Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

The University's Board of Trustees held one of their meetings at The Statler Hotel on March 23

March 25, 2023

Board of Trustees Convenes, Discusses Relationship with New York State, Plant Science Building Renovation, Updates on Assemblies

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Several committees from Cornell University’s Board of Trustees met from Thursday, March 23 to Friday, March 24 for their annual spring semester meetings in Ithaca. 

On Thursday, the Committee on University Relations met in the Yale/Princeton Room in The Statler Hotel to discuss the relationship between Cornell University and New York State. Cornell’s Office of State Relations operates out of Albany and represents the University before the state government and other stakeholders.

Charlie Kruzansky, associate vice president of state relations, and Zoё Nelson ’04, associate director of state relations, presented to the rest of the committee.

Kruzansky first thanked the trustees for their work supporting a positive relationship between the University and both New York State and the State University of New York. According to Kruzansky, Cornell currently has the strongest relationship with the state and SUNY that he has seen in his 32 years of work in the field.

“We have a strong relationship with the state of New York, obviously going back to the founding of the Earth,” Kruzansky said. “We also have this financial and programmatic relationship with SUNY. … So we have these two relationships, both critically important.”

Kruzansky noted that even as New York State leaders switch, the trustees remain a consistent force.

“[New York State leaders] keep changing — governors, chancellors, legislatures [and] leaders,” Kruzansky said. “We’re sort of the more constant partner, but we know what they care about, we keep our eyes on the wall.”

Kruzansky then discussed the state’s budget deliberations. According to the New York State Constitution, the governor must annually submit an Executive Budget proposal detailing the expected income and expenditures of the next year. Legislative committees open the proposal to the public, particularly to allow for state agencies’ and stakeholders’ input and to utilize public testimony. Then, the final state budget must be approved by April 1.

Kruzansky explained that the Executive Budget is $800 million greater than expected, this year, because of factors including the state’s receiving federal money due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a revitalized economy bringing in tax revenue.

“So the fight right now and all the details are mostly about the budget and about where that [extra] money goes,” Kruzansky said.

However, Kruzansky pointed out that the relative political unity among the state’s political leaders means that politicians generally want to work together to meet similar priorities and utilize the expanded budget in a helpful manner.

“Again they’re all Democrats,” Kruzansky said. “So they’re really not publicly fighting [for vastly different outcomes] as much as they would otherwise.”

Kruzansky also said that the debate over the budget has been intensified by Governor Kathy Hochul’s push for policy changes within the budget, such as overriding certain zoning laws to increase housing construction.

Nelson then presented several of Cornell’s priorities, such as improving outreach and adding programs to the four legislator-funded colleges of the University.

Most notably, Nelson discussed proposed policies that would restrict preferencing for both early admission and legacy applicants across all New York State public and private universities.

Nelson noted that the universities that would be affected currently utilize early admission and legacy admissions in different ways. Kruzansky specifically described that certain struggling private institutions rely on legacy admissions as a way to sustain revenue. 

However, he said that the proposal is currently more of a general policy statement than a deeply evaluated plan.

“[The general policy statement is that the preferred admission system is] not helping, this is perpetuating problems in [industries],” Kruzansky said. “[They] want to stop [this] from continuing.”

The Buildings and Properties Committee also met on Thursday, in The Statler Hotel’s Amphitheater.

Andrew Magré ’91, associate vice president for engineering and project management, and Prof. Benjamin Houlton, ecology, biology and global development, who also serves as the Ronald P. Lynch dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, requested authorization to start construction on the Plant Science Building. With CALS being a land-grant college, construction is being managed and economically supported by the State University Construction Fund, which builds and renovates SUNY facilities across the state.

Magré explained that the building was constructed in 1930 and has lacked any major renovations since. Phase one construction would have an overall project budget of $69 million and would renovate approximately two-thirds of the building. 

Magré said that they presented to the same committee about two years ago to approve the design, and said then that this was a $60 million project. The project came in more expensive than originally estimated; however, the Construction Fund is funding the $9 million dollar gap.

Houlton noted that this project will be fundamental to harnessing the full potential of plant science and soil science education and research at Cornell, which is a hallmark of the University.

“As they like to say in Plant Sciences, we grow the ivy of the Ivy League,” Houlton said. “And that’s because there is no real analog out there among our peer institutions that has such concentrated focus and breadth in the plant sciences.”

Houlton detailed the extensive legacy of plant sciences at Cornell, mentioning that Barbara McClintock 1923 grad M.S. ’25 Ph.D. ’27 was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine by using corn as the model to show that genes can move around. Today, the University continues cutting-edge research in plant sciences through the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems, which looks at the communication between plants.

Overall, Houlton acknowledged that the plant science program annually ranks between first and third worldwide and generates over $60 million in research expenditures. He also described that the school is restructuring to focus on the role plants play in grand challenges, including food security, human health, nutrition, climate change and biodiversity.

Magré then described that the renovations will include a full gut renovation of all five floors and new layouts, walls and mechanical system infrastructure. The exterior building will also be repaired and restored, including upgraded windows and energy infrastructure.

“The architects did a really great job of fitting this modern program into a historic, kind of narrow footprint of the building,” Magré said.

Magré said that the plan is to finish phase one construction by December 2025 and phase two construction by June 2026.

The Board met again Friday morning at the Gary and Laurie Yarnell Hall in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The meeting included reports from the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the University Assembly. 

President of the Student Assembly Valeria Valencia ’23 provided updates on the S.A. from the past year. 

