Binghamton University’s Student Association Judicial Board ruled Monday evening to reverse its earlier ruling on a case involving the BU chapter of New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), upholding the SA Assembly Rules Committee decision to evict NYPIRG from its office.
On Feb. 23, the J-Board ruled that the SA Assembly Rules Committee acted unconstitutionally when it ordered NYPIRG to vacate its office in the New University Union. The J-Board reversed this ruling Monday evening.
Monday’s decision recommended that NYPIRG now be given four business days to vacate its office, the same period of time given by the Rules Committee when it first issued its eviction order. The J-Board recognized, however, that it did not have power to issue a binding order.
The dispute surrounding NYPIRG’s status on campus began when the Rules Committee notified the group that the Committee would conduct a hearing on Feb. 3 to determine whether NYPIRG deserved to keep its office. At the hearing, the Rules Committee voted 7-2 to order NYPIRG to vacate its office, and the Assembly voted 16-14 to approve the Rules Committee’s decision at its next meeting on Feb. 7.
Instead of vacating the office, NYPIRG leaders filed grievances against the Rules Committee and Assembly with the J-Board, arguing that the Assembly acted outside its constitutional authority and denied the group due process, among other claims.
The J-Board heard an appeal of its original decision at 6 p.m. yesterday. The appeal had been filed by Assembly Speaker Randal Meyer on the Assembly’s behalf. The hearing concluded in about 45 minutes, after which the Judicial Board retired to deliberate privately in a conference room in the SA office in the New University Union.
Mark Zakariya, the J-Board chair, then announced the four-member panel’s decision publicly during the Assembly’s regular Monday night meeting.
The J-Board did not overturn its original decision in its entirety, upholding its finding that the Assembly had enacted improperly when it rescinded NYPIRG’s charter for failing to comply with the eviction order. According to the J-Board, this was a decision to be made by the Rules Committee if and when an official grievance was brought up over NYPIRG’s continued occupation of its office.
Zakariya said the J-Board was convinced by arguments raised by Meyer during yesterday’s hearing that a clause of the constitution protecting students’ equal rights meant that both sides of an issue must be given equal time to speak at a hearing, but not that all students individually have an equal opportunity to be heard.
“If this were the standard, we could never hold any meeting of the Assembly, because all students have the right to speak, and there’s no room on campus big enough to hold them all,” Meyer said, referring to the latter interpretation of the clause.
After the J-Board’s first ruling reprimanding the SA, a motion was made in the Assembly by Nick Valiando, the Elections Committee chair, to impeach Zakariya for eight violations of the SA constitution allegedly committed by the Judicial Board in his handling of NYPIRG’s grievance. The impeachment motion was defeated by a vote of 14-9.
The Judicial Board has nine seats under the SA constitution, but presently consists of just four members. Zakariya and other Judicial Board members Cody DeMarco and Eitan Adler heard the original NYPIRG grievance case on Feb. 23, but new member Brian Parente did not. Parente was confirmed as the replacement for Kevin Fischer, who resigned from the Judicial Board after the hearing on the NYPIRG grievance, at the Assembly’s meeting on Feb. 28.
“We have to follow the bylaws and constitution, whether it’s ethical or just or not,” Zakariya said.
He also acknowledged other limits on the J-Board’s ability to review a case.
“If theoretically the SA had an agenda that they just wanted to get rid of a group, they could do it,” Zakariya said. “We cannot consider that. We cannot conduct our own independent investigations or consider outside sources, so we have to take whatever they say at face value.”
Zakariya also said that the Rules Committee had the power to remove groups from their offices unilaterally. According to the J-Board, it was not even necessary for the Committee to conduct a public hearing or allow NYPIRG to mount a defense.
Zakariya said he expected NYPIRG would now comply with the vacate order, citing statements made by University Union Director James Koval in Pipe Dream that the University would not enforce the order before the appeals process was complete.
However, Brenden Colling, a regional campus supervisor for NYPIRG who has been handling NYPIRG’s fight in the SA’s internal judicial process, said the group had no plans to leave.
“We filed a number of grievances with the J-Board initially. The J-Board only ever ruled on two of the 10 or so instances of SA constitutional violations we brought to their attention, and today’s hearing was an appeal of that decision,” Colling said. “We will now be asking them to consider our other grievances.” The J-Board still has not heard NYPIRG’s other grievance against the Assembly.
Meyer expressed contentment with the J-Board’s most recent ruling.
“The J-Board made a very rational and sound decision,” Meyer said.
The Assembly Speaker said that the SA had considered NYPIRG’s charter to be reinstated since the Feb. 23 J-Board ruling and that it would remain so for the time being, pending whether NYPIRG would vacate its office.
“If the SA has taken any real action to give us back our charter, we’d like to know what that is,” Colling said.
According to Colling, NYPIRG had not received any notification that its charter was restored, nor had the group had its PAWS page been put back online or its access to reserve rooms on campus restored.