Judiciary case to decide A-board jurisdiction over union

January 25, 2019

A Student Union Judiciary case will decide whether or not the Student Union is a club, and as a result, whether or not the Allocations Board has jurisdiction over Student Union funding. The case was filed by Student Union President Hannah Brown ’19, Chief of Staff Emma Russell, and Vice President Aaron Finkel ’20 on the evening of Jan. 15, and is expected to be decided this Sunday the 27th, according to Associate Justice Morris Nadjar ’19.

By deciding this case, the judiciary will establish a precedent for how the Student Union is funded. Morris hopes to resolve the trend of animosity between the allocations board (A-board) and the executive board (E-board) of the Union with this decision.

“We want to be as transparent as possible,” Morris said, about the judicial hearing process. “We want to make sure also that the university has precedent, and that we understand the Student Union’s place now and for future generations to avoid these kinds of conflict.”

The judiciary, which will deliberate in the Student Union conference room on Sunday, and is given “final authority on
the interpretation of the Student Union Constitution,” according to Article IV of the Union constitution. Chief Justice Gaby Gonzalez Anavisca ’19 will preside over the proceedings.

The three representatives from the E-board of the Union presented four claims for the judiciary to consider when filing their case. The first claim was that the Student Union is not a club as defined by the constitution, but rather is a governing body for clubs and organizations.

Finkel spoke about the first point, saying, “We are arguing that the Student Union is not a club. It is the government. A-board is just a mechanism to distribute funds.”

According to the second claim, because the Union is not a club, “the Student Union is not under the jurisdiction of
the Allocations Board.” The third claim is that the Student Union is guaranteed the entirety of its benchmark by the constitution, and the fourth claim defines the word benchmark as, “the minimum amount guaranteed to a Secured Club.” The fourth claim goes on to state that the A-board makes decisions on requests from secured clubs for more than their benchmarks.

The Judiciary met over skype after the case was filed, said Morris, to discuss the case. Sunday, the judiciary will meet with representatives from the A-board including Chair Aseem Kumar ’19 and Brown to discuss each side of the issue.

Morris spoke about the issues of the case, saying, “The core issue, at least for my understanding, is that the student union is not a club. Therefore, being recognized, chartered or secured would mean nothing.”

He continued, “And this is where the confusion then comes in, does A-board control the funds? What do we do about the funds that the Student Union has? Everything else is pretty much relevant to that statement, like the benchmark amounts. So really it’s just the question of: Is [the Student Union] a club?”

Morris described the two sides of the argument. If the Student Union is a secured club, the A-board would be able to decide how much to fund the Union, as it has done in the past.

This has caused some controversy within the Union, which began when the A-board decided not to fund the Union an additional $12,000 that the Union requested. The A-board decision was vetoed by Brown, but the A-board again unanimously overturned the presidential veto.

The Union was allocated $38,000 for the fiscal year of 2019, and the additional $12,000 would have allowed the Union to achieve their benchmark funding goal of $50,000. The A-board allocation was based on the expenditure of the Union last fiscal year, at $30,000, and the A-board felt that the Union did not provide substantial reasoning for the request for the additional $12,000.

Roland Blanding ’21, an A-board representative, spoke about the reason for allocating less money to the Union. “There has been a history of the E-board not utilizing all of the funds they’re given in the first place,” he said. “They did not use even 80 percent of the money they were allocated last year, and that is why we felt justified allocating [them] less than last year.”

But Finkel spoke to the feeling that A-board powers had gone unchecked. “Under the constitution, A-board is not entitled to just make decisions by themselves,” he said.

If the Student Union is a secured club, but the judiciary decides that the term “benchmark” refers to a minimum funding goal, the Union would be guaranteed the $50,000 by the A-board, and so would other secured clubs.

But clubs often receive much more or much less than their constitutionally defined benchmark. Brandeis Television (BTV), for example, has a benchmark of $15,000, but was allocated just under $3,000 for the fiscal year of 2019. Club Sports has a benchmark of $175,000 but was allocated just over $240,000. The Waltham Group and the Campus Activities Board both receive over $30,000 more than their respective benchmarks.

If the benchmark were to be defined as a minimum amount for funds allocation, all secured clubs would get at least the amount defined in the constitution. To change that benchmark value, a constitutional amendment would have to pass with a two-thirds vote from the members of the student body who voted.

But the A-board argues that a benchmark is a goal, not a minimum value. “A benchmark by definition is a standard. It is not a baseline and it is not a minimum. For that you can refer to Webster’s dictionary,” Blanding said.

Blanding also spoke about the possible consequences of the benchmark amount being treated as minimum. “I think that it would be terrible if it came to be that clubs…weren’t able to get funding because we have to set aside tens of thousands of dollars to clubs that wouldn’t use the money because of a misinterpretation of the meaning of the word benchmark,” he said.

If the Student Union is not a chartered, secured or recognized club, then the E-board argues that it is not under the jurisdiction of A-board. This leaves the question of how the Union would be funded open for debate. As Morris put it, “who would they then report to if not to A-board?”

Morris continued, “Animosity is growing between the Union. It’s also a matter of what is A-board’s position. If the Student Union feels that ‘we’re assigned this and that we can have all the funding that we’re entitled to,’ it kind of leaves the question of who’s putting the checks and balances on the Student Union [and] where its funds are being allocated.”

Finkel spoke about possible alternate ways the Union could be funded without the A-board, such as how other universities fund their unions through a senate vote or the Department of Student Activities. Finkel believes the case will be resolved in favor of the E-board, saying, “I’m confident that they will see reason and say that a small group of people cannot simply make decisions like this, that involve a lot of money without consulting anybody.”
Blanding spoke about possible consequences of having the Union fund itself, saying it would lack accountability and would undermine A-board’s authority.

The constitution as it currently stands refers to the word “benchmark” in Section 2 Article 1-1 when describing the Union government fund, saying, “[The] Union Government Fund … shall fund the affairs and operations of the Union and shall be distributed to the Union Government. A benchmark for this fund shall be $50,000.”

The A-board is defined by the Student Union Constitution Article 5 Section 1 as, “The Allocations Board shall establish the budgets from the Student Activities Fund for Chartered and Secured Clubs in accordance with this Constitution and its Bylaws, and shall publish their allocations each funding period, henceforth referred to as a marathon, to the Student Union and to the student body.”

The judiciary is provided with resources and information including the E-board claims and relevant sections of the constitution by Clerk of the Judiciary Abdul Rehman ’19. The judiciary decides all cases by a majority vote of the justices present and voting, according to the constitution. All hearings are public, though the judiciary can vote to make them private.

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