March 20, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: “Cornell Cinema to Receive ‘Bridge Funding’ from University for Next Fiscal Year”

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To the Editor:

The decision to defund the Cornell Cinema was one of the cruelest, dumbest actions in the history of the Student Assembly. Thankfully, the Provost decided to provide the Cinema with bridge funding.

Nonetheless, in light of the SA’s actions, it is time, once again, to consider the end of that body as we know it. A modest proposal: Let’s give the Student Assembly vote to anyone who shows up with a student ID. We’d call it the “Student Union Open Meeting.” With power vested in the many, not the few, proposals like the one to defund Cornell Cinema wouldn’t leave the cutting room floor.

The history of direct democracy is rich — from the Athenian assembly to today’s New England town meetings. Closer to home, on the heels of the Willard Straight takeover in April 1969, more than 7,000 students led by the Students for a Democratic Society took over Barton Hall and started passing resolutions.  Since the Barton Hall Community’s disbandment after about a week of existence, student governments at Cornell have steadily contracted in size and scope.

The University Senate — which included faculty — had 132 members, and was widely judged the most powerful student government in the country. Only about 20 sit on the S.A., and other constituencies have been relegated to other assemblies.

Perhaps the smaller size of the Student Assembly makes its members more effective at doing whatever it is that they profess to do. But the grittier duties of a town-meeting style assembly could be handled by an executive committee with agenda setting powers; a moderator; a finance committee; and other such boards.

To preserve the democratic spirit of the new body, anyone could submit additional agenda items that would be confirmed by a voice vote.  The moderator would open the meeting with the traditional call of the Athenian assembly: “Who wishes to speak?” And a new era of open debate would dawn far above Cayuga’s golden shore.

David Wittenberg ’09
Former Sun Associate Editor