A letter from the editor- What democracy?
By Michelle Checchi
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.
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.