December 9, 2020

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Inside the Student Assembly’s Late Night Purge

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article included a signatory who had not signed this letter. That signatory has since been removed.

To the Editor:

Three weeks ago, we, fourteen members of the Student Assembly, decided to vote no on Resolution 11 – Calling For the Disarmament of the Cornell University Police Department. We did so for a variety of reasons. Some of us believed the resolution did not properly consider the consequences of disarmament to campus safety. Others did not think the S.A. was well-situated to determine what resources police officers need to safely do their jobs. More still were not convinced that having a different, less accountable, armed police force handle violent incidents on Cornell’s campus was preferable. Furthermore, some of us thought that given the symbolic nature of the resolution it would not lead to any material change beneficial to the student body. In other words, this was a routine and respectful disagreement with our colleagues who supported the resolution.

In the weeks since the resolution failed, its proponents have launched an unprecedented recall and smear campaign against us. Behind the scenes, they have sought to purge those they disapprove of from S.A., kick perceived opponents off of committees, and remove an officer of the executive committee during the middle of her term. These actions are an affront to the values of our shared governance institutions and harmfully prevent the healthy functioning of the Student Assembly.

Immediately after Resolution 11 failed on November 19, proponents of the resolution promised to recall the members who voted no. The Vice President of Finance also proposed establishing a recall process for student trustees in response to a student trustee’s recent call for civility. As The Sun noted in its coverage of the recall effort, this appears to be the first time in the recent history of the S.A. that recall petitions have been filed. This should be no surprise considering the purpose of a recall process is to remove members who have engaged in serious misconduct. It is not intended to be a mechanism for removing members simply because you disagree with their views. While these recall petitions fell woefully short of the required number of signatures, they have nonetheless set a terrible precedent for the future. S.A. members should feel free to vote their conscience without fear of being recalled by their colleagues. If students disagree with the views or positions of their elected representatives, S.A. elections provide the appropriate opportunity to address those concerns. 

It would have been bad enough if it ended there. But late Tuesday night, the Executive Committee violated a litany of the S.A.’s rules in order to remove the Vice President of Research and Accountability Annie Gleiberman ’22. Removing the VPRA requires a unanimous vote of the Executive Committee. Knowing that the Vice President of External Affairs Morgan Baker ’23 would vote against such a motion, the committee proceeded to illegally remove Baker, claiming, incorrectly, that serving on Gleiberman’s committee constituted a conflict of interest. Officers of the S.A. automatically sit on the Executive Committee and removing an officer requires a two-thirds vote of the entire S.A. The Committee decided to ignore this bylaw and unilaterally removed Baker anyway. After removing Baker, the Committee proceeded to remove Gleiberman on a “unanimous” vote and then re-add Baker to the Executive Committee. It was an embarrassing, rule-breaking and brazenly undemocratic display.

If that weren’t enough, they have also demanded that a majority of members of the R&A Committee be removed on the basis that they do not hold the “right” political views. These actions are the latest and most extreme efforts of certain S.A. members to attack those with different views and avoid scrutiny for their outrageous conduct.

In the aftermath of its decision, the Committee released a shameless statement, making baseless allegations against the members of the R&A Committee. Once again, the Committee failed to grasp that a professional relationship between two S.A. members does not constitute a conflict of interest. (A personal history with the VPRA, on the other hand, very much does.) The Committee was unable to point to any specific bylaw or authority that mandates recusal in such cases, nor does it cite what authority gave it the power to unilaterally remove Baker from the Executive Committee. The entire procedure was lawless from start to finish.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Executive Committee wants to stack the Research and Accountability Committee with loyal allies who will not question their abuses of power and violations of S.A. rules.

Unfortunately, these purges go well beyond the Executive Committee. Two of us, Raquel Zohar ’23 and Kate Santacruz ’23, were summarily removed from the Diversity and Inclusion Committee because we voted against Resolution 11. We have also learned that members of the Executive Committee are planning to selectively use existing, but unenforced, S.A. rules on attendance and committee membership in order to remove members who voted no on Resolution 11. These actions are undemocratic, authoritarian and a flagrant abuse of the S.A.’s rules and procedures.

It goes without saying that these efforts are unprecedented. A vocal minority of the S.A. who believe everyone must think as they do has attempted to strip power from anyone who disagrees with them and browbeat them into silence. Their actions have created a hostile, toxic and untenable atmosphere within the S.A., hampering its ability to function and causing unnecessary anxiety and emotional distress to its members.

The leadership of the S.A., the president and executive vice president, have, to this point, refused to deal with this behavior, and, in many cases, have actively participated in it. We recently learned that the S.A. president, despite repeatedly and publicly claiming to be neutral, has been working with the Cornell Abolitionist and Revolutionary Society to put pressure on members to change their votes. She is, of course, welcome to her personal views on disarmament, but to secretly work with an organization that has insulted and sought to recall almost half of the S.A. disqualifies her from being a fair arbitrator. She owes Cornell students an explanation of why she has been misleading them about her position on the issue.

The University administration has likewise refused to get involved, declining to even make a statement encouraging civility. As a result, students, in the face of tremendous abuse, have been left to fend for themselves. This is unacceptable. Cornellians deserve far more from their elected representatives and they ought demand more. Come spring elections they should remember who stood up against this outrageous behavior. 

Morgan Baker ’23

Vice President of External Affairs, College of Arts & Sciences Representative

Annie Gleiberman ’22

Vice President of Research and Accountability, College of Engineering Representative

Evan Moy ’21

College of Arts & Sciences Representative

Lucas Zumpano ’22

School of Industrial and Labor Relations Representative

Raquel Zohar ’23

Students with Disabilities Representative At-Large

Youhan Yuan ’21

International Students Liaison At-Large

Sonu Kapoor ‘21

College of Engineering Representative

Kate Santacruz ’23

Transfer Representative

Valentina Xu ’22

Undesignated At-Large Representative

Lucas Smith ’22

Undesignated At-Large Representative

Dillon Anadkat ’21

Undesignated At-Large Representative

Claire Tempelman ’24

Freshman Representative

Andrea Miramontes Serrano ’24

Freshman Representative