The Cornell Review is pleased to announce that we will be hosting this year’s Student Assembly presidential debate in partnership with the Class Councils. Candidates Stephen Breedon and Ulysses Smith (but unfortunately not Jay Lee) will be answering—and hopefully arguing over—questions from the Cornell Review editorial board. We are also pleased to announce that Slope Media will be filming the debate, so even if you cannot attend, or if this column finds you after the elections are over, the recording will be viewable on our website.
For most of the student body, it seems that this year’s campaign has so far been less than informative. At the candidate forum last Saturday, sparsely attended and hosted mainly by various racial minority organizations, it seemed as if every candidate’s pitch centered on their concern for diversity, their past efforts to promote it, and how their own ethnic and economic backgrounds position them to promote it in the future. While these concerns might be expected at an event hosted by such groups, it seems more and more that catering to special interests has become the main focus of the SA as a whole. Recently the SA spent time debating and voting to financially divest from fossil fuels, a resolution quickly vetoed by President Skorton. Gargantuan efforts last semester were put into again creating a mixed gender housing option, in which the Daily Sun recently reported only 87 students have expressed interest.
We intend to ask the questions that really matter to the Cornell student body. We want the candidates to define the role of the SA and the president’s proper place in it. We want students to know where the candidates stand on specific issues. We want students to know not what the SA will impose upon the student body, but what it will do for the student body.
The Student Assembly is constantly wringing its hands over the lack of student concern for its resolutions and machinations. Perhaps the representatives would not have this problem if their activities better reflected the concerns of the average student. Take for example a recent comment on the Daily Sun website by commenter Uzenzo. In response to news that fundraising will begin for a bronze statue of Touchdown the Bear, he said, “$250,000 for a bear statue? Does anyone even try to solicit donations for important things like student housing, financial aid, and department funding?”
The powers that be on campus—especially the SA— spend inordinate amounts of time focusing on minutiae rather than issues that matter to students. Our representatives focus on diversity when countless diversity initiatives, offices, and clubs already exist. They focus on mixed-gender housing instead of doing whatever is in their power to reduce the ever-rising costs of on-campus housing. They look into university-wide requirements on “social justice” when students already have too few opportunities to choose classes outside of their majors.
The SA does not represent the average Cornellian; it represents activists. It caters to the demands of specific student organizations and interest groups who claim to speak for the entire student body, or for the environment, or for some subsect of so-called social justice.
Going to events and listening to activists who come forward with their naïve dreams are great ways for representatives to pad their resumes and gain traction in campus politics, but in order to be an effective government the SA must reach the type of people, often the vast majority of students, who do not frequent events or join activist clubs. Visiting a residence hall on a weekday afternoon and asking students questions about their problems would produce solutions to more real issues than attending multicultural dinners— something that candidate Ulysses Smith spoke about at the last forum—ever will.
As young conservatives, we realize that our influence on a national scale is non-existent, but on campus that is not the case. By engaging in Cornell's issues as students with genuine interest in what the SA does and who they represent, the Cornell Review will hold student government accountable.
Noah Kantro is a junior in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.