Students revolt against proposed Student Life legislation
‘Sledgehammer to SA’ could shift power from students to professional administrators
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
Student Association President Travis Nemmer is “professionally and personally” offended. The way he sees it, the Office of Student Life is saying every SA club needs a UB staff member to “play mommy or daddy.”
Director of Student Life Tom Tiberi says Nemmer is wrong; Student Life is just trying to help SA.
But Nemmer is not alone in his concern. Much of UB’s student body packed the Student Union Theater on Sunday night to rebel against a new policy introduced by Student Life that would change the way clubs operate and exist. A thick spirit of angst filled the room as students attacked Tiberi, who was unsure how to answer most questions and responded almost exclusively with “I’ll write that down” or “we’ll consider it.”
The policy, which spread on social media over the weekend via a MediaFire document, said it would be effective next semester. But upon hearing the students’ passionate concerns, Tiberi retracted that timetable and said, “This is not a rule in effect.” As of Sunday night, it is a proposal that will be discussed and modified between Student Life and the SA executive board over the course of this school year.
The reason for the chaos? The policy states every club must have a university adviser, cannot be dual-recognized and must be annually re-recognized by Student Life, among other things. Essentially, it shifts a lot of SA power to Student Life.
“If it’s being run by the administration, then you don’t really have a Student Association,” said Darwinson Valdez, president of PODER (Puerto Rican Organization for Dignity, Equality and Responsibility).
Nemmer said Sunday’s forum was simply an effort “to present a semblance of legitimacy.” Tiberi said otherwise.
“I learned many things [from the meeting],” Tiberi said. “I learned just how big of an issue the required adviser is, how passionate the student groups are. The last thing I want to have happen is students thinking the university is trying to control student groups or taking civil liberties away.”
The policies will not be voted on – because Student Life has power over SA – though Nemmer thinks they “absolutely” should be. He said he has not met one club member who endorses the rules in whole or part. Nemmer wrote a letter to Student Life and is hoping to have it signed by every concerned student.
“All we can do is speak as much, as constructively and as comprehensively as possible,” Nemmer said.
Tiberi, who was officially announced as director of Student Life in June 2012 after serving on an interim basis since Jan. 2011, formed the legislation alongside two other Student Life administrators. Many club heads assert the policies allow an unelected, bureaucratic board to take their control.
“The intent of an adviser is not a supervisor,” Tiberi said. “To limit their powers is not what I ever would support that an adviser does.”
Tiberi said he is implementing an adviser to help clubs navigate a big school and advise on everything from getting space and money to passing down tradition.
Nemmer does not buy it.
“His talk is cheap and his actions speak a lot louder than his words,” Nemmer said. “In its present form, these rules would be a sledgehammer to the Student Association.”
Carson Ciggia started UBiz, a business club, and is now an SA senator. He said Student Life planned the forum in a shady manner.
“They didn’t shoot the president when he had his secret service next to him with automatic weapons; they shot him when he was coming out of a small fundraiser out the back door,” Ciggia said. “They did it in a really dirty way. They gave it to us Thursday or Friday and said, ‘Oh, there’s a forum on Sunday,’ during spirit week, during homecoming, all of that, and we have to scramble.”
Ciggia said SA’s biggest strength is that it is for students, by students. If the legislation were to go through in its current form, he said, SA would be for students, by the administration.
Valdez’s PODER club recently won Homecoming Club of the Year for raising school spirit. He is among the many club presidents who were boisterous at the forum.
“We need to remind Student Life that students are running the show,” Valdez said. “Once Student Life gets involved, you’re taking the student aspect of it out and students are not involved.”
Nelson Yu is the president of the Asian American Student Union.
“We run the clubs,” Yu said. “We vote on the people who can lead the club and speak on behalf of the members. Now they’re telling us we need an adviser? What will they be able to do? They can’t do anything that will help us. Maybe they think we are not capable of doing things right, or maybe they think it will be better with an adult there to watch over us.”
Christian Andzel is the president of UB Students for Life and the vice president of UB Conservatives. Andzel received the loudest applause of the forum when he stood up and fervently said: “let us have our freedom back to run our clubs how we see fit.”
“I know this Tiberi guy,” Andzel said. “I dealt with him last summer when our crosses [an anti-abortion ‘cemetery for the innocents’ display] were destroyed. It took him until August to call us in and write a little statement. He put a little ad in the back of The Spectrum saying: ‘Oh, we’ll have this little forum to see what you guys think.’ And they’re having it on a Sunday. He’s just a scumbag, in my opinion.”
As for the SA e-board, Treasurer Justin Neuwirt said this legislation would “strip us of our power.” Vice President Adam Zimnicki said: “I believe this meeting was productive and we have a long way to reach a good middle ground.”