Union proposes a club advisor policy

March 15, 2019

The Student Union has proposed a bylaw that would require clubs to have a faculty or staff advisor to oversee the club. The Union hopes to first require advisors for secured clubs as a “progressive stance,” and then eventually require all clubs on campus to have an advisor, according to Chief of Staff Emma Russell ’19.

Advisors would serve to solve many issues such as handling finances, signing contracts and solving internal issues, according to Vice President Aaron Finkel ’19. “We want to bring club life up to par with other universities because one of the most common complaints that we get is that things are so confusing, and there’s policies people don’t understand,” said Finkel. “We think that club advisors can help this.”

Ryan Bowen ’19, member and treasurer of Brandeis Television (BTV), is against the new initiative and said that he believes it would have several negative effects.

“I think the new policy is a poor decision. Clubs in college differ from clubs in high school because they are student run and give students an opportunity to take on more responsibility and get experience in leadership roles. Forcing clubs to adopt an advisor is reminiscent of a club advisor in high school,” said Bowen. “It feels that students are being treated as children and are being made responsible for by an adult all over again.”

The Student Union has also been given positive feedback, according to Finkel. “In fact, many clubs already have informal advisors that they go to, and this would put those advisors’ names on paper to make it official, as well as providing support to those who don’t have advisors,” said Finkel. “It’s really just something that should already exist,” said Finkel. “One of the Student Union’s main jobs is to handle clubs, and one of the things that many universities have that Brandeis does not have are clubs that are strong and last for many years.”

BEMCo, a secured club on campus, already has advisors that they seek support from, according to Benjamin Merker ’19, executive director of BEMCo. Merker said that the mandate would have little effect on BEMCo’s operations. As a part of a state ambulance company, the club is required to have a medical director from a hospital oversee operations, and BEMCo also has three faculty and staff advisors, according to Merker. He said that BEMCo has benefited from having additional guidance and that he thinks that other clubs could benefit from similar oversight. He said that he and the other members are able to learn from faculty advisors about the institutional history of the club rather than having to rely on experience.

“We know what happened the year before, and [past years] know what happened before them, but it’s like a big game of telephone,” said Merker. “We’re doing similar things every year, but we’re still able to improve every year and make sure that we have good quality of care.”

He said that while he does not think that a new mandate would have a large impact on BEMCo, he has enjoyed the club’s autonomy, and he hopes that any new mandates would not strip clubs of that autonomy. Finkel said that the Union has heard many concerns that club advisors would make decisions for the club, but that it would neither be their responsibility nor in their power to do so. “We want to maintain student autonomy within clubs, which is why club advisors are not going to have any official decision making power,”  said Finkel. “Club leaders will maintain complete control.”

Bowen said that even if club leaders maintain control, he is concerned that the presence of an advisor would affect the way that a club is run.

“I feel that club leadership could become more relaxed because they could shift blame for problems with the club to an advisor. It would feel like they’re always stuck reporting to someone else or stuck underneath an advisor. They would be less inclined to go out and ensure the success of their club,” Bowen continued. “There could also be conflict between the club board and advisor if paperwork is not prioritized by the advisor or if the advisor wants to see specific actions from the club that the leadership doesn’t agree with.”

According to Senator-at-Large Noah Nguyen ’21, there would be a contract so that advisors could not take over club operations and they would not get involved without leaders’ permission. Should there be a violation of this contract, the Union would replace the advisor, according to Finkel.

According to Nguyen, this initiative was started last year through Club Support, but it has since been continued and become more of a focus of the Student Union. Last year, the Union posted about the initiative on their social media, and they held a listening session in which they heard opinions from several students. This project will help clubs become more sustainable, according to Nguyen.

“It’s going to be short-term work for long-term payoff. It might be a lot of work for us now, but this only needs to happen the first time a club needs an advisor,” said Russell. “There will probably be a little bit of turnover over the years, but the process of finding enough advisors and making sure that there’s enough for everyone should really only happen once.”

The eight secured clubs that would first be affected include WBRS, Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo), Waltham Group, Brandeis Television (BTV), Student Events, Archon Yearbook, Student Sexuality Information Service (SSIS), the Justice and The Brandeis Sustainability Fund.  While the mandate would begin with secured clubs, the Union’s goal is to eventually have advisors simply be a part of the culture at Brandeis and “change things for the better,” according to Russell.

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