As we near a possible end to the COVID-19 pandemic and the spring 2021 semester, Binghamton University administration had a lot on their plate. However, in dealing with so many pressing issues, administrators often sought to place Pipe Dream in the middle of these problems rather than handling it themselves.
For starters, Pipe Dream staff were surprised to receive an email from BU President Harvey Stenger asking us to look into complaints regarding unsanitary living conditions for students in quarantine housing. While Pipe Dream has reported on such issues twice, the administration has not spoken out about these conditions, delegating all investigative and public relations work to our student news team rather than the administrators employed to do so.
In addition to this interaction is the position administrators put Pipe Dream staff in when reporting on the racial slurs voiced against an African American teaching assistant (TA) this February. BU administrators failed to outwardly support those impacted by these slurs, instead sending a vague B-Line News Addition condemning “racist incidents.” Only once Pipe Dream reported upon these incidents could this hate speech move from hearsay to actual fact. The University itself should have been transparent about the issue from the start. Also related to this attack was the administration’s decision to deflect blame onto Joshua Price, professor and chair of the sociology department, for the events following these racial slurs. Administrators belittled Price while simultaneously backing the work of Nicole Sirju-Johnson, Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) director and assistant vice president for diversity, who wrote in an email to Price, “Unfortunately, everyone has as much a right to be racist as they have a right to be culturally competent.” It is clear that BU refuses to take action against students or staff who make racially offensive remarks. BU also failed to comment on anti-Asian hate throughout the pandemic until after the Atlanta shootings in March 2021, despite the fact that Pipe Dream reported hate speech on campus as early as March 2020. Administration has a long way to go if they wish to prove their claim that racism is antithetical to the University’s core values.
As for the pandemic, when COVID-19 cases began spiking at the start of the semester, administrators placed much of the blame and responsibility on the students as individuals, rather than addressing contributing factors like Greek life and student parties. Chastising students while simultaneously doing nothing to curb the problem is causing a rise in cases benefited no one. This, tied with a clear disconnect between administration, residential life and other departments working to survey cases made for confusion in determining BU’s actual infection rate.
The decision to make weekly testing for the virus mandatory was a smart one — if only it was an effort the administration followed through on. While some students admirably showed up every week for their their tests, others were able to have large enough gaps in their testing that the demands on students ultimately fell flat. Efforts to vaccinate students also weren’t maintained, as issues revolving around the Johnson & Johnson vaccine cut the program short after just a week. On-campus vaccine rollout will not resume.
After an overwhelming amount of feedback and complaints from students, the administration implemented three, nonconsecutive Rejuvenation Days to give students a break from the marathon of a semester, while still deterring travel out of state. However, this proved to be not enough for most students, who are likely dealing with an immense amount of burnout as finals begin rolling in. There was also a little to no oversight as to whether or not courses would fully respect these Rejuvenation Days, with exams still being taken on these off days, or assignments due the following day. This didn’t exactly provide much respite for students.
The decision to resume in-person classes come fall 2020 is one that we’re sure many students will be grateful for, but we hope that the administration will be much more consistent in their duties next year, keeping infection rates low. While the decision to make freshman orientation an online affair is based in keeping COVID-19 infection rates low, this means that so many essential programs aimed at preventing sexual violence at BU and cultural sensitivity may be pushed aside. Enacting in-person commencement plans for 2021 is certainly admirable, but that victory will still ring hollow for the class of 2020, who have yet to receive any options for an in-person ceremony.
However, it is commendable that the administration hired a new Title IX coordinator to assist in combatting sexual assault on campus, as well as their hiring of the Husch Blackwell law firm to assess BU’s policies. While the Husch Blackwell report falls short in a number of ways, it is imperative that the administration goes above and beyond to respond to the recommendations provided.
This semester saw minimal success and major changes in the BU athletics department. Most notably, Tommy Dempsey’s contract was not renewed after nine seasons as men’s basketball coach, ending his time with the Bearcats with a poor 71-194 overall record. Levell Sanders was named interim head coach for next season, but with just two seasons of college coaching experience to his name, he represents a risky hire. The man who hired Sanders, director of athletics Patrick Elliott, announced a few months later that he will be stepping down at the end of the June. When BU begins competition next year, it will have an interim athletics director and men’s basketball coach, so it’s difficult to predict where the programs will go in the future.
