What our leaders owe us

April 5, 2019

Student government at Brandeis needs to be better. We elect people to the Union in order to represent us. But that hasn’t been going on—instead of listening, they disregard their constituents, bent on passing their patronizing pet legislation, so they can pad their resumes. In both their words and deeds, our elected student representatives are undermining their mandated responsibilities, so they can check one more thing off before they graduate.

It’s been a trainwreck of a year for the Union. We’ve seen petty infighting, a never-ending slew of scandals and resignations. But finally they’ve managed to accomplish something: pass an amendment to the Constitution mandating faculty advisors for all secured clubs, which will eventually be expanded to all chartered clubs at Brandeis.

Over the past month, as the president of a secured club and an E-Board member of a chartered one, I’ve been involved in a “listening session” about this amendment, had a one-on-one meeting with the Union and spoken with multiple senators on the issue. I’ve voiced my concerns continually, and each time felt like I was hitting a brick wall.

None of the chief actors behind this legislation—Vice President Aaron Finkel ’19, Senator-at-Large Noah Nguyen ’21, Chief of Staff Emma Russell ’19—have seemed to care about what club leaders had to say. Sure they’ve listened—but their listening sessions have instead turned into series of rebuttals, indicating that, despite many objections and arguments from constituents against this amendment, they were going to pass it no matter what. This isn’t representative democracy; it’s autocracy.

In the first meeting with E-Board members of secured clubs, including BTV (which I’m the president of), WBRS and the Justice, there was a marked disregard for what we had to say. The senior representatives present from the Union were unreceptive to criticism. It was apparent that this was a done deal from the start.

That meeting made it abundantly clear why this legislation is foolish: Director of Student Activities Dennis Hicks, serving as an advisor for this proposal, continually rebutted all arguments. It wasn’t so much a listening session as an opportunity to spew talking points. To me, it seemed that Hicks, a staff member in the Department of Student Activities, also really wanted this proposal passed, and he—like Finkel, Nguyen, Russell and the multiple senators I’ve talked to—wasn’t willing to seriously consider any arguments to the contrary. Instead of listening to our concerns, it was the Union (and their advisor) just telling us what to do.

This could happen in the future with other clubs: mentor figures with their own agenda continually pushing it on students, stepping far beyond their bounds. Hicks’ involvement in all of this is an argument for why mandated club advisors are such a bad idea.

What happened last Sunday with the amendment’s passage is more disturbing. Angry constituents were denied the ability to speak out against the proposal, and the Senate meeting was called into executive session—meaning non-senator students couldn’t be present during the discussion over the amendment. It demonstrated a condescending disregard for the voices of students from the Union. “We know better than you,” was their message. I hope that the student body hears that loud and clear.

These senators and members of the Union think they know what’s best for Brandeis. To me, their behavior seems elitist and patronizing. It’s dangerous, especially for media clubs, who need the latitude to speak freely about Brandeis in ways that a faculty advisor—fearful of losing their position—could try to keep quiet.

Leadership in the Union was unreceptive to requests to change the advisory position to that of a financial consultant, rendering the point moot that this is about managing finances better.

It was never about finances; it’s about control. It’s about adding another layer to an already broken bureaucracy that’s second only to Brandeis itself in its inefficiency and byzantine power structures. It’s about Finkel and co. getting to pad their resumes. Because, in the end, they don’t really care. They did it just because they could.

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