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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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Letter to the Undergraduate Students: We (Stony Brook) Failed

Dear Undergraduate Students,

Although I was elected to the position of executive vice-president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), shortly after taking office last May our treasurer unexpectedly resigned.  This required that I additionally serve in the capacity of acting treasurer until one could be elected this fall.

At first, I was met with what could be best described as fear, from various student leaders and campus administrators, that the USG would crumble to its knees without a treasurer.  President Matthew Graham and I developed a near-seamless plan to address these concerns and a vast majority of clubs have noticed that our service has improved tremendously over last year.

In addition to maintaining the club funding processes, these last six months have given me an intimate knowledge of the USG’s financial situation, one which has brought to light more questions than answers.  Last spring, the USG Senate appropriated an unprecedented amount of funding towards student organizations: 57 percent, or over $1.5 million of our annual $2.8 million budget.  I quickly learned, however, that this new baseline for club funding did not come without consequence.  The USG’s operational budget, which includes services such as event programming and free one-on-one tutoring, were at risk of running out of funds mid-year without cutbacks.  In order to allow for improvement in these services, I condensed every USG operational budget line looking for funding that could be re-appropriated.

After the budget had been stabilized, the USG began to feel the pressure of somewhat opposing goals: the desire to provide more direct programming and services to the student body, USG-funded student organizations demanding more funding, and over 20 new clubs seeking to join the over 160 organizations who receive funding from the USG.  To ease some of these pressures, the USG voted to place a referendum on last week’s election to raise the Student Activity Fee by $5.75 to $100 per semester.  In retrospect, however, it may not have been the most prudent of decisions to increase our coffers without first addressing the real issues at stake.

First, this campus is over-saturated with student groups.  While admissions loves to boast to prospective students that we have over 300 student-run organizations, how many of them actually are providing benefit to the student body?  We have fostered a culture on this campus to start a new organization because of the smallest e-board dispute or the need to pad a resume with “leadership experience.”

By allowing groups to multiply like this, we have established mediocrity as the status quo for student life.  If trying to book a room on this campus is any indication, a plethora of meetings and events are going on any given day of the week.

However, a quick stroll through the SAC reveals the real issue at hand: speakers are talking to audiences of 25 people in a room that can hold 80.  With so many groups sharing a similar purpose, we have narrowed the audience that any one group can attract.

Second, the lack of fluidity in the USG budget stifles innovative programming.  The days of appropriating budgets of over $10,000 to organizations needs to end.  While a select few need to have these large budgets due to the fixed costs necessary for their operation, the overwhelming majority does not.  An interesting phenomenon that I have noticed is most clubs frivolously spend a large portion of their budget during the months of March and April.  This spend-down is practiced by most clubs after realizing they will have extra money left in their budget at the end of the year.

Is this wasteful spending teaching fiscal responsibility?  Hardly.  We need to get rid of this notion that in order to have a successful club, it needs to have a large budget.  I have seen more organizations do more with less money because they are forced to make decisions about what purchases are important. Instead, I propose that we place a substantial amount of this misappropriated funding in a budget line for grants, so that clubs may request additional funding as necessary.  This lowers the risk on our investment, allowing the USG to dynamically adjust funding instead of it being locked up in a budget line for the entire fiscal year.

Regardless of the results of the referendum, the USG’s laissez-faire approach to club oversight must end.  We were elected by the student body to ensure the Student Activity Fee is spent appropriately.  While I cannot speak for the past, during my time in USG we have made great inroads in fulfilling this mission, but a lot of work still needs to be done.  However, the USG is not the only one responsible for this mess.  We, as a campus, have put quantity over quality and this, in my opinion, is the biggest cause for the feeling that Stony Brook lacks student life.

Good luck on finals,

Alexander Dimitriyadi
USG Executive Vice-President

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  • A

    AnonymousDec 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

    FSA gets Dishonarable Mention.

    NEW YORK TIMES- April 30, 2006

    Article titled: “Another Mysterious Authority”

    Note: This is an Opinion piece, written by someone who obviously had some insight into FSA at Stony Brook

    Excerpt:

    Like the Long Island Power Authority and the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency, and EVEN THE FACULTY-STUDENT ASSOCIATION at the State University at Stony Brook, the Roosevelt Island authority lives in a kind of official no man’s land that is barely overseen by the state and not really required to comply with the kinds of good governance rules we now expect from the best of corporate America.

