Having finally returned to an entirely in-person semester for the first time since the fall of 2019, there is much to talk about in terms of Binghamton University administration. We’ll start with some of the positive administrative decisions made this semester.
First up, an in-person semester also signaled the return of BU Homecoming on campus. Homecoming Weekend ran from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, featuring plenty of fun activities for the current campus community and visiting alumni. The weekend ended with a literal bang as fireworks lit up the campus.
There were also a host of new additions to the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion staff this semester who were welcomed with a meet and greet on Oct. 7. The event also offered tours of the Multicultural Resource Center and the Q Center. These hires came at a time when several other administrators, including Donald Nieman, the University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, chose to step down after spring 2022.
The Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity also had its grand opening in late September. The Tubman Center has a great mission statement targeted toward researching the legacy of slavery and freedom throughout American history, and seems to have speakers lined up for events next semester. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which first met last academic year, released its 10 Recommendations to enhance diversity and create a fairer, just space for all on campus one month ago. These recommendations are expansive, ranging from recognizing the “invisible labor” performed by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) faculty and staff and diversifying Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD). The list was compiled after six listening sessions with testimonies from students, faculty, staff and alumni. We hope the TRC and the Tubman Center continue to see great progress, and we are glad to see one section of administration take far-reaching action to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
BU President Harvey Stenger also expressed his commitment to helping the Graduate Student Employees Union abolish broad-based fees for graduate teaching assistants (TAs). This is a major step toward abolishing unnecessary and costly fees for graduate employees here at BU, but Stenger still needs to commit to a concrete plan and deadline to prove he is dedicated to this cause.
The administration’s downfalls this semester are similar to many semesters of the past, starting with poor responses to issues such as racism, violence or antisemitism. In true administrative fashion, it seems it was easier for BU to ignore acts of violence rather than address them with urgency and care. Harvey Stenger and Karen Jones, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, released a strong B-Line News Addition when Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers were convicted, but it did not seem as “heartening” as they may have hoped amid Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal. This statement alone would suggest some progress compared to when Stenger urged students to choose nonviolence during the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, but there were still other acts of racism that were not comprehensively addressed. Pipe Dream’s last editorial critiqued the administration for its short-lived B-Line on graduate student alumnus Kai Liu being assaulted and robbed Downtown near Recreation Park. The statement was buried among a mass list of announcements with a vague title of “Safety Concern,” leaving a majority of campus unaware of such a brutal attack that took place so close to off-campus student housing.
Additionally, when allegations of antisemitism on campus rose during the month of October, administrators remained silent. Jewish events on campus were also met with a massive influx of antisemitism on the anonymous social media platform, Yik Yak. Later that month, when several recent BU graduates died from fentanyl-laced cocaine over Halloweekend, administrative silence continued with a subtle promotion of Narcan training in a Student Association (SA) email. Failing to publicly comment on the death of multiple alumni who visited the University in hopes for a fun weekend directly endangers students by leaving them blissfully ignorant on a fatal issue plaguing our community.
Lastly, administration also proved unprepared for the infection rates of COVID-19 on campus, especially when students first returned to campus in late August. Although roughly 99 percent of students are vaccinated, administration should have predicted the exponential increase of breakthrough cases with the Delta variant. Too many students were left with too few resources, especially when they were trying to get the initial test to prove they were positive. Decker Student Health Services was flooded with cases, and they were entirely unreachable for weeks. Local pharmacies were also overwhelmed, with the closest available test date sometimes being over two weeks out. Students were also not allowed to schedule a rapid test on campus if they had COVID-19 symptoms. Thankfully, this rule changed, with the University both expanding the testing center and allowing symptomatic students to receive tests at an additional diagnostic site.
The University’s lack of preparedness early this semester left several students with few options for testing, resulting in poor oversight and data collection throughout Broome County. Hopefully, administration will take action to prevent the same problem with the Omicron variant looming over the spring semester.
