It’s largely been a controversy-free semester from Binghamton University’s administration, or at least closer to one than before. A great deal of the news has been positive. This started fairly early, on move-in day. After years of pandemic restrictions and hurdles, this year’s move-in was smooth thanks to a new four-day process, as well as the assistance of a newly created B-Welcome Crew. This, in conjunction with BU accepting a record-breaking freshmen class, is a plus for the University. The new class is notable not for its size, but for continued trends in accepting increasing amounts of underrepresented students.
Still, the University – as always – has more work to do on its relationship with the campus community. Just a week into the semester, BU saw the resignation of Ana Maria Candela, a sociology professor who had, last semester, been thrown into the center of conservative media attention for her progressive stacking policy. While the circumstances surrounding Candela’s resignation took place last year, her resignation itself is a sobering reminder of the University’s failure to protect its own staff. In Pipe Dream’s coverage, we demonstrate how teaching assistants (TAs) still feel as though they were left unsafe and unsupported following the incident.
On the theme of an unsafe environment — in September, former BU student Jon Lizak was arrested and charged for breaching the U.S. Capitol. The relative silence from administration following Lizak’s arrest is unfortunate. Lizak, who had once served as president of BU’s College Republicans, was also involved in a notorious on-campus incident three years ago, in which he joined others in a provocative tabling event by conservative activist group Turning Point USA (TPUSA). Regardless of whether the University can comment on individual cases, many would have expected at least a strong statement against radical political extremism or its influence on campus following Lizak’s arrest.
Also in the beginning of this semester was the case of Ollie Horne, a former nursing student who brought forth allegations of abuse and misconduct against faculty in the Decker College of Nursing and Public Health. While we understand the University is unable to comment due to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restrictions, the abundance of screenshots and audio recordings Horne has shared as evidence — much of which has been publicly released — paint a concerning picture of officials in administration, and warrants swifter action.
As hinted throughout this section, the University remains short of a higher grade due to its continued inability to protect its own community. However, we must also recognize what they have done well. We are happy to see BU begin initiatives such as the Libraries’ Strategic Plan, a project which aims to both improve the libraries’ offerings while also emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion. On the subject of inclusion, the University has also recently allowed for students to update their legal sex to “X” in University records beginning by the end of the year. Though the change was required by SUNY, the creation of a pronouns and implementation committee to consider all aspects of the change shows the University is heading in a positive new direction.
In addition, BU’s Build Back Better Grant — an initiative the administration has certainly thrown its support behind — was chosen as one of 21 finalists across the country. We are excited to see the impacts of the project, which reflects positively on BU’s image as a research institution and will likely positively impact the broader Southern Tier.
Overall, though the University has made improvements this semester — and while it has certainly been a quieter semester than the last — there is still work to be done.
Student Association: B+
There were many positives and negatives to take away from this semester for the Student Association (SA).
One of the strongest departments throughout the semester has been the vice president for finance (VPF). There have been a number of overhauls and improvements that have left us particularly impressed, such as the new and improved treasurer training and frequent communication. The raising of minimum payments required for prior approval has also been notable — a relief for many student organizations. Overhauls were not the only thing done effectively by the VPF. The VPF’s initiative to setup a direct Amazon account for chartered organizations to make their purchases in a more organized, tax free format is another impressive project that is sure to make navigating purchases better for the various student organizations here at BU.
Another notable SA initiative that has demonstrated a clear commitment to improving the lives of students comes from the vice president for student success (VPSS). This initiative is the BU Brainiac program, which trains various student leaders across campus to become small-scale academic advisors for their peers. Given the confusion that many students tend to have regarding course scheduling and major requirements, we believe this new initiative will give more students the knowledge needed to complete their degrees on time and best utilize their BU education.
While these offices have done some great work, there are other aspects of the SA that have felt lacking.
No aspect of the SA has been the center of more controversy or discourse than Off Campus College Transport (OCCT). More specifically, Late Nite. Late Nite’s troubles first became known in mid-September, when the service was pulled following an incident at the LUMA festival. While at first the matter appeared to be resolved — as the service came back online in early October — only a few weeks later Late Nite was again pulled from service following an incident on Halloween weekend. While it is impossible to ignore the role that student behavior played in these incidents, it did take an excessive amount of time for the SA to come to a solution. This becomes more evident when one factors in how a similar pattern of incidents occurred last fall.
The optics of leaving hundreds of students stranded downtown due to the actions of a few are also questionable, especially during Halloween weekend. However, it is true that there have been no shutdowns since the implementation of the newest set of revised rules, and we remain cautiously optimistic that these changes are for good.
Aside from OCCT, we have also found that communication from the SA has been lacking at various points throughout the semester. This has been particularly evident with the SA Congress. More than once, changes in the meeting time and location were not communicated to the general public. This includes a change in the Congress’ primary meeting location, which was never directly stated to the student body.
Overall, the new SA administration is off to a steady, albeit quiet, start. There is most certainly room for improvement, and we hope to see more activity from all departments in the spring.
