On Sept. 14, 2018, members of the Frances Beal Society (myself among them) and the Human Development Emancipation and Activism Taskforce staged a demonstration outside the University Downtown Center (UDC). At the time, the UDC was closed to the public early for what was ostensibly a community gala or fundraiser; the irony of such a scenario was made manifest when a student, seeking to enter the UDC to study there, was turned away at the door.
We were there to demand the removal of Laura Bronstein, the dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA), who has created a hostile environment for both students of color and all faculty. We also demanded knowledge of where the funds raised at the gala were going, and of where the $1 million in “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) were going toward. The latter two issues are that of basic transparency that every member of this community has the right to know. Moreover, the Binghamton community should know of, and have control over, its own resources.
We must first clarify what PILOTs are, in this context. As a public university, Binghamton University does not pay local taxes to the city of Binghamton. In lieu of those taxes, it is supposed to pay a sum of money referred to as PILOTs toward community investment. As such, it would make sense for the community at large to decide where this money — the $1 million in PILOT funds — goes.
Ostensibly, this is what is happening with the Town-Gown Advisory Board, which was created after the University tried and failed to impose a $1 million “blue-light call box” initiative whose stated purpose was to make students safer (though its effect would more than likely have been the exacerbation of overpolicing in the city at large), stopped by protests by the Frances Beal Society and its allies. But that is not what is happening.
For one thing, who are the board members? In my research for this column, I could find no answer to such a question. We do not know who the members are, or their associations. We do not know whether the board is composed more of community organizations or more of businesses and real estate developers. Why should the University keep this from us, if it wants this to be a transparent process?
Furthermore, the Town-Gown Advisory Board is just — advisory. The University has no obligation to pursue and fund any proposal it agrees on, if it makes proposals at all. The board, in its most recent meeting, had only proposed $85,000 worth of the $1 million in PILOTs. To put that in scale, that’s only 8.5 percent of the total sum. We simply do not know what the other 91.5 percent of the money is going toward. This is completely and utterly unacceptable.
It is apparent that the University has both a transparency problem and a problem with the Binghamton community, problems they aren’t currently interested in solving. Thirteen days after the gala, we still do not know what specific initiatives are being funded with the money raised there. And the Town-Gown Advisory Board seems to be little more than a diversion. To solve these problems, we must involve the greater community of Binghamton proper.
To that end, the University should do the following: It should hold at least three town halls and invite community organizations that make a tangible difference for the better in the lives of the people of this community, and work for the many, not the few. The first would be an open discussion of ideas regarding where the PILOTs may go. The second would narrow down those ideas. And the third would consist of a supermajority vote deciding which ideas are funded, and how to allocate those funds. These town halls would exist to make the idea of community control over community resources manifest. It would certainly be about time.
Jacob Hanna is a junior majoring in economics.