“The Cornell community has spent the last year trying to bounce back from a pandemic that has exposed deep faults of injustice that we cannot ignore,” Valencia said. “The Student Assembly has worked tirelessly to address these concerns.”

With 31 resolutions, The S.A. has the greatest number of proposed resolutions this school year compared to the GPSA and U.A. 

The S.A. increased engagement by creating resolutions to approve special project funding requests for Cornell organizations like the American Cancer Society at Cornell Relay for Life, the TedxCornell Event and the Pan African Student Association AFRIK! Fashion Show. 

Resolutions were also created to help students in need — Resolution 20: Dependable and Inclusive Supply of Pharmaceutical and Essential Nonprescription Supplies, Resolution 15: Requesting that the University Provide Funds for an M.D. Gynecologist at Cornell Health and Resolution 11: Establishing a Basic Needs Center and Expanding Low-income Resources at Cornell. 

The S.A. was also vocal in sociopolitical movements happening this year, including through Resolution 5: Condemning Antisemitism, Resolution 25: Make Cornell Pay and Resolution 28: Protecting the Right to Protest. 

The S.A.’s offices — the Office of Student Government Relations and Office of the Student Advocate — also had a busy year. 

“The OSGR also partnered with the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement to help build partnerships and the Cornell campus to increase the amount of community service opportunities,” Valencia said. 

The OSA collaborated with the Diversity and Inclusion Portfolio within the Dean of Students Office to create workshops that focused on time management, SNAP and benefits for Veterans — while also creating an Essential Resources survey and a Gender Justice Resource Guide. 

The GPSA updates were presented by Kate Carter-Cram grad, GPSA president. She highlighted the new financial incentives — created through Resolution 6: Retroactively Compensating GPSA Executive Members in Accordance with Resolution 3 (22-23) and Resolution 18 (21-22) — given to graduate students for their service on the executive committee.

“By initiating this incentive, we hope to both encourage people to participate but also recognize the importance of Cornell shared governance,” Carter-Cram said. 

Carter-Cram also talked about their advocacy for providing funds for a M.D. gynecologist at Cornell Health, which is Resolution 4: Requesting that the University Provide Funds for an M.D. Gynecologist at Cornell Health. However, Pollack opposed the resolution, noting that the current primary care clinicians are thoroughly trained in gynecologic concerns. 

“While it wasn’t necessarily something that has led to a resolution or a conclusion yet, we’re working with Dean [Marla] Love and other members on campus to brainstorm creative solutions [to] the healthcare desert that Tompkins County is facing that are not necessarily just related to gynecological practices, but also different specialties in the medical field,” Carter-Cram said. 

GPSA also passed Resolution 7: Dependable and Inclusive Supply of Pharmaceutical and Essential Non-Prescription Supplies. After being passed by all assemblies and Pollack’s expression of support for the vending machines, Carter-Cram noted that the vending machines should be integrated on campus by Fall 2023. 

In addition to these resolutions, GPSA discussed parking and transportation issues graduate students are facing and are currently working to create solutions. The assembly also wants to use their reserve funds for renovations of the Big Red Barn

Lastly, they are trying to raise awareness and engagement among the graduate students by having galas, networking nights that bring together departments, monthly communications that review GPSA’s happenings and a Big Red Barn and social media presence. 

The trustees then heard from the U.A., presented by Duncan Allen Cady ’23, chair of the U.A. 

Cady broke down the U.A. by its three committees — campus welfare committee; infrastructure, technology and environment committee and the campus codes committee. From these three committees then hone in on shared governance modernization, community health and wellness at Cornell.  

The shared governance aims to update the codes, policies and operating procedures so that all the policies are accurate, still represented and continue to be enforced. This year, the UA has passed five resolutions related to this topic, with two more in discussion. 

“This is an internal organization to support the best practices of our shared governance system,” Cady said. “This is kind of a convoluted way of saying we’re really trying to make sure that success in the shared governance system, success in representation and success in community collaboration is continued throughout our history.”

The first goal of the committees’ community health focus was supporting Cornell’s 2020 Mental Health Review, which allowed students to be more involved in the process. 

“The goal of the University Assembly was to support the inclusion of more community members throughout the process as its integrity,” Cady said. 

The U.A. also supported the request for the University to provide funds for an M.D. gynecologist at Cornell Health and establishing pharmaceutical vending machines. 

Wellness at Cornell, another focus of the U.A.,  has been concentrating on a health-promoting campus and the campus forum on public safety and emergency response. 

Cady noted the future plans of the U.A. and the resolutions currently being created. Two ideas being discussed are the transportation and infrastructure issues and the grace, empathy and health promotion. The two resolutions being discussed are the Purple Heart University designation and to support campus free speech and demonstration expression

“[To support campus free speech and demonstration expression] is obviously a very complex issue, but it’s something that’s [on] the top of mind of many students [and] faculty members here,” Cady said. “The hope is that the assemblies can create more intergroup dialogue, talking about respecting each other and supporting each other’s right to freedom of expression, speech and demonstration.”

After their open session meeting, the trustees were met with a protest from the Cornell Graduate Student United, demanding higher wages and other work benefits. 

Following an announcement that doctoral students would receive an eight percent raise, students found that the increased stipend would not be enough to meet the daily needs of living in Ithaca, including increased rent prices. 

“One thing that we have been talking about with graduate workers is that this eight percent raise does not encompass a lot of things that are really important to help grads have better working conditions [and] be able to do the research they came here to do,” said Jessica Ness grad.

Correction, March 26, 2:30 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the budget of the Plant Science Building renovation. The article has been corrected.