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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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The Wool Over The Students’ Eyes

The pretentious slams of the gavel echoed throughout the Union Bi-Level, a fitting location for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate meeting. Its pathetic, gloomy atmosphere and stench of wet wool are an omen of what’s to come.

Like every Thursday night, the herd comes together to display some effort of leadership and impartiality. But what we get is a body of two-dozen students and their biases — a truth that cannot be more apparent than in last week’s meeting. The latest victim of the herd’s bias: the Autism Awareness Club.

The underlying theme was simple: either fund fewer, more comprehensive groups or fund more groups with granular distinctions. Some senators felt that USG would be overstepping its boundaries by demanding that two clubs merge as a prerequisite to USG recognition.

Others, however, were worried about a flood of similar clubs requesting funding in the future, adding to the already huge burden that clubs have on the USG budget. They wanted to know where the line would be drawn.

President Matthew Graham, the father figure of these 21 black sheep, made several calls to the Senate. He urged them to not let the problem get worse, because once recognition is granted, it will be nearly impossible for them to take it away.

For those in attendance at the meeting several weeks earlier, it sounded like déjà vu. The USG Senate had a similar debate when three new magazines were presented for USG recognition. The consensus among the senators that week was that we should allow any magazine to start as long as another publication did not cover that same subject. Based on this vote, they had no choice but to recognize Autism Awareness.

But apparently they changed their mind. The Autism Awareness Club was denied recognition and told that it should merge with other awareness groups. It seems that the Senate finally realized that there are too many duplicates on the USG Budget.

Three agenda items later, however, the sheep must have forgotten their previous sentiments. Stony Brook Khatra, a South Asian dance team that if approved, would join the ranks of Bhangra and Thillana (not to mention the other half-dozen dance teams), was presented for USG recognition.

One senator proclaimed that if the Senate did not vote against this club, they were hypocrites, referring to the previous denial of Autism Awareness. Another senator responded by saying it would be preposterous to ask two different groups who focused on different types of dance to merge into one organization.

With USG demanding that Autism Awareness merge with other organizations focusing on other issues such as cancer or HIV/AIDS before applying for recognition, they had no choice but to tell Khatra to merge with other dance teams.

There is no rational logic that could suggest otherwise. But they decided to void all rationality and voted to unanimously approve the club for USG recognition. Even the senator who said it would be hypocritical to approve Khatra voted to recognize them.

This inconsistent behavior will get USG into trouble. In a 15-minute period, and with no rational reasoning, the Senate treated two clubs with nearly identical circumstances differently. It’s almost as if they’re making up rules on club recognition as they go.

USG needs to take these concerns into careful consideration. While student leadership positions are often a way for students to gain valuable experience, student government isn’t an isolated sandbox. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires that mandatory student activity fees be distributed in a neutral manner.

One part of these requirements is that the student government must have an exhaustive list with clear, concise, objective criteria in which they can determine whether a group is eligible for funding.

In an age where litigation is all too common, USG is making some dangerous moves by taking this approach. Undergraduate students don’t want to see their activity fee being spent on paying increased insurance premiums and high-priced attorneys; they want it to be spent on activities that will create a vibrant campus life. If USG can take a few simple steps to prevent this, then it is the job of our elected officials to do.

But even without the threat of lawsuits, USG should do what is right for the student body. USG should not be treating two student groups according to different standards. Hopefully this move by our elected officials is not an effort to gain the support of constituent groups in the upcoming election. We elected these students as our representatives in order to ensure that our money is being spent fairly, regardless of the time of year.

This upcoming election season is likely to be a controversial one. But if USG incumbents are truly concerned about being re-elected, then they need to realize that past tactics will not work.

USG’s first year of controlling the Student Activities Board (SAB) with its current budget of over $400,000 has more people paying attention than ever before, and with rumors that it will increase to $900,000 next year, undergraduate students need to pay more careful attention to whom they elect. Simply promising increased budgets to club leaders will yield very small returns this election cycle.

The percentage of students who partake in clubs is dwarfed in comparison to the percentage of students who are completely uninvolved. The large events that SAB have executed this year have made great inroads in involving the previously disenfranchised majority. This majority comprises the people who elected officials should be lobbying this election.

But this past week shows no indication that our elected officials have realized this. Perhaps they’ll learn the hard way when none of them are re-elected.

Alexander Dimitriyadi is the former Executive Vice-President of the Undergraduate Student Government and is now a columnist for The Statesman.

 

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