Johns’ resignation is latest in series of Student Association corruption
Consistent wrongdoing has raised questions about UB’s student government
Published: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 11:09
The Student Association controls $4.1 million of student funds. In the past five years, its leaders have been the source of five major scandals.
Last week’s resignation of President Nick Johns – who was accused of a litany of offenses, including harassment, falsifying time sheets and mishandling funds – is the latest in a pattern of impropriety that has been steady since 2008.
- In the 2012-13 school year, Treasurer Justin Neuwirt accused President Travis Nemmer and his “cronies” of rigging SA’s election to get Johns voted into office.
- In 2011-12, Treasurer Sikander Khan attempted to invest $297,000 of student funds in a mobile application from a fraudulent company called “Virtual Academix” that appeared to have connections to known associates of Khan. He was reported to the University Police Department before resigning and leaving Buffalo. SA higher-ups say they have not heard from him since the incident and have no idea where he lives today.
- In 2009, President Hassan Farah was impeached after allegedly punching a staffer at an orientation event.
- In 2008, Generation Magazine published an in-depth exposé revealing some of SA’s frivolous, self-serving spending habits with student funds – including: a nearly $17,000 trip to Toronto, in addition to expensive trips to Boston and Los Angeles; $12,000 salaries for executive board members; and over $10,000 for t-shirts, polos and hooded sweatshirts. Before that article came out, SA’s three e-board members ran unopposed for reelection – only 155 students voted and the election was shortened to two days. SA was accused of intentionally not publicizing the election.
Things have changed since 2008, though – the mandatory student activity fee has increased by $15.75, from $79 to $94.75, and SA’s annual budget has increased by $1 million.
The Student Association is as powerful as it has ever been.
Questions surround SA: What exactly is this organization that controls so much student money, and why does something seem to go wrong every year? Does the structure need to change?
What is SA?
UB’s SA is the largest student government in the SUNY system. Though there are no aggregated statistics on which student governments in America control the most funds, it’s a safe bet that UB’s SA, which controls a total of $4.1 million and a budget of $3.7 million, is near the top. The University of South Carolina has an enrollment of about 23,000, and its student government controls a budget of $413,000.
As for other SUNY schools, Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) budget is about $3.1 million, Binghamton University’s is $2.5 million and Geneseo’s is $1.28 million.
Is there sufficient oversight?
Mario Ferone, Stony Brook USG’s vice president of communications and public relations, said the university’s vice president must approve the USG’s budget each year and every USG purchase goes through the group’s fiscal agent, who is a university employee.
He said there is a faculty-student organization that helps handle all of USG’s finances and, though USG is mostly independent, “it makes sense to have the check from the university.”
UB Spokesman John Della Contrada said UB has practiced the same SUNY-mandated procedure for the past 40 years. But given SA’s recent history, some say that isn’t enough.
Peter Scheck, who wrote the 2008 Generation article, believes more oversight is necessary at UB.
“I think there probably is some antiquated organization that looks over them, but I think [SA officials] know the system, they know all the rules, they know the bureaucracy and the way things are set up, and they know how to overcome it,” Scheck said.
2012-13 SA President Travis Nemmer said Student Activities Associate/Student Government Liason Mike Lewis reviews SA’s budget and every one of the organization’s purchases, but Scheck said that isn’t enough to stop SA’s higher-ups from making expensive, selfish purchases.
“The people within the SA are extremely smart,” Scheck said. “They know how the system works. They know who sees that money. And ultimately, they’re in charge of how it’s spent.”
Stephen Marth, The Spectrum’s editor in chief from 2009-10, echoed Scheck’s thoughts – that SA is not monitored thoroughly enough.
“Obviously there is a check-and-balance system in SA, but you really don’t have the oversight that you should,” Marth said.
Ernesto Alvarado was the SA president for the remainder of the 2009-10 year after Hassan Farah was impeached. He said SA’s autonomy is good because it can put together solid events to benefit the student body like the Distinguished Speakers Series, but it is bad because when immoral people get into office, they can take advantage of their power.