Student Association Programming Board: A
Last semester proved to be a great time full of exciting concerts and discussion events for the Student Association Programming Board (SAPB), and this fall was no different. Viral stars such as Yung Gravy performed at BU’s Events Center for the Fall Concert, while talented comedians such as Chris Distefano drew large crowds.
SAPB’s largest and most hyped up event of the semester was the Fall Concert. After COVID-19 restrictions were enforced last fall in the Events Center — keeping groups of people separated into “pods” — this year reverted back to the status quo of a free flowing crowd. Yung Gravy headlined and received an enthusiastic crowd reaction, as did the opener Sophie Cates. The SAPB has once again proven successful in booking high-profile headliners in their concerts, as it did with Gunna last semester.
An emphasis on smaller artists and intellectual conversations are always at the heart of the SAPB. Last semester, they hosted their Binghamton Underground Music Presents (BUMP) show featuring Pom Pom Squad and Pool Kids. On the intellectual side of things, they had Javier Muñoz from “Hamilton” appear to give a talk. This semester continued the trend, with two BUMP shows in September and November. Stimulator Jones headlined the first, while Blue Hawaii headlined the second, highlighting lesser-known artists that have lots of promise.
The SAPB kept a wide variety of acts and activities too, such as a talk with Cornell William Brooks, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the 18th president and CEO of the NAACP. In October, the Peace Quad saw 2022’s Fall Fest get underway in an engaging and fun event featuring giveaways, vendors, free food, a small petting zoo and a screening of “Nightmare Before Christmas.” Despite inadequate organization of long lines, the event was a hit. The SAPB also had their stand up comedy show of the semester with Chris Distefano headlining and Sergio Chicon as the opener.
The Editorial Board applauds the SAPB for their entertaining and enlightening experiences provided to BU students, as we mark a return to a social distancing-free campus environment.
Residential Life: C-
This semester was tumultuous for Residential Life. Ruth Boehling’s, ‘22, open letter to Residential Life on Aug. 15 opened a pandora’s box of residential assistant (RA) grievances, including negligent supervisors, a lack of mental health resources, disorganized Professional Staff (ProStaff) and a lack of support for students with COVID-19.
Following these complaints — and many more from previous years — Residential Life emailed all student staff on Sept. 15 to announce that the RA position would be replaced with new student roles, which will go into effect in Aug. 2023. However, a lack of elaboration on what those positions would look like and what would happen to current RAs spurred backlash and uncertainty among RAs, who worried if their positions were jeopardized. Additionally, there is still uncertainty about how compensation will work within the new staffing model. While it has been confirmed that the “live-in student staff positions” will still receive free rooming, BU’s website also states that discussions with Financial Aid are still underway about how financial aid might be impacted by compensation packages, and the compensation model for the new positions has still not been announced.
BingUNews has reported that the new student staffing model will “add 300 new paid student jobs in addition to reimagining the roles of the current 200 RAs.” Some of the new roles will be student area assistants, student operations assistants and student marketing assistants. While it is clear the prior RA model was problematic, and though we tentatively hope this new model will alleviate burdens, it is a shame that Residential Life did not consider including RAs themselves in the decision-making process prior to the announcement.
We hope that the new staffing model will honor the experience and commitment of current RAs by allowing them to hold their jobs, and that the model will relieve some of the roles currently placed on RAs, but the manner in which these changes were enacted reflects poorly on Residential Life.
Mental Health: D+
BU’s mental health programs have remained mostly stagnant and insufficient, but they are beginning to enter conversation more.
The University has made some advancements in the field, like a recently signed contract with a vendor called BetterMynd, a service that provides teletherapy infrastructure. Through this initiative, BU can increase the availability of counseling services on some evenings and weekends. We look forward to seeing these increases in mental health resources materialize.
This year, the University also revamped its “Red Folder Initiative” along with a new website. The initiative distributes 5,000 reference guides to faculty and staff with information and tools on how to recognize student stress and refer students to mental health resources. While ensuring that faculty are aware and properly trained to respond to mental health crises is important, we are unsure that the red folder initiative will be effective in fostering better communication between faculty and students. After all, even with a revamp, it has already been in place for over 10 years.
In a Sept. 23 BU Council meeting, it was noted that, though BU’s mental health resources are insufficient, this is part of a larger national lack of mental health resources for adolescents. We have been happy to see student mental health become a larger topic of conversation among administration this semester, but we encourage the University to lead the change themselves.
On that theme, BU remains egregiously understaffed in its counseling department, with only 13 counselors for around 18,000 students. Additionally, the scope of services offered is quite limited — the University’s “brief therapy model” emphasizes that UCC therapy is time-limited, and students that require longer-term help will be referred to “community resources.” Studies have found that a majority of university students in the United States suffer from mental illness, and universities throughout the country continue to be understaffed and underfunded in mental health care departments.
The Violence Abuse Rape and Crisis Center (VARCC), founded in June 2021, has been one of BU’s most successful mental health initiatives. One year after its creation — pushed for by students — the VARCC continues to provide important resources for students affected by sexual or domestic violence.
Similarly, the Students of Concern Committee (SOC), comprised of members from the University Counseling Center (UCC), Decker Health Services, Residential Life, Academic Affairs, Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and more, is also continuing to be heavily utilized. This important resource aims to identify students with these behavioral concerns early on and intervene.