During Elliott’s last semester in charge, the teams’ performances were largely lackluster. Men’s basketball was blown out in the first round of the playoffs and finished with a 4-14 overall record, prompting the coaching change. Its top-scorer this season, sophomore guard Brenton Mills, announced he was transferring to Bowling Green State University, dealing a blow to the future of the program. Although Sanders seems to lack experience, he appears to be doing a good job recruiting thus far, signing a Division I transfer who averaged 9.8 points per game last season as well as a guard from St. John’s University. While women’s basketball took a step back this season and finished 5-11, it seemed to meet expectations after losing its entire starting five from the 2019-2020 campaign. The decision to extend head coach Bethann Shapiro Ord’s contract was a good move for the future of the program.
Baseball is still in playoff contention, and has a good chance to make it, but women’s soccer and men’s basketball were the only other of BU’s team sports to qualify for postseason play. The Editorial Board commends the efforts of women’s soccer head coach Neel Bhattacharjee, who led BU to a 5-1 regular season and made it to the America East (AE) championship game. The other five fall and spring sports that competed this semester had disappointing seasons and did not qualify for the playoffs.
The brightest moments this season for BU came in the individual sports. Most significantly, the men’s swimming and diving team won the AE championship for the first time since 2003 and were the first BU team to take home a conference title since 2016. BU also had two All-Americans this season, cross country’s redshirt senior Emily Mackay and wrestling’s redshirt junior Lou DePrez. These represent great accomplishments for the University, but they aren’t enough to overshadow the disappointment of several of BU’s other teams this semester.
Decker Health Services: A-
The COVID-19 situation has slowly gotten better throughout this semester thanks to general trends in the country and all BU students becoming eligible for vaccinations. Decker Student Health Services, for the most part, has adapted to the needs of students through the pandemic by having rapid testing available every week day in the Mandela Room and results being ready in about half an hour. This was a positive shift from last semester, when rapid testing was only available when a student was randomly selected for it. Due to new SUNY policies, students, faculty, staff and auxiliary employees were required to be tested once per week. In the beginning of the semester, off-campus students were offered pool testing which was swapped out for uniform rapid testing for all students. In addition to rapid testing, polyamerase chain reaction (PCR) nasal swab tests were available for students who tested positive in rapid tests to ensure their results before going into quarantine. This, along with testing on campus being readily available for off-campus students, was a good addition to the services offered this semester.
However, Decker Student Health Services have made it harder to schedule regular appointments and have access to other sources by taking away walk-ins hours. For the fact that students are charged around $200 per semester for health services, taking away walk-in hours made basic health services like check-ups and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) more inaccessible than in the past. For students who need services, Decker Student Health Services set up tents outside of their office as a safer option.The Editorial Board recognizes the challenges Decker Student Health Services faced with COVID-19 and the higher demand for services. Overall, they have done a good job accommodating for student’s needs and making testing more widely available, especially for off-campus students. We understand that this academic year has been unlike any other in the past and hope to see their services continue to adapt to what is needed.
Student Association: B
As the second half of an unpredictable year concludes, the Student Association (SA) will enter another academic year of readjustments with a new executive board.
One of the more notable events seen in the SA this semester was Executive Board elections. Compared to spring 2020, there were multiple candidates running for almost all positions. The only two positions that remained uncontested were the vice president for programming (VPP) and the vice president for finance (VPF). Despite the increased interest in SA E-Board positions, student voter participation remained objectively low. For the second year in a row, voter turnout remained below 2,000 students, which is less than 15 percent of the total undergraduate population at BU. The low voter turnout could be due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the lack of emails received informing students of the election. Even though voter turnout was higher this semester than spring 2020, action should be taken next year to encourage more students to participate in the SA E-Board elections since there is an overall downward trend.
There were a few interesting developments during the SA E-Board elections. The first was that two out of the four candidates running for the SA President position were current SA E-Board members: Vice President for Multicultural Affairs (VPMA) David Hatami and Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA) Joshua Dorfman. We did not endorse any of the candidates running for SA President, but VPMA David Hatami won the position. The second interesting development was the SA’s implementation of a ranked-choice voting system for the first time. This new innovation was not the main feedback given by students during the voting process. The Graduate Student Organization (GSO) had raised concerns regarding the method of vote-keeping on B-Engaged to accommodate both the undergraduate and graduate students’ votes. This concern delayed the certification of the results for the BU Council representative for a month, with the final result being announced on April 30.
Regardless of the chaos surrounding SA E-Board elections, the SA Programming Board (SAPB) continued to impress the student body with its continuous organization of events from the fall semester. As in the fall, the SAPB was consistent in its acquisition of high-profile guests and adaptation to the virtual format. Some of the more notable guests were rock band Beach Bunny, hip-hop artist Aminé, DJ duo Two Friends and American comedian Hasan Minhaj, who was also gifted a BU hoodie to wear during his performance. The Editorial Board applauds the SAPB for its continued programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergence of a new campus resource, the Violence, Abuse and Rape Crisis Center (VARCC) was created largely in part to SA President Khaleel James. This new resource that addresses issues of sexual violence was created in part due to student outcry following the popularity of the Instagram account @shareyourstorybing. The SA has expressed interest in integrating ideas from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to be mandated in sexual violence prevention training. The Editorial Board praises the SA in creating these resources and bringing more awareness to issues regarding sexual violence.
