Stony Brook Administrators held a town hall meeting Wednesday during about the drastic fee increases proposed by the bursar despite being interrupted by Radical Student Union protests. The heads of the departments receiving the funding each gave brief presentations on what the fees would pay for and how increases would improve student life.
The town hall was sparsely attended –– that is, until the Radical Student Union showed up. RSU members kept poking their heads in one at a time to see when the presentations would be over.
Once the floor was opened up for questions, the RSU and numerous other protesters stormed in. They lined the balcony, holding up signs and briefly chanting between questions. A few even stepped down to the microphones to comment for themselves.
The administrators were open to participation from all students, but didn’t appreciate how the RSU had behaved. Kathleen Valerio of Student Health Services would have liked the RSU to listen to her the way she listened to them. “It would have been nice if some of the students who asked questions were here for the entire meeting,” she said.
Many of the questions they asked could have been avoided had they been there for the earlier presentations.
Earlier, Valerio had explained that the Infirmary fee would be used to increase funding for psychological services, where resources are spread thin, and other benefits for students like free flu shots.
Valerio was disappointed that she wasn’t asked a question, even though most were in the form of complaints. “I volunteer my time to the Student Health Advisory Committee and we receive all of our money for things like AIDS prevention packages from state grants,” she said. “It’s not because they asked us to do it this way but because that’s how we do it.”
The students were being forced to make economic sacrifices for the good of the campus, so Valerio felt telling her story would make them realize that administration was making sacrifices as well.
The technology fee, which increased by an impressive $77.50, was explained in incredible detail by Graham Glynn. The largest rises in costs were attributed to expanding SINC sites and WolfieNet’s need for more bandwidth.
Other costs include paying the new, higher prices demanded by corporations for Blackboard and online research databases.
The audience, which was mostly comprised of graduate students, had a number of objections to the technology fee. They rarely use SINC sites, and require extensive access to research databases and online journals.
Transportation fees will also increase under the new plan, and that’s because of rising fuel costs and the need to replace outdated vehicles, says James O’Connor, the Director of Transportation and Parking Operations. A lot of his budget this year was spent buying green vehicles. He also wishes to build more parking spaces.
Students were willing to pay for some transportation services, but not others. “I don’t have a car, why should I have to pay for parking?” said one student. “I never use the busses. Can’t they be pay-per-ride?” another asked. Most students, though, use one method of transportation or another.
The athletics fee, which affects very few students, was subject to some complaints. The fee will increase by $16.50 for undergraduates only. The money will mostly be used to keep up with Title IX initiatives, which requires that students athletes are offered equal opportunities.
A lack of understanding on the part of protesters was what ultimately rendered the discussion useless. Many of them complained about expenditures in areas that had nothing to do with the fees and asked that money be moved places it couldn’t.
These complaints included repeated mentions of how administrative salaries are rising above the rate of inflation and graduate students’ pay has remained frozen since 2007. Both were the decision of the state, not SUNY or Stony Brook.
However, the decision to increase fees on the effectively decreasing salaries of graduate students does belong to the administration. The panel said they took that fact into consideration. Despite that, the three fees that they do pay are going up just as much as they will for undergraduates.
Graduate students are thankful for not having to pay athletic fees, and they sent President Stanley Valentine’s Day cards for waiving this year’s transportation fees. The new plan, however, is a slap in the face for them. They are trying to pay 2011’s fees and buy goods at 2011 prices while earning a 2007 salary, and are not satisfied to receive what some attendees describe as a pay cut.