Last week, Cornell announced a new health of $350 fee for students who are not currently on Cornell’s student insurance (SHIP). As an international student, a health insurance plan is mandatory and given the high medical costs in the United States, it is necessary to have one. Enrolling in SHIP means all medical costs will be billed to my bursar account, which is convenient for me. Also, visits to the on-campus health center, Gannett, seem best covered by SHIP. So I have been enrolled in it for the past two years and have received proper and timely medical care so far.
However, domestic students tend to have external health insurance and do not buy SHIP. The new health fee could be a burden for them. There were many dissenting student voices online, especially on Cornell’s unofficial Facebook group. Explaining the additional fee, President Skorton said that funding healthcare services at Cornell has become a growing fiscal challenge and a personal concern for him.
Unsatisfied with the response, a group of student protesters “occupied” Day Hall, Cornell’s central administrative building this morning. Protests were also held at Willard Straight Hall in Ho Plaza. Some protesters interacted with President Skorton in a direct question and answer session and posted a video on Facebook. More than the imposition of the fee, the lack of transparency is what seems to be bothering the protesters. It was reported that the Student Assembly was not consulted about the new fee but only informed about it recently. In the video, students demanded greater inclusion of the student body in the university’s decision making process.
While the protesters’ concerns are justified, they appeared immature in the video of the session with President Skorton. Protesters asked irrelevant questions about the university’s finances, didn’t wait for Skorton’s response, yelled and interrupted, laughed at his responses, made inappropriate gestures and behaved in a manner utterly unfit for Cornell students. Skorton’s patience with them astonished me.
Given the cleanliness of our campus buildings, the beautifully maintained campus lawns, the brilliant professors who are grossly underpaid, the great libraries which house over 8 million physical volumes,the dorms which look like star hotels and the amount of financial aid Cornell offers, it is not hard to imagine that Cornell’s budget must be tight. In asking for detailed accounts of the university’s finances, the protesters insinuate that funds are being mismanaged at Cornell, which is the most absurd idea I’ve heard. The demand that the university function like a co-operative organisation and take student opinion into account for all financial decisions comes from a highly entitled place. What have we done for the university, that we demand this privilege? In our four years here, everything we do is in self-interest, although we often give it the facade of service to the university or the Ithaca community.
Some may argue that the tuition we pay gives us the right to question its use. But higher education is a service and our tuition is only a fee for this service. We are not benefactors donating the money to Cornell and the university probably need not be accountable to us. At a hospital, we don’t ask the doctor to give us an account of where exactly our medical fees went!
The myopic, self-centered view that the protesters exhibit in the video is silly when one considers the large picture of a great, timeless university. The administration has a prestigious, 150 year old university to run (Yes, we’re turning 150! :D). We are all here primarily because of the excellence of the university and if more funds are needed to maintain or improve that state of the university, then we have no right to question or undermine that need.
Even so, the university makes decent effort to be transparent in most relevant decisions. Student voices are given ample space in matters where it is fit. It’s important that we use this privilege sensibly instead of exploiting it and testing the patience of the administrators. In any case, regardless of circumstances, President Skorton and the administration deserve our respect and respectful conduct.