About 200 Cornell students occupied the central administrative building Day Hall on Monday in protest of the $350 healthcare increase. President Skorton came out of his office and spoke with a large group of students in an adjacent room. The debate became increasingly heated. Watch the highlights below.

3:52 – “This is a no-flex zone, President Skorton.”

Skorton: “…I don’t even know what that means.”

Here is the full video (40:38)

I spoke with one of the protestors, Daniel Marshall, who is a veteran in the Cornell activist community and has attended similar protests in the past such as Save the TCAT.

Q: How many protestors were there and who were those students?

Daniel: So there were about 200 students that actually occupied Day Hall today. Skorton’s office is small, so people fanned out into at least 2 other large offices and lined the hallways.

the room was the lounge part of Skorton’s office, and was a group of students who were cycling in and out of the room (as much as CUPD would let us), so a lot of different students were able to get in but many more could not.

 

Q: What was your opinion on President Skorton?

Daniel: So, before he came to speak with us, I gave a little prep meeting to make folks new to activism familiar with the general rhetorical tactics that Skorton engages in. (He’s really, really good at it.) Basically, he does two things.

1) He vomits empathy. Someone was counting how many times he said “I agree with you” to our grievances. He’ll agree with you and sympathize with you until you feel heard, and then he won’t do anything about it. He won’t repeal the fee, or not raise tuition, or increase aid. Nothing.

2) He’ll get feisty and insinuate that the reason for your problems (which are understandably frustrating and emotional) is your inability to be “respectful” of him. When he does that, he tries to make you–the one who is paying the fee, who is in debt, etc.–feel bad for hurting his feelings or not being polite enough.

He employed both of these strategies, with the ultimate aim of either making us feel “heard” without doing anything about it or getting us to feel like we deserve the fee costs. His attitude changed a lot over the meeting, depending on what particular challenge he was facing, so he went from patronizing (you don’t understand) to empathetic (I feel your pain/I agree w/ you) to antagonistic (you need to respect me). I thought that, given the absurdity of the policy he was tasked to defend, it was well-played. Skorton is an impressive rhetorician and he showed it today. Unfortunately, defending the fee is a tall order, and students aren’t falling for his schtick much longer.

 

Q: What were you guys’ demands?

Daniel: There were a lot of grievances that students voiced in the meeting, including a lack of financial transparency and a lack of decision-making power in matters that affect us. Specifically issues like tuition increases, insufficient aid, administrative pressure on the Student Assembly to withhold “confidential” information.

As far as financial transparency goes, the occupation was a huge success, in that a BUNCH of information that had been going around was made public and confirmed by Skorton, nearly all of which contradicted his widely-circulated e-mail. He also confirmed that tuition would be raised this year again, and that he knew when and how much, but he refused to tell us. He said “we’ll release that information when we release that information. (Check the Save the Pass page for a guide to what those were.)

As far as official demands, the consensus in the room was that this is just the beginning, and we need to bring in more students, organize, and figure out what we want and how we’re going to get it. We got people’s emails and are going to have a follow-up meeting soon.

 

Q: In the end, do you think this fee will be repealed?

Daniel: Not right away. I think he’ll wait for it to die down, but if we can keep up the momentum, I think he’ll repeal it. If we really get organized, keep up the energy, take some risks and support each other, we could even restructure the University. It’s up to us.