Beginning Monday at noon, undergraduates will have the opportunity to vote for their Student Assembly representatives for the 2018-2019 school year. Those elected will be responsible not just for representing student voices to the administration, but for overseeing the various organizations that receive byline funding.
They will also face the daunting task of restoring trust in a body that has over the past year made a habit of controversial decisions and ill-timed statements that often overshadow the good work they do.
In the race for president, The Sun is proud to endorse Dale Barbaria ’19, who currently serves on the assembly as a College of Engineering representative. We believe he has the greatest appreciation for the responsibilities and limits of the Student Assembly, and his experience as a college representative, parliamentarian, vice president for internal operations, and member of the University Assembly Codes and Judicial Committee leave him best prepared to face the challenges of the coming year.
In both the debate and an interview with The Sun, Barbaria showed clear focus on the distinct ways in which the S.A. has the power to influence student life. He supports a more in-depth, formal review process for organizations funded by the student activities fee, the nearly $7 million the S.A. allocates to a variety of campus organizations every other year.
Although the coming year is an off-year, it is important that the S.A. ensures accountability among the funded organizations, as illustrated by the ongoing CUTonight debacle. Moreover, a more formal and transparent appropriations and review process could help avoid a repeat of last semester’s Cornell Cinema controversy, which devolved into a he-said-she-said argument with both sides presenting their own set of facts and assertions, and culminated in an outcome that left nobody happy.
And as campus eagerly awaits the findings of the elusive Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, Barbaria’s familiarity with the Campus Code of Conduct will allow him to effectively advocate for undergraduates in any eventual discussion on hate speech and harassment.
Varun Devatha ’19, the current executive vice president, is also a strong candidate for president. Devatha’s focus during the campaign has been on using the S.A. as a platform for student voices and on increase S.A. outreach to greater numbers of student groups, an admirable goal. His emphasis on collaboration and outreach is excellent, as is his record of sponsoring resolutions and working in committees to make direct improvements. However, we are concerned how he views the S.A.’s role on campus. During the debate, he expressed hesitancy about the S.A.’s power to allocate the Student Activity fee — this is perhaps the most important function of the S.A., and is one that should absolutely rest with the students, not the faculty or the administration. Our leaders cannot shy away from their responsibilities simply because they are difficult or uncomfortable to carry out.
The Sun is pleased that both candidates agree on many issues important to the S.A. They see the need for a more welcoming and sympathetic atmosphere, and support diversity and inclusion training and other measures to make the atmosphere of meetings less adversarial and more welcoming of student voices and differing opinions. Both candidates support voting with iClickers in meetings to maintain better voting records, save time and increase public accountability.
But only one can be president, and of the two candidates, we believe Barbaria’s understated but effective approach to governing is best suited for Cornell in the coming year.
The complete list of candidates and their statements, for all SA races, can be found on the Office of the Assembly’s website. Voting begins 12 p.m. Monday, March 26, and continues through 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 28.