By Shawn Ness | October 9, 2023
Various Senators during a meeting
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / ASP
The University at Albany Student Association (SA) met on Wednesday, Oct. 4 to pass legislation that would make an official call on the university to halt the merger of Africana Studies (AFS) and Latin American, Caribbean & U.S. Latino Studies (LACS) departments. The bill was put forward by Senators James Cooper, Jeremy Zheng, Selwa Khan, Joleen Chen, and Jalen Miller.
The bill was passed with 33 yes votes, zero no votes, and one abstention from Senate Vice Chairwoman Sarah Jamil.
“The administration of the University at Albany has repeatedly made clear their disregard for the will of the student body. Again, and again students have expressed their disapproval regarding this merger and have been met with apathy, at best,” the bill’s memo reads. “This makes a resolution a necessity in order to protect diversity on this campus. It must pass via emergency legislation today because the vote in the university senate is occurring before the next SA senate meeting.”
“I know we’ve been talking about this for what feels like a really long time, but this piece of legislation is absolutely the first step that we need to take. Our next steps include talking to the leadership of the departments,” Senator Khan said. “I also want everyone to know that this isn’t a crisis that came out of nowhere, graduate students have been fighting for this for over a year. And it was our part as undergraduate students and as student leaders to pick up on this sooner. That is why it feels so rushed and that it’s happening so quickly.”
“Budget cuts and COVID-19 absolutely destroyed the university’s budget, and they have passed that cost on to us as students. Whether it’s fighting to raise tuition or cutting student services on campus, or now how they’re trying to kill an entire department by merging them into one,” Senator Dylan Klein said. “Now, if it’s an issue with money with the university, why the heck are we paying our university president that’s making $628,000 to sit in Washington D.C… additionally, why are we paying our provost $370,241 a year to sit and do nothing and ignore students at every turn?”
After the bill was passed, SA moved on to the rest of its legislative agenda: Taking up the remaining committee assignments for Rules and Administration Committee as well as Community Engagement and Outreach (CEO).
Nominations for Rules and Administration Chair Jacob Velasquez and proposed CEO chair Selwa Khan fell through after concerns came up about their ability to lead a committee and lead it effectively. Senate Chairwoman Erin McGrath and co-sponsor of the bills Vice Chairwoman Sarah Jamil selected Jalen Miller and Sidney Wheeler, respectively, to lead the committees.
While Wheeler’s nomination for CEO chair went through with little debate, Senator Miller’s nomination for Rules Chair was met with concerns from Senator Klein and Senator Timothy Goldsmith, the proposed junior ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee.
Senator Miller is set to be in Washington D.C. during the spring semester for UAlbany’s Semester in Washington (SIW) program, and he will resign from his position as chair. Senator Klein and Goldsmith both expressed discontent with Miller’s nomination as they would have to go through the same process again in two months when Senator Miller would leave the position to take part in the SIW.
“This committee has a duty to investigate internal Senate bylaw violations, it is a critical committee. And if we are going to have two chairs of this committee we’re going to have to see another committee appointment bill thrown on this floor for arguably one of the most important committees in our Senate,” Senator Klein said. “We need someone that is going to be a full-time chair, and it’s a little concerning that when we look at this committee the proposed chair is going to be leaving halfway through the year. We don’t need instability on this committee, we need stability.”
“There’s no coming after my credentials or experience because I know that I can do the job and I’ve served as a representative of this body, of this university, of this state, and of this nation. So you can’t challenge my experience, but people love to challenge my dedication to this body,” Senator Miller said. “We reorganize committees every single year, every single time in the new semester, I see no reason why we can’t do it again.”
Vice Chairwoman Jamil echoed Senator Miller’s points saying that SA would already have to reorganize committees anyway after the special election next week. Senator Miller has served as the Rules Chair in the past, and many members of the committee have served in it before.
Senator Miller was confirmed as Rules Chair with 30 ‘yes’ votes, one ‘no’ vote, and one abstention.
SA also confirmed six nominations to the University Senate. The nominations included Senator Klein, Goldsmith, Miller, Zheng Ayomide Ewumi, and Gabriel Kitt. There are still two open seats for SA members in the University Senate.
“Last time I was on the University Senate, we established 17 new majors, two new departments, and began the merger of CNSE and UAlbany,” Senator Klein said. “We oversaw the ETEC project, and fought for the renaming of Indigenous Quad [formerly known as Indian Quad].”
Members of the Rules and Administration Committee are preferred to be on the University Senate as well, and all nominees except for Senator Zheng on the committee.