Kraig Klein is a senior studying journalism.
French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau coined a concept known as the “social contract”. According to Rousseau, governments derived their power from the trust of their constituents, thus forming a contract with their citizens. Governments, in turn, are expected to act fairly and respect their citizens.
Stony Brook University’s clubs, like the United States’ government, incorporate the social contract into their structure. They do this by having elections where a majority vote is held in order to determine the members of the clubs’ administrations.
I was the public relations officer for the Harry Potter-themed club, Dumbledore’s Army. Our club held open elections for several positions, such as the president and the treasurer, and club attendees invested their trust in us. However, the club administration, known as the “eBoard,” made a decision on July 10 that violates the social contract formed between us and club members. They supported a political stance using the club’s name without the consent of our members.
Our club received a letter from the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA) a week ago, asking to support the abolishment of Stony Brook University Police Department (SBUPD). The letter claims that university police were established to suppress student activism during the 60s and 70s and claims that most students feel intimidated by police. It argues that the SBUPD should be dissolved, and that the university should sever all connections with Suffolk police and law enforcement.
I dislike SBUPD and am in favor of reforming the department. However, I believe that abolishing the university’s law enforcement entirely is an overreaction.
I have a few reasons for objecting the letter. In early June, SBUPD arrested a man who brought explosives into Stony Brook University Hospital. The radical nature of the letter seemed inappropriate and even insulting; why argue for the abolition of an institution that just prevented a possible tragedy. More importantly, I thought it was unfair that an administrative group of seven people would connect dozens of members to a very politically charged letter without even holding a vote. I felt that the eBoard violated the social contract it had with the members of Dumbledore’s Army by putting the name of the club on the letter without unanimous approval.
I argued with the rest of the eBoard for a few hours and they ultimately agreed not to put the club’s name on the letter. Instead, they sent an email on July 8 highly encouraging club members to sign their individual names in support of the letter. The email explicitly warned not to suggest that the whole organization supported the letter. Over 140 individuals received this email. My mind was at ease, as I — along with any others who either did not support the letter or merely wanted to be left out of politics — would not be connected to the letter.
I checked the letter again on July 10 when I noticed that “Dumbledore’s Army” had been added to the list of signed organizations at the bottom of the letter. I was confused and upset. I sent a screenshot of the signature to the eBoard and asked who put the club’s name there and why.
The eBoard refused to ask the HGSA to remove our name.
“In the eBoard, we have a 6/7 majority support for this letter,” the President of Dumbledore’s Army said in a text message to the eBoard’s group chat. “While I was willing to leave our name off of it, if a general body member put our name on it, I do not feel comfortable asking to take our name off.”
A group of seven can fairly represent over 140 members in most trivial matters. However, a letter advocating for the abolishment of law enforcement is not a trivial matter. A select minority should never make such important political decisions without the approval of the vast majority they govern.
The eBoard of Dumbledore’s Army used the fact that someone violated the email’s directions as an excuse to satisfy their own political agenda — specifically, the abolishment of SBUPD. Neither I nor the eBoard know who put the club’s name on the letter, nor do we know how many of the 140 members signed it. However, the eBoard falsely believes that they automatically have authority over all matters relating to the club because they were publicly elected. They have abused their power. I cannot support such behavior, and thus I have resigned from the club.
When I tried to explain that a small group of seven should not make such an important decision without surveying all of the members, the eBoard said that I was arguing for the overthrow of the U.S. government. I am not against officials representing the general public. Do we have politicians who act only in their own favor? Yes, and that is inexcusable. It is up to the people to either remove those abusive officials who violate the social contract or elect someone else in their stead.
A representative government is not perfect, but it is always bound to the will of the people. I implore you: if you are part of an administrative body tasked with making an important political decision, let the general populace speak. A government that refuses to listen to those it oversees is an unjust one that should not exist.