Letter to the editor
On Monday, May 6, myself and eight other graduate and undergraduate students met with members of UB Administration to discuss the results of the Administrative Review of Sub-Board I (SBI). They recommended we disband SBI, a nonprofit organization created by UB students to serve UB students, as of July 1. SBI was founded 49 years ago and has successfully managed over $6 million of student money per year; conversely, Faculty Student Association (FSA), the fiscal agent UB recommends student governments move our accounts to, recently had over $300,000 embezzled by FSA board member, Dennis Black, and FSA currently owes SBI approximately $1.5 million. Multiple members of the review committee are also on the FSA board which might be one reason that that committee only presented and contemplated one option during their investigation –– the elimination of SBI.
I received an email notifying me about this past Monday’s meeting on May 1, five days before the meeting was scheduled to occur. We, as student government leaders and members of SBI’s board, hadn’t heard from the Administrative Review Committee team since they conducted interviews with us despite the fact that we had asked to be kept in the loop of the review process. Additionally, we could tell that they were not concerned about students and affected staff being able to meaningfully participate in the review process when they scheduled this meeting during the last week of classes with five days’ notice. When we expressed our disappointment with the scheduling to Scott Weber and Laura Hubbard, we received this response: “we are trying to share the findings and decisions moving forward with multiple constituents.”
When I walked into the meeting with student government leaders and the Administrative Review Committee, the tension was palpable. While Director Woodrow went through the presentation, student government leaders noticed there were multiple errors listed in the PowerPoint. When we brought these up, Director Woodrow only responded “okay, thank you.” When we arrived at the Fiscal Agent Observations section of the presentation, the committee hammered us on the fact that SBI does not have, and has never had, a written contract with the University. SBI has asked for a contract with the University multiple times and the University has repeatedly denied us. Despite the lack of a written contract, for 49 years SBI has handled UB student funds for its student governments. Vice President Hubbard then asserted that she “wished that the two entities,” referring to SBI and UB, “were able to do it before”.
SBI provides free legal advice to UB students on immigration issues, DUI charges, housing issues, and more. SBI also provides student defenders –– law students who help other UB students navigate infractions of the UB Student Code of Conduct, and the Safety Shuttle –– a shuttle service for locations within 1.5 miles of South Campus. The top reasons the review committee cited for their unilateral decision to shut down SBI were liability issues with the free legal advice SBI offers and with the Safety Shuttle, as well as their assertion that a majority of student government leaders were unaware of many of the services that SBI provides. When Kevin Southern from the Student Bar Association Government asked the committee if they could provide any case law where universities were sued and found liable in similar lawsuits, the review committee and their SUNY lawyer Bob Ruggeri, who was on the phone, avoided answering the question for roughly fifteen minutes and instead discussed hypothetical situations regarding lawsuits for malpractice that did not seem to be relevant to the free legal services SBI offers. The committee was either unwilling, unable or unprepared to answer the questions we posed to them in response to their observations of SBI. We presented multiple alternatives to the complete dismantling of SBI, but UB administration was unwilling to even consider them.
While the committee asserts that the majority of student government leaders were unaware of the services SBI provides, they conveniently left out that those governments are Pharmacy, Medical, and Dental whose student population makes up only about 7% of the overall UB population. While the voices of these students and student government leaders are incredibly important, to base your decision to shut down a 49-year-old student-run organization off three professional schools telling you that they are unaware of the services it provides, is unconscionable. I believe the committee came into the administrative audit process with the goal of shutting down SBI and just needed to go through protocol to protect themselves.
The administrative review committee gave us a July-1st timeline to switch to FSA and after that date they will not give SBI the student money it has handled for 49 years. This timeline is incredibly short, especially in light of the fact that FSA is not currently capable of handling all seven student government accounts. When asked about when SBI staff should be expected to be laid off, Vice President Hubbard, Vice President Weber and Director Woodrow could not answer these questions. Instead, they stated that these decisions would be made by the “transition team.” Nine SBI employees are going to be laid off and the employee benefits of two GSA professional staff are in jeopardy if this proposal is allowed to move forward.
SBI was created by UB students for UB students and has been run by us for almost 50 years. We will not allow UB administration, who we did not trust in 1970 and who we do not trust now, to shut down SBI. We are calling on all UB students to let UB administration know how valuable the services SBI provides are and that they need to sit down with us and create a plan forward that will allow UB students to continue to control UB student money.
GSA President 2019-2020