The SUNY system started off the semester strong with the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all incoming students. One of the things that stood out the most at the beginning of the semester was the lack of a vaccination mandate for SUNY faculty and staff. While ensuring all incoming students were vaccinated was a good step toward preventing the spread of COVID-19, the fact that faculty and staff were not required to follow the same protocol is a clear shortcoming of the current SUNY administration.
Since then, the most notable thing that has occurred in regard to SUNY is the recent controversy surrounding SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras. Pipe Dream previously covered the controversy on Dec. 4, and the article can be found here. The controversy surrounded comments made by Malatras in private email and message chains that were released by Attorney General Letitia James’ office as part of evidence in the investigation into former New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. In one of the messages, Malatras wrote about former Cuomo aide Lindsey Boylan, saying “Malatras to Boylan: Go fuck yourself,” in response to Boylan’s Twitter posts calling the Cuomo office a toxic workplace. On another occasion, Malatras wrote “Let’s release some of her cray emails!” to another Cuomo staffer who had mocked Boylan. The transcripts released by James’ office include more examples of Malatras’ unprofessional behavior and demeaning messages about coworkers. After the information was released, various organizations and student groups called for the Chancellor’s resignation. Some of these organizations included both the New York Federation of College Republicans and College Democrats of New York, along with the SUNY Student Assembly and the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC). In response to the calls for his resignation, the SUNY Board of Trustees sent out a news release stating the chancellor would not be stepping down on Friday, Dec. 3. The release also linked Malatras’ personal statement, in which the chancellor apologized for his past behavior, but also affirmed he would not be resigning from his position. However, in a statement released by Malatras on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 9, the chancellor sent a letter to the SUNY Board of Trustees stating he would be resigning from his position effective Jan. 14, 2022. Malatras cited the controversy as the reason for his resignation, and wrote that it distracted from the overall mission of SUNY, especially as it “emerges from COVID-19.”
It is the view of the Editorial Board that the fact that people who act unprofessionally in such a public manner are undeserving of a title as serious as SUNY chancellor, and that the Chancellor made the correct decision to step down. Because of this, and the effectiveness of a student-wide vaccine mandate, SUNY’s grade has slightly increased from last semester.
Student Association: A-
There hasn’t been a lot of news from the Student Association (SA) this semester. That can be a good thing and a bad thing.
To start positively, the SA has pushed new initiatives this semester aimed at helping students, such as the housing survey and subsequent Housing Town Hall on Dec. 2, where off-campus students were able to expose untrustworthy landlords. The initiative was taken by Samantha Carroll, SA vice president for student success and a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law. The initiative was a good start, but results of the survey still have not been shared as of Dec. 8. Beyond these initiatives, there have been few notable or concrete updates from Carroll, whose Congress show many vague initiative ideas, such as looking into ways to improve mental health on campus, and few concrete plans.
The short suspension of Off Campus College Transport (OCCT) Late Nite service in response to rider misconduct and disrespect was another valuable move toward student safety, especially in regard to the student driver employees. According to SA meeting minutes, there has been improved student behavior on bus services within the last month, suggesting the Oct. 15 suspension was effective.
The return of in-person University Fest also went very well, with a massive turnout from both organizations and participating students. However, this turnout may very well have contributed to the huge amounts of COVID-19 cases seen the following week. Given this unintended result, requiring masks next fall may be beneficial.
SA President David Hatami has also made positive attempts to improve communication and make updates more accessible to students through his monthly Fireside Chats. These chats are posted on the SA president’s Instagram page, with Hatami highlighting SA accomplishments and upcoming events. These videos, while corny at times, were helpful in keeping students informed. Sakib Choudhury, SA executive vice president, has also kept up valuable communication with all SA-chartered organizations, including helpful advice on how to gain more funding.
The SA’s multicultural efforts should also be recognized. Several members of the SA have attended and promoted major cultural events on campus, including the BU Japanese Association’s (BUJA) Winter Matsuri, Hillel’s Aroma Cafe, the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) annual banquet and much more. Mary Hu, SA vice president for multicultural affairs, announced plans for a Multicultural Food Festival and Extravaganza in the spring at the Dec. 7 SA Congress meeting, which the Editorial Board looks forward to.