With a continued lack of university-funded mental health resources, the emotional and financial burden of supporting increasing numbers of students struggling with mental illness has fallen on student organizations like M-HOPE, SEEK and REACH. Although student-run mental health organizations are extraordinarily important and impactful, it is the responsibility of the University to ensure that all students are enjoying a satisfactory quality of life. In July 2021, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras directed $24 million in institutional funding toward expanding mental health services on SUNY campuses. However, BU has yet to significantly expand its counseling staff or the scope of its mental health resources. The U.S.’ burgeoning college mental health crisis is urgent, and it is the responsibility of universities across the nation to invest in and promote effective mental health resources for their students.
With two regular-season titles and the hiring of a new athletics director, the Binghamton athletics program is currently in a promising stage. However, with a few programs not living up to the rest, it is difficult to boost the program’s grade to the A-range. The women’s soccer team was easily the highlight of this fall semester, winning the America East (AE) regular season title for the first time in 18 years with a 6-1-1 record in the conference season. The Bearcats made it all the way to the AE championship match against UNH, where it took two overtimes and a penalty shootout for them to be defeated.
The Binghamton volleyball team made a complete turnaround from recent memory — winning the AE regular season title. The team’s impressive year can be attributed to the new look of the team, stemming from first-year head coach Allie Yaeger and AE Player of the Year, junior outside hitter Tsvetelina Ilieva. Despite taking the regular season title and hosting the AE tournament, BU was eliminated in the first round by UNH. The Bearcats also qualified for the NIVC, where they faced St. John’s and were defeated in three sets.
Eight games into its season, the men’s soccer team remained without a win. However, an 8-1 victory over Hartford sparked a 5-2-2 record to close out the season that earned the Bearcats a spot in the playoffs. Binghamton defeated UMBC 3-2 in overtime in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals against UNH. While they were unable to defeat the Wildcats, the Bearcats showed resilience despite the slow start to their season.
Additionally, the swimming and diving teams have had success in the first half of their season, as the men’s side is 4-2 and won the Rhode Island Invitational. Furthermore, the cross country teams had a fluctuating season that included a second place finish at the AE Championships for both teams. Rounding out the fall sports, the golf team wrapped up its season without a win. The team’s best finish was a seventh place at their home event the Matthews Auto Intercollegiate.
Looking ahead to winter sports, it is difficult to make any conclusions about these teams at the moment. While the men’s basketball team has had some glimpses of greatness — specifically its shocking last second comeback against Columbia — it has also looked less than impressive against teams. Similarly, the women’s basketball team has had a volatile start to its season. Despite being undefeated at home, the Bearcats post a 1-4 record on the road, making it difficult to assess where this team is at right now. Wrestling has not won much of its duals, but the Bearcats have been competing against nationally ranked opponents for the most part. Their goals are more focused on the latter portion of the season and having success at the national level.
Also it is important to highlight Eugene Marshall Jr., who has been hired as the new director of athletics, effective Jan. 5, 2023. He comes to BU after spending 14 years at Hampton University in Virginia and will look to use his 38 years of experience to lead the Bearcats’ athletic programs to a successful future.
The Binghamton athletics department had one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, as several teams have had stellar performances this semester. We feel that a “B+” grade accurately reflects the level of achievements made and we hope the department can carry the momentum going into the spring.
Information Technology Services (ITS): D
People love to complain about bad Wi-Fi, and this semester has given BU students much to complain about. Connection has been spotty, and computers sometimes take several minutes to connect after being turned on. It is very frustrating to arrive at class prepared and ready to take notes, only to be unable to get online for the first few minutes.
Campus internet also dropped out completely several times. On Oct. 13, many students found themselves unable to do any work on campus as their computers and phones failed to connect to eduroam. More recently, on Nov. 8, students and faculty received a B-Alert from ITS requesting that everyone disconnect from campus Wi-Fi immediately “while ITS staff investigate a software issue that may negatively impact users.” Nov. 8 coincides with midterm season for students. Many students spend hours on campus studying for exams and cannot afford to be kicked off the internet.
ITS did not give much information about the recent issue beyond saying that it was an internal issue and not a cyberattack. This is an important distinction on a campus that has faced cybersecurity issues in the past. It is reassuring to know that the newly updated firewall installed by the ITS has been successful thus far, but the campus community deserves more transparency when “potentially harmful” software issues occur. It was also unclear what risks students faced if they ignored the warning and did not disconnect from eduroam in time.
Another example of poor communication from the ITS came over the summer, when BU removed access to Google Drive, among other Google services, for alumni. Many alumni found themselves at risk of losing all of their schoolwork without a clear way to back up their data. Although the ITS reached out to certain users with large drives to help them migrate their data, many other people felt left in the dark on how to save years of work.
The only thing saving the ITS from a failing grade is their commitment to campus cybersecurity. Not only did they implement a new firewall, but they also created a short cybersecurity training for students, faculty and staff to teach them ways to protect themselves against cyber threats. We applaud the work of ITS in this respect but ask that they do a better job of communicating important information.