In its own words, Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) is “the governing body that represents the interests and concerns of the 16,000+ Undergraduate Students at Stony Brook University.” USG, which is responsible for things like funding the school’s undergraduate clubs and organizations, refers to its members as the “stewards of the $3.4 million dollar student activity fee.”
But for the better part of this academic year, USG’s most trusted elected officials have failed to fulfill some of the most basic responsibilities that their own policies require. This student-funded, elected body at New York State’s largest public university has simply not been doing its job.
For a week, a team of staff members from The Statesman visited the office hours of three USG Executive Council members: President Justas Klimavicius, Executive Vice President Abdelrahman Salama and Vice President of Communications and Public Relations Ian Ouyoung. Out of the 16 sessions we attended, these USG representatives were absent seven times and arrived more than halfway through their designated office hours five times.
If that doesn’t alarm you, it should. Your student activities fees pay USG’s executive board so they can hold office hours. Although they don’t get paid when they don’t show up, they are ultimately doing a disservice to you, the constituents, by not giving you the chance to air your grievances.
In all fairness, with midterm season in full swing and spring break coming up, it’s possible this string of absences was a rare event. USG officers are students just like the rest of us and even though they committed to these responsibilities, it would be unreasonable to expect perfection. But even if that’s true, that doesn’t explain the organization’s general lack of transparency over the past year.
For starters, the USG website is rife with inaccuracies. The legislative branch web page lists senators in positions they no longer hold and even senators who no longer work for USG. The Executive Council office hours listed online are not up to date either and are inconsistent with the office hours USG staff have recorded internally. The roster for USG’s specialized committees is also different from the ones listed on the website.
Although weekly USG Senate meetings are open to the public, if you’re unable to attend in person, it can be extremely difficult to find out what transpired. According to the USG Code, minutes from each meeting should be posted to the USG website “no less than 24 hours” before the next meeting, and each meeting’s agenda should be posted “no less than 24 hours” before they occur. USG Senate minutes have only been posted five times over the course of the academic year, with the most recent minutes posted dating back to Jan. 31. The agendas have not been posted at all.
One reporter from The Statesman has spent the past few weeks trying to gather more information about USG in order to improve our publication’s coverage of the organization. They emailed the Chief of Staff for the executive office, Samantha Giuglianotti, to inquire about minutes and agendas three times with no response. They also emailed the vice president of communications three times, with no response. On three separate occasions, they attended the executive vice president’s office hours, but he was nowhere to be found. They were rebuffed by the president when they tried to talk to him.
Some members of USG were more cooperative than others and acknowledged that there are systemic issues the organization needs to rectify. Eventually, the reporter was able to gain access to this year’s minutes after contacting USG’s parliamentarian, although they were told that it is actually the VP of communications who is responsible for posting the minutes.
At Thursday night’s USG meeting, VP of Communications, Ouyoung, said that the website has been difficult to update these past two semesters and that they are working on switching to “a stonybrook.edu kind of website,” which he said will be easier to update. He also said that he was planning to work on updating the website on Friday before break started.
At one point during the meeting, a USG senator motioned to move into an Executive Council session so that the meeting would be closed to the public and the reporter from The Statesman would have to leave. The reporter was allowed to stay after they pointed out that this move would violate the USG Code, which dictates that Executive Council meetings must follow the New York State Open Meetings Law.
Although we have not always been so diligent in covering USG, as Stony Brook’s newspaper of record, it’s our job to hold those in positions of power on our campus accountable. We have a unique ability to allocate time toward oversight of the school’s authority figures. Most of the university’s students do not have that luxury. If The Statesman cannot track down USG representatives, how can we reasonably expect that the average student juggling classes, jobs, friends and family would be able to do so? If we get stalled and denied at every turn, what does that say about USG’s ability to remain accountable to the student body as a whole?
In the past, USG has proven that it has the potential to create meaningful change. Last year, under President Ayyan Zubair, USG started a menstrual hygiene initiative and arranged for free pads and tampons to be available across campus. They usually put together two major concerts a year, and they organize events like Roth Regatta. But this year, it seems like USG has dropped the ball. They’ve shown blatant disregard for decades of well-established decorum, as was demonstrated by their failure to properly confirm their chief justice for over a year. They’ve focused more of their resources on eating hot wings with President Stanley than they have on making and publicizing important policy changes.
Being a USG representative should be about more than just adding a leadership position to your resumé — it should be about serving your fellow students and helping to make Stony Brook a better place.