Tara Lerman, vice president for finance, has been doing great work handling the SA’s $3 million budget and our 450+ chartered organizations’ budgets. Lerman has consistently given timely and important email updates, and the voucher system seems to run much smoother than in past years. This is a remarkable feat, considering the return to in-person events and classes that has required mass amounts of prior approval vouchers and vendor payments compared to the last year and a half.
Similar to the administration, however, there has been noticeable silence from the SA in regard to instances of racism or prejudice on campus. Throughout the semester, the only official SA statement was made when Hatami was anonymously accused of antisemitism on the Instagram page @jewishoncampus. The SA, in conjunction with administration, made no public statements in response to Kai Liu’s assault or the drug-related deaths of multiple alumni over Halloweekend.
Overall, this was a fairly good semester for the SA, but there is always room for improvement.
Student Association Programming Board: A
Coming back to in-person events, the Student Association Programming Board (SAPB) returned in full swing, getting big-name acts to come to BU throughout the semester and hosting a variety of events for students. Getting acts such as WILLOW and Daniyel for the fall concert, Saturday Night Live cast members for a comedy show and Brian Baumgartner, known for playing Kevin Malone on “The Office,” were huge accomplishments for the board in helping students ease back into public events again.
Students were eager to attend these events, as evident by traffic to the SAPB website causing it to crash within five minutes of tickets for the fall concert going on sale. On top of that, the SAPB proved safety to be one of their main concerns as they made masks mandatory at all events and set up floor pods for students to reserve floor areas for groups of four or eight at the fall concert in the Events Center. During the actual concert, there were also strict COVID-19 safety enforcements.
The SAPB’s success comes as no surprise. Even during the pandemic, they were able to provide quality performances and events despite having to be in an online format. Last year, the SAPB hosted talks with media personalities such as Josh Peck and Hasan Minhaj and had successful online concerts with a diverse set of artists, from Steve Aoki to Beach Bunny to Two Friends and Aminé. This year, the SAPB were able to bring just as exciting of a lineup to our campus with something for everyone. While past concerts have focused heavily on rappers and hip-hop artists, the SAPB brought a refreshing change of pace with WILLOW and hyper-pop artists LustSickPuppy and Alice Longyu Gao for a Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP) concert.
Apart from concerts, the SAPB also had impressive turnouts to Fall Fest and Holidaze, which served as de-stressing events for students and offered a variety of amenities from special foods to movie screenings. These events being held throughout the semester gave students the balance they needed to enjoy their college experience.
The Editorial Board praises the SAPB this year for their commitments to student safety while providing much-needed entertainment during a semester of transitioning. In a past editorial, we applauded Lucas Bianculli, SA vice president for programming (VPP), and Olivia Le, SAPB concerts chair for their efforts in the Fall Concert. Additionally, we recognize and commend Sean McManus, SAPB BUMP chair, Katrina Chan, SAPB festivals chair and Jocelyn Phipps, SA comedy chair, for holding such successful events.
After a spring semester which ushered in major changes for BU, much of this fall semester has been disappointing. Women’s soccer has been the only program to qualify for a post-season tournament, but were ultimately dispatched by UAlbany in the first round of play despite posting a respectable record throughout the competition. Men’s soccer got off to a historic start to its season, but crumbled completely toward the latter, and most important, part of its schedule. Lastly, volleyball, while able to put its recent 36-game losing streak in the past, only picked up three wins in conference play and wasn’t even close to achieving a winning record. To make matters worse, the program will be forced to look for new leadership after head coach Glenn Kiriyama stepped down, for better or for worse, from a team that has failed to capture any degree of success since 2017.