    What is needed — and what we hope will be provided very soon by the New York State Legislature — is a new authorities law. That law would establish a code of conduct for directors, grant the comptroller explicit authority to review all contracts and create an independent office to see that everybody does things openly and for the betterment of the public at large.

    A state law approved last year will force more transparency. Other and no less significant reforms are expected to emerge soon from a commission appointed by Gov. George Pataki and led by Ira Millstein. The commission appears ready to propose legislation that would require directors of these authorities to take an oath of office swearing that they will do their fiduciary duty.

    In addition, the Millstein proposal should create an independent authorities board that would oversee the workings of all these authorities, including whether the directors have complied with their oaths of office.

    With billions of dollars at stake, these quasi-private authorities need more daylight, more oversight, more accountability. This in turn will require a new authorities law that includes not only an oath and an independent overseer but also a requirement that the state comptroller review contracts. That may be a tall order for New York’s Legislature, but this is a big hole in the reform agenda.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B01E2DD133FF933A05757C0A9609C8B63
    ______________________________
    SUNY POLICY:

    Student Activity Fee Programs – Mandatory, Fiscal and Accounting Procedures for

    http://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=525

    The student government shall contract for fiscal services from the appropriate entity. The contract for services must be reviewed and approved by the campus president or designee.

    Note: The Campus designee, Dr. Peter Baigent is the VP of Student Affairs and he is also the VP on the Board of Directors for FSA.

    The fiscal agent must be one of the following independent entities: Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC)/Faculty Student Association (FSA), campus-based foundation, Research Foundation or other contractually-recognized campus-affiliated organization unless the campus receives an exemption from this requirement from the vice chancellor for finance and business.
    ______________________________

    “A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances which give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence”

    What is a Fiscal Agent?

    A fiscal agent is an organization that manages the finances for another organization, generally until the second organization gets on its feet. It can be a wonderful, coaching relationship, or a predatory relationship, or anything in between.

    FSA is USG’s paid fiscal agent as fiduciary. This academic year, USG will pay FSA a management fee of $55,000 plus any additional expenses that they incur.

    So which relationship best fits USG’s relationship with FSA?

    Reply
  • A

    AnonymousDec 21, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Statesman Nov. 4, 1993- Vol 37 # 19
    Refurbished Library Commuter Lounge Dedicated By Class of ’73

    THE REFURBISHED commuter-lounge in the library was dedicated by the class of 1973, Saturday as part of the Homecoming Weekend activities.

    The Faculty Student Association Business Manager Ken Johnson, Executive Director of FSA Kevin Kelly and Christine Campbell, assistant to the director of marine sciences, developed, the project with members from the
    class of 1973.

    FSA’s Marketing Manager, Warren Wartell said that the lounge could not have happened without the work of those people. “They are the people most responsible relative to getting it up and going.”

    According to Johnson the class of 1973 has donated $7000 to date with FSA making up the rest of the $23,000 total cost. As more donations from the class of ’73 are-received, FSA will be reimbursed for the money it originally laid out for the renovation. “‘We are a service to the community” said Johnson. “Our goal is to serve the consumers the best we can, who are mostly the students.”

    The lounge, which had fallen into disrepair over the years, has new furniture and has been completely cleaned. Other amenities include a smoking section and a food service area run by ARA, the campus dining -service. The food cart serves gourmet coffee, hot chocolate, and other assorted snack-items.

    There were questions about having a food service area and about extra noise coming from the new facility.
    “The library [maintenance staff] was concerned about having food in that area,” said Johnson. “Students have
    always eaten in that area anyway. We wanted to find a way to keep it in a certain area.”‘ Johnson said that the
    problems anticipated by the library staff have not occurred. “The students have really been maintaining and. respecting it, said Johnson. “So far there have been no complaints about noise.”

    Commuter College President Erika. Abel is very pleased with the changes. “I think it’s a much nicer place for the commuter students to studying, she said’. “I think the environment, is better.”
    ____________________________

    So, is USG donating $60,216.57 to FSA to renovate the two commuter commons in the SAC?

    USG is NOT allowed to donate the student activity fee, only proceeds from a fundraiser may be donated.

