Home»FeaturedSlide»A letter from the editor- What democracy?

A letter from the editor- What democracy?

0
Shares
Pinterest Google+

By Michelle Checchi

Editor-in-Chief

asp_online@hotmail.com

March 31, 2015

The democratic process at the University at Albany is suffering.

The Student Activity Fee, which funds the Student Association as well as clubs and activities, was voted down for the first time in recent memory in the March 9 election. In light of this, our student government will lose its funding, which goes to student groups, Five Quad, Dippikill, and events like ParkFest and Speaker Series.

The fee, which has historically been mandatory for all students to pay as part of their tuition, was voted to be a voluntary payment. The last revenue records that SA has available reports that during the 2011-2012 academic year, they received $2,041,071 from the Student Activity Fee.

Per semester, the mandatory fee charges $100 to students taking 12 or more credits, $75 for 9 to 11 credits, $50 for 6 to 8 credits.

As is the beauty of democracy, the government asked and the people answered. And the answer was not what the government was expecting: it was a resounding “no.”

Retroactively scrambling, the Student Association has found several reasons to invalidate the outcome of the first vote, and to hold a revote from April 1 to 3.

——

There are several sides to this story that we, the ASP editorial staff, would like to make clear.

Firstly, the Student Association has taken several unconstitutional avenues to allow a revote to take place. Secondly, we believe that having a mandatory Student Activity Fee is crucial for many parts of this campus to function. These two ideas are juxtaposed, but this is the current State of the Union.

——

Some of the facts:

In the Student Association’s current bylaws, referenda can only be held during the general election. But the day the fee failed, at their senate meeting on March 11, SA passed a bill that would allow a revote to take place.

In layman’s terms: SA changed its own laws to allow a revote.

A certain senator at the meeting articulated our feelings:

“I’m concerned with the precedent set saying that we will overturn elections again and again, until we get the results we want. And that’s not a precedent we want to set.”

Secondly, the Student Association is claiming one of its main reasons for holding the revote is that the original ballot was not “congruent with SUNY guidelines,” according to an email sent to the UAlbany community on March 24 by the Elections Commission.

It is to our understanding that the format of this election was the same as elections held in past years, when the fee was voted mandatory. So if this is the line of reasoning, all past elections would be invalidated as well.

Another aspect to this that we find equally alarming is that the invalidation only applies to the Student Activity Fee portion of the ballot. As stated in the March 24 email, “This decision has no effect on any election results.” So again in layman’s terms, all of the students voted into office are fine just where they are.

The troublesome aspect to this is that if a part of the ballot was in an improper format, wouldn’t the entire election be spoiled rotten? It’s convenient that only one aspect of the election is being brought into question, and that it’s the one that the student government doesn’t agree with.

And just like that, democracy collapses around us.

One student left a biting comment on the ASP website saying that legal action would be taken against SA. Photo from albanystudentpress.net
One student left a biting comment on the ASP website saying that
legal action would be taken against SA. Photo from albanystudentpress.net

There are two more points we’d like to make that might not be clear to the general UAlbany community. The first is that if the Student Association were to lose it’s funding from the Student Activity Fee, the members of SA would lose their individual stipends. The second is that, no matter what, this fee is going to be passed, and it’s going to become mandatory.

A little-known fact of the Student Association is many of the high ranking elected student officials are stipend to hold their positions. A total of $53,900 of Your Student Activity Fee at Work went to SA member’s stipends during the 2013-2014 school year. Whether or not this is fueling their insistent drive to hold a revote is not for us to say, but it is a fact that we believe should be made clear.

As far as the outcome of this upcoming revote: according to the SA’s own bylaws (515.2), they need 10 percent of the student body to vote on a referendum for it to be binding.

Senators have told us that there is a precedent for what happens if less than 10 percent of the UAlbany students come out to a revote. The decision will revert back to the outcome from the previous vote. And in this unique situation, since the March 9 vote was already determined invalid, the decision would revert to the result from two years prior. And from this election two years ago, the fee was decidedly mandatory.

There is a slim chance that 10 percent or more of the student body will participate in the revote, and vote against the fee. But we do not think this is likely.

The Albany Student Press is fortunate in the fact that it is independently funded. But we understand that for the almost 200 groups on campus that are funded by the Student Activity Fee, this is not their reality, and that without the fee, they would suffer. As would Speaker Series, FallFest, ParkFest, Dippikill, and various other activities enjoyed by students around campus, including the editorial staff members of the ASP.

So while we are not against the fee by any means, we are against the measures being taken by our governing body to reinstate it, and argue that the unconstitutionality of these measures should be of concern to the students at this university.

2 Comments

  1. Jarrett Altilio
    April 2, 2015 at 6:53 pm — Reply

    I have already expressed my discontent with the many falsehoods found in this article. Now, I’d like to do so more formally.

