By Aleksandra Sidorova
Every two years, the Student Association holds a vote on whether the SA fee should be mandatory. For the first time in the memory of SA adviser Jacob Avery, students voted “no” April 19. Every college department was on edge until the vote passed in a revote a week later Tuesday, April 26.
Avery said he was not surprised.
“It’s disappointing. It’s sad and embarrassing that [the vote] failed,” Avery said.
The ultimate cause of the vote’s failure was the lack of campaigning, according to Avery, SA Senator Marileana Rodriguez and Former SA Senator Ryan Ferguson.
“I think that it’s always a challenge to actually get the students to vote ‘yes,’” Ferguson said. “It requires a campaign to inform students what it is, because the default condition is to not want to have to pay a mandatory fee.”
Indeed, some students who voted “no” in the first election said they saw only the word “fee” and did not understand what it signified for the campus.
“I definitely think that we just suspected that everyone knew what the SA fee was,” Rodriguez said. “I think that was definitely our downfall. We didn’t advertise enough, which is why, when the vote came up again, our main priority was to make sure that everyone knew all of the benefits. And really, there are not many cons [to paying the SA fee], I would say.”
The SA fee funds a variety of services available to students including the campus shuttle and vacation buses, trips, clubs and organizations, events and activities, extended library hours, tutoring at the Learning Center and the Childcare Center. Avery said he saw club representatives “boastfully” saying they voted “no,” on the SA fee, while reviewing club budgets for the coming academic year. The SA held a revote to allow students to make a more informed decision. Had the SA fee not passed on revote, either, Avery estimated the SA’s budget to decrease by 50-75%, signifying cuts in the budgets of many areas of campus life.
Ferguson said another failure of the initial vote was that it was comprehensive and required students to vote for every position and the fee, instead of individual categories. The revote, however, focused only on the fee. The poll also collected student demographics and asked students to confirm their understanding of the purpose of the fee. Upon revote, 88.4% of participants voted in favor of a mandatory SA fee, compared to only 45.4% in the first vote.
Avery said that despite the essential services the SA fee provides, SUNY central mandates a vote on it. He said the rule was unlikely to change, unless student governments petition SUNY. Rodriguez and Ferguson say petitioning will not be necessary, and that students have a right to make an informed decision in the vote.
“It is something that the students, I believe, have a right to choose,” Rodriguez said. “I think that they should decide whether or not they want to spend the extra $80, but they should also, again, be informed of what that might bring.”
Although Ferguson supports the election and the vote, he said having a revote felt “patronizing.”
“While I understand why they immediately did a revote, it really sort of strikes me wrong,” Ferguson said. “You’re having a democracy thing, where you’re supposed to have a vote and have that be meaningful, but if you don’t get the result you want, just campaign for another.”
Plattsburgh is not the first SUNY campus to vote down the SA fee in the last few years. According to Avery, the issue of students voting against a mandatory student government fee has started occurring on other SUNY campuses. He attributed the issue to their referendums falling on the years 2020 and 2021, the height of the pandemic, leading students to refuse to pay a “student activity fee” while they are not on campus.
Avery highlighted another way COVID-19 affected the culture of college campuses, specifically decreasing student involvement among freshmen and sophomores.
“The cycle of higher education has been broken dramatically. In many areas, this incoming first-year-student class, the class of 2026, ultimately has more experience in leadership because they had a senior year of high school,” Avery said. “We’re in an interesting spot as we rebuild the culture of SUNY Plattsburgh.”