    SUNY Policy states under USE OF FUNDS:

    Charitable donations to a nonprofit organization; provided, however, that such donations may be funded only from the proceeds of a fundraiser held by a recognized student organization.
    _________________

    Purpose of FSA:

    FSA is organized, and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of supporting the State University of New York at Stony Brook (“University “), an educational corporation created by state law as a public institution of higher education.

    to borrow money for the purpose of erecting, extending, equipping, MAINTAINING and operating facilities for use by the University; to erect, equip, maintain and operate facilities at the request of the University, and to operate businesses in connection with the needs of the University and its students, faculty and administration.

    They don’t need to borrow money to MAINTAIN the two commuter common areas in the SAC, especially when USG will just give FSA the money.

    Almost everybody is happy. The University gets a facelift of the two commuter common areas,courtesy of USG. FSA doesn’t have to borrow money or pay for the renovations, USG gets a bill and a plaque for $60,216.57, and the undergraduate students are asked for another $5.75 increase in activity fees.

    THE USG ATM AT WORK- The students pay it and the administration takes it.

    Reply
  • A

    AnonymousDec 20, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    What you need to know about FSA:

    FACULTY STUDENT ASSOCIATION
    OF THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT STONY BROOK, INC.

    BY-LAWS

    Purpose:

    A. FSA is organized, and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of supporting the State University of New York at Stony Brook (“University “), an educational corporation created by state law as a public institution of higher education.

    B. The general purposes of FSA shall be to establish, operate, manage and promote the educational activities and programs of the University; to aid the students, faculty, and administration of the University; to collect, receive and disburse funds for the benefit of the University; to borrow money for the purpose of erecting, extending, equipping, maintaining and operating facilities for use by the University; to erect, equip, maintain and operate facilities at the request of the University, and to operate businesses in connection with the needs of the University and its students, faculty and administration.

    Conflict of Interest

    A duality of interest, conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest may exist when a member of the Board or of any Committee has a direct or indirect interest in another entity, and that entity enters into a transaction with FSA. Direct or indirect interest includes any legal, equitable or fiduciary interest or position in such entity. No member of the Board or a Committee having a duality of interest or possible conflict of interest in a matter before the Board or Committee may be counted in determining the quorum for the meeting, nor may s/he be present when the matter is being discussed or voted on by the Board or Committee. The minutes of the meeting shall reflect that the disclosure was made; that the member abstained and was not present during the discussion or vote, and that a quorum existed not counting that member. The foregoing shall not be construed as preventing such member of the Board or Committee from briefly stating a position on the matter or from answering pertinent questions of other Board or Committee members.

    Note: The organization’s governing documents, conflict of interest policy, and financial statements are made available to the public upon request in writing.

    Reply
  • A

    AnonymousDec 19, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Another “CONFLICT OF INTEREST” that sits within the Board of Directors for FSA is the Campus Designee, Dr. Peter Baigent, who is the VP of Student Affairs and Associate Provost for Enrollment & Retention Management. Dr. Baigent ALSO is the Vice President on the Board of Directors for FSA. USG is paying FSA $55,000 PLUS any additional expenses incurred this academic year to be its independent Fiscal Agent. Isn’t that correct?

    http://fsa.sunysb.edu/?page=about

    According to SUNY Policy Dr. Baigent’s responisbilities as Campus Designee, to USG are, but are not limited to:

    1. Reviewing procedures with the executive officers of the student government on an annual basis to ensure proper understanding and agreement regarding internal control procedures, program integrity and compliance with campus and University policies and procedures;

    2. Certifying the operating budget and reviewing individual expenditures for compliance with University policies and procedures;

    3. Reviewing and approving the written agreement between the fiscal agent and the student government;

    NOTE: He is the VP for the fiscal agent, FSA. This is clearly a conflict of interest.

    4. Approving the student government’s internal control plan;

    5. Reviewing the independent auditor’s report and any communication to student government management by the independent auditor of any internal control matter(s) noted during the conduct of the audit with the executive officers of the student government; and

    6. Ensuring that there is proper and effective campus support (advisement and services) for the student government.

    http://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=525

    Changes to approved budget

    Changes to the approved budget after certification, either prior to or subsequent to the collection of mandatory fees, shall be subject to administrative review and certification by the campus president or designee in the same manner as was applicable to the original budget.

    Proceeds of the student activity fee shall be disbursed by the student government, through the designated independent fiscal agent (FSA), provided that the proposed fiscal commitment for each expenditure shall have been approved by the campus president or designee.

