Students lobby Albany on SUNY’s behalf

On Tuesday, 76 students got on two buses to travel to Albany in order to meet with state legislators and lobby on behalf of Geneseo and the State University of New York system. The trip was organized and funded by the Student Association and the appointments were set up by senior Will Labate, director of student affairs.

"I'm here to help SUNY, my professors and friends whose programs have been cut," said junior Daniella Insalaco. "It's completely unfair to them and the community as well."

Students gathered in the College Union for a 6 a.m. departure. The buses arrived in Albany at 10:30 a.m. and students immediately set off to meet with assemblymen and state senators in the legislative office building and the state capitol building. Most students were able to meet with at least one representative, and students were generally very well-received by representatives and their staffers.

The representatives with whom students met were State Sens. Patrick Gallivan and Kenneth Lavalle, State Assembly Reps. Dan Burling, Deborah Glick, Barbara Lifton and a staffer for Rep. Brian Kolb. Students met with the representatives from their respective home voting districts, and a few members of SA made additional visits. Some representatives were not available, and in these situations students dropped off literature or met with interns.

Labate said that in general, the fact that students were asking for a tuition increase seemed to be a significant point for many legislators.

In all, there were four main points in students' arguments. First, students made clear that the SUNY system and Geneseo in particular cannot sustain quality instruction with continued cuts. Second, they asked for the initiation of a rational tuition plan and provisions for a maintenance of effort clause attached to any legislation affecting SUNY funding that would guard against mid-year cuts and ensure that tuition dollars are directed toward SUNY programs and not unrelated state expenditures. Third, students made clear that Tuition Assistance Program caps would have to increase at a level that keeps up with tuition increases. Finally, they demanded the elimination of Bundy Aid to private institutions of higher learning.

A number of students from the recently deactivated communicative disorders and sciences department went on the trip, and they expressed the importance of their department within the Geneseo community to their representatives.

Junior Patrick Miskell said that he transferred into Geneseo from Genesee County Community College because "everybody I shadowed highly recommended SUNY Geneseo's speech path[ology] program."

"It's more effective to directly lobby than to protest on campus," sophomore Justin Shapiro said. "If you let legislatures hear your voice it removes the separation of a letter writing campaign. This is more concrete, less abstract."

Glick said she was "totally on [the students'] side," but that SUNY parents and alumni and members of business communities need to start getting involved if support for many of the students' ideas is to be raised.

Glick also said that she wants to put together a bill to reformulate Bundy Aid so that its allocation is based on the number of students in private institutions who are New York state residents at the time of their enrollment. Labate specifically asked that she bring such a bill – as well as bills addressing all of the other initiatives – forward for a vote so representatives could go on record as supporting or not supporting them.

Gallivan said that "this all seems like common sense," and was very interested in specific questions regarding the details of the students' initiatives, according to students who spoke with him.

Students said that Lavalle and Burling were supportive of their ideas, but not all of the legislators were receptive. Lifton reportedly came across to students as "unsupportive and even rude."

"I was encouraged just hearing from the assemblyman I spoke to," freshman Matthew Ford said. "He gave us options – people to contact – and helped us strategize to achieve what we set out to do. I like that our school was well represented … It was well worth it."