NYPIRG’s most recent attempt to receive funding from the Student Association was shot down last week.
The SA’s Judicial Board ruled on Wednesday that the SA’s Elections Committee did not violate the SA constitution when it decided to reject NYPIRG’s referendum, which would have allowed students to decide by ballot whether the student activity fee be increased by $3.50 to provide a budget to NYPIRG.
Binghamton University’s chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a state-wide student activism organization, gathered more than 3,000 signatures from students in support of adding the referendum to this week’s ballot.
The group’s budget has been incrementally decreased from $85,000 in 2006 to $0 as of last year.
On Monday, March 19, members of the Elections Committee met with the SA’s attorney to discuss the referendum, according to SA Elections Chair Nick Fondacaro.
Andrew Howard, speaker of the SA’s Student Assembly, said the attorney advised the committee against putting the referendum on the ballot.
“The SA’s lawyer looked over the referendum and he determined that it would be against SUNY Board of Trustee policy,” Howard said. “He then advised us not to place referendums that seek to allocate funds to specific student groups on our ballot. The Elections Committee was given this advice from our lawyer and they voted unanimously to keep the referendum off the ballot.”
Section (c)1b of the SUNY Board of Trustees’ policy on student activity fees states that: “While referenda of the student body may not be used to help determine specific allocations to particular student organizations, mechanisms such as polls or surveys may be used to ascertain student interest and participation in programs or events.”
The Elections Committee voted not to include the referendum with a 5-0 vote. The decision was then approved by the Student Assembly. NYPIRG then filed its unsuccessful grievance with the J-Board.
In its decision, the J-Board wrote that: “Regarding NYPIRG’s exclusion from the ballot and review of their petition by the SA attorney, it may be considered unkind, but not unconstitutional.”
Fondacaro, a junior majoring in political science, said that a number of student services are funded through the SA constitution and the funding can be changed by referendum. But referendums are not used to change funding for chartered student groups, which are allocated funds by the SA.
“I haven’t seen a student group put through a referendum to fund themselves,” Fondacaro said.
NYPIRG members said that their referendum was not treated fairly due to biases against their group by members of the SA.
NYPIRG responded to the decision by submitting a grievance of the Elections Committee to the Judicial Board, which was heard at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. At the hearing, NYPIRG President Lindsay O’Neill-Caffrey said that she felt that she had been kept in the dark about the decisions being made.
“I felt like it was a little unfair that we were kept out of so many meetings,” said O’Neill-Caffrey, a junior double-majoring in environmental studies and political science. “Their legal adviser recommended that they don’t put the referendum on the ballot, but their failure to give us any substantive reason suggests unfair treatment and viewpoint discrimination.”
“There should clearly have been equal treatment of our petition,” said NYPIRG Treasurer Eric Moring, a senior majoring in environmental studies.
Howard said that the SA holds no bias against any student groups.
“The Judicial Board agrees that our actions were all completely compliant with the constitution and bylaws. While some people may say our actions may be considered unkind, it is important to remember that we are just students,” Howard said. “We do everything in our power to always follow the constitution, our bylaws and the legal advice of the association’s lawyer.”