In terms of BU’s ongoing programs, women’s basketball has undoubtedly shown the most promise thus far, now tallying an even 4-4 record and showing an active and energetic effort to improve heading into conference play. Even without the substantial individual talent the team had during the 2019-2020 season, it seems clear that the current lineup is entirely capable of carrying on the success of Binghamton’s previous all-star rosters. On the other hand, men’s basketball under head coach Levell Sanders has gotten off to a slow start but at least radiates a newfound energy that was ultimately lacking under previous head coach Tommy Dempsey, whose contract expired at the end of last season. Wrestling, while one of BU’s strongest team programs, has yet to provide the effort on the mats necessary to make its characteristically bold statement at its conference championships in February. Although head coach Kyle Borshoff has been persistent in nursing the team’s attitude back to health, the program is still in need of major adjustments that are not guaranteed to come over the next few months.
Unfortunately, the only four programs to shine thus far for BU are both cross country and swimming and diving teams. Head coach Annette Acuff has led the cross country program to one of its highest pinnacles since its conception. Not only have both the men’s and women’s teams managed to battle toe-to-toe with extremely difficult conference competition, but redshirt senior Emily Mackay individually represented her school at the highest level of collegiate running in the entire country for the second year in a row under Acuff’s guidance. Furthermore, the swimming and diving teams have broken multiple records during the latter half of the fall season under head coach Jerry Cummiskey and appear to be on track to contend with this year’s America East competitors come February’s meet. The Editorial Board commends the efforts of all four of these programs for positively representing BU on such a substantial scale, but the lack of success from the majority of Binghamton’s teams sadly overshadows much of what they have accomplished.
Residential Life: C-
Pipe Dream left off its Spring 2021 Report Card with a scathing grade for Residential Life. Last semester, the problems were significant: lack of support for residential assistant (RA) staff, gross mismanagement of quarantine and isolation housing and a culture of fear so severe that students and RAs were afraid to speak out. In terms of scandals, Residential Life has had a pretty quiet semester. Policies forbidding parents in residential halls during move-in have since been lifted, and students living on campus can enjoy greater freedom to hang out with friends in different dorms than they live in. The easing of these restrictions does not appear to have contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases, so it seems to have been implemented well, with some help from the 99 percent vaccination rate on campus. Living on campus seems to be at an all-around more enjoyable point than last semester, now that the University is operating fully in person and strict COVID-19 precautions in the residence halls have mostly been lifted.
There remain two problems to discuss with Residential Life this semester. First, Residential Life rejected the SA Congress’ Centering Communications Act passed to put suggestion boxes in every residence hall, for little to no explanation. As revealed at the Dec. 7 SA Congress meeting, the resolution was formally vetoed by the SA president, and “paper boxes” with QR codes were instead implemented by Residential Life. While it’s good that an alternative was added, the Editorial Board believes this initial resolution could have been incredibly helpful to students. The resolution offered students the chance to be heard by their elected hall government, ensuring their concerns are addressed by their peer representatives. There was no clear, public explanation given as to why the implementation of these boxes was blocked. Regardless of procedural matters and Residential Life policies, this act could have done a lot of good for students on campus and should have been worth working on — especially the clause where student concerns would be regularly addressed by hall and community governments.
Lastly, many RAs still report a lack of support from their professional staff, especially in the face of rude, uncooperative residents. Student behavior has been a bit of a mixed bag in general, especially seen on OCCT buses this semester, and inconsistent enforcement of mask policies makes it even harder for RAs to police student behavior. Even though this semester has not faced as many problems as last spring, it is imperative that Residential Life improve the support systems available to RAs. RAs provide an essential service to this University, and they deserve backup and support from their employers.
