June 25, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The SAFC Should Not Get Involved in Politics

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To the Editor:

Last week, the Student Activities Funding Commission, without precedent or any forewarning to students, unilaterally decided to donate $10,000 to the ongoing Cornell Students for Black Lives fundraiser. This would be an unprecedented sum for any registered student organization, especially one less than a month old. While organizations put in years of hard work and dedication to work their way up to performance tier status, Cornell Students for Black Lives has springboarded beyond the upper echelon of student organizations. Despite not even being a registered student organization, they have received $2,500 more than the highest tier student organization receives in an entire semester. In just one donation to their fundraiser, they are now better funded than any performance tier organization on campus. Yet this money was not given as funding to a registered organization, it was a donation to a fundraiser organized by students. Even more questionable, the SAFC, entirely funded by students’ activity fees, used your money to do it. The SAFC ought to answer for this unprecedented use of student funds.

Cornell Students for Black Lives stated two weeks ago that the money raised will be evenly divided among five political activist organizations: Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, Communities United for Police Reform, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Southside Community Center and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice. The issue of racial justice is a matter of universal concern and for many it is extremely personal. All these organizations have pledged themselves to this noble cause. However, this does not give the SAFC license to support organizations with overtly political objectives. These organizations speak for a variety of radical objectives well beyond the scope of racial justice, and the SAFC has made the dubious decision to endorse their actions with students’ funds.

For example, this week CPR demanded that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defund the New York Police Department (NYPD) by $1 billion. The national chapter of BLM has launched the #WhatMatters2020 campaign meant to advocate for policies beyond just racial justice, including gun control, universal single-payer healthcare, tax reform and abolishing ICE. Money given to SURJ funds a political action committee which has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president. Whether one agrees with these positions or not is irrelevant — they are controversial political issues that the SAFC has no place supporting with student funds. It would be just as inappropriate to donate to the NRA, the Federalist Society or any other conservative group. These are all controversial political issues that the SAFC has no place funding, let alone with your money. The student activity fees we pay are meant to fund just that: Cornell student activities. This fee is not mandatory so that students in charge of the SAFC can fund political causes, no matter how worthy they are deemed.

As individuals, Cornell students are free to donate their money however they see fit. If they want to donate to Cornell Students for Black Lives’ fundraiser, it is their prerogative. The SAFC, however, oversees every student’s mandatory student activity fee and has a duty to represent those students. Such control over immense capital carries with it the responsibility to manage it in a measured, dutiful way. The SAFC has failed to live up to that expectation. The decision to donate was made by the SAFC leadership, a group of students trusted with responsibly allocating our money. Money meant to fund the over 500 registered student organizations at Cornell, not charities and political action committees from outside the Cornell community. The SAFC has broken the trust of every student who is required to pay the fee when they chose to make a clear and deliberate statement by donating to this fundraiser. At best it is making a political statement using the money of unwilling participants, at worst it is a deliberate mismanagement of student activity fee funds.

Avery Bower ’23