Courtesy of a debt-ridden financial aid student (me)

Cornellians can expect to find up to another $7,000 on their estimated cost of attendance. What could it be? The Expressive Activity Fee.

April 20, 2024

Cornell’s New “Expressive Activity Fee” Met With Mixed Student Reactions

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Following backlash to the recently enacted Interim Expressive Activity policy, Cornell is now allowing students to engage in more varieties of disruptive protest — this time at a price.

The Expressive Activity Fee — which will be included for the first time in 2023-2024 tuition bills — covers several actions currently prohibited by the interim expressive activity policy, including usage of amplified sound in undesignated areas without prior approval, demonstrations in libraries and other unauthorized spaces and general disruption of University activities.

“We’ve taken your criticism of the Interim Activity Policy with utmost consideration,” wrote President Martha Pollack in a statement to the University community. “We now want to extend the opportunity to speak freely about issues that matter to you.”

Speaking freely, however, is far from free at Cornell. 

Students who wish to evade some, but not all, expressive activity policy restrictions can anticipate paying an additional $5,000 per semester on top of their tuition bill as part of the baseline EAF. More drastic actions, such as the use of open flame other than candles, are available to students willing to pay $2,000 per semester on top of that.

VP of Campus Life Ryan Lombardi explained the fee’s necessity and importance.

“When you pay your Student Activity Fee each year, you subsidize various recreational activities throughout the year,” Lombardi said. “Now that some popular student activities — like protesting — are more costly to the University, we need to increase the price accordingly to participate in them.”

Campus activist groups have largely rebuffed the policy, with many releasing statements condemning what they called the University’s “commodification of the first amendment” during its Freedom of Expression theme year. For the most part, student activists across ideological lines agreed to boycott the fee.

“Why would I spend more money on a University that won’t even consider my demands?” one frequent protester said. “I’d rather get arrested every week than give them more money than I already do.”

Another protester, counter-protesting the protest at which the first protester was protesting, similarly protested the policy.

“The first amendment is about free speech, not paid speech,” they said. “We shouldn’t be protecting only those who can afford it. Constitutional rights cannot be bought and sold.” 

However, not all student reactions to the policy were negative.

One student, Rose R. Sin ’25, was excited about how the new policy would allow her to express herself without facing university scrutiny, particularly around more drastic expressive activities.

“I am happy to pay $7,000 if it means the University will get off my case about my way of expressing myself,” Sin said. “When I set fire to dorms, it’s my way of telling the University ‘enough is enough.’ I’m very glad Pollack is letting me use open flame, even at a cost.”

Another student, Vari Lowed Disrptive ’25, explained why the policy would benefit his way of expressing himself, even though he doesn’t participate in student activism.

“I don’t care about politics and couldn’t tell you what people are upset about these days,” Lowed said. “I just want to speak very loudly in the silent part of Olin with my friends because I like the sound of my own voice. I’m happy I can do that now, especially with finals week right around the corner.”

One freshman currently on the housing waitlist explained how this new policy could help them avoid homelessness in upcoming semesters.

“Now that I can stay in buildings after they are closed if I pay the baseline fee, I’m just going to occupy Day Hall full-time next semester,” said Philip Schuyler ’27. “There’s nowhere else to go. It’s probably cheaper than Collegetown rent anyway.”

Lemmy Spiek is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