A Brief History of Student Government at Stony Brook

May 8, 1959  – 2002: Student Polity Association, Inc.

2003 – Present: Undergraduate Student Government at Stony Brook University

From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Student Government has a long history at Stony Brook University. In 1959, the Student Polity Association was established in Oyster Bay, Long Island. In 2003 the SPA was succeeded by the USG which is the current student government of Stony Brook University.

Student Polity Association

The original student government was known as the Student Polity Association, Inc (Polity). Polity was established on May 8, 1959 when the Polity constitution was ratified by well over two-thirds of the student body. The name Polity comes from the original debate regarding student government. There were two opposing viewpoints, one argued for a Republican form of government, and the other for a Democratic form of government.[3] Both sides drafted a constitution and presented them to the student body on April 22, 1959. A two-day constitutional convention was held from April 23 to April 24, at which both of these forms were discussed and debated. On April 28, 1959 a vote was held and the Polity constitution received the majority of votes.

One of the main purposes of Polity was to distribute the Student Activity Fee (SAF). Prior to Polity creating the budget, the Faculty Student Association prepared the budget for student activities[4] The first budget prepared by Polity was a total of $12,500.


In the Spring 2001 semester, Polity was beset with two issues that resulted in a period of tense relations between the university and itself. Firstly, the elections for the upcoming academic year were declared invalid by the Polity Supreme Court [5] leaving no elected officials on the executive branch (Polity Council). Secondly, the operating budget for the 2001 – 2002 year was rejected by then Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Frederick R. Preston citing questionable increases of funding to clubs which had affiliations with elected officials. Without an approved budget, no disbursement of SAF money could be made to any of the clubs or organizations on campus in the upcoming fall semester. The Office of Student Affairs responded by installing interim officials on the Polity Council and allowing 25% of the SAF money to be disbursed based on the previous year’s budget allocations until the Polity Senate could approve a new budget.[6]

Upon return in the fall, the Polity Senate faced pressure from clubs operating on limited budgets in addition to the refusal by Vice President Preston to allocate any additional SAF funds without a finalized budget, and on October 11 approved their proposed version for Preston’s approval.[5][7] Additionally, Fall elections were scheduled to fill all the seats of the Polity Council which were technically vacant but running with interim officials. When the election results were tabulated, Interim President Natalie Hodgson won the election, however she failed to secure the required 50% of votes cast necessary under the SPA constitution to win the election by 6 votes.[8][9] Runoff elections were scheduled to determine the SPA President, however turnout was low with only 154 out of approximately 13,000 undergraduate students voting.[10] Hodgson lost the runoff election to Malika Granville however V.P. Preston refused to accept the results of the election due to the low turnout and threatened to decertify Polity and place the SAF under administrative receivership until a new Student Government could be established unless the Senate resolved the Presidential issue.[11] To address V.P. Preston’s threat of dissolving Polity, SPA Vice President Akelia Lawrence took over as Interim President until the Senate determined if another runoff election was necessary. Legislation was passed by the Polity Senate in early February 2002 to forego having another runoff election, and allow Interim President Lawrence to serve out the rest of the year.[12][13] Attention was then turned to completing the requirements of a memorandum dated February 25 to President Lawrence which required Polity to “appoint a Judiciary, correct a range of serious problems and contradictions in its constitution ‘as it relates to election procedures, budget allocation and balance of power,’ and complete the elections that were supposed to have taken place April of 2001.” Although a Constitutional Committee was established, the inconsistencies in the Polity governing documents were not addressed. Citing the failure to meet established requirements, V.P. Preston placed the SAF money under temporary receivership relieving Polity of its obligations to disburse the SAF. This was done to give Polity the opportunity to concentrate on reforming the internal structure and governing documents without the burden of appropriating SAF money to student clubs and organizations. The administration then appointed students to the Student Activity Interim Planning Committee which would disburse SAF money to ensure there was no disruption to student clubs on campus.[14]

President Lawrence established a second Constitutional Review Committee which met consistently over the summer between the Spring and Fall 2002 semesters. A finished revision of the Polity constitution had been created by the committee and was submitted to the Senate for approval. After Senate approval the constitution was supposed to be placed on the ballot for a special election. However the Senate amended the constitution reintroducing inconsistencies that the revised constitution was supposed to have removed. On October 3, 2002, SPA President Akelia Lawrence sent a letter to Stony Brook University PresidentShirley Strum Kenny requesting help from the administration since Polity was “out of options and very tired [of] trying to make a dysfunctional government function.” Kenny released a memo dated October 11 stating that the Student Polity Association had been decertified following the direct appeal from the SPA President 8 days earlier.[15][16]

