By Patrick McAuliffe
Binghamton University’s administration has hardly ever been “democratic.” University leadership will usually announce a plan to construct new buildings or renovate old ones or outline a plan for what our funds will be spent on in the next five years with their Roadmap program, and most students go along with it with an apathetic shrug. This was most likely many people’s reaction when the University announced its decision to work with the city of Binghamton to construct blue light poles downtown to improve student safety. If not apathy, joy was most likely felt by other students that have felt uneasy about walking downtown at night or who have actually been the victim of a violent crime. However, there is more going on here than many people realize, and parties on both sides of this issue are going about it the wrong way.
The University administration is handling this pushback in a way that makes them look half-apologetic, half-ignorant of the desires of their students. Like Ms. Lister says, it is very telling, and rather embarrassing PR-wise, that they aren’t willing to have a conversation with the student protestors and would rather inconvenience themselves by moving their business elsewhere. Much like a scandal-ridden politician leaving their home for the first time in weeks, the University administration dodges what seems to be largely peaceful confrontation and issues a very unsubstantial statement about their commitment to the community and meekly asserting that they did promise some sort of funding to the Binghamton area this year. The only concrete part of the University’s statement is the establishment of a Town/Gown Advisory Board, with no specifics as to who it will be composed of and what sort of legislative and policy power it will have, both over the University and the community.
However, this is a conservative/libertarian publication, and as much fun as slamming the establishment is, if I’m not objecting to leftist behavior I can’t say I’m doing my job properly. When I went to hear the reasoning behind why this was such a controversial initiative, I only sought to listen and understand instead of listening to respond. After interviewing Nick and Mary, I didn’t want to grab some sheets and move into Couper just yet, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to accept the blue light initiative lying down, either.
Legal mandates, things that chill my libertarian heart, must nonetheless be grudgingly obeyed. If the University must give money to the community in some way that will benefit it, I can accept that. And, if the studies showing the ineffectiveness of the blue lights that they cite and the anti-initiative attitudes of most community members are both true, then it’s seriously worth considering by the University. Unless the administration only cares about projecting an attitude of rapid change and modernity (which, let’s face it, is mostly what the SUNY2020 plan is all about), the concerns raised by the protestors and the alternatives they propose should be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, the Frances Beal Society thinks they can have too much of a good thing. It wouldn’t be enough to weasel their way into the committee meetings where these impact aid decisions are made and suggest their (surprisingly good) alternatives. Their demands about the future of the blue lights, and the policing and surveillance of the city government, go far beyond what is their place to demand.
I arrived at Couper in the late afternoon on Monday, May 1st, probably after most of the classes for the day had finished. People came and went, but by the time I left, the congregation of protestors in the lobby had probably reached its peak since I was there, and there couldn’t have been more than twenty of them. When passing the building at various other times, their numbers hardly seemed any bigger. It’s evidence of a truth that leftist activism wants to overlook: a vocal minority doesn’t just seek to influence decision-making processes in powerful institutions. Instead, one look at their demands shows that this minority expects to take total control of the situation, which is both incredibly dangerous and glaringly misinformed as to what processes should be done “democratically.”
I can understand that one of the demands is that BU will not give funds to the blue lights. Red flags start to get raised when the second demand orders that the BU administration will never contribute funds “originating within the University” to “policing and surveillance in the city of Binghamton.” Full five-alarm sirens start blaring at their third demand: “That they [the administration] will not, now or in the future, support the construction of policing and surveillance infrastructure using funds originating within the City of Binghamton, Broome County, New York State, the Binghamton Foundation, or any other source of income, including from auxiliary services.”
So if the city of Binghamton, a government entity, wants to increase spending on their police force, the University administration must oppose it? Lots of people want to make sure Big Brother isn’t watching them, obviously, but what if that spending goes toward equipping each police car with Narcan to assist heroin addicts? If the city turns its industry around and starts growing again, should the University oppose a proportional increase in spending on police infrastructure (whatever qualifies as “infrastructure”)? Binghamton University is a large source of benefit to this community, but the administration has no place to demand how the city spends its budget. In a democratic system, that is left to the people represented by the city. Those people registered to vote here and who live here should far outweigh the voices of an administration representing people that, on average, are most likely leaving quickly after graduation. People with skin in the Binghamton game should lead this charge, not students that don’t even geographically live in Binghamton’s city limits.
The University administration, if they truly seek to do what is best for their students, might want to try listening to the actual students on the ground and see what they, as people living day-to-day with issues of safety, want done to make them safer (or at least feel safer). That being said, the administration is not some heavy-handed tyranny, and is only a tyranny insofar as if you choose to come to school here, you voluntarily give your money to the University and as such must accept that the administrators have some discretion as to where it goes. Binghamton University’s administration is not a town hall or a board of shareholders, and if a decision is made that a majority of people oppose, I would expect to see a drastic decline in enrollment here next year. All my classes should cut in half. Heck, the school might not even have money to give to the initiative if people did that! But if it does turn out that most people either don’t care about or support the blue light initiative, then this minority rule that has inconvenienced UPD and the BU administrators has no bearing at the bargaining table.