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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Student governments’ reputations on SUNY campuses

    Student governments sometimes have a negative connotation attached to their name, and at Stony Brook University, it is no different.
    A sense of doubt may show through comments on articles about Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government, and voter turnouts are not strong. But there are similar feelings elsewhere in the State University of New York student government systems.
    The members of the current Undergraduate Student Government look for student involvement, as well as administer events and hold Senate meetings, but sometimes receive criticism for their work, or lack of work, as can be seen or heard throughout campus. In November 2011, two vice presidents resigned, a situation that was linked with misappropriation of payroll by The Statesman.
    The reputation that Stony Brook’s student government has may be a cause of its history.
    In 2002, the student government at Stony Brook known as Student Polity Association held a status of receivership, meaning they lost their ability to administer the student activity fee, according to an. Aug. 29, 2002 article in The Statesman. Years later, USG, which is now the student government system at the university, came into place. In the Oct. 21, 2002 issue of The Statesman, the front page article “Polity Decertified as Governing Body: Bickering Between Council and Senate Finally Leads to Organization’s Demise” read that Polity was decertified by University President Shirley Strum Kenny.
    According to a Nov. 18, 2002 article in The Statesman, “Creating the Blueprint for a New Student Government,” a committee known as the Undergraduate Governance Task Force was formed to create the new government.
    “We will enterprise to develop a structure and process that will increase [student] involvement,” said Chairman of the Sociology Department and co-chair of the committee Norm Goodman said in the 2002 issue.
    In another article, “Controversy Over $2.25 Million of Student Money,” also in the Nov. 18, 2002 issue, problems of Polity were addressed.
    “Missed appointments, poor programming, deterioration of the budgeting process and general stagnation were complaints cast by the critics of the old student government,” the article said.
    And still, problems are constantly being addressed to get better.
    “I think this year has seen a market decrease in politicking, but there is some politicking going on in the office,” USG Executive Vice President Deborah Machalow said. “For the most part, people have the students and student body and their best interests at heart.”

    Clubs and Organizations, and their money

    The Statesman contacted other State University of New York campuses’ student governments to see how their systems work. What was found was that there are problems there as well, but that they also organize their system differently than at Stony Brook.
    “In the past, the Student Association has really been seen as a body of corrupt students who like power and all those typical complaints about the student government,” Liz Robins, executive vice president of the Binghamton student government, said.
    Students sometimes feel as though they do not know where their money is going and that the people in charge do not know how to handle the situation.
    “The largest thing that would need improvement from what I have heard is the lack of leverage that students hold over how the money is spent,” Nicholas Spengler, president of the Geneseo Student Association, said. “Since it comes down to the executive making final decisions, students don’t feel that their voices make a difference.”
    Because it is a concern of the student government, they are looking for a new way to have more input by the organizations. One idea they have come up with, Spengler said, is by having a text-based poll on at all times during the meetings, where students could send in messages to executive members so that they can always know what the students want.
    Geneseo has 53 funded clubs and six services, but the clubs are broken into numerous branches. The student activity fee at Geneseo is $100 per student per semester. Every organization starts off with a maximum of $150 but can ask for more after they have received funding.
    Unlike at Stony Brook, however, a representative must be present from each funded organization at each student government meeting.
    “By forcing every club to be represented at every meeting, it not only informs them of how their money is being spent, it gives them first-hand knowledge when their money might be in danger of being spent inappropriately,” Spengler said. “I would not want the decisions of how to spend the entire budget to come on to eight elected officials without all parties involved knowing the details.”
    Not many student governments have this mandatory rule. At Plattsburgh, the student activity fee, which is around $150 per student per semester, according to Adrian Rockefeller, who recently finished his term as vice president for the arts, subsidized every student club, function and event on campus and must go through the vice president and senate.
    At Binghamton, the undergraduate student fee is $92.50, and there are 238 active student groups, not including club sports. At the end of each year, it ends up being around 250 groups.

    Running on Parties and Voter Turnouts

    According to Spengler, there have not been any notable problems stirring from the student government, as one might see in the Stony Brook USG. But there have been problems within the government when people are running on different parties.
    “Within the last couple of years, there hasn’t been people running on tickets or in parties so those feuds haven’t existed,” Spengler said.
    Of the 5,200 students at Geneseo, 1,400 of them, on average, vote.
    At Binghamton, about 1,000 to 1,500 out of 10,000 undergraduates vote.
    The smaller voter turnout at Binghamton largely stems from a lack of recognition of the Student Association as a functional organization for the students.
    “Not that many people know what the SA does,” Robins said. “It’s hard for a lot of students to know that. A lot of students don’t know.”
    At Binghamton, similar to other student governments, the SA strives to make new programs and help the student body. The president of Binghamton’s SA recently had The New York Times delivered to campus to be in the unions and each of the dining halls.
    “[We’re] just trying to think of how to improve student campus, and I think that’s really awesome at the end of the day,” Robins said.

    Stipends and Payroll

    Stony Brook’s USG provides stipends for members of the executive board and senators, and has a payroll for employees, such as certain assistants. Plattsburgh’s Student Association, however, does not have any financial compensation for work provided by officials.
    “This was a topic of debate a long time ago,” Rockefeller said. “We feel that this way, the elected students are doing it purely of their own interests, and for the interests of the student body.”
    Similar to Stony Brook, the student government at Plattsburgh is broken up into an executive board along with a Senate. The president of SA maintains relationships with the student body, as well as with the administration of the university.
    Geneseo has a fiscal agency called Campus Auxiliary Services, and the student employees who are paid on stipends must go through a registration process with them.
    With money involved, it is important for Geneseo’s employees to be accountable. If someone is not fulfilling their responsibilities, the treasurer will not give the stipend to the employee.
    At Binghamton, the executive board members and speaker get a stipend.
    “Any member of the board can hire basically as many assitsants as they want or need, and they can get paid as well,” Robins said. “They get something in the budget.”
    For example, the executive vice president has four assistants. Depending on how much they work, they can get paid about minimum wage.

    Student Governments Ask for Input

    “Sometimes students complain, ‘Oh, we don’t know what the SA does,’ ‘What are they doing?’” Robins said. “People complain, but at the same time, the SA is like ‘How come students don’t talk to us?’ ‘Why don’t they talk to their representatives?’”
    A possible solution lies in a better sense of communication between students and student governments.
    At Geneseo, Spengler said the best and most beneficial part of the student government is how accessible the executive board is.
    “At any given moment during business hours, you can go to our office and one of the eight of us will be there,” Spengler said. “We are all kept well-informed and ready to any question that a student might have about SA and what SA is doing.”
    By having that communication, student governments are able to foster a relationship with the student body that could lead to better understanding of what is happening.
    “Students need to communicate more with the SA,” Robins said. ”I wish there was more knowledge.”
    At Stony Brook, USG encounters the same issues.
    “Students should come and talk to us more than they do,” Machalow said. “We’re not just about club funding. We do have some input at least. People should talk to us more.”

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