    (The Campus Designee would also be the VP of FSA, Dr. Peter Baigent,you know, USG’s “INDEPENDENT Fiscal Agent”)

    http://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=358

    This means that the Campus Designee, Dr. Peter Baigent would have to approve the $60,216.57 appropriation act to renovate the commuter commons. If Dr. Baigent approved these renovations then he did not COMPLY with university procedures by making sure this appropriation did not violate the USG Constitution, USG By-laws or the Chancellors Guidelines.

    Did Dr. Baigent also approve the revision of the original certified budget that reduced some of the administrative and service and operations budgets by $83,000?

    http://sbusg.org/files/2010/09/2010-–-2011-USG-Operational-Budget-Adjustment-Act.pdf

    Why didn’t Dr. Baigent question the amounts of these reductions? He approved them to begin with. It appears that several of these budgets were deliberately inflated, only to be reduced later to accommodate the cost of the commuter commons renovations. It was already established that the $20,000 reduction from the ALIRRT program would be reallocated to programming for weekend life, so that leaves $63,000, which would cover the cost of the renovations.

    By the way the estimates for those renovations were done in May 2010.

    http://sbusg.org/files/2010/09/Apropriation-Act-2.pdf

    The SUNY procedures also state that:

    Allocations included in the budget shall fall within programs defined in section (C) (3) (Use of Funds) of this policy:

    Use of funds

    Funds which are collected under provisions of this policy which require every student to pay the prescribed mandatory fee and all revenues generated from use of the fee shall be used only for support of the following programs for the benefit of the campus community:

    a. Programs of cultural and educational enrichment;

    b. Recreational and social activities;

    c. Tutorial programs;

    d. Athletic programs, both intramural and intercollegiate;

    e. Student publications and other media;

    f. Recognized student organizations including religious student organizations, for the purposes and activities of the organization that are of an educational, cultural, recreational or social nature; provided that the criteria for recognition of such student organizations, including, the criteria governing eligibility for funding of and allocations to such student organizations from student activity fees, shall be specified in the constitution and by-laws of the student government;

    g. Insurance related to conduct of these programs;

    h. Administration of these programs;

    i. Transportation in support of these programs;

    j. Student services to supplement or add to those provided by the University;

    k. Remuneration and reimbursement of reasonable and necessary travel expenses in accordance with state guidelines to students for service to student government;

    l. Campus-based scholarships, fellowships and grant programs, provided the funds are administered by the campus or a campus affiliated organization;

    m. Payments for contractual services provided by a nonprofit organization to the extent that such services are in aid of an approved student activity during the budget year and which activity serves the purposes set forth above and provided further that such payments may not be exclusively for the general corporate purposes of such organization;

    n. Salaries for professional non-student employees of the student government to the extent that they are consistent with hiring practices and compensation rates of other campus-affiliated organizations; and

    o. Charitable donations to a nonprofit organization; provided, however, that such donations may be funded only from the proceeds of a fundraiser held by a recognized student organization.

    —————-
    Renovating the Commuter commons is not a SERVICE that USG should financially support. This is the responsibility of Facility Services and we know who the VP of that is, Barbara Chernow, who is also the President of the Board of Directors for FSA; USG’s independent fiscal agent.
    —————-
    In the event that the campus president or designee concludes that a particular proposed allocation included in the budget may not be in compliance with the provisions of this part, he or she shall refer such proposed allocation to a campus review board composed of eight members of whom four shall be appointed by the student government and four appointed by the campus president or designee. The campus review board shall study the proposed allocation and make a recommendation to support or not to support it. The campus president or designee shall thereafter make the final decision. Any proposed allocation which is determined not to be in compliance with the provisions of these regulations shall be excluded from the budget.

    http://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=358

    This expenditure should never be approved especially when USG is looking to increase the activity fee by $5.75 a semester for full-time students. USG also admitted they have rollover funds from the last academic year of nearly $300,000. Last years budget committee was either misinformed about projected administrative expenses or they deliberately padded administrative expenses so they could hide the money to pay for the renovations of the two commuter common spaces in the SAC.

    THIS IS YOUR STUDENT GOVERNMENT AND YOUR ACTIVITY FEES AT WORK!

    Reply
  • A

    AnonymousDec 14, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Re: Appropriation Act # 2- $60,216.57 for the renovation of two commuter common spaces in the SAC

    Interesting how the VP for Facilities Services, Barbara Chernow, is also the President of the Board of Directors for the Faculty Student Association.