    I have been a Senator with the Student Association since September 2014 and have since become quite knowledgeable of the workings of SA, its Constitution, and its Bylaws. That said, I’d like to break down this article and clarify some things.

    “The democratic process at the University at Albany is suffering.”

    This is quite the way to start the article. Unless there is solid ground for a claim like this to stand on (which there is not), then I would recommend shying away from such a sensational introduction.

    “There are several sides to this story that we, the ASP editorial staff, would like to make clear.”

    After having read the entire article, I find this line to be amusing. It seems that only one side is presented (at least strongly) and the other is left to hang on by a thread at the very conclusion.

    “Firstly, the Student Association has taken several unconstitutional avenues to allow a revote to take place.”

    This is the first of two times that the word “unconstitutional” is used in this article. The other is used toward the end. Interestingly enough, there is absolutely no commentary in between to explain what exactly is unconstitutional about these “avenues” being used. As the Senator who wrote and co-sponsored the bill to amend our Bylaws, I find this to be shocking. A true journalistic entity does not make baseless claims and then fail to support them. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the ASP has done. There is not one shred of evidence of unconstitutionality presented in this piece, and that is probably because there have been no unconstitutional actions taking place in this matter. My personal challenge to you: please present to the student body the part of the Constitution being broken by a revote.

    “In the Student Association’s current bylaws, referenda can only be held during the general election. But the day the fee failed, at their senate meeting on March 11, SA passed a bill that would allow a revote to take place.

    In layman’s terms: SA changed its own laws to allow a revote.”

    Aside from the bias apparent in this excerpt, this part is true. However, the Editor acts as if it is somehow illegal or immoral to change the SA Bylaws. It happens relatively often, and governmental bodies change their laws and policies all the time. There was nothing illegal or unconstitutional about altering the Bylaws.

    This also insinuates that the sole reasoning for the Bylaw change was to achieve the Student Association’s desired election result. This is also untrue. SUNY policy dictates what the student activity fee portion of the ballot is to look like, and the facts are that our March ballot did not meet those standards. This was seen by our Senate, Elections Commission, and Supreme Court. The option of “Abstain” was wrongfully included alongside “Mandatory” and “Voluntary” on the ballot. As noted, 146 students chose this. The margin between “Mandatory” and “Voluntary” was only 44 votes, which serves as further proof that an invalid option absolutely did play a part in deciding the vote one way or the other. The Elections Commission was right to invalidate that part of the ballot, and the Supreme Court was right to uphold it.

    I would also like to point out that a number of students and student group leaders in particular have expressed their concerns about the voluntary fee to various Student Association officials. It is clear that many students were not aware of the details of the student activity fee and did not know exactly what was at stake in March. Many regret their contribution to the voluntary result and have added their names to a petition that has surpassed 1,000 signatures in total. Notably, this is more support than the original mandatory option received. It is perhaps equally noteworthy that the ASP makes no mention of this in the article above.

    It is to our understanding that the format of this election was the same as elections held in past years, when the fee was voted mandatory. So if this is the line of reasoning, all past elections would be invalidated as well.”

    As wonderful an observation as this may be, it is irrelevant. The current Student Association is not the same Student Association of 2013 and years prior. We cannot rectify what has been done in previous election years. But we can rectify a 2015 wrongdoing and we are. Unfortunately, the ASP has decided to incorrectly criticize us for it.

    “Another aspect to this that we find equally alarming is that the invalidation only applies to the Student Activity Fee portion of the ballot. As stated in the March 24 email, “This decision has no effect on any election results.” So again in layman’s terms, all of the students voted into office are fine just where they are.

    The troublesome aspect to this is that if a part of the ballot was in an improper format, wouldn’t the entire election be spoiled rotten? It’s convenient that only one aspect of the election is being brought into question, and that it’s the one that the student government doesn’t agree with.”

    I really do not understand what is being fought for here. Why should we have to re-decide on the President, Vice President, various Senators, SUNY Assembly members, and Constitution? These parts of the ballot were all in proper form. The student activity fee portion was not. Rather than burdening the student body by forcing a revote on things that do not need revotes, we are only pushing for one on the part of the ballot that was incorrectly administered the first time. Frankly, it makes no logical sense for an article that is alleging that the Student Association is overturning democracy to advocate for a revote on the entire ballot.

    I also despise this line: “All of the students voted into office are fine just where they are.” What a pity that the ASP misses such a basic detail of how SA elections work. The students who were just elected in the March vote have not yet taken office and will not until May. They have had absolutely no official say in this process. Talk about “alarming” that the ASP would fail to understand this.

    “And just like that, democracy collapses around us.”

    Can you say sensationalism?