Overall, the SA represented the student body more than the administration this semester, as seen in the SA’s proactiveness regarding student issues extending beyond sexual violence. The SA was quicker than the BU administration to denounce acts of hate directed toward Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, particularly after the racial attack of the graduate TA as detailed in the administration section. Additionally, the introduction of organization-specific scholarships demonstrates how the SA has continued to support students despite the COVID-19 pandemic. These organization-specific scholarships are for students involved in Harpur’s Ferry, Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) and the SA.
In conclusion, the Editorial Board recognizes the contributions made by the SA this semester to benefit and improve the function of our community.
SUNY System: C+
Jim Malatras’ appointment as the 14th Chancellor of SUNY last semester brought about a much more involved relationship with SUNY leadership for BU.
Malatras’ Feb. 14 visit to the Binghamton University Food Pantry in College-in-the-Woods included the announcement of a $1,000 grant to all SUNY schools in order to introduce refrigeration to their own food pantries.
In addition to this, Malatras, alongside New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, recently announced that vaccines would be required for students attending in-person classes at all SUNY schools next semester, given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approves vaccine use.
However, while these actions have been an overall positive for BU, Malatras’ appointment and connection with Cuomo remains a topic of contention. In March, chapters of College Republicans from across the state called for Malatras’ resignation after claiming that he was involved with the scandal regarding nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 in the state.
This situation, in addition to Malatras’ past as a Cuomo aide, and the lack of a public process during his appointment as chancellor, raise doubts about the legitimacy of his leadership, and the amount of influence that Cuomo has on the SUNY system as a whole.
Before Malatras’ appointment, there was no national candidate search for chancellor, and multiple members of the SUNY Board of Trustees announced a vote of no confidence in the members of the board that chose to expedite the process.
Overall, SUNY’s actions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic have been relatively successful, and Malatras’ hands-on approach in regard to leadership has proven to be effective. However, having a leadership figure with such close connections to a prominent politician raises some concerns about who is making the final decision when it comes to SUNY problems.
Residential Life: D
This semester, Residential Life continued to fail at providing students with the safety and transparency they deserve. Early spring semester saw a clearly unexpected spike in cases, and though Residential Life presumably worked as quickly as possible to mitigate the issue, the results were far from good enough. A jump in cases should have been anticipated, as more students returned to campus than the fall, and the semester began right around the highest spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths the country had ever seen.
The conditions in quarantine and isolation housing were simply unacceptable during this surge. Rooms were filthy, students were being fed too little or not at all and resident assistants (RA) were left entirely in the dark about what was going on. As stated earlier, Harvey Stenger reached out to Pipe Dream on Feb. 23 asking for help in reporting just how bad this situation had gotten. In spite of this email, neither the University nor Residential Life had an official response to these horror stories other than telling students to “be a member of our campus community and not just a consumer of our services.”
As a result of the lack of preparedness, the University had to continually move students out of their dorms in Hillside Community. RAs were either uninformed or told not to say anything about these plans, and students weren’t provided with proper resources. Though these students were offered a 25 percent discount on housing fees and a service to help with the move-out process, the moving service was almost unusable since it was offered a day too late, so many students could not even use it. In the end, displacing students in Hillside Community still was not enough, as quarantine and isolation housing was expanded into a few hotels on Vestal Parkway.
Even as the positivity rate has now dropped to a low 0.14 percent 14-day average as of May 12 and the quarantine housing crisis has ended, Residential Life’s ever-persisting issues with intimidation and a lack of transparency for staff and residents have come back as strong as ever. Whenever Pipe Dream reporters reached out to students — especially RAs — for comments on a story about Residential Life throughout this semester, they always wished to remain anonymous in fear of retribution. RAs were directed to police students for COVID-19 policy violations, and despite the creation of a separate “task force” for this purpose later in the semester, they were still expected to perform this role.
It is understandable that COVID-19 has made life incredibly uncertain, but after a year of life in the pandemic, uncertainty can no longer be an excuse for practices that harm the well-being of students. While things are looking up, COVID-19 is likely going to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and Residential Life needs to understand that and plan its policies accordingly to ensure students and staff are safe and healthy no matter what.