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The GSO Hits The Fan

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As both of the regular readers of this blog may already know, at the end of last semester, the graduate students at Stony Brook University voted to make the graduate student activity fee voluntary. I personally supported this, as I felt that some of the money being given to the GSO was being sent to organizations (such as NYPIRG) that I did not support. I also thought that graduate students are adults, capable of choosing which organizations they will support.

Last semester, the fee was voted down. I thought the matter would rest there. However, this afternoon I found the following in my campus inbox:

NOTICE TO THE GRADUATE STUDENT BODY
STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY

By on-line referendum of April 2003, the graduate student body voted to make the payment of graduate student activity fees voluntary. The underlying referendum process has now been challenged as violating Article VIII Section B(1) of the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) Constitution.

Article VIII Section B(1) of the Constitution states: "Referenda may be proposed by any GSO member. Proposed referenda require a majority vote of the Senate in order to be put to a membership-wide vote. Should the Senate fail to approve the proposed referendum, it shall be put to a vote of the membership upon presentation of a petition signed by at least 100 GSO members, with no more than 30% of the petitioners from any one department or school."

When a referendum is held to revisit a previous student activity fee determination, SUNY Board of Trustee Policy 053 (Student Activity Fees) requires the initiative to be held "in accordance with the constitution and by-laws of the representative student organization? that may affect a change in this determination with respect to the following academic year". Policy 053 at 302.14(a). See www.suny.edu/FinanceandBusiness/FBAdmProc.cfm

On review of the GSO Senate Minutes and Standing Committee documents, I have determined that, unlike the fee referendum which occurred in May 2002, the April 2003 fee referendum was not presented to the Senate for approval or disapproval, in the manner required by GSO Constitution Article VIII Section B(1). The April 2002 Senate Minutes speak to unanimous Senate approval of the then-proposed ballot initiative. However, the Spring 2003 Senate Minutes are silent.

The Rules and Constitution Committee Minutes of March 28, 2003, reflect a clear awareness on the part of that group that the Senate must be given the opportunity to approve or reject the proposed ballot measure before a referendum proposal is put to a membership-wide vote: "[It] was clear to all that the intent of the Constitution is to allow a sufficiently large block of concerned GSO members to get a referendum on the ballot with or without the Senate's approval. Fan moved (Masa seconded) that, no matter what the Senate does or doesn't do at its next meeting, if the petition has 100 valid signatures, then the referendum will be on the ballot at the next election" (Emphasis added). Unfortunately, however, the April 2003 ballot proposal was never presented to the Senate for a vote.

Consequently, in my capacity as the President's designee with regard to the graduate student activity fee, and with the advice of University Counsel, I have decided to set aside the results of the April 2003 referendum and to revert to the status quo. The mandatory activity fee was authorized in 2002 for four years and will therefore continue, effective immediately, until such time as a properly authorized referendum takes place.

I regret the necessity to take this step as it has inconvenienced many people. However, it is important that we adhere to all campus and state policies in this most important area.

Lawrence B. Martin, Ph.D.
Dean of the Graduate School
State University of New York at Stony Brook

I'm not sure I follow the logic in this email. If, as is claimed, "the intent of the Constitution is to allow a sufficiently large block of concerned GSO members to get a referendum on the ballot with or without the Senate's approval", then I don't see why the Senate's failure to consider the measure should make it any less valid. Indeed, requiring the senate to accept or reject the measure is equivalent to giving the senate a veto over the referendum. This would seem to defeat the point of the referendum process, which is to give the public the ability to overrule the government.

I've yet to see a GSO response to this. If this stands, and I'm not sure that it should, I think the moral position for the GSO to take would be to return the activities fee to anyone who asks for it back, or, better yet, to return it to all students that do not explicitly refuse.

If the GSO keeps the fee money, they're directly opposing the expressed will of the student body. Without that, the organization has lost all legitimacy, and has instead become the government club, more interested in the power and the procedure than in representing what students want.

Stay tuned, I don't think this will be the last I write about this.

- Tom | permalink | changelog | Last updated: 2003-08-28 19:24

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