Thor Hawrey is an SBU alumnus, who served on the judicial branch from 2017-2019 for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG).
I’m a recent alumnus who values integrity above all. While I was a student, this core value led me to get involved in improving the Stony Brook community and it resulted in the SUNY Chancellor awarding me the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence this past spring. Part of my activities included my two-year term on the judiciary in the USG, when I got to witness some of the most disturbing practices of any government or nonprofit organization that I have ever seen. Some examples include blatant disregard for the rules, rampant corruption and childish levels of disrespect and pettiness. I thought I had seen it all, but that changed within the last couple of days.
This week, USG decided to blindside the student body with 250+ changes to its constitution, a document that I knew very well. From these changes, there are some that are definitely beneficial to the student body, such as the new language for equal opportunity. However, there are some changes that are devastating to the student body’s ability to ensure accountability in USG; the change that demonstrates this the most is the abolition of the Supreme Court.
Let me first point out that there used to be a student government at SBU prior to USG called the Student Polity Association, Inc. (Polity), which was dissolved. One of the main reasons for this was that Polity failed to adhere to changes mandated by former Vice President of Student Affairs, Fred Preston, one of which was the appointment of a judiciary. Essentially, one of the reasons why the old student government was terminated was due to the lack of accountability that existed and Preston mandated the appointing of a judiciary to improve — among other things — accountability. Polity didn’t do this, so they were dismissed on the basis that the outstanding undergraduate students of Stony Brook “deserve the best from [their] student government.” The judiciary was deemed superbly important to a fair student government then, so I don’t see why that shouldn’t still hold true today.
Who do we have to thank for this? Well, I’ve been told by Vice President of Academic Affairs Justin Ullman, that the architects of this change are mainly members of the Executive Council: the body that lost a recent Supreme Court case in a unanimous decision last semester. This case dismissed the former Chief Justice Aravinth Pushparaj from illegally holding his position as the USG President and Executive Vice President, which violated procedural rules for his appointment. The most shocking revelation from this decision, written by now Senator Eric Wagner, is that USG has never followed proper appointment procedures essentially invalidating the entirety of USG. It took some ingenuity on the deciding justices’ behalf to work around this grave discovery. If it wasn’t for us on the judiciary, every member of USG from the elections board to the President would be illegitimately working under the authority of the Student Activity Fee.
Now I understand that regarding the Executive’s motives, I’m speculating that based on my two-year experience with USG. But it doesn’t seem too far off that the Executive Council is retaliating against the Supreme Court for finally doing its job of holding the other branches accountable for their rule breaking. Despite its advertising of increased accountability as a reason for abolishing the Supreme Court, USG seems to be averse to the concept. A perfect example of this is when USG, without much debate, voted no for proposed bylaws that would create another independent system of accountability within the three branches.
Another example is from an event that happened to me personally. Last winter, after sending an email to Pushparaj asking him to step down from a position that he wasn’t legally holding, I went into the USG suite to sign some paperwork. While waiting to do so, I was asked by a professional staff member — someone I never talked to — to take a seat in their office. Unexpectedly, for the next 15-20 minutes, I was verbally attacked by this individual for sending a confidential email that I thought was right. I was told that I don’t have any respect nor integrity and essentially that I was a bad person. This was not a discussion of the issues I pointed out in the email, but rather a full-blown freak out on a student leader trying to do the right thing. I’m not someone who reports things, but in hindsight, I should have. If anything, that attack taught me that USG cannot hold itself accountable without independent members of the judiciary.
Due to these events, I find it hard to believe that people currently believe in abolishing the judiciary. They say that removing the court will improve accountability since the Executive Council and senate are familiar with each other. That due process in impeachment will exist in the new framework between the Executive Council and senate and that the professional staff members will make sure USG is held accountable for its rules. However, the most important fact to keep in mind is that USG is a one-party system, unlike the federal government. Most of the elected officials in those two branches ran on the same ticket and they won an election together under the same broad campaign promises. There is no infighting about accountability and, as demonstrated, the professional members protect rule-breaking members that they develop a relationship with (which is essentially all of those members in the Executive Council and senate).
As students, you should all be very concerned about what is happening in USG. Your ability to hold them accountable for their shortcomings has just been wiped away. USG can — and will now — become an even more corrupt and nontransparent governing body than it already is. As someone who is concerned for the welfare of the student body, I hope you all realize what has just happened. Reach out to the University Administration to ask them to review USG’s eligibility to manage the Student Activity Fee — yes, you can do that. If you have ever been mad at USG, now is the time to tell the university. They are now the only ones who can fight for your interests against the corruptness of the student government. I am fighting over this because it’s about time to go out and hold USG responsible for their appalling inaptitude.