The occupation of the bottom floor of the Couper Administration Building is nearing 250 hours. Rumors are about as to where the offices of the top administrators have been relocated for the long haul. Misinformation is abundant: Who is reaching out to whom? Who is being ignored?
Regardless of what one thinks of the overall methods and goals of the Frances Beal Society, the organization facilitating the occupation, its specific rejection of the Town-Gown Advisory Board to oversee the University’s relations with the community is certainly justified. As is its demand that the University commit, in writing, to a format of participatory budgeting through town halls inclusive to all community members, especially those with the least economic and political power.
When I was on the Student Association (SA) E-Board, my one job was to represent student concerns on all academic matters. But not only was I shut out of the committee to select a new dean of the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences last fall, but to the best of my knowledge, University President Harvey Stenger lied in front of Student Congress, falsely claiming no student was nominated by the SA. Provost Donald Nieman’s office instead selected a student they knew, manufacturing the student perspective on that committee as one that didn’t challenge theirs.
Now, in light of recent concerns regarding both off-campus safety and the expansion of policing in Downtown Binghamton, the administration is accelerating the creation of a Town-Gown Advisory Board, which has been an idea for some time. But just like their refusal to include an elected student representative on the Harpur Dean search committee, this idea sets the stage for potential exclusion. The University refuses to commit, in writing, to include a student on this board, even one that they can appoint themselves. They also haven’t clarified which local organizations will be represented.
While a concretized channel of dialogue between the University and the city government might enhance the internal communications between those two particular parties, this is a poor means for deciding how $1 million of Federal Impact Aid will be invested in the community. It’s a proposal that exists in a political paradigm that prioritizes not just the speediness of decision-making, but the concerns of the most powerful political and institutional managers over the community.
This is precisely why a broad forum for discussing how the Federal Impact Aid is spent is most important.
Even if it’s true that the protesters mishandled their one encounter with the Dean of Students April Thompson, or missed the initial emails from Brian Rose, BU’s vice president for student affairs, offering to meet and talk, the ball is still in the University’s court to propose a long-term structure of horizontal dialogue. This dialogue must include students who don’t always agree with their institutional goals. It must include grass-roots community organizations that might not agree with the vision of gentrification.
What they can’t do is play a PR game in which they pretend to be accommodating of student concerns when students protest, but don’t commit to including students and community members in the actual processes of policy development.
Adam Wilkes is a junior double-majoring in economics and sociology.