Can the Graduate School help students with Cornell Fitness Center refunds?

Date: September 2020

Question

Hi Deans,

I paid $159 for a full-year membership to the Cornell Fitness Center last year, which has been closed since March 17th. Over the summer the fitness center issued $30 refunds, but the pro-rated cost of the membership from 3/17-8/14 is $65.60. Last month I asked the Fitness Center why the refund was so small and was told that it accounted for online exercise resources that I never used and wouldn’t have paid for (as I suspect is the case for many members). For weeks since then nobody at the Fitness Center or Student & Campus Life has responded to my emails asking about the rest of the refund.

Can the Graduate School intervene on our behalf? And more generally, what can we do when Cornell officials outside the Graduate School refuse to respond to important questions? Maybe withholding $35.60 doesn’t seem like much to Cornell Fitness, but unlike at most other universities, grad students pay for gym memberships out of pocket, and that money could go towards supporting ourselves and loved ones during the pandemic, or get donated to more worthy causes than exercise videos.

Thank you so much for your help,

Formerly weightlifting grad


Response

Dear Formerly Weightlifting Grad,

Thank you so much for reaching out to Ask a Dean. First of all, reaching out to the Graduate School for some additional support is something that students often do. As you already know, the Graduate School does not have jurisdiction over the Cornell Fitness Centers, but we can help to gather information and often do that. You are correct in reaching out to Student & Campus Life as that is the organization that the Fitness Centers report to.

In that spirit, I reached out to my colleagues Jen Gudas and Bert Adams from the Fitness Centers to learn more about this situation. As you likely know, the Fitness Centers were closed for in-person activity on March 17 due to the pandemic. As a result, the Fitness Centers immediately went to adapting their programming so that members could continue with physical activity/ability to work out. This effort included the continuation of the Group Fitness Program with daily virtual classes which are still going on, the creation of the CFC Guide to Home Fitness which included a library of pre-recorded Group Fit classes for use at any time, Online Fitness Consultations, readymade workouts, and many other resources that are available on their webpage to members. The goal has been for the Cornell Fitness Centers to continue to provide opportunities for students to be physically active in a safe environment given the response to the pandemic.

The amount of refund offered to students needed to include the shift in priorities (and expenses) to enable the Fitness Centers to continue to support physical activity. As you know, the adjustment to the amount of the refund was determined $30 to those with a full-year membership.

I am sorry that this was not communicated to you in a timely manner, but given the current programming mission and budget constraints brought on by COVID, this is the final outcome determined by the Fitness Centers. If this is causing a financial emergency or you would like to talk about this some more, please feel free to connect with me – I am always able and willing to meet.

All the best,

Janna Lamey
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life