Interim President Dr. Michael Bernstein at the student media briefing on Dec. 4, 2019. The goal of the briefing was for student media to ask Bernstein questions about the university and the future success of the student body. GARY GHAYRAT/THE STATESMAN

Gabby Pardo is a junior journalism major who attended a student media briefing last week with President Bernstein.

I had the opportunity to attend a student media briefing with Interim President, Dr. Michael Bernstein on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with Editor in Chief of The Statesman, Gary Ghayrat and Assistant News Editor, Maya Brown. The briefing consisted of other campus media outlets along with The Statesman, and other members of Bernstein’s team, such as University Media Relations Officer, Lauren Sheprow. 

The goal of this briefing was for student media to ask Bernstein any questions we had about him, the university and the future success of our student body. Unfortunately, the media briefing was only an hour long and Bernstein showed up a few minutes later than the starting time of 1 p.m. when we were supposed to start. Although Bernstein did take last minute questions, the student media had to rush and squeeze in questions to get the full hour that we deserved.

Over the course of the forced hour, President Bernstein was approachable, communicated with confidence to the media, and was transparent when he couldn’t answer a question fully or tell us an answer yet. However, when the end of the briefing inched closer and closer, Bernstein’s answers seemed to lack substance and an actual answer. I feel as though all of my were questions answered, but with such a short time, I also had follow up ones based on what my colleagues asked. 

Two years ago, I had the chance to sit down with former university president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and ask him some questions during a dinner for Undergraduate College Fellows. This obviously wasn’t a press briefing, but now I have the opportunity to contrast both of these encounters. 

Bernstein was more approachable in how he didn’t have any formal speech for the briefing to kill the clock. He immediately dove into the questions we had for him and seemed intrigued (at least by his facial expressions and eye contact) of what student media was curious about. Stanley, on the other hand, gave a small blurb of sentences before we asked him questions, which was annoying due to the even more limited time that I had to speak with him. 

I wrote in my last article that I did not genuinely believe in Stanley’s answers to my questions because he was more of a “yes” man rather then Bernstein, who was vulnerable and transparent when he did not know something. 

Don’t get me wrong, we did have questions answered and had a productive meeting. For example, The Statesman confirmed that Bernstein wants to be highly considered to be the university’s new official president. 

“I think as you all know, this search is now formally launched and underway,” Bernstein said. “I have notified the Chancellor of the system that I would like her permission to be a candidate in the search, which is part of the SUNY process.”

He also answered questions about topics like former professor, Geoffrey Girnun — who is accused by federal prosecutors of stealing cancer research funds, clean energy, the university’s diversity plan, hiring holds, infrastructure and mental health resources. 

All of his answers to these questions were long and detailed, until the end when he cut corners on the elaborations of his answers. Yes, this could’ve been for the sake of time. However, if you answered our questions in depth a few minutes ago, why stop putting in effort? The one mistake, however, that us students — or at least The Statesman — did was wait until the end of the briefing to get a comment about the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) constitutional changes

When we were being rushed to stop asking questions, we were still persistent and squeezed in a question on whether Bernstein can comment on the recent changes. This was crucial since the judiciary branch is being removed and the administration will now have to deal with some of the conflicts that the branch had to in the past. 

“You know, again, I don’t run the undergraduate student government. As I understand it, I was briefed by USG leadership,” Bernstein said. “I mean, there was a process and there was a mechanism by which USG went through this decision making and here was the result. I understand some students are disappointed with the result but USG followed its own practices and protocols and made a decision which is where we are now.” 

Bernstein was so uninformed about the changes affecting the majority of those he is in charge of: the students. USG’s changes are affecting the student body directly — in my opinion, for the worse — and he did not care one bit. We even had the audacity to remind him of what has been going on. I understand that he is super busy and has more fish to fry elsewhere. But if so many constitutional changes are being made at one time, with no one checking and balancing USG themselves, I just see a corrupt government. 

This disappointed me the most because the president is expected to care about the needs and demands of students. But instead, situations like this with USG are being allowed to happen with no supervision. 

To simply put it, Bernstein seems like an honest man. I think it’s great how he gave at least some enthusiasm and energy into his answers, but that was just in the beginning. Yes, he was not informed about things like USG, but this shows his lack of attention towards the student body. I appreciate him taking time out of his schedule to meet with us, and think he should be considered as the permanent president; however, his concern for the student body needs to increase greatly.

Clarification, 01/03/20: A previous version of the story was updated to clarify that a former professor of Stony Brook University is still going through the court process after being accused of stealing cancer research funds.

1 comment

  1. Reminder: Dr. Rick Gatteau is the President’s Campus Designee for the Undergraduate Student Government. It is his responsibility as “Designee” to oversee USG. Has anyone contacted him about the USG Constitution changes and will it be acceptable to Student Activities, who review all the Constitutions. One less set of eyes on an organization that has been constantly dysfunctional can not be a good thing!

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