    USG entered into an administrative agreement with the Faculty Student Association (FSA), whereby FSA provides an independant fiscal agent and other related services to USG for a fixed monthly fee PLUS charges for additional expenses incurred. Under the terms of that agreement, FSA processes receipts, disbursements, maintains accounting records,and provides other services to USG.

    How “INDEPENDANT” is that fiscal agent when that person is actually employed by FSA?

    So to save money for Stony Brook’s capital budget, did FSA or the university administration have any influence over USG by suggesting they pick up the $60,000 tab for the renovations to the commuter commons?

    It is also interesting that FSA maintains the accounting records, so those on the USG budget must have been given the operational budget numbers by FSA. That would explain the OVER INFLATED operational expenses.

    This is how Stony Brook can cut down on operational costs, just get USG to pay for the commuter commons renovations.

    USG needs to question authority, they do not always have your best interest in mind.

    The renovation to the commuter commons obviously did not make the VP for Facilities “TO DO” list, did it?

    http://www.stonybrook.edu/facilities/data/facilities-newsletter-2010-09-30.pdf

    The mission of Facilities & Services is to:

    Maintain and improve the campus buildings, grounds and infrastructure.

    Save energy, reduce pollution and improve our impact on the natural environment.

    Provide a safe and supportive campus community.

    Build for the 21st century.

    http://www.stonybrook.edu/facilities/

    Reply
  • A

    AnonymousDec 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Question: As acting Treasurer did you not question why some of the Administrative and Service & Operational accounts had inflated budgets when USG was looking to reduce them?

    2010 – 2011 USG OPERATIONAL BUDGET ADJUSTMENT ACT

    http://sbusg.org/files/2010/09/2010-–-2011-USG-Operational-Budget-Adjustment-Act.pdf

    Aren’t the operational expenses based on the previous year’s actual expenses and allowances are made for raises in salaries etc.?

    You claim that you were looking for extra funding for event programing and the free one-on-one tutoring and made cut backs and condensed the USG Operational expenses.

    Interesting that about a month later USG has another Appropriation Act, an Act to appropriate $60,216.57 for the SAC Commuter Commons Renovation.

    APPROPRIATIONS ACT #2 FOR FISCAL YEAR 2010-2011

    http://sbusg.org/files/2010/09/Apropriation-Act-2.pdf

    Your total cuts including the ALIRRT program come to $83,000. The $20,000 from the ALIRRT program was already said to be reallocated to weekend life . That leaves an extra $63,000, just enough to cover the renovation of the two Commuter Common spaces in the SAC.

    You talk about being fiscally responsible. Please explain how allocating student activity fee money to renovate (painting, carpeting and furniture) two rooms in the SAC as being fiscally responsible? Aren’t building renovations the responsibility of the campus? Those funds should come from the capital budget.

    I also find it interesting that USG was aware in May of the estimated cost of $60,216.57, to renovate the two Commuter Common areas. Did USG deliberately inflate some of the Administrative and Service & Operational budgets to hide and secure this money for these renovations?

    You ask is this wasteful spending teaching fiscal responsibility?

    My response to that is:

    Isn’t USG supposed to be leading by example?

    Part of the problem is that so long as the campus recognizes a club, it can apply for funding. So some of the problems start with the Student Activities office.

    Picking the pockets of the undergraduate students and their parents of another $5.75 while deceptively crying you can’t operate with what you have, is fraud.

    No one has yet denied that USG had nearly $300,000 left as unused rollover funds from the previous academic year.

    USG justified the $5.75 increase as follows:

    The USG Senate finds that—

    1. The number of clubs funded by the Undergraduate Student Government has risen tremendously since the last fee increase over four years ago;

    2. Stony Brook University is undergoing a period of prosperity, with innovative student leadership making dramatic changes to the undergraduate experience however, they lack the financial support necessary; and

    3. With an unprecedented budget crisis, the University Administration is increasingly relying on the Undergraduate Student Government to supplement, in part and sometimes in full, funding for Stony Brook traditions and services that previously have been funded by the Administration.

    http://sbusg.org/files/2010/09/Referendum-to-raise-the-SAF.pdf

    Having $300.000 in rollover funds is enough prosperity to get USG through these hard times.

    The University Administration will have to make due, just like the rest of us and if they can’t afford to do building renovations, then live with it. This is not the responsibility of USG.

    If you want to contribute to the renovations,there is always fundraising.

    If USG spots frivilous spending, then do something about it.

    USG has some explaining to do!

    Reply