USS is Responsible for Representing CUNY Students, But Few Know of the Group
By Ramses Martinez
The student organization that supersedes CSI’s Student Government is the University Student Senate (USS). It’s a CUNY analog to the US senate and acts on our behalf to change or implement CUNY wide policies. Their purview is all CUNY schools.
Established in 1972, the USS’ stated purpose (according to its constitution) is to act in the defense of CUNY students’ interests, protect the quality of CUNY education, and support, enhance, and encourage student leadership on CUNY campuses for the express purpose of strengthening student participation on all issues. What this means to the average student is that most of their actions are invisible and unknown. So it begs the question: what has the USS done?
One of the stated roles of the USS is to mediate on behalf of students for things including tuition, student rights, and quality of education.
Currently, they are supporting a petition to fight the CUNY administration’s plan to increase tuition annually by $300 via the “Rational Tuition Plan.” In addition, USS funds and promote “CUNY’s Got Talent” which follows the same vein as CSI’s own “CSI’s Got Talent.”
USS backed the NY State Senate bill A5370A-2015/S281A-2015 in cooperation with NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Group), which would require the state to cover mandatory costs such as fringe benefits and non-personal services costs (salary increments, utilities, building rentals). In other words if this bill passes, these extra costs will not be pushed back onto students.
The USS doles out scholarships to CUNY students with close to $100,000 awarded this year. And in September it voted to give support to CUNY adjuncts to fight for increased wages and better work hours.
One of the problems with the USS is their relative lack of transparency and presence. While they do have a website (http://www.usscuny.org/) with some of their latest efforts listed, many of the links to their meeting minutes are broken or do not reflect more recent meeting dates.
The USS is also contrary to their friendly website design—not easy to reach. They have not responded to several attempts for comment via the contact information posted on their website.
At the very least at CSI, if you are not directly involved with SG or USS you are most likely not aware that they exist. Some of these problems can be easily remedied, via simple updates to their website and a more active public relations presence, but it does not speak well of them.
If, for whatever reason, a student would like to access their meeting minutes, they should be available. In accordance with NY State’s open meeting policy, any CUNY student can request the meeting minutes of any public meeting in CUNY, including the USS. No reason has to be given and a CUNY ID is needed to enter the premises. To obtain it go to their headquarters at 555 W 57th St New York, NY 10019 suite 1420.
To gain access to this group one can become a member of USS by being elected. Historically, members of USS are usually chosen from each individual CUNY campuses’ SG.
According to the USS constitution, candidates can be any CUNY student chosen by SG—not necessarily a member of SG, or anyone appointed by a committee of any CUNY.
A delegate is allowed a term of two years maximum to be renewed each year as an undergraduate and receives a stipend of up to $4,950 dollars a year. This stipend cannot be received in addition to the student government stipend or any other stipend. The only exception is the chairperson’s stipend, which is $9,752 a year.
The SG stipend itself varies according to each of SG’s internal regulation.
For CSI it is currently $4,900 for the president, $4,400 for the vice president, $3,500 for senators with a commission, and $2,900 for senators. These stipends are paid to the delegates to use as they please and come from the senate fee ($1.45) paid by all CUNY students included in tuition each semester.
The current chairperson of USS is Joseph K. Awadjie who is pursuing a Master of Science degree at Brooklyn college.
So who are the CSI delegates of USS? Past members of CSI USS delegates include last semester’s SG President Talwo (Tai) Adenkah and Senator Suela Duka. The alternates are Kehinde Adenkej and Senator Marc Gigenti.
The current CSI delegates are SG Vice President Blerim Cukovic, Senator Andrea Dalzell, with the alternates being senators Zachary Glass and Rachel Torres.
Of the things USS has the ability to do, one rarely mentioned is that it controls which student organizations are eligible for stipends. Stipends are payouts received by certain members of student run organizations including SG, USS senators, and potentially student publications and organizations, like WSIA.
Historically at CSI, student publications, and WSIA have opted to not receive the stipend and of the writing of this article, have continued to not seek to receive it.
The idea behind the USS is to act as another buffer and advocate between students and the Administration. While it does support CUNY events, and works to award scholarships, most of its actions generally are not known to the average CUNY student. Considering the size of their budget ($530,432.94) and the considerable powers awarded to them, they should make a greater effort to reach out to and be known by CUNY students.