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Empty Seats Aplenty at Joint SGA Maintenance of Effort Rally

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Few students unaffiliated with the Student Association, Graduate Student Association, or SUNY Student Assembly showed up at a rally in support of state legislation which would separate tuition dollars from maintenance costs at public campuses.

About 30 people attended the Tuesday event. Among them: three state Assembly members and two University officials.

SA President Jerlisa Fontaine said there should’ve been greater student group outreach to buoy attendance. Even so, she believes the event was “successful.”

“What I wanted was a full crowd,” said Fontaine. “However, it was very hard to get students to want to come out to those academic or political stance-type of events.”

Co-sponsored by both University at Albany student government associations and SUNY SA, the event was tailored to support Maintenance of Effort, a bill that would halt funneling tuition dollars into inflationary costs such as salaries and utilities on SUNY and CUNY campuses.

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo having vetoed MOE legislation two years back for not being negotiated in the state’s public higher education budget, it’s unclear if the bill will get an executive stamp. 

Trying to pick up support for the cause, Fontaine rounded up two nearby sophomore students finishing dinner in the Campus Center minutes before the event. Roommates Mikeyla Nunez and Emmanuelle Toussaint both explained they wanted more clarity on MOE.

They noticed a low turnout at the event. Nunez explained this through her own experience: “If Juju hadn’t come up to us, I would have never known that this was going on.”

“I feel like if they were advertising this meeting, a lot of students would have showed up,” Toussaint said.

SA posted a flyer five times in five days on its Twitter account. Fontaine also took to Twitter and advertised the flyer three times on the day of the event. On Instagram, SA posted the flyer twice in five days; on Facebook, it was four times in five days.

Darien Rudolph, SA director of marketing, attributed low turnout to timing. 

“I mean, 7:30 on a Tuesday night?” said Rudolph. “So, I mean, was I — I don’t know. People have more studying, getting ready for tests … people are going home.”

In comparison, a Perkins Loan rally held earlier that day had a heavier turnout. Students and university leaders, along with an appearance from Congressman Paul Tonko (D – 20), spoke outside the Campus Center in support of the federal aid program set to expire on Sept. 30.

The difference between both events according to Fontaine: the Perkins event was more engaging, more Educational Opportunity Program students were involved, and its scheduled expiration has a more “direct” impact. Some students next academic year will have financial aid cuts as high as $2,000 should Congress not renew the program.

One of three Assembly members at the MOE rally, John McDonald (D-108) believes that low attendance was symbolic of larger issues with civic events.

“A lot of times lack of interest is terrible,” he said. “On the other end of the spectrum, people being obnoxious and shouting their mouth off at an event is terrible.”

SUNY SA President Marc Cohen maintained that students were not obligated to come to show up at the event. It is a student representative’s job, Cohen said, to post on social media, contact the governor’s office, and advocate for their constituents.   

“As long as we’ve got the representative student governments here, all of them for the entire campus, I think we’re doing pretty well,” he said.  

Beyond the SA executive board, four SA senators out of about 20 and one senator-elect showed face at the rally.

Twenty-six senators elected last week were pledged in later that night. 

“I am going to put this out here because you guys are in a position to lead,” Fontaine told the senate in a meeting after the event. “You guys cannot inspire other students to be active leaders if you guys are not participating in our initiatives so I want to make it imperative that you guys are getting involved in everything Student Association-related.”

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Elise Coombs, a Syracuse native, is the editor-in-chief of the Albany Student Press. She is the co-Vice President of the UAlbany Mock Trial team, a member of Presidential Honors Society, and a peer mentor for the pre-law section of Writing and Critical Inquiry. After her time at UAlbany, she plans to go to law school and become a First Amendment lawyer.

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