November 9, 2017

GUEST ROOM | The Legacy of the Student Assembly

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On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Student Assembly will vote firmly and distinctly “No” to the reality of Cornell Cinema. They will tell you about its uneconomical model. They will criticize the body of patrons who use this sanctuary. They will tell you that they support a Cornell Cinema funded by the University. And they will purport to use all of their efforts to urge the administration to reach into its pockets and support this institution now hanging by a thread. But make no mistake, their vote to reduce the activity fee allocation of $10.90 dollars per student to a staggering sum of $0.00 is an emphatic vote of No — it is a vote of dissolution.

A shortsighted grievance expressed by members of the SA at this past Thursday’s forum was that the sole advocates for CC were those with direct affiliation (“why,” one member demanded, “are the only people speaking Cinema workers?”). Here then is the account of two recent graduates and longstanding patrons of the Cinema — with no affiliation to its administration — composed out of pure ardor for the institution.

For those yet to bear witness to the remarkable experiences offered in the basement of WSH, a cursory glance at only last week’s screenings provides an accurate sample of the broad and painstaking curation characteristic of CC. Friday saw a unique performance of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi accompanied by the Philip Glass Ensemble. Sunday evening unearthed a classic from the science fiction canon: Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky’s eerie commentary on the Soviet post-Chernobyl dystopia — one of BFI’s “50 greatest films of all time” (or 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes for us millennials). Though rehashing of otherwise inaccessible art films is one of the Cinema’s greatest benefits, it also caters to Cornellians seeking this season’s acclaimed features — on a big screen, for just $5.50 — like Dunkirk this Friday.

The Cinema’s mark on its patrons lasts long after they leave Ithaca. Hearing of the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation, Jon Gartenberg ’73 who has spent the last four decades in the film business sent us a deeply disheartened letter. He recounted his time here, regularly attending double features at the Cinema, declaring he is “only one of the countless other professionals in the moving image field who have experienced the indelible influence that Cornell Cinema made upon them in their formative years.” At last week’s forum, one SA member argued compellingly that CC is a “common good” enjoyed by the student body and community alike. While this point is well taken, if alumni the likes of Gartenberg and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz ‘95 are any indication, CC is far more than a common good. It is an exceptional good, unshared by any of our peer institutions, one that, as Mr. Gartenberg attests, “easily matches that of major cultural organizations in NYC.” It is a good interwoven in the fabric of this university.

The SA repeatedly rebuts these sentiments by claiming the Cinema’s essentiality is the very reason the university should assume its financial burden. This of course is rational, but also myopic. Just yesterday, Provost Michael Kotlikoff definitively addressed the reality of the university doling out $117,000 immediately (the proposed cut): “ I am very worried about the assumption that somehow this will be rescued by either the College of Arts and Sciences, Student and Campus Life, or the Provost’s Office, because everybody that I have talked to has said they can’t do it.” The SA proposed this drastic cut with the hope that it will force the hand of the administration; this hope is clearly unfounded.

When we pressed a member of the Appropriations Committee to give us a precedent for an SA cut whose funding was immediately assumed by the administration, they provided a single example: The “Speak About It” orientation program, which informs incoming freshman on issues of sexual assault. The SA defunded this program with the understanding that by law the university must provide such education and the university obliged. Current circumstances could not be less parallel.

With this we directly address the SA: Instead of spending “countless hours” futilely soliciting chimerical funds, why not stick to the mutual understanding between you and the Cinema and gradually wean them off your budget. CC’s proposal makes it clear that they don’t expect indefinite SA funding. All they request, all we as patrons request, is that you provide enough to keep the enterprise afloat during this transition. Give them time to assure economic longevity. You are not “kicking the can down the road,” as one SA member said. You are already making the active choice of reducing your allocation and beginning the process of complete divestment. Isn’t this enough?
Please don’t deprive future Cornellians of the chance to catch a David Lynch thriller on a Tuesday, a screening of the Baldwin documentary I am not your Negro followed by panel with preeminent scholars of African American studies, or the chance to drown the sorrows of a bad prelim in Minions. Don’t deprive our campus of this crucial supplement to Greek life that it desperately needs. The student body, the body you represent, has spoken in the form of 3,000 signatures on this petition asking you to reconsider divestment. You, the 2017 Student Assembly, are unquestionably advocates for the students. Don’t let the end of Cornell Cinema be your legacy.


Ishaan Jhaveri ’17, grad is a graduate student at Cornell University. Drew Adler ’17 is a recent graduate of Cornell University. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.