of these 10,212 undergraduate admissions, 5,800 were unique, meaning 40 percent of Cornell undergraduates attended at least one show at Cornell Cinema that year (clearly, many students attended far more than one).
In his report detailing the Appropriations Committee’s decision, Gabriel Kaufman ’18, Vice President of Finance, acknowledges that with a significant decrease in or complete cut to SAF funding, Cornell Cinema would be projected to run a sizeable yearly deficit. The Cinema could not continue to operate in this state. It would be short-sighted and irresponsible to eliminate SAF funding without guaranteed replacement funding and without a specific plan to find this funding in the immediate future. We call upon the Student Assembly to consider the repercussions of defunding a beloved cultural institution that has been valued by the Cornell community for almost fifty years. If you support the arts, vote like it.
Yuji Yang ’19
Simi Best ’19
Amy Wood ’18
Shay Collins ’18
Ilse Sweldens ’19
Izzy Pottinger ’19
Austin Ward ’17
Nathan Chazan ’19
Niara Hardister ’18
Steven Torres ’18
Nathaniel LaCelle-Peterson ’18
Noelle LaDue ’19
Franco Uribe-Rheinboldt ’20
Michael McGinnis ’20
Sage Magee ’18
Kyler Phillips ’21
Audrey DeCastro ’20
Annika Rockhill ’19
Stefan Joseph ’19
Polen Guzelocak ’22
Shay Collins ’18 is a former Sun arts editor and a Sun arts staff writer. Nathan Chazan ’19 is a current Sun arts staff writer.