Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

JT Baker '21 (left) is expected to serve on the Cornell Board of Trustees with Jaewon Sim '21 (right) starting July.

April 24, 2019

JT Baker ’21 Would Have Won Trustee Election, ‘Expected’ to Serve With Jaewon Sim ’21

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JT Baker ’21 would have won the position of the student-elected trustee had he not been disqualified from race, the University announced Wednesday. A Board of Trustees committee has recommended he fill a vacant spot alongside Jaewon Sim ’21, the undergraduate student trustee-elect, for the next two years starting July.

The Trustee Nominating Committee disqualified Baker, who is a football player, on April 16 over an email sent by a staff member in the athletics department alerting student athletes of Baker’s campaign. The TNC said Baker was disqualified for failing to notify the committee of this email, which violated election rules.

On the same day, President Martha E. Pollack and Chair of the Board of Trustees Robert Harrison ’76 said in separate statements to The Sun immediately after the result was announced that they believed election rules were not applied appropriately, but they will not seek to overrule the TNC, which is independent of the Board and the administration.

A re-tabulation of the election votes — conducted by the Office of the Assemblies under the request of the Committee on Board Composition and Governance — showed that Baker would have won the election had he been included in the tally.

The vote tallies released Thursday indicated that Baker ultimately collected 2,583 votes, 374 more than Sim, who received 2,209 votes. Voter turnout was 29.24 percent, with  6,417 ballots cast in the election.

Based on this result, the CBCG — an 11-member committee which both Pollack and Harrison sit on — said it affirmed Sim’s election but also recommended that the Board select Baker to fill a currently vacant trustee seat, according to a statement from the chair of the CBCG, Ronald D. McCray ’79.

Cornell’s bylaws state that trustee-at-large — which takes up 43 of 64 seats on the Board — is the only type of position that allows nomination by the CBCG, while all other types of trustee are either elected by constituencies or reserved for individuals occupying certain positions such as the Governor of New York.

The University did not confirm whether Baker is nominated to be a trustee-at-large as of late Wednesday night. But if Baker is to assume this spot, this would be the first time a current student serves in a trustee role that is not a student-elected position, according to Prof. Corey Ryan Earle ’07. The only exception would be Ezra Cornell ’70, who held — and still holds — the life trustee seat as the eldest lineal descendant of Ezra Cornell during his time as a student.

Should the Board approve this recommendation “as expected” in its upcoming meeting in May, both Baker and Sim will serve two-year terms concurrently starting July, the statement reads.

In its review of the election process, the CBCG found TNC’s actions to disqualify Baker were “made in good faith,” but that the election rules and procedures “urgently require meaningful review and revisions.”

However, the details of the reforms will not take shape “until after the Board has a chance to discuss this issue at future meetings,” according to Carberry.

Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, science and technology studies and chair of TNC, said in a statement to The Sun that he “strongly endorses this outcome.”

“It stands as an affirmation of shared governance while also acknowledging the concerns about fairness surrounding the election,” Lewenstein’s statement reads. “I am grateful for the CBCG’s recognition that the TNC acted in good faith in addressing its commitment to ensuring that the election process take place in a respectful and fair arena.”

Sim, who originally won the student trustee race by a 1,025-vote margin over the closest candidate, congratulated Baker for his nomination in a statement to The Sun.

“I’m honored to be serving as the next student-elected trustee and I look forward to working with him and all members of the Board,” Sim’s statement reads. Baker has not yet responded to requests for comment by late Wednesday night.

This post has been updated with vote tallies.