Uris Library and McGraw Tower in summer.

Guide to Alumni Trustee Election

History of Alumni-elected Trustees at Cornell

  • In 1872 Cornell University’s alumni were organized as the Associate Alumni, according to A History of Cornell written by Morris Bishop. Per the Cornell Charter, they were given the responsibility of electing a trustee to the Cornell University Board of Trustees (BOT). At that time, the only other institution that gave alumni this privilege was Harvard. Cornell held its first alumni trustee election in 1874. Initially, one alumni-elected trustee was added to the board each year for a five-year term.

    In 1895, the charter was revised to provide for the election of two alumni trustees each year. The June 1895 election resulted in W. C. Kerr being elected for a full term and the other five trustees for terms determined in accordance with the revised charter. Beginning in 1896, two trustees were elected each subsequent year. In 1984, the terms were changed to four years.

    In 1939, the alumni organization reformed and became the Cornell Alumni Association. One of the duties of the association was to “stimulate trustee nominations.”

Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations (CATN)

  • In 1939, the trustees of the university decided that elections for alumni trustees should be more dignified. There had previously been considerable competitive campaigning, large sums of money being spent by nominees, and many pressures.

    After surveying the procedures used by other universities, the trustees suggested that the alumni association study the problem and make recommendations. The recommendation of the Cornell Alumni Association was the formation of the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations (CATN). The committee was charged with stimulating a continuous and exhaustive search for the ablest alumni to be placed in nomination.

    CATN includes alumni representatives from all Cornell colleges. In addition, it has representatives from a variety of alumni organizations, including the Cornell University Council, the Board of Trustees, the Cornell Annual Fund, Cornell clubs and local alumni associations, the Cornell Black Alumni Association, the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, the Cornell University Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association, and the Cornell Association of Class Officers. Committee members are appointed for four-year terms.

    Today, CATN reports to the Board of Trustees Committee on Alumni Affairs and screens and endorses qualified alumni to stand as candidates in the annual election for alumni trustees. In addition to endorsing candidates, CATN leadership (chair and vice chair) makes recommendations for process improvement and guideline updates associated with the election, candidates (endorsed and unendorsed), as well as committee work. Recommended changes to process, policy, or guidelines are forwarded to the Committee on Alumni Affairs and the Committee on Board Composition and Governance.

The Committee

  • Members

    The Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations is composed of twenty-four alumni members, one representing each college and eleven from a broad range of alumni organizations. The committee is charged by the Cornell Alumni Association with screening and endorsing four qualified alumni to stand as candidates in the annual election for alumni trustees. Alumni, staff, students, and friends of the university submit the nominations received by the committee. While administratively supported by staff, the review of candidates and selection of nominees are wholly the responsibility of CATN.

    Download Alumni Trustee Nominations Committee 2017-18 (PDF, 185 KB)


Definitions and Guidelines

  • Alumnus/alumna

    An alumnus or alumna of Cornell University is someone who has matriculated at the university. All alumni may vote in the annual alumni trustee election. In order to be eligible to be on the ballot as an endorsed or unendorsed candidate, an alumnus must have attended the university for a minimum of one year at one of the Cornell University campuses and meet the other points of eligibility (as outlined below). Current Cornell University students are not eligible to run on the alumni-elected trustee ballot.

  • Endorsed candidate

    A nominee placed on the ballot through the CATN process of nomination and review as explained above.

  • Unendorsed candidate

    A nominee placed on the ballot through self-nomination and petitioning Cornell alumni for signatures. An unendorsed candidate (an alumnus as defined below, who has not been nominated and endorsed by the CATN) must submit a nomination petition with signatures from at least 400 alumni. Signatures may be gathered once the open nomination period closes and must be submitted by the petition closing date. The closing date for filing the petition with the Office of Alumni Affairs is one month prior to the first CATN meeting. If more than four unendorsed candidates submit petitions with at least 400 alumni signatures, the four unendorsed candidates with the greatest number of valid signatures will appear on the ballot. Unendorsed candidates must submit a petition that includes the first and last name of the alumnus/a, the last name of the alumnus/a when a student, the class year and NetID of the alumnus/a, and his/her signature. The completed form must be mailed (or scanned as a PDF and e-mailed) to the Office of Volunteer Programs in Cornell University’s Office of Alumni Affairs. A Google document is not permitted.

  • Candidate obligations

    All candidates, endorsed and unendorsed, are bound by the rules of the election, including the campaigning policy and must meet eligibility guidelines.

  • Unsuccessful candidates

    Unsuccessful endorsed candidates who have been on the ballot in the past can be re-nominated, but must have a one-year hiatus prior to being placed on the ballot again. CATN shall not take into consideration that a candidate was unsuccessful in a previous election in determining whether to endorse the candidate. An unsuccessful unendorsed candidate must also wait a year before petitioning to be on the ballot again.

  • Number of candidates

    There may be no more than four endorsed candidates, and no more than four unendorsed candidates on the ballot in any election cycle.

  • Ballot

    The ballot will list each candidate on the ballot in an identical manner and format. Endorsed and unendorsed candidates will be identified as such on the ballot.

  • Vote for two candidates

    In order to prevent bullet voting, which could be perceived as benefitting one candidate over another, all voters are required to vote for two of the candidates on the ballot. Voters also have the option of adding a “write-in” candidate to the ballot in place of voting for a candidate already listed. (NOTE: Bullet voting is the practice of choosing just one candidate despite the ability to choose or rank more. The practice of bullet voting leads to the same outcome as plurality voting, since plurality voting restricts voters to choosing one candidate. – The Center for Election Science)

  • Campaigning

    The Cornell Alumni Association desires that the most highly qualified and dedicated men and women serve as alumni trustees of the university. Many who might be superb trustees are financially unable and/or do not desire to engage in campaigning. It is for these reasons, as well as having candidates considered solely on their merits, that the Cornell Alumni Association prohibits campaign activity of any kind by or on behalf of any candidate. Campaigning includes, but is not restricted to, soliciting endorsements of one's candidacy, written or oral contact with alumni about one's candidacy, statements to the press, advertising, posts on social media and other networking technologies, press releases, etc. If publishers of college, unit, class, or club newsletters, e-mails, social media posts, or their like wish to print any candidate information, they must give the same information in the same space for all candidates in that election. Questions should be directed to the Office of Alumni Affairs. Candidates, whether endorsed by CATN or not, will be asked to sign an agreement that reflects the anti-campaigning policy in this paragraph. Failure to sign the agreement may result in elimination from the ballot.

  • Publishing results

    In early 2014, President Skorton charged the Task Force on Alumni Trustee Elections to consider the issue of transparency as it relates to the alumni trustee election. After research and deliberation, the task force made recommendations to increase transparency in a variety of ways, but did not agree that there was benefit in publishing the number of votes each candidate receives. For further details, see the Report of the Task Force on Alumni Trustee Elections.

    Download Report of the Task Force on Alumni Trustee Elections (PDF, 526 KB)

  • Recent election data

    *These guidelines will be reviewed periodically by the Committee on Alumni Trustee Nominations.

Division of Alumni Affairs and Development 130 E. Seneca Street, Suite 400 Ithaca, NY 14850