Big money at stake in challenge to use of referendums at UAlbany

July 27, 2005

A group of University at Albany students intent on changing the way student groups are funded — or, at least, getting a bigger slice of the pie for themselves — had their day in court Friday.
And if a federal judge agrees, it could have a big impact on the multimillion-dollar world of student group funding, one free-speech advocate said.
The group, New York Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, accused the school’s Student Association of denying it money because of its right-wing agenda. Representatives of the group said that referendums to gauge sentiment toward various groups were unconstitutional, because the votes turned the funding process into a popularity contest.
The law has it that funding for student groups can be rejected for many reasons, but holding unpopular opinions isn’t one of them.
The student government’s attorney, Lewis Oliver, disagreed that the referendums were being used to discriminate. They’re just advisory, he said. Attorneys for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which gets a referendum every four years to help determine its fate, made the same point.
But U.S. District Judge David Hurd, who presided over the hearing for summary judgment, had some tough questions about holding referendums at all.
"Why have it, first of all, and why is it constitutional to do it that way?" he asked.
That’s something that David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, asked. He wants an end to referendums.
"It’s one more step toward real viewpoint neutrality in the allocation of these funds," he said.
Even if Hurd overturns the practice of holding referendums, there’s no guarantee that the conservative organization will get any more money. Or that NYPIRG would lose it. Oliver pointed out that the conservative students got money, which they never even touched.
But Marcus Povinelli, one of the plaintiffs, said the end of referendums would be fair. "It doesn’t get us closer," he said. "But it equalizes us."
Two professors also triathletes
The next time students of Sally Goade or Paul Murray start complaining about having too many assignments, or not enough time to finish them, they might want to think twice. Because the professors put themselves through a far more grueling test Sunday.
First, they swam 2.4 miles. Then they biked 112 miles. And to top it off, they ran a 26.2-mile marathon.
Both Goade, a Sage Colleges professor, and Murray, a Siena College professor, finished the Ford Ironman USA Lake Placid triathlon. Goade crossed the line in 16 hours, 45 minutes; Murray was about three hours faster.
The winner, Tony Delogne of Dedham, Mass., finished in a little over 8 hours, 56 minutes.
For Goade, 46, the thing that drives her to spend more than two-thirds of a day competing is "that idea where you actually get it done," she said. "I’m in a profession where you never quite feel you get everything done."
Goade, an English professor who is researching women’s romance fiction, said there are parallels between her professional life and triathlons, too.
"I wrote a poem that I won’t give you because it’s really bad," she said. But she equated running a marathon to the act of finishing a long paper.
At about 20 miles, you don’t think the end is reachable. "About mile 24, you think, maybe I will."
Chief says tech scene promising
When Kermit Hall became president of the University at Albany, one of his first tasks was to pick a new fund-raising chief.
His pick, Deborah A.W. Read, starts Sept. 1.
Read, who was vice president for university advancement at Northern Kentucky University, is in the area briefly this week. People like backing a winner, she said, and UAlbany’s high-profile steps in the technology arena should help draw more donations across the board.
But first she has to spread the word.
"With so many alumni, really, across the country, there are so many ways to engage," Read said.
Read takes over for Vesna Gjaja, who held the post on an interim basis.
Bombings survivor talks to radio
A Siena College alumnus who survived the first round of subway bombings in London told his tale for a radio talk show to be aired this weekend.
Ben Velazquez, a 1993 alumnus who was in London on business and aboard one of the stricken trains, told host Mark Grimm that he thought he would suffocate immediately after the blast and that there were "body parts everywhere."
"God gave me a second chance," he said. "Every day I enjoy the littlest things now."
The show, which runs on Siena’s radio station, WVCR 88.3 FM, will run at 10 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.
Campus Notebook is compiled weekly by Kenneth Aaron. He can be reached at 454-5515 or by e-mail at