Boris Tsang / Sun File Photo

Wednesday's Employee Assembly meeting was held over zoom and covered issues ranging from elections to student/staff relationships.

September 16, 2021

Employee Assembly Meeting Addresses Student-Staff Relationships, Shared Governance

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In a meeting Wednesday, the Employee Assembly discussed internal elections, meeting modality and policy on romantic relationships between students and staff. 

First, the  E.A.’s executive committee resolved to keep meetings online at least through the end of October. Members supported the decision, stating that meeting online was more convenient.

Brandon Fortenberry, division of student and campus life representative, explained that holding E.A. meetings online is more convenient because they occur mid-day, and staff often don’t have time to go to another location in the middle of their workday.

Some employees said they needed Zoom access because they’re no longer on campus because of COVID-19 or recent developments forcing them out of their offices, including a flood in Day Hall. 

“There was a flood in Day Hall, and the ground floor was hit particularly hard as you can imagine,” said Joseph Cannella, LGBTQ+ representative at-large. “We don’t have a projected date as to when we would be back on campus.”

Unlike other assemblies, Zoom meetings are nothing new for the E.A. The need to include University employees from the Geneva and New York City campuses made meetings hybrid even before the pandemic. 

At the meeting, the E.A. also elected members to its liaison positions, which place E.A. members on the Faculty Senate, Student Assembly, University Assembly and other University committees. 

These elections were mostly uncontested, with multiple members facing no competition and others not receiving any volunteers. Only one election — for the U.A. Codes and Judicial Committee — went to a secret-ballot vote between two candidates. 

The lack of interest in these seats surprised some attendees, who noted that while E.A. members are quick to complain about issues, many don’t want to sit on the committees that decide the related policies. 

“It’s interesting that we often hear from employees about parking when it comes to a complaint, but we don’t have anyone jumping to volunteer for the committee,” said  Ellen Miller, vice chair for communications. “So keep that in mind. You could be on the first line, speaking to the Hearing and Appeals Board members about parking situations.” 

The remaining empty positions will be filled as members volunteer after the meeting, and E.A. members will also canvas their constituents to find staff who are not on the E.A. to fill positions which have been allocated to staff who do not sit on the E.A. 

Additionally, the E.A. Elections Committee approved a new elections calendar and plans to hold a special election in the third week of October to fill the 12 vacant E.A. seats

The E.A. also heard a presentation from the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX regarding the new interim Policy 6.3 on consensual relationships.

Under the new version of Policy 6.3, romantic or sexual relationships between staff members and undergraduates are prohibited. The rule applies regardless of work unit, either party’s location, or the age of the staff member and undergraduate in question. 

If a staff member has violated the policy and a supervisor knows, they are required to report it to the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX. The policy also encourages employees to self-report violations.

Interim Policy 6.3 also makes some important distinctions. For instance, relationships between staff and graduate students are allowed, and relationships which existed before the new prohibition went into effect will be handled based on the circumstances.

“I know that can be scary for people to think that they’re disclosing something that might violate a policy, [but] if it pre-existed before the prohibition went into effect, we can’t say that it violates the policy, but we would like to know about it,” said Laura Rugless, associate vice president for the office of institutional equity and Title IX. 

This policy would bring staff rules more in line with existing faculty policy and mirror similar policies at other institutions, according to Rugless. 

However, the policy is considered interim until a full review of the policy featuring representatives from all the shared governance assemblies, Weill Cornell Medicine and the Office of the Dean of Students can be completed. Meetings are ongoing, with the full process expected to wrap up in February 2022.