Despite the extreme circumstances Binghamton University found itself in this semester, administrators handled the coronavirus adjustments surprisingly well. They held multiple press conferences as the virus began affecting other universities and canceled classes for the two days prior to officially moving online to provide an adjustment period for students and faculty. The administration also acted quickly with housing decisions and made a great choice in letting students stay if they wished to do so. They are planning to refund those who did not. The pass/fail policy, created to accommodate the additional struggles of a rapid online transition, was also a success, enabling students to opt in after they see their final grades. Additionally, the Editorial Board appreciated the University’s ruling preventing professors from moving tests forward and the fact that BU Zoom accounts were set up quickly.
That being said, there are some areas where the University was lacking. It seemed like they left faculty to fend for themselves when it came to figuring out how to structure online classes, and administrators should have offered more support. Also, although students received direct refunds for unused fees, the University left refunds for other fees, such as parking and gym fees, up to their respective departments. There has been no communication as to what is happening with those fees and when students can expect to see money deposited in their accounts. There is also a current lack of communication concerning the fall semester. While the Editorial Board understands that the situation is constantly and rapidly changing, other SUNY schools have released updates on possible scenarios and updates on their decision-making process, while BU has not.
Apart from the coronavirus, the University also had a lapse in decision-making when the $60 million baseball stadium project came in over budget, which has now led to major construction delays. While we do applaud the University for working with the anonymous donor family to provide the largest donation in University history, there are still questions regarding President Harvey Stenger’s statement that this was not going to be the last donation. Coronavirus may have delayed that news, but the Editorial Board hopes that another donation that is focused on underfunded areas of campus, such as mental health services, is still in the cards.
To end on a positive note, the University has been taking some student feedback into account. After breaking the news that the graduating class of 2020 will not have an in-person ceremony this spring, the University released a survey to find the best time to reschedule it in the fall. This was a smart move, and we appreciate the administration being open with this process and willing to hear feedback from the thousands of students directly affected.
Student Association (SA): B-
In the fall, the Editorial Board gave the SA an A- following a relatively smooth transition and first semester. While many of the positive traits of this year’s e-board still stand, it’s safe to say that this semester was a little rockier.
The semester started off with the SA’s annual spring leadership training, which was poorly planned and executed. Executive Vice President Erin Bishop only gave student leaders two weeks’ notice about the scheduled date of the event, which was held early in the morning on March 1 — the Sunday before winter break.
The event itself was mostly useless for student leaders. One hour was allocated to a discussion on transitioning new e-board members, and another hour was devoted to B-Engaged training. Neither presentation was needed, and both ran short, leaving student leaders sitting and waiting for the next presentation. At one point, presenters sent students to the next training session early, disrupting ongoing presentations and activities.
One positive part of the event was receiving cultural competency training from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The training was informative and well planned, and absolutely should remain a mandatory part of leadership training going forward. But the SA only gave the DEI an hour for what is typically a three-hourlong training session, and because student leaders were in relatively large groups, coordinators’ ability to effectively conduct training was hindered.
The SA also struggled with this year’s elections, ultimately extending the letter of intent deadline for several positions. Most positions were uncontested, and just 1,238 students voted, one of the lowest recorded turnouts for SA elections in recent University history.
Amid the many changes necessitated by the current pandemic, that new E-Board has been completely silent. While the Editorial Board recognizes that these new student leaders are still training, neither the current E-Board nor the future one has stepped forward to answer important questions coming from student groups about their budgets and other important SA operations. Their lack of response to these concerns does not reflect well.
Nevertheless, there were some victories. SA Congress has continued to operate over Zoom and release minutes while classes have been moved online, and SA President Emma Ross took a strong stand against administrators’ initial plans to remove the 20:1 program entirely from freshman orientation. Because of her efforts, important training on sexual assault and harassment will still be offered, albeit in an online format.
Additionally, the SA has shown steps this year toward increased transparency. After the disastrous spring student leadership conference, Bishop sent out a survey to student leaders, which indicates the SA is trying to improve. The SA also implemented a new policy regarding advertising on Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) buses, taking into account concerns from several student groups surrounding the presence of ads from Birthright International, an anti-abortion pregnancy center. These moves show that the SA is capable of being a more responsive and transparent body, and we hope next year’s E-Board will continue those efforts.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams entered the spring semester with some promise, having had strong starts to their seasons in the fall. One lived up to the promise, and the other did not. Under second-year head coach Bethann Shapiro Ord, the women’s basketball team won 22 games, the most in the program’s Division I history, and advanced to the America East (AE) semifinals.
On the other hand, the men’s basketball team, under eighth-year head coach Tommy Dempsey, finished last in the AE and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. The program also saw their best player, rising guard Sam Sessoms, transfer to Penn State, a loss that’s sure to hurt next season. The performance of the men’s basketball team always plays a major part in shaping the success or failure of athletics as a whole, and this year’s team, which was young and talented, significantly underperformed.
Other than men’s basketball, the athletics department had a good semester. Besides women’s basketball’s success, the wrestling program produced an EIWA champion in rising redshirt junior Lou DePrez, while the team overall tied its highest finish at the EIWA Championships.
The Editorial Board recognizes that the spring semester went uncompleted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the baseball and softball seasons, which were both very promising, were cut short before they could come into fruition. However, we believe that enough occurred this semester, between the completed winter seasons and the transfers of Sessoms, rising senior forward Olivia Ramil and rising junior forward Annie Ramil, to justify a largely average grade.
Residential Life: B
Residential Life was forced to react quickly as students started evacuating campus, and there have been some concerning hiccups throughout the process. While the decision to move students remaining on campus into Dickinson Community made sense in terms of minimizing staffing and allowing more frequent and efficient cleanings, we feel there should have been more transparency on the sanitization process as the move was happening. Students remaining on campus were given resources like face masks, but were unsure of whether the dorms were sufficiently cleaned before they were moved.
Additionally, move-out was quite hectic, and while Residential Life made the responsible move of prohibiting parents from entering dorms, the rule was not enforced. Parents and students were rushing in and out of buildings, suites and dorm rooms, which became a major safety concern.
For students leaving campus, housing refunds for the semester have not been immediate, and fees are instead being reduced for the upcoming semester. While decisions regarding fees have not been solely made by Residential Life, we feel Residential Life is responsible for a lack of communication surrounding the situation for students who will not be living on campus next year.
Overall, while Residential Life has made some smart choices, the Editorial Board feels they should have gone the extra mile in ensuring student safety during this major upheaval to campus life.
Office of International Education and Global Initiatives: A
This semester, the Editorial Board is giving a perfect grade to the Office of International Education and Global Initiatives (IEGI). While reporting on students’ study abroad experiences being interrupted in the face of COVID-19, multiple sources told Pipe Dream writers that IEGI staff went above and beyond to work with them and provide crucial support.
The cancellation of fall 2020 study abroad programs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult decision, but overall a good move. Though the decision came early, it was well-timed to allow students to schedule their fall classes starting April 13. By all accounts, the office did a good job of maintaining transparency with students and keeping them updated on the situation. We hope that the office will continue this good work into the summer.
If circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic change by late summer, we would encourage the IEGI office to reconsider certain programs on a case-by-case basis, particularly if in-person classes resume on campus in August. This will allow the office to balance students’ needs in scheduling classes with concerns that a decision about fall 2020 programs could be premature. In the meantime, the Editorial Board feels that IEGI deserves credit for their role in prioritizing student health, safety and peace of mind.