I am one of the lucky ones, right? Being able to come to an Ivy League university despite coming from a low-income community and a single-parent first-generation household. I am one of the lucky ones. Being able to completely forget the reality of home in my little ivory tower. I am lucky to have an unlimited meal plan, even though it was forced and the food is poorly seasoned.
JT Baker ’21, who was disqualified from the student trustee race, would have won the position had he stayed in the race. He will fill a vacant spot on the Cornell Board of Trustees alongside Jaewon Sim ’21, the undergraduate trustee-elect, for the next two years starting July.
What a terrible mess. This year’s student-elected trustee race saw Jaewon Sim ’21 take the prize, but only after the ugly disqualification of JT Baker ’21, who ran a campaign focused on student-athletes. The latest news is that Baker would’ve won were he not booted out for breaking an election rule. In light of that, the Committee on Board Composition and Governance opted to split the difference. The CBCG recommended Sim take the traditional student-elected trustee seat and Baker fill a vacant trustee seat.
As a student-athlete, a black man and a supporter of JT Baker, I am disgusted and disappointed — though not wholly surprised — by the outcome of the recent student-elected trustee election. JT’s disqualification was not only unjust but is reflective of the campus climate at the predominantly white institution that is Cornell University. Furthermore, JT’s disqualification speaks to larger issues of exclusion of student-athletes and students from underrepresented communities at large from the limited, competitive and time-consuming opportunities in shared governance. Both the president of the University and the chair of the Board of Trustees have spoken out with strong statements condemning the disqualification decision by the Trustee Nominating Committee. And yet, the only actions being taken are empty calls for “reforms” for future elections.
JT Baker ’21, a football player who ran for student-elected trustee, was disqualified because of an email a Cornell Athletics official sent alerting athletes to Baker’s campaign and encouraging them to vote in the election.
In light of the controversy surrounding this year’s student trustee election, I feel that it is important for the campus community to understand a bit of history and context. Over 35 years ago, the University’s Board of Trustees, out of respect for the concept of “shared governance,” voted to create a Trustee Nominating Committee as the entity that would oversee the election of both student and employee representatives to the Board of Trustees. The TNC is not a committee of the Board of Trustees. It is comprised of campus community representatives, including the current student, faculty and employee-elected trustees as well as additional student representatives; and its authority was quite consciously delegated to this representative campus group and not retained by the Board or granted to the Cornell administration. The TNC is responsible for its decisions, and it has the ability to change its decisions.