Why is the Student Assembly Singling Out Cornell Cinema for Austerity Measures?

VP of Finance Matthew Stefanko and Student Assembly acting inconsistently in byline funding reviewal process

This Thursday the Student Assembly (SA) is slated to vote on the recommended byline funding level for Cornell Cinema, the campus’s student-run movie theater, after the resolution initially brought forth by the Appropriations Committee was tabled last week.

During last week’s debate over Cornell Cinema’s request to increase its amount of university funding, many SA members suggested the cinema implement additional austerity measures to reduce costs and cut back on movie showings. Curiously enough, the SA offered no scrutiny whatsoever regarding Cornell Athletics’ request for a funding increase, despite the fact that its request contained similar or worse shortcomings that the SA criticized of Cornell Cinema’s request.

Cornell Cinema currently receives $10.60 per undergraduate student from the $236 Student Activity Fee, and for the upcoming 2016-18 byline funding cycle it is requesting $12.00.

VP of Finance Matthew Stefanko ’16, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, defended his committee’s recommendation to the SA to deny Cornell Cinema its requested funding and maintain it at the $10.60 level during last week’s SA meeting . Much of the debate between Cornell Cinema Director Mary Fessenden and Stefanko centered on (1) the value Cornell Cinema imparts on the student body, (2) Cornell Cinema’s response to rising costs and handling of expenses, and (3) Cornell Cinema’s struggle to increase ticket revenues.

Cornell Cinema’s request for an increased $1.40 per student is based on the following reasons: rising costs (student wages, film rentals, etc), reduction in state grant monies received, reduction in funding from the College of Arts and Sciences, and replenishing its reserve fund, which was depleted due in part to equipment upgrades necessary to show modern movies. Cornell Cinema also cites its numerous reductions in programming and that it has increased ticket prices for undergrads twice in the past five years to remain financially solvent. The funding request also discusses certain financial Catch-22s the cinema faces, such as the rising cost of film rentals that accompany reduced programming, itself a consequence of programming cuts in response to previous SA denials of funding increases.

In short, Cornell Cinema describes its financial position entering 2016 as a “house of cards”.

The Appropriations Committee, on the other hand, argued that it is not the purpose of the Student Activity Fee to accommodate for rising industry costs or for inflation. Stefanko and other SA members also questioned the wide-spread appeal of Cornell Cinema and requested specific numbers on how many unique students purchased tickets last year (about 11,000 tickets in total were sold last year). There was back-and-forth regarding raising ticket prices, and what consequences that might have on attendance levels. Finally, Stefanko and others argued that Cornell Cinema should reduce its advertising expenses, which if eliminated in entirety would give Cornell Cinema about as much as it is additionally requesting from the Student Activity Fee.

The unfortunate reality is that the Student Activity Fee is only $236, and even though we would all like to see groups receive as much as they need, no student would voluntarily pay a higher fee to meet such needs; thus, the Appropriations Committee is in the difficult position of deciding who gets what from what is available.

Both sides had valid arguments—Cornell Cinema should reduce its advertising expenses but it should also be recognized as one of the most deserving byline-funded groups—but one issue yet to be raised is why is the Student Assembly is singling out Cornell Cinema for austerity measures?

On the same day Cornell Cinema’s byline funding recommendation was debated, the Department of Athletics and Physical Education’s byline funding increase of 30 cents up to $10.30 was unanimously approved on without one second of debate.

Bizarrely enough, Cornell’s athletic department—that is, an independent university department—receives Student Activity Fee funding to fund the Big Red Sports Pass and a student marketing group that promotes Cornell sports games. The Big Red Sports Pass is available to all Cornell students, and makes admission to sports games free except for the most popular and highly attended: Ivy League conference, ECAC hockey, NCAA posteason, and all men’s ice hockey games.

While the SA and Cornell Cinema debated for over an hour issues like attendance and advertising expense, in the athletic department’s request there are no Big Red Sports Pass user numbers and its advertising expenses are nearly double that of Cornell Cinema’s. Whereas Cornell Cinema spent $16,134 in advertising last year, Cornell Athletics spent $27,500 and projects to spend $31,000 this year and next. Of that hefty sum, $15,000 alone is in Cornell Sun advertising. The Appropriations Committee even questioned the financial prudence of the massive advertising budget and especially the Cornell Sun advertising, which according to the committee have “little return for students”.

With Stefanko and the Appropriations Committee censuring the athletics department for its advertising expenses and failure to track sports pass users, why did they recommend them an increase of 30 cents while denying Cornell Cinema any increase and instead suggesting more austerity measures? The Appropriations Committee is acting inconsistently, applying austerity to certain student groups based on unknown criteria, and if the SA votes to keep Cornell Cinema’s funding at its current level, after approving Cornell Athletics’ increase, it too will be acting inconsistently.

1 Comment on Why is the Student Assembly Singling Out Cornell Cinema for Austerity Measures?

  1. David Breznick // October 14, 2015 at 12:34 am //

    “Of that hefty sum, $15,000 alone is in Cornell Sun advertising.”

    The athletic department’s appropriation is a stealth funneling of student activity funds to the medium that unquestioningly supports certain SA candidates and officers. Follow the money, as always.

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