During the fall exam period and over winter break, the University held a series of forums about its new budget model, which will radically change how Cornell distributes its money among the colleges. While the University has maintained that the process is transparent, its timing of the panels suggests otherwise. Indeed, over the last few years Cornell has repeatedly made major announcements only when students are away from campus or otherwise unable to voice their concerns. These repeated incidents indicate that the University does not trust its students to participate in reasoned discussion on issues that directly impact them.
The budget forums are only the latest example of the University’s penchant for making important announcements during or just before academic breaks. Over winter break, Cornell also announced it would disband the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity, and last summer it eliminated financial aid guarantees to students whose parents make between $60,000 and $75,000 a year. The announcements of the restructuring of the Africana Studies and Research Center, the five-year suspension of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and the construction of temporary bridge barriers were all made during or just before breaks over the last four years. Not only does the timing of these announcements prevent students from physically being able to demonstrate their feedback, it leaves them with the impression that the University is purposefully trying to exclude them.
The University has defended the timing of the budget forums, saying that the changes are not intended to have a major effect on departments, classes and student life. Additionally, administrators stated that those who were not present at the events were given the ability to call in to ask questions. Still, such radical changes to the way the University funds its colleges are inherently important to Cornell students. Administrators should not have presumed that students and faculty would not want to have their voices heard as they considered such major changes.
Even if its intentions were not malicious, the University should be aware of the perception the timing of these announcements has created. Nearly two years ago, we expressed our concern that University officials were purposely seeking to keep students from participating in Day Hall’s decision-making process. And two years later, nothing has changed. With these decisions impacting much of the campus community, student input should be both desired and valued. In order to live up to its claims of transparency, Cornell must give its students an opportunity to respond to these changes — not just notify them after the fact.