Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Students pack the stairwells in an attempt to get tickets to an advance screening of Justice League at Cornell Cinema in Willard Straight Hall on Nov. 14. The Cinema's funding is now in jeopardy.

November 30, 2017

Student Assembly Vote Thursday Could Decide Cornell Cinema’s Fate

Print More

The Student Assembly will vote Thursday afternoon on whether to discontinue allocating student activity funds to Cornell Cinema after Provost Michael Kotlikoff said the administration would provide $36,000 to $40,000 to the Cinema in the next byline cycle.

The administration’s contribution would resolve the funding gap that would be created if and once S.A. decreases the allocation from the current $10.90 to $8.50 per student, Cornell Cinema stated on its Facebook page.

The statement came after representatives from the University, members of S.A. and members of Cornell Cinema met yesterday to negotiate a funding plan as a result of an agreement earlier this month between the provost and members of S.A. to begin a collaborative process to ensure the Cinema does not shut down.

However, it remains undecided whether members of the Assembly will vote to allocate $8.50 or approve the Appropriations Committee’s original recommendation to allocate $0. In fact, several members of the S.A. leadership told The Sun in an interview on Wednesday that they were inclined not to support the organization.

“There were a lot of back door dealings without the Student Assembly being part of the process,” said Varun Devatha ’19, S.A. executive vice president, referring to the meeting between the Cinema and the Office of the Provost prior to the joint meeting with S.A. members.

S.A. members said they are concerned that the student activity funds would continue to pay staff wages despite the Cinema’s statement that receiving the University’s contributions means the administration in fact will cover the portion of the student activity funds that currently supports wages.

“Cornell Cinema would be able to fully support its staff wages with non-S.A. funds in the upcoming byline cycle if the Assembly votes to allocate $8.50 per student,” said Charlie Liao ’18, co-director of the Cornell Cinema funding analysis, based on an accounting of budget projections.

That projection takes into consideration the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly’s resolution this month to increase funding to the Cinema, in addition to other University subsidies, Liao said.

Voting in favor of the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation may alter the Cinema’s state of operations by cutting nearly $150,000, or a quarter of its budget, The Sun previously reported. Members of the Cinema have said the budget reduction may introduce the need to cut costs, lay off employees or potentially put the survival of the business at risk.

The S.A. bylaws contain no language restricting organizations from paying staff wages with activity funds, Liao said in his analysis.

Liao added it was also “unreasonable to punish the Cinema” for its inability under wage privacy laws to disclose its labor-related expense information to the Appropriations Committee.

After the joint agreement among S.A. members and the provost, the S.A members added, members of Cornell Cinema met with the Office of the Provost without any S.A. members present, about which S.A. members were not happy.

Jung Won Kim ’18, S.A. president, said, by the time of the joint meeting, the funding plan had already been decided by the University and the Cinema. He said he believed the S.A.’s interests were inadequately represented at the meeting.

“This wasn’t even a negotiation,” Kim said. “Essentially the Cinema is getting money and that’s great, but that’s not negotiation for us.”

“I think it’s unfair [for] undergraduate students to expect their representatives to be able to fund the organization that is not willing to work with them,” Devatha added.

At Cornell Cinema’s meeting with the Office of the Provost, Director of Cornell Cinema Mary Fessenden discussed the budgetary information that had been requested by the Office of the Provost for review to determine the appropriate contribution by the University, said Yuji Yang ’19, president of Cornell Cinema.

Jung also expressed his concern that under a new funding plan, the Cinema would still receive the $8.50 per student byline that the Appropriations Committee originally rejected.

“Further cuts to Cornell Cinema will represent cuts to the programming offered to students,” Yang told The Sun on Wednesday.

“It is our goal to continue efforts with the S.A. to seek external funding, but those conversations cannot be had when the threat of Cornell Cinema’s indefinite closure is at hand,” he said.

At the meeting Thursday afternoon, Gabriel Kaufman ’18, chair of the S.A. Appropriations Committee, will also present recommendations for byline allocations to 10 additional student organizations.