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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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    USG Senate Falling Apart

    Dear Editor,

    What started as a rather friendly and optimistic penultimate meeting of the USG Senate has ended in the worst moment of that body this year, and possibly since its inception. I will first start with the “good” news, before going on to address where it all fell apart.

    Soon after the meeting was called to order, a moment of silence was observed in order to reflect upon the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, and announcements were made regarding a candle light vigil Wednesday night at 8 pm to honor the memory of those affected that day. It was a moment of genuine feeling, from the students of one University to another, and I was truly proud to bow my head along with my student leaders, to pay tribute to the memory of those peers who were so tragically taken.

    Afterwards, announcements were made regarding the action of the USG Supreme Court, which after a public hearing that lasted several hours on Monday, April 23rd, 2007, convicted and removed former President Romual Jean-Baptiste for wrongful acts of substance in contravention of the USG Constitution. The Court ruled with wisdom and grace, and has sent a clear message to all who would ever try to use misleading campaign materials, appeal to racist or sexist imagery, or otherwise cause irregularities in elections. That message being that USG will never tolerate such reprehensible actions and shall act swiftly to punish anyone who would go that route.

    After those golden moments, everything seemed to collapse. The only significant Senate business was consideration of the 2007-08 USG Budget, which, inter alia, funds all clubs and organizations, with debate entering its third week. Senator Borodkin, among others, questioned several significant last minute modifications to club budgets, which in some cases resulted in over a 50% decrease to that club’s allocation and in others to significant increases. Debate was rather short on this matter, certainly understandable given the thoroughness with which it was debated in previous meetings, but significantly the Senate failed to entertain USG President Wisnoski’s suggestion that the Senate open the floor to members of the gallery, composed of various student leaders and club representatives, for their input. Instead, those voices were silenced and the Budget was passed by an overwhelming margin, a vote of 18 in favor with only 2 opposed.

    After three separate budgets have been filed and considered by the USG Senate, it is difficult to inform the reader whether due diligence and viewpoint neutral criteria were used at all in this process and in the final budget approved at tonight’s meeting. Senator Shapiro declared at the April 17th Senate meeting that the first budget was several hundred thousand dollars above budget at an initial stage, and that in order to make up for the shortfall the Senate Budget Committee arbitrarily cut clubs and organizations, not based on their need but rather on how much money they had, until a seemingly balanced budget was obtained. In reality, this first budget, which was based on untested assumptions and haphazard guessing, was put to the floor of the Senate and was extremely close to gaining approval, if not for the discovery of two technical errors which left the budget at over $100,000 in deficit.

    After obtaining a Budget extension through unorthodox means, the Senate debated a second budget on the April 17th meeting, one that was composed by Senators Shapiro and Maiorella. This budget had the benefit of being balanced and of being created after thorough and careful consideration by the two Senators as to viewpoint neutral criteria, and most importantly was not based on random allocations but reflected information included in the Budget applications and hearings of the clubs and organizations seeking funding. Unfortunately, the Senate did not see it fit to approve this budget, because after the review of Senators Shaprio and Maiorella, a few favored clubs lost significant amounts of funding, and the Senate chose to extend consideration for yet another week.

    Finally, on the third week, we are presented with the Budget that has now been officially approved. But, is it any good? The Budget Committee claims that the dozens of changes made in the last week were only an improvement on the Shaprio / Maiorella budget. But please remember, dear reader, that this is the same Committee that approved an initial budget which was based on pure speculation and conjecture, and which would have likely passed if not for a technical error that forced the Committee to reconsider its illegal approach. It seems therefore that this Budget, like its predecessors, is suspect and tainted with numerous violations of viewpoint neutrality principles.

