In the days leading up to Oct. 18, University administrators prepared to receive Cornell’s esteemed Board of Trustees, a group of 64 people “vested with ‘supreme control’ over the University” and with final say on all recommendations made by other administrating bodies, including the Student Assembly. Among this select group of people entrusted with such great decision making power are University President Martha Pollack, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the oldest living descendant of the University’s eponym Ezra Cornell. The student body is granted three representatives, Cornell faculty have two, University employees have only one and tens of thousands of others with a stake in the actions this institution undertakes have no representation at all. For all the talk of the system of “shared governance” on which the day-to-day administration of the University is supposedly run, we can’t help but note how unequally power is actually shared.
The time has come to place the responsibility for the conduct of all shared-governance elections in the hands of the University Assembly. Shared governance dates back to 1969 with the Constituent Assembly and then the University Senate — both of which were composed of students, faculty and staff. So for many years, campus elections were in joint student, faculty and staff hands. As with the Campus Code of Conduct and judicial system, elections are appropriately a joint student-faculty-staff responsibility. Election problems detract from the reputation of Cornell’s shared governance model, and students, faculty and staff should work together to avoid future problem.
When The Sun prints “Assembly in Crisis” in an above-the-fold headline, it is easy to lose faith in shared governance at Cornell. It is no secret that maintaining a truly shared, shared governance has had its challenges — and that increasing disillusionment, apathy and decreasing trust in an already exclusionary system will have precarious impacts on student engagement moving forward. The chaos of the recent Student Assembly presidential elections is just one more example of this. As students of Cornell history, however, we want to encourage Cornellians to remember the value and history of shared governance here. Exactly 49 years ago this week, a group of Black students occupied Willard Straight Hall in response to a series of incidents, including the unfair disciplining of a small number of students by the University; the students had engaged in protests related to the building racial tensions on campus.
A meeting on Monday led graduate students to question the administration’s commitment to shared governance at Cornell after frustration surrounding further details to President Martha Pollack’s presidential task force last week.
To the editor:
Shared governance and student participation in University decisions has been an integral part of Cornell’s structure since 1967. Throughout the history of our University, we have seen students challenge their role in the policy making system and question whether student opinions and experiences are fully considered. The recent decisions of the Board of Trustees and University Administrators once again test our faith in the shared governance system. Students are given positions on various committees that govern the University such as the Board of Trustees, the Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, the University Assembly, the Provost’s Financial Aid Committee and the Student Health Fee Advisory Committee, but we question what tangible impact the student voice has on major University decisions. Why is there usually only one student allowed on such committees to represent the concerns of a wide variety of constituents?
“Cornell Takes A Stand.” “Cornell Becomes First Ivy League to Say Yes To A Green Future.” “Big Red Becomes Big Green.” These would-be front-page headlines could have reaffirmed Cornell’s commitment towards being a “green” leader amongst academic institutions. However, hopes for these headlines becoming a reality were sidelined indefinitely this week in light of the Board of Trustees decision to vote against divesting the University’s fossil fuel investments, compounded by President Garrett backing off from accelerating the Climate Action Plan (CAP). Why is it that the president, who has previously asserted that “moving towards greater sustainability is a priority,” would push back against these initiatives? If we are to give the president the benefit of the doubt despite the counter-intuitiveness of her actions, then it’s reasonable to expect that there are other specific sustainability initiatives in the works. If that’s the case, what are they?