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Student Union must be more transparent

By Matthew Kowalyk

Section: Opinions

March 18, 2016

Sometimes it seems as if we, regular students, are treated as if we cannot handle the truth. There have been instances in the past where the administration did not let us know what was going on with their end of issues that concern us, but we could hope that those who represent our interests directly with those in power could be open about everything they do. However, we are met with incomplete efforts at transparency, insular personalities and practices and the inability to obtain information concerning things like past voting data. These things seem simple, but when it comes to campus activities, small concerns with transparency begin to mount and undermine supposed initiatives to create better ties to the student body.

 

The Student Union began to increase efforts at transparency last semester, but the efforts do not seem to amount to much that is really tangible other than a new website. The same information present on the website can be communicated through a Facebook page just as easily if the page is operated well. This brings into question certain actions and activities, or lack thereof, that undermine the apparent initiative to bring our student government’s activities into view for more students to see, to encourage greater visibility as well as scrutiny.

 

There has not been a Student Union meeting transcript published on their website since last October, nor is there information available about specific club allocations decisions or information on past complaints filed with the Judiciary Committee. Not everyone can make it to executive meetings, and those who feel inclined to be informed should have access to more than just the newspapers’ Senate logs. Word-for-word transcripts should be available as well. Secretary positions in most organizations carry out this job, so it would make sense that the body that is supposed to represent student interests should publish these records.

 

Students should be allowed to know which clubs their tuition goes to. We should all know how the policy governing student affairs changes. It is clear that the website still needs to be tended to since its redesign, as there are representatives from several different committees who still do not have profile pictures attached to their descriptions. Despite the site’s design, it makes people wonder whether or not it is cared for when there is a massive spelling error on the front page.

 

When word gets out that certain positions have not yet been confirmed by the Senate, which would seem like a matter of procedure, people wonder about how dedicated their representatives are. Our Senators make up the members of many different subcommittees, from Dining to Bylaws to Club Support and others, but most do not have finished web pages. Other than the Sustainability Committee, which is described on a linked PDF file to their page, the rest are left to have their purposes and missions up for site visitors to infer. It would be for the benefit of the entire Brandeis community if, perhaps, recent activities of these committees were made public through a website update, Facebook post or even a Tweet or two. Just showing activity would allow more students to believe in Union activities.

 

I have spoken with many regular students around campus concerning Student Union activities through various unfinished video projects, and most have no clear idea about what goes on in the Union. Regular social media updates are highly recommended to deal with this issue. There are such committees such as the Sustainability Committee that has around $50,000 to make campus more sustainable, and yet the campus has become less and less efficient in terms of energy over the past five years (explained at a town hall last fall).

 

Transparency is important, regardless of who is willing or not to look through the windows. Not publishing meetings, not updating the website and not elaborating on activities through any sort of meaningful apparatus cannot be tolerated for long. There are only a few concerned constituencies that the Student Union needs to cater to for it to continue having legitimacy with the student population, but it should not end there. If we are to have the administration do right by their students, we need to show them that we deserve it, that we care about our system and university, and not resort to only begging from them when we need something. If anything, students should attend town hall meetings to see what causes are making themselves heard by the administration and to gain more facts before criticizing activities on Facebook and Yik Yak.

 

There are certain aspects of campus that need to be addressed, but we as a student body should make efforts to show that we care as well. The Student Union, as the official representatives of student wants and needs, should be the first to make an example, while our student body should attempt to do its best to participate and show that it cares too. Such change can be brought about by having a truly open Student Union that updates the student body on its initiatives that benefit us. Their members attend meetings and hold office hours, allocate funds to clubs and affect our campus rules and regulations. They have the responsibility to remind their unfortunately disaffected constituents of that fact.
There is no truth we cannot bear to hear, and I am certain that most decisions are not so severe that they cannot be made public. If this is true, then there is an even greater overhaul that needs to take place. For now, if the Union makes real efforts to inform the student body of its day-to-day activities, maybe so many constituents will not be quite disaffected anymore.

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