    Aside from that, imagine that the Senate never voted (overwhelmingly, by the way) to formally request a revote. With the Bylaw change that I proposed, we are now able to put referenda on the ballot whenever the student body deems necessary. This means that a two-thirds vote of the Senate or a petition including 15% of the student body can trigger a referendum. As I said, there is already a petition out there that has been circulated by students. This would have brought about the revote singlehandedly without the Senate whatsoever. That is democracy.

    “There are two more points we’d like to make that might not be clear to the general UAlbany community. The first is that if the Student Association were to lose it’s funding from the Student Activity Fee, the senate members of SA would lose their individual stipends.”

    The reason that this may not have been clear to the general UAlbany community is because it is simply not true. The Senate does not – I repeat, does not receive stipends. The Chairman and Vice Chairman are the only paid positions in the legislative branch. The other 45-or-so of us put in hours and hours of our time on a weekly basis to better the school, and for free.

    And while we are on the subject of stipends, I must say that there is a lot of misinformation out there about this, too. The members of the executive branch who receive pay absolutely deserve what they get, and more. They put in countless hours of work each and every week and receive little to no credit for it outside of the Student Association, and sometimes even not enough from within it. When you consider the work that they do and the compensation that they receive, it really works out to no more than minimum wage. If you did what they did, I guarantee you would expect payment.

    “There is a slim chance that 10 percent or more of the student body will participate in the revote, and vote against the fee. But we do not think this is likely.”

    Anyone on this campus can tell that there is a lot more talk of the student activity fee this time around than last. I happen to think 10% will be a threshold easily achieved, and I can only hope that with the information we have put out there this time, it turns out in favor of the “Mandatory” choice. It is unfortunate that the wonders of the student activity fee have to be clouded by lie after lie and rumor after rumor spread by students with a very passive knowledge (if that) of what the Student Association does.

    I do not need to go on and on about what the student activity fee can do for the students at this University. It is a crucial component to our campus life.

    If you fail to recognize that, I am sorry that you’ve been lied to.

    • April 3, 2015 at 12:34 pm — Reply

      Jarrett Altilio- Thank you for continuing the conversation on this important topic.

      Firstly, we appreciate that you have been a Senator with the Student Association for the past six months. Myself, as well as other senior editors at the Albany Student Press, have been observing the actions of the Student Association since the fall of 2011.

      That being said, we would like to address your concerns individually:

      1. This is a “Letter from the Editor,” an op-ed piece. It is quite fine to start an opinions piece with an opinion– which is, that the democratic process at this university is suffering.
      2. To address your concern that different sides of the aforementioned opinion weren’t made clear, we explicitly outline the two sides to our thesis– “Firstly, the Student Association has taken several unconstitutional avenues to allow a revote to take place. Secondly, we believe that having a mandatory Student Activity Fee is crucial for many parts of this campus to function.”
      3. Our use of the word “unconstitutional” is supported by our arguments throughout the piece. As an example- yes, we think rewriting selective laws in the favor of the governing body is unconstitutional. Again, this is a “Letter from the Editor,” an editorial commentary on the actions taking place around us. To help clarify any confusion, please see the news piece that accompanied this editorial, which did not use editorial language such as this.
      4. In the SUNY policy you are citing, nowhere does it state that the example ballot displayed is the required format for the ballot. It shows the sample as an example, and nowhere in the policy does it say that specific format of ballot is required for the ballot to be valid. If there is a place in the SUNY policy where it explicitly says that this is the “required” format, please bring this to our attention.
      5. Our use of the word “senate” may have been misconstrued here, so we have since updated the article to clarify that we mean all of the SA members who receive stipends. Thank you for clarifying this point for us.
      That being said, this link to the budget will outline the upwards of twenty positions that receive stipends: http://www.albany.edu/studentassociation/docs/1112-SA-Budget.pdf
      So, while many of the senate members may not receive stipends for the hard work we know they put in, many of the positions are indeed paid, and we want to make this clear to the student body, many of which do not know that their $200 dollars goes directly into the pockets of their peers. And I would like to point out that we at the ASP do not give ourselves individual stipends (as you say, “expect payment”) for the countless hours of effort and energy we put into our work.
      6. As for your last point (i.e., “I do not need to go on and on about what the student activity fee can do for the students at this University. It is a crucial component to our campus life.”), we say this ourselves in the beginning of the piece, in our own introduction. I would like to draw your attention again to our original thesis- “we believe that having a mandatory Student Activity Fee is crucial for many parts of this campus to function.” We in no way, shape, or form, “fail to recognize,” as you so claim, that these funds are crucial for the campus.

      If you have additional comments that you think weren’t fully addressed, please feel free to email me at asp_online@hotmail.com
      Again, we thank you for continuing this important discussion.
      Michelle Checchi
      Editor-in-Chief

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *