Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor 

Public University Bans Public

Monday morning a group of more than 50 students, staff, and faculty were denied access to a UB Council meeting. We were a diverse group of from every corner of the three campuses brought together by two commonalities: we think graduate students at the University at Buffalo are miserably underfunded, and we think it’s our responsibility to change that. 

Different though we all may be, we are UB. As a public institution, UB does not exist to “serve” the public, as we so often hear. It’s created by and comprised of the public.

“UB” doesn’t work for us; UB works because we do.

This statement is more than an aphorism. It’s codified in New York State law. UB is a public institution and as such, we’re subject to the NYS Open Meetings Law. In section 103, subsection D, it states: "Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings." On Monday, more than 50 members of the public were not only denied reasonable efforts and adequate accommodation, we were literally locked out of that meeting and rebuffed by a police officer. The UB Council broke NYS law, and they used a law enforcement official to do so.  

UB's Chief of Staff Beth Del Genio cited the fire code as a reason for not allowing access to the meeting. That was a blatant lie. The room in question, Capen 505, has a max occupancy of 38 people and yet only 28 were allowed admittance. And even if the fire code did apply, NYS law requires that a committee of a public body, such as the UB Council, accommodate members of the public and find a new room if one is available. 

This meeting was at 7:30 a.m. on UB North campus. Nearly the entire campus was available. There was even a conference room with almost double the capacity conveniently located just 20 yards down the hall. And when we suggested they move the meeting there, we were ignored.

I didn’t drag myself out of bed two hours earlier than usual to be locked out of a public meeting. None of us did. Members of a public institution rallied behind the idea of shared governance. And what’s ironic about their locking us out is that we came to participate, not protest. We went to speak to the committee with the highest authority on campus. In short, we came for a meeting.

The UB Council’s actions on Monday should alarm anyone who believes in public institutions. Whether or not you feel the UB Living Stipend movement’s cause is just (and obviously I would prefer you did), the Council’s actions were unjust. They were unethical. They were illegal. This is more than just a breach of procedure. By denying access and literally holding an open meeting behind a locked and guarded door, the University at Buffalo failed to live up to its responsibility as a public institution. UB’s administration loves to sermonize the excellence of our students, faculty and alumni, but it’s time for those behind the pulpit to practice what they preach.

If you also have questions about UB’s general excellence, I suggest you join the Living Stipend Movement on October 12th at President Tripathi’s State of the University address. Hopefully, we won’t be locked out. 

-- Macy McDonald, Graduate Teaching Assistant