This weekend, the SUNY Student Assembly will hold the first of its biannual conferences for the 2010-11 school year in Binghamton to discuss issues such as budget cuts to SUNY schools, tuition policy and increasing the representation of community college and graduate students.
The conference, to be held at the Holiday Inn Arena, will consist of officers of the SUNY SA, voting student delegates from most of SUNY’s 64 college and university campuses and other invited student leaders, as well as guest speakers from the SUNY administration and state government.
The full Student Assembly is the statewide student government organization for SUNY students charged with representing and advocating student interests at the state and national government levels.
BU will be represented at this weekend’s conference by Student Association President Jared Kirschenbaum and four other voting delegates: undergraduate students Jenna Goldin, the SA executive vice president; George Hadjiconstantinou, the BU Student Assembly vice chair; Adam Slomko, a BU Student Assembly representative; and graduate student William Madera, who was appointed by the Graduate Student Organization.
The conference, which is scheduled for today and Saturday, will consist of parliamentary debates and votes on substantive and institutional issues as well as leadership workshops and entertainment, including a school spirit contest and masquerade ball. The delegates will be voting on resolutions that include measures to form a permanent Community College Committee on the SUNY SA, create an additional graduate student representative position on the SUNY SA Executive Committee, and endorse a partnership between all SUNY campuses and Water Justice Alliance, a group that aims to raise awareness and counteract lack of access to clean drinking water worldwide.
Guest speakers include New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assembly member Deborah Glick, who chair the Higher Education Committees of their respective houses of the state legislature. University Faculty Senate President Kenneth O’Brien and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who will not appear in person but will communicate via teleconferencing technology, will also offer comments for the event.
According to SUNY Spokesman David Belsky, Zimpher will give a presentation providing an update on the SUNY administration’s progress with the ‘Power of SUNY,’ a strategic plan SUNY formulated under Zimpher that emphasizes partnership with business and global outreach. Belsky also said that she will focus on the conference’s theme of diversity.
‘My hope is that every student at the conference will get a well-rounded experience, including the opportunity to improve leadership skills, earn training certificates and meet with SUNY and state officials,’ said Julie Gondar, the president of the SUNY SA and the only student member of the SUNY Board of Trustees.
Gondar said that one of the main features of this year’s business meeting agenda would be a discussion she planned to lead on how SUNY’s troubled economic state can be improved.
‘I want to have a constructive and innovative conversation on the problems facing SUNY, which include huge budget cuts and the state’s taking of our tuition dollars,’ Gondar said. ‘It’s very important to have this conversation, because the budget cuts are only going to keep getting worse, unless we unite to speak with one powerful voice to oppose them.’
The envisioned discussion would be the start of a student reform campaign, Gondar explained, whereby student-initiated ideas and advocacy for reforming SUNY would replace support for proposed legislation like the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA), which the State Senate failed to pass in August.
‘PHEEIA is dead and in the past, there’s no legislation on the table,’ Gondar said. ‘This is a new student initiative about what we want for the State of New York and our educational needs.’
A separate, independent group of students, calling themselves Concerned Binghamton Students, has emerged on campus at BU this semester. They have come together to launch their own advocacy campaign to protest statewide budget cuts, increases in tuition and how the school’s funding has been allocated on campus.
Ashley Reid, a senior majoring in sociology and one of the founders of CBS, expressed hope that the SUNY SA could drive such changes, despite the fact that SUNY SA endorsed PHEEIA last spring. PHEEIA would have granted discretion to SUNY schools to set their own tuition rates and vary rates among academic programs.
‘Students should definitely bring the problems we’re facing to the SUNY SA’s attention so that they can run with it and make the changes be statewide,’ Reid said.
Kirschenbaum said that the complaints made by CBS were representative of issues at other SUNY campuses.
‘The things that CBS is upset about, like only having one stapler in the library, are a microcosm of problems SUNY-wide due to the budget cuts,’ Kirschenbaum said. ‘That’s why the SUNY SA meeting is so important. It gives us the chance to talk and network with student leaders at places like Stony Brook or Buffalo at a level you don’t get over the phone and see what their experiences have been.’