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Cornell student assembly gets heated over changes to Africana Center

The student assembly’s final meeting of the semester at Cornell was buzzing with outrage over the administration’s recent decision to bring Africana Studies under the wing of the College of Arts and Science. Representatives from the program brought their complaints before the assembly, who sided with their arguments.

“Why was the discussion of this [move] not had?” asked Zachary Xavier Murray, co-chair of Black Students United.  “The Administration has a trend of saying ‘we’ll open up discussion, but the decision has been made.’”

Members of the Student Assembly voiced their disappointment regarding the lack of communication between the administration and the students.

“This lack of dialogue is something that resonates with this assembly,” said president Vincent Andrews.

University President David Skorton, making a scheduled appearance at the meeting for the second time this semester, was greeted by the outrage of Murray and the nearly two dozen other advocates from the Africana Center in attendance. Skorton expressed his approval for the decision, frequently reiterating that the move will do nothing but improve the program.  Students enrolled in the Africana Studies program are currently admitted through the College of Arts and Sciences, and their degrees are issued through this school. Africana Studies is also the only unit of study on campus that hires faculty, without reporting to a dean.

The move will correct this, while allowing for further development, like establishing a Ph.D. program and making the program’s practices consistent with every other academic program.  At Harvard and Yale, Africana studies are currently part of the liberal arts colleges.  The Student Assembly, the Africana Studies and Research Center, and those in the audience directed their anger toward the lack of communication and timing, rather than the move itself.

“Decisions regarding black institutions are autocratic,” Murray said during an open-mic conversation with Skorton.  He then referenced the removal of Ken Glover as Ujamaa’s Residence Hall Director last year.  After a few minutes of rehashing the subject, SA leader Andrews stepped in to move the conversation back to the Africana center.

“This is not just a minority issue – it’s a student-wide issue,” said representative Ulysses Smith. President Skorton said that some decisions can’t be made by popular vote.

The argument between Murray and Skorton drowned out the other top item on the meeting’s agenda – University Architect Gilbert Delgado’s report on behalf of the Means Restriction Committee regarding the University’s most recent steps in preventing suicides.

The Student Assembly has scheduled an additional meeting tomorrow where Mr. Delgado is expected to address the bridge barriers and the recent conflict within the firm in charge of the fences, Office dA.

Alfonse Muglia blogs at the Cornell Insider. He is a contributor to the Student Free Press Association.

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