Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer

Thursday's Student Assembly meeting saw resolutions on topics ranging from University ties to the war in Yemen to student mental health.

April 19, 2021

Student Assembly Tackles Saudi Arabian Ties, Slip Days

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The student assembly debated both international and local issues at Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, with representatives sponsoring resolutions on topics ranging from University ties to the war in Yemen to student mental health.

Three Cornell undergraduates proposed a resolution that was passed Thursday with the aim of severing all ties between the University and parties involved in the Yemeni Civil War

The six-year-old conflict has killed hundreds of thousands, caused mass displacements, created conditions of famine and seen war crimes and human rights violations committed against civilians. 

If the resolution is approved by President Pollack, the University would be obligated to disclose all financial ties with Saudi Arabia and disengage with its four Saudi partners which are involved in a range of University activities, from a hospitality program to a $25 million science and technology research grant. Cornell would also have to bar all Saudi officials from speaking on campus until the end of the war and ban arms manufacturers like Northrop Grumman and Boeing from recruiting on campus. 

“It’s unethical in general to have these companies recruit… they are definitively involved in this war. Companies like Lockheed Martin, which donated $62,000 to Cornell Engineering, supplied the bombs used by Saudi Arabia to destroy a school bus that killed 40 children in Yemen,” said Joseph Mullen ’24, a co-sponsor of the resolution. 

Critics of the resolution, including Vice President of External Operations Morgan Baker ’22, argued that having access to more companies at job fairs particularly benefits first generation students who often lack familial connections in engineering. 

The First Generation Student Representative At-Large Lucy Contreras ’21 disagreed. 

“I’m fairly certain my community would care a lot more about a genocide happening than about four companies coming to a job fair,” she said. 

Mullen acknowledged that the resolution is unlikely to win the administrative support required for it to take effect. In 2018, nearly forty faculty members signed an open letter to President Pollack asking the University to end all collaboration with Saudi Arabia — Pollack did not issue a statement in response. 

But, for supporters of the resolution, the moral stand is worth taking regardless of its outcome. 

“At an institution like Cornell, where some of our class will be future policy makers and politicians who make these decisions, my hope is to spread the word now, at a college level, while people are students, that for the rest of our lives we have to live up to these ethical standards and continue this work to question why we need war in the first place,” Mullen said.  

After the resolution regarding the University’s ties to Saudi Arabia was passed, Noah Watson ’22, executive vice president, unveiled Resolution 43, asking Cornell to implement a “University-Wide Slip Day System.” 

Slip days, which are used in the department of information sciences, grant students no-questions-asked 24 hour extensions on assignments of their choosing. Resolution 43 would give students ten slip days in each of their classes. 

The resolution argues that the stress caused by COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health concerns on campus, while students’ resources have been limited by the end of Cornell Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service’s peer counseling. 

The resolution argues that students should not have to feel as though they have to describe traumatic experiences to instructors for extensions.

Watson said the resolution might also benefit professors, who would no longer have to answer traumatic emails from students regarding their rationale for requesting an extension.

The resolution was ultimately approved, but first met with questions about how the resolution was presented because it had not been shown to the Faculty Senate or the S.A. Academic Policy Committee. 

Lucas Smith ’22, a voting member of the SA, said he supported the resolution, but wanted it tabled until the next meeting to give him and others time to read it more thoroughly. 

Watson refused and said the urgency of the issues the resolution addressed meant it had to be passed immediately. 

“There’s a mental health crisis on campus. A lot of the resolution sprouts from the academic stress that we’re facing especially during these times and limited social interaction,” Watson said.

The resolution is similar to a previous academic policy committee resolution which is currently awaiting President Pollack’s response: a proposal to extend the time period in which a student cannot be forced to sit for three prelims or finals from 24 to 30 hours.

Now, Resolution 43 goes to President Pollack, who has thirty days to formally respond — one day beyond the end of classes.