The CUNY University Student Senate held its first complete meeting of the Fall semester at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College.
The senate convened at noon on Sunday, Sept. 25, and began the eight-hour meeting by performing a roll call. The packed room included more than 40 voting members of the senate.
The meeting quickly progressed into a discussion on the multitude of pressing issues in the CUNY system, including CUNY’s Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct, the CUNY 2016-20 Master Plan and a potential tuition hike that may come in the near future.
During the meeting, Meghann Williams, who serves as president of the Hunter College Graduate Student Association and an alternate delegate within USS, brought up several potential concerns with the proposed Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.
“This proposed policy hands over the power to decide how expressive conduct should be handled almost exclusively to college administrations. However, acknowledging these glaring issues legitimates the existence of such a policy in the first place,” Williams stated after the meeting.
In the ensuing discussion on the topic, several USS members agreed that the policy created tension between the CUNY administration and its students. Delegates wondered whether the policy would enhance students’ rights or suppress them.
“The real issue is that no CUNY official has been able to explain why this policy is needed in addition to the Henderson Rules. Far from enhancing students’ rights, [the Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct] actively suppresses them,” Williams continued.
The Henderson Rules are a code of conduct already put in place by CUNY that outlines how expressive conduct is to be handled on CUNY campuses.
The 11 rules allow for freedom of expression as long as said expression does not block access to campus facilities, does not include theft or damage to CUNY property and does not interfere with the ability for others to exercise their own rights.
The Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct will go before the CUNY board of trustees for approval in late October.
As the meeting progressed, discssion turned to the topic of student activism. Daniel Dornbaum, president of the Baruch Undergraduate Student Government, expressed his wish to have more students present at board of trustees meetings and testify for what they believe in. On Monday, Sept. 19, Dornbaum testified in front of the board of trustees during a public hearing at Baruch. He addressed the board with criticisms of the 2016-20 CUNY Master Plan, as well as the board’s opposition to the rational tuition policy, which prevents tuition hikes.
Later on in the meeting, USS members stressed the importance of voter registration, especially among CUNY students.
“It is our duty to get students to understand how important getting out to the polls is, instead of just ranting on social media,” said Chika Onyejiukwa, interim chairperson of USS.
The senate also passed its first resolution during the meeting—a decision to change the language of USS’s Resolution to Preserve the Affordability and Accessibility of Higher Education at CUNY.
Part of the resolution once read, “…be it further resolved, that the University Student Senate of the City University of New York calls on the State Legislature and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo adequately fund the increasing mandatory cost within CUNY as part of the maintenance of effort.” A change in the statement’s language was suggested by Williams to replace “calls on” with “demands” in order to strengthen the document. The motion was carried unanimously by the senate.
Toward the later stages of the meeting, USS began the nomination process for officer candidates, with elections to be held at a later date.