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Spotlight on the Student Union Judiciary

Spotlight on the Student Union Judiciary

By Jacob Edelman and Zach Phil Schwartz

Section: Featured, Features

February 26, 2016

The Brandeis University Student Union, our student government, has many functions and branches, such as club allocations and legislation. However, the organization also has organs that do not receive nearly as much attention as do its central functions. The Student Union Judiciary is a vitally important organ to the community, but many are unaware of what it does.

Brian Levi Dorfman ’16, a double major in Psychology and Theater and chief justice of the Judiciary, attributes his involvement in the organ to his tendency to act as a mediator when he was a part of his high school’s student union. The role of the Judiciary, according to Dorfman, is to mediate conflicts between two parties, which the Student Union website defines as conflicts that can be between clubs, the Union itself and its members.

Unlike other branches of the Union, the Judiciary is “not supposed to step in and create policy,” says Dorfman. “When a policy is unpopular or is challenged, we need to come in as an unbiased body to make sure that it’s dealt with in a way that’s fair to both parties, to the [alleged perpetrator] and the alleged victim.”

Although the branch’s role is not to enact new legislation, Dorfman explains how the Judiciary “can help two parties arrive at actions they can take to help move forward, reverse legislation if need be, can find some kind of punitive measure, remove people from their positions on the Student Union if it comes to that.” The Judiciary also has the power to handle intra-union conflicts and is able to “hold a trial for impeachment” if need be, says Dorfman.

According to the Student Union website, complaints are delivered to the Clerk of the Court. If the case is accepted, the Court will hold a trial within five academic days, unless both parties agree on a later date. Despite this extensive system, a current lack of knowledge about the Court is causing huge variation in how many cases that it hears.

According to Dorfman, “the year before I got involved there [were] something like 70 complaints brought to the judiciary, and they only took one trial, which resulted in negligible action. Last year there was one complaint which was investigated and not brought to trial.” This year, he explains, there have been no complaints brought to the Judiciary thus far.

The Court is well aware of the lack of student knowledge about its functions, so much so that its greatest difficulty has become the absence of complaints. According to Dorfman, due to this problem, the Court has started to actively seek out complaints— but it is encouraging complaints, not for people to find something to complain about. He stresses that the Judiciary should be a “channel where people can complain if they feel their voice hasn’t been given fair say.”

The Chief Justice acknowledges this problem and explains that the Court is looking to spread awareness, which it has done in the past through a letter to the rest of the Student Union and through brief emails to the student body. He believes that the Judiciary can further spread awareness by sending a full letter about what it does as well as creating a constitutional consultant for the rest of the Union through the amendment process.

This year, the Judiciary set up an email, judiciary@brandeis.edu, in order to further expand its awareness on campus. Despite the problems that the Judiciary faces, Dorfman feels good about what the organ does for the student body. He explains how it is satisfying that “there is a body that can help people; that we can help students who feel that they aren’t being satisfied by the Union.”

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