    At any rate, the final item on the April 24th meeting was “open agenda,” a time in which any student attending the meeting could seek recognition and address the USG Senate. Ms. Cheryl Lynch, who was visibly holding her hand for over thirty minutes, was finally afforded an opportunity to address the Senate, making several suggestions and comments on the recently passed Budget. After a few Senators spoke, another member of the gallery, Mr. John Gemma, took the floor to comment on the Senate’s treatment of a couple of budgets belonging to Sports Clubs. Ms. Lynch was a former USG Senator and former Budget Committee member, with extensive experience in the budgetary process and in student government, while Mr. Gemma is the President of the Men’s Rugby Team and an officer of the Sports Club Council, an umbrella organization that promotes and defends sports clubs on campus.

    This gentle criticism, stated after the Budget had already been passed and intended mostly as advice by student leaders on how the Senate should act in the future, since it was now too late to change the budget which was already approved, seemed to have rattled the Senate chamber. Senator Antonelli (who is also the USG President-Elect) seemed personally offended by the gallery’s admonitions and after stating that the Budget Committee had thoroughly considered the Budget, he angrily called for the meeting to adjourn, more than 45 minutes before its scheduled end time and before many in the gallery would have the chance to speak, including Ms. Kate from NYPIRG, who wanted to announce several worthwhile programs, her comments unrelated to dissatisfaction with the Budget. The motion to adjourn, which silenced all criticism and trampled on the public’s right to petition its elected government, was supported by Senators Antonelli, Borodkin, Cho, Connor, Dautruche, Etienne, Flanagan, and Kim, while Senators Curran, Maiorella, Markow, Owade, Rayburn, and Vincent did not have the courage to vote either way and simply abstained.

    Never before have I been witness to such a blatantly fragrant act of arrogance and hubris from an elected body, which having been dissatisfied with mild criticism from their constituents, decided instead to put their proverbial fingers in their ears and scream “la la la la la la.” These Senators are all given the option of being paid for their services, an opportunity that most Senators take, and it is shameful that they would not do their duty of listening to their electorate by adjourning prematurely.

    I was under the fervent hope, dear reader, that with the removal of former USG President Jean-Baptiste and the resignation of his accomplice, Mr. Cohan, that the worst in USG was exorcised and that the organization can move on. Sadly, this incident indicates that USG has learned very little about responsibility and ability to take criticism and I truly fear for the future of the organization.

    This is not the first time that doubts have been raised about the future USG officers. Shortly after the previous elections, which suffered from a record low turnout of less than one thousand students, most of the winning candidates from the “SUCCESS” party got together in ord
    er to celebrate their great achievements, which with two exceptions were really the result of uncontested election victories. At that dinner most of the future officers assembled were passionately discussing not how to implement their lofty campaign promises of reforms to the meal plan for residents and parking space improvement for commuters, but rather what kind of USG shirts they would allocate for to wear at their Executive Council meetings, at student expense.

    I could go on, dear reader, and on and on about the numerous short comings of the organization to date and about several of those recently elected officers, and I may yet do so, but I believe that it is not appropriate to air out all of the “dirty laundry” of USG without giving its officers a chance to reflect and apologize for their actions at the last Senate meeting. Those who were silenced last meeting deserve an apology; students everywhere demand an apology for the way their representatives and leaders who attend the thoroughly boring Senate meetings in order to assert their rights to petition their government for a few moments are treated; and I for one, as USG Recording Secretary, also demand it. I was once proud to serve this USG Senate; in fact since my appointment in the fall of 2006 I have attended every meeting and e-mailed all Senators their meeting minutes, for no financial compensation, because my personal reward for this dreary, tedious, and thankless duty was to serve a small part in the great work that I had hoped this organization was capable of.

    Unfortunately, the last meeting has shattered this belief and has opened yet another gaping wound in the already fragile body politic. Unless Mr. Joseph Antonelli delivers an apology to all students, both in his capacity as USG President-Elect and as the Senator who made the motion to adjourn the last meeting prematurely, I will have to resign from any and all offices, duties, and services to the Undergraduate Student Government, in protest at the repugnant acts it has chosen to partake in of late.

    Stay tuned for my final article next week, where I will report on whether or not an apology was delivered, and where I shall provide a summing up of the USG Senate’s work for this past academic year.

    Thanks, Esam Al-Shareffi

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