Decker Student Health Services: B+
Decker Student Health Services got absolutely slammed by an unforeseen influx of COVID-19 cases in the first few weeks of the semester. Testing capabilities were gutted compared to the previous year, with the New York state COVID-19 drive-thru testing site shut down and COVID-19 tests initially only available to asymptomatic students. While the responsibility for dismal COVID-19 testing resources does not solely fall on Decker Student Health Services, as the administration shares a large part of not planning ahead, Decker Student Health Services’ capacity to care for students was fully depleted at the beginning of the semester. By Sept. 16, the Press and Sun-Bulletin reported that BU had the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in the SUNY system, making up 15 percent of all SUNY’s cases. At this point in time, though, it was next to impossible to get a COVID-19 test on campus, off-campus or even within an hour of BU. For students who managed to snag at-home test kits or get official tests from a health care provider, reporting the case to Decker Student Health Services was, in many instances, actually impossible. With limited hours, a high volume of calls and an understaffed health center, many students who experienced illness during that period in time still have been unable to report an official case. For students, this may have meant difficulty in getting excused from classes or being allowed a remote option. For on-campus students in particular, failure to get tested and report a positive case was a roadblock to quarantine/isolation housing and further support during isolation.
However, aside from this period at the beginning of the semester, Decker Student Health Services has offered a lot of great services for students. The availability of the free flu shot clinic, spanning a few weeks, has allowed students the opportunity to get vaccinated on their own schedules. A case of meningococcal meningitis was handled quickly and efficiently, in both warning students that the disease was present on campus and reaching out to those in close contact as soon as possible. Since the onset of the COVID-19 spike, testing has been readily available for students. There has not been a repeat of the beginning of the semester, which indicates a quick adaptation to COVID-19 and other campus health needs after the first hiccup.
Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS): D
Parking and transportation on this campus has been so notably frustrating this semester that the Editorial Board felt the need to include a separate section for it in our report card. Parking has always been a problem on our campus — even Editorial Boards dating back to the 1970s have complained about the parking situation. This semester, parking problems began catastrophically on move-in day, with hundreds of students and families waiting in hours-long traffic jams on Vestal Parkway. In response, Pipe Dream’s first editorial of the semester called for significant improvement to the notorious parking situation, highlighting issues of oversold parking passes, a lack of realistically available parking lots and the damaging effects of BU’s transportation and parking problems on the daily commutes of local residents.
Since then, things have not gotten much better. Sure, there are no longer hours-long delays in just getting to campus and the construction blocking the East Access Road entrance has ended, but there are still continually persisting problems. Several students and faculty members have been late to classes continually throughout the semester because of parking problems, with some professors even having to cancel class because parking was so impossible. There is really no way to gauge what parking will be like, either, on any given day to plan ahead. TAPS offers a chart of which lots may have availability during peak times, but it doesn’t update or reflect real-time, in-the-moment traffic, which would be actually helpful. Even at the furthest lots such as E1, G1 and ZZ, which the University and TAPS maintain always have available parking spots, have problems and fill at peak times.
This is far from the first semester where parking has been a source of frustration for this campus community —and far from the first time students, faculty and staff have complained about it — but it feels like it’s worse than ever before. And it makes sense why it feels worse than ever. According to Pipe Dream’s September reporting on parking, 856 more commuter passes and 79 more resident passes were sold for the 2021-2022 academic year than for 2019-2020. Faculty were sold almost 200 less passes in the same time span. Further, OCCT services were reduced, which inevitably contributes to parking and transportation issues when more students and staff must drive to campus in order to get here. With no limits on parking pass sales and a subsequent decrease in available public transportation, it’s no wonder why everyone faces such a headache once it’s time to park the car.
These problems are nothing new, but in our first return to a fully in-person semester after nearly two years, they are exacerbated beyond belief. TAPS needs to improve — resolutions to the parking problem are decades overdue.
The shift from Blackboard to Brightspace was a much-needed refresher for students. Long gone are the Pantone-342-ridden screens with bland, confusing menus. Brightspace offers the modern look and navigable software that students didn’t even know they needed. Professors can now customize the appearance of their own course pages, making for a more personable, enjoyable experience. For the Editorial Board, we strongly prefer Brightspace to Blackboard for its user-friendly applications.
Two-factor authentication: F
For the love of God, we don’t want to update our passwords. Change it back. Please.
Editor’s note: This editorial was updated on Dec. 10 to update SUNY’s grade to reflect the SUNY chancellor’s resignation.