UB Council should hold a limited public comment period

The UB Council went into executive session on Monday morning after a graduate student stood up and interrupted the meeting procedures. The student violated New York's Open Meetings Law.

We know the UB Council doesn’t have to listen to graduate students by law.

But UB Council members, all of whom advise UB on its future, should sit down, listen and respond to future UB alumni.

On Monday, UB Living Stipend Movement members shouted down the UB Council’s quarterly meeting. Jessica Baker, associate for the State University at New York’s Office of General Counsel, started the meeting by clarifying the council’s purpose. She detailed OML and said there’d be no time for public comment.

Still, graduate students made a public comment on Monday.

We think the students’ response, however, was bound to happen.

Students said they have to work second jobs and are crippled by student debt. They’re not happy with UB’s response to the issue, either. Even though the council dedicated most of its December meeting to the issue, students still argued that UB’s stipend PowerPoints, which administrators show at meetings, do not include “high” mandatory fees.

UB administrators filed out of the first row of the Buffalo Room on Monday just seconds after council chair Jeremy Jacobs called the council meeting into executive session.

UB administrators aren’t required to stay by law but could have stayed seated and listened to students like UB Professional Staff Senate Chair Domenic Licata did.

On Monday, demonstrators asked “how long” they have to wait for UB to give them a “living stipend.” Only three out of 17 current Spectrum editors were on staff when the movement began in 2017.

We think it’s good practice for UB to hold a community forum, where UB Council members and UB administrators can answer graduate students’ questions in the public view.

Student representative Mike Brown, during the December meeting, said the UB Council should consider following the SUNY Board of Trustees’ lead and have a separate public forum. Jacobs asked Brown to submit a written request for a forum and said he planned to meet with council members to schedule a forum. 

So far, that forum has not happened at UB.

Even when the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government met in January, coalition president Paul Wolf said he was disappointed in the council’s inability to hold a public comment period in December.

We hope this happens, as council members such as Jacobs, June Hoeflich and Michael Cropp all were UB students. They should hear from students as they were once in their shoes.

Even council member Jonathan Dandes, now president of Rich Baseball Operations, was UB’s own Student Association president. 

On Monday, current SA President Gunnar Haberl said he has campaigned in Albany for Education Opportunity Program students, some of which demonstrated in the Student Union on Friday. We’re sure Dandes remembers his time responding to concerns raised by his peers.

Dandes was a student representative on the UB Council, too, just like current student representative Brown. Brown advocates for the graduate students who helped vote him into his position. We wonder if Dandes, and other UB alumni on the council, will respond to students’ concerns.

On Tuesday, UB promoted Shared Governance Day and pushed for all UB community members to support university goals and measures. 

We encourage all UB community members to work together toward this goal: to hold a community forum, promote open dialogue and solve issues beyond the scope of a regular UB Counsel meeting.

Correction: The original article stated the Living Stipend Movement broke New York State’s Open Meetings Law. LSM didn’t break the law; it broke the rules set by SUNY Associate Jessica Baker at the beginning of the meeting.

The editorial board can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com.