Transition Period

With the decertification of Polity, it ceased to be recognized as the student government on campus able to distribute the student activity fee. Polity however had not been allowed to distribute the SAF since May since it had been placed in receivership and this was more of a formality to begin the process of forming a new undergraduate student government. Legally, Student Polity Association, Inc was still a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operated by the elected officials of the Polity Council and could have remained a student organization on campus. Many members of the Polity Council were chosen by the university administration to run the interim student government in order to minimize the disruption to clubs/organizations as well as event planning for the undergraduate community. The interim government was made up of several committees: SAF Special Programming Council and SAF Interim Planning Committee which were designated to plan campus life-oriented activities, the SAF Budget Committee which was responsible for preparing the budget for the following academic year, SAF Promotions and Communications Committee whose task it was to promote the functions of the interim government, the Undergraduate Activity Fee Election Board which would coordinate the adoption of a new government constitution and hold elections for its officials and finally the SAF Interim Finance committee (which included the former Polity Treasurer) to cut checks for clubs and organizations “in consultation with Vice President Preston’s office.” [17][18]

Vice President Preston also established the Undergraduate Governance Task Force (GTF) in order to establish the structure of the new undergraduate government. The GTF was co-chaired by Norm Goodman, former Chair of the Sociology Department and a student from the Harriman School of Business Management and Policy, Jasleen Kaur. The GTF consisted of “11 students, 2 faculty members and 2 members of the administration.” The Deans of the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harriman School of Business, and Health Sciences Center appointed 9 students to the task force (6, 1, 1, 1 respectively). The last two open positions were filled by former Polity President Akelia Lawrence and a member from the student media. In addition to Goodman, the other faculty member on the GTF was University Senate President Benjamin Walcott. The university administration representatives were: Dean of Students Jerrold Stein and the Assistant Vice President for Presidential Initiatives, George Meyer.[17]

Early USG Years

Although the Senate and Executive Council were completely restructured, the newly established USG was very similar to the decertified Polity in many ways. All Polity Agencies were carried over, and club funding remained the same. USG was located in the same office with many of the same people and employees. The Student Activities Board was left unchanged, structured much like a club with a general body, and a fraction of the size it was decades ago when Stony Brook was known as a frequent concert venue. In 2004 the Coalition Of Righteous Egalitarians (CORE) sprang up as USG’s first political party. It successfully placed itself on top of the USG with the goal of giving a more fair share of funding to religious clubs. When the intent of the party was discovered, they were defeated by the investigative journalism of the Stony Brook Press. The CORE Laws were repealed in the following year.

Reformation Years

Recent years has brought various plans to reform the USG, motivated by the poorly written Constitution and other documentation left over from polity days. In many cases, documents were left unchanged except for the replacement of “Polity” with “USG”. Executive VP Nathan Shapiro was the first to attempt to pass a new USG constitution based more strictly on the United States Constitution. Although his constitution failed, many of the changed he wanted to make were made through legislation.

In 2009, the Student Advocates party formed to focus on establishing student life traditions. Later in 2010, the party split and became the Students First party. The party passed the Student Life Act to dissolve the club-like Student Activities Board and replace it with a Board of Directors and a new Student Programming Agency with the goal of bringing higher caliber events to campus more frequently.

  1. ^ Statesman Online USG Special Elections End
  2. ^ The Stony Brook Press USG Treasurer Opinionates On Election
  3. ^ Statesman, V. 02, n. 02 – The Stony Brook Statesman publishes the debate between Democratic/Republican viewpoints
  4. ^ Statesman, V. 02, n. 05 – The FSA prepared and maintained the Student Activities budget in February 1959.
  5. a b Statesman, V. 45, n. 09
  6. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 02
  7. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 10
  8. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 13 – Polity Election Results
  9. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 14 – Article on Polity Election Controversy
  10. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 15 – Polity Runoff Elections Scheduled
  11. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 20
  12. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 27
  13. ^ Statesman, V. 45, n. 31
  14. ^ Statesman, V. 46, n. 01 – Preston Places Student Polity in receivership
  15. ^ New York Times article on the disbanding of SPA
  16. ^ Statesman, V. 46, n. 15 – Polity Decertified as Governing Body
  17. a b Statesman, V. 46, n. 23
  18. ^ Statesman, V. 46, n. 24

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