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The Trustee Nominating Committee disqualified JT Baker ’21, a football player, saying he violated elections rules by sending two emails to athletes and coaches about his campaign platform.

April 16, 2019

Cornell President and Trustees Chair Say Committee Erred in Disqualifying Student Trustee Candidate

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Corrections Appended.

Cornell President Martha E. Pollack and Board of Trustees Chair Robert Harrison ’76 said Tuesday that a committee was wrong to disqualify an undergraduate student trustee candidate from the race.

The Trustee Nominating Committee disqualified JT Baker ’21, a football player, saying he violated elections rules with regards to two emails to athletes and coaches about his campaign platform. The number of votes Baker earned was not released because of the disqualification. The committee announced Tuesday that Jaewon Sim ’21 had won the race.

Harrison and Pollack said in a pair of markedly strong statements that they believed the nine-member committee had not applied the elections rules correctly.

“I am deeply concerned by the decision of the Trustee Nominating Committee to disqualify undergraduate candidate JT Baker from this year’s undergraduate student trustee election,” Harrison said in a statement to The Sun.

Pollack said she believes the committee’s stated grounds for disqualifying Baker “are not supported by the established rules governing the election process.”

Cornell’s top two officials both said, however, that they would seek to reform election processes rather than invalidate the committee’s decision.

“While I do not agree with the result or the articulated rationale behind the decision,” Harrison said, “I believe that any attempt by the Board of Trustees to overturn the decision would gravely undermine the established, deliberative process delegated to the Committee by the Trustees for the conduct of community-elected trustee elections.”

Pollack said she hopes the reforms will “avoid such an outcome in the future,” and Harrison said they were necessary in order to satisfy his “strong view that the credibility of the election process must be restored.”

The Trustee Nominating Committee said in a public report released Tuesday that Baker had violated a rule “prohibiting situations where an implicit condition for affiliation with a group compelled support.”

Baker was one of 10 candidates who ran for the position. He did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

In its report, the committee said Baker did not notify the committee of “the potential violation” in a timely fashion, which committee members said “altered the fairness of the election.”

Some supporters of Baker’s campaign said they believe the committee and the election process has been unfair to Baker.

“They realized this intelligent, unwavering, and outspoken black man was about to win and had to figure out some loophole to keep that from happening because they knew he wouldn’t be silent when they wanted him to be,” Maxwell McCormick ’19, a former linebacker on the football team, said in a message.

Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, science and technology studies, the chair of the committee, said in a statement Wednesday morning that the decision was made after careful deliberations.

The Trustee Nominating Committee takes its responsiblity to ensure a fair election very seriously. It deliberated carefully about how to most appropriately apply its rules in the current election,” the statement reads.

“I fully support President Pollack’s and Chairman Harrison’s calls for careful review in the coming months to ensure that election rules reflect the spirit of fairness and transparency essential to support our shared governance system,” the statement continues.

The committee comprises the five constituent-elected trustees, two Student Assembly members and one member of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. The director of the Office of the Assemblies “provides staff support” but does not have a vote on the committee, according to Lewenstein.

This post has been updated.

Corrections: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that the committee found JT Baker ’21 had violated election rules by sending out two emails. In fact, athletics department staff sent out the emails in question. The article also inaccurately stated that the director of the Office of the Assemblies is a member of the Trustee Nominating Committee, when she in fact does not have a vote on the committee.