Boris Tsang / Staff Photographer

Cornell Cinema supporters attend last Thursday's Student Assembly meeting as the Appropriation Committee presents its recommendation to allocate $0 to the Cinema.

November 9, 2017

University, S.A. Members to Work Together With Stakeholders on Funding Cornell Cinema

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Student Assembly members and Provost Michael Kotlikoff came to a mutual understanding that they would begin a collaborative process to ensure Cornell Cinema does not shut down, said a statement Wednesday night signed jointly by the provost and members of S.A.

“We hope to bring all of the stakeholders together to develop an appropriate funding plan that will continue support for Cornell Cinema and develop a long-term funding model that recognizes the role that the Cinema plays as a student activity, and also appropriately funds academic activities from academic budgets,” said the statement.

“This progress will result in a motion to table the current S.A. resolution to zero out funding for Cornell Cinema,” continued the statement — signed by the provost, Jung Won Kim ’18, S.A. president, Gabriel Kaufman ’18, chair of the S.A. Appropriations Committee and Dustin Liu ’19, undergraduate student trustee.

Jäelle Sanon ’19, S.A. first generation student representative at-large and member of the Appropriations Committee, said that she would “gladly table” that vote once the motion is raised — but added that tabling the vote indefinitely would be “problematic.”

“Cornell Cinema is not something we are putting to the side, but we are investigating it seriously,” she said. “We will do anything in our power to make sure that Cornell Cinema is sustainable, and if that leads to tabling the vote, we will gladly table the vote.”

In the unlikely event the assembly is unable to officially agree upon a new amount to allocate to the Cinema, according to the S.A. charter, “the applicable Student Activity Fee will default to the amount and allocation currently in effect during the fee-setting year.”

If the S.A. fails to decide how much byline funding to allocate to Cornell Cinema by the last day of classes this semester, the Cinema would continue to receive $10.90 from student activity funds, said TJ Ball ’19, S.A. undesignated at-large representative.

Cornell Cinema members did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the statement.

The collaboration would result in a long-term funding model for the Cinema that recognizes the Cinema’s role as a student activity, the statement said.

In an open letter released Tuesday, members of Cornell Cinema said Kotlikoff told them, if S.A. upheld the recommendation to allocate $0, he would like to hear arguments that Cornell Cinema is “not a significant student activity on campus,” The Sun previously reported.

The statement added that the collaboratively-devised funding model would pay academic activities with academic budgets.

The provost said he is willing work with the S.A. on an alternative plan to keep Cornell Cinema in business — by agreeing either to continue the byline allocations, draw on University funds or share the costs — Kim told The Sun.

Prior to this meeting, it appeared that Cornell Cinema could potentially go out of business if members of S.A. voted to stop allocating undergraduate funding to the Cinema in the next byline cycle, The Sun previously reported. If S.A. approved the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation to allocate $0 to Cornell Cinema, the Cinema could have run a deficit of more than $150,000 — 30 percent of the Cinema’s current operating budget — according to the Appropriations Committee.

Kim told The Sun that Cornell Cinema used to be funded independent of Student Assembly, and began to receive byline funding after the S.A. approached the Cinema to take them under the byline funding structure.

But last Monday, the Appropriations Committee voted to defund Cornell Cinema in 2018-20 partially on the grounds that it is using byline funding to pay staff wages, The Sun previously reported.

Cornell Cinema has used S.A. funds inappropriately to pay professional staff wages and benefits, Kaufman said. According to Cornell Cinema, byline funds have helped support its five professional staff members’ wages but the Cinema has committed to cease this practice in 2018. In 2017, student activity funds covered 10.59 percent ($37,495) of the Cinema’s total expenses on staff wages and benefits ($354,059).

The earliest records of Cornell Cinema receiving S.A. funding date back over a decade, according to the Student Assembly website.

“I personally think that was a mistake,” Kim said. “The undergraduate students’ money should not be paying salaries.”

Varun Devatha ’19, S.A. executive vice president, agreed with this view.

“It’s almost unethical to place the decision of funding full-time employees and part-time employees in the hands of students,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Cornell Cinema came under the byline funding structure in 2004. In fact, the Cinema had been byline funded since before that year.