From the president’s desk

May 3, 2019

For Brandeis, the Student Union and myself—as a person and president—this past year has been a year of extreme highs and lows. I am not naive. I know that many people are not pleased with the Student Union as I leave this role. These past four years at Brandeis and on the Student Union have taught me many lessons that I hope other Brandeis students will learn too.

While you may not have liked everything that we did, in the last year our over 60 members accomplished all this, and more:

  • Implemented a full Commuter Rail subsidy for students with internships, jobs or interviews in Boston starting next fall.
  • Worked with administrators to introduce Presence, a personalized student life online portal system which will be implemented next fall.
  • Introduced free transportation from Logan Airport and significantly reduced the cost for Thanksgiving shuttles to New York City.
  • Worked on improvements to the Union’s Club Support system, including expanding opportunities for extracurricular faculty-student engagement through Club Advisors.
  • Collaborated with administrators to move the Pass/Fail deadline to the same date as the Add/Drop deadline.
  • Co-sponsored The Ollies, a new student leader awards program and hopefully a new Brandeis tradition.
  • Installed new water refill stations/replaced old water fountains, especially in residence halls.
  • Funded the Branda app, a new digital display system in the SCC, the renovation of the Berlin Chapel and a library treadmill project.
  • Dramatically increased feedback opportunities and collaboration with Brandeis Dining (Sodexo) and hosted numerous dining events this past year.
  • Saw a 400 percent increase in productivity for the Senate Rules Committee from last year—the Senate has focused on reviewing and reforming its governing documents.
  • Hosted “Campus Conversations,” an open-forum series on Community Living/Housing and Financial Aid/Affordability.
  • Hosted and co-sponsored several events around campus, including free food events, guest speakers, panels, etc.
  • Frequently met with administrators to voice student concerns on issues including accessibility, diversity and inclusion, affordability, sustainability and more.
  • Expanded transparency efforts through hosting meet the candidates events for all elections and sending out weekly reports of branch heads and executive officers in the weekly email.
  • Created a system of accountability for the MyDeis pages in which the Office of Communications maintains administrative status and trained class senators serve as moderators. Groups are now clearly under the jurisdiction of Rights and Responsibilities and university Free Expression Principles.
  • Drafted a Code of Conduct that all Union members must abide by for decorum and common decency.
  • Partnered with administration to lower library fines, extend mailroom and library hours and expand open-source textbook and software resources for professors.
  • Served on working groups for the presidential task force, A Framework For our Future.

Almost all of the work on the Student Union comes from good intentions, although not all of it is well-informed, well-executed or can predict the future well enough. A few of these initiatives and others received both positive and negative feedback. Student Union members listened to all voices, not just the loudest, and at times, made difficult decisions. While I am not proud of every decision made this past year—by others and myself—I am proud that Student Union members persisted in their work and many of these accomplishments will benefit students for years to come.

While these are the things I am proud of, I would take a different approach to many other things in retrospect. First, the disagreement between Allocations Board and some Executive Board members and myself should have been handled more professionally by both parties. A judiciary case should never have been necessary, and calm, level-headed conversation should have occurred. I commend Treasurer Adrian Ashley for going above and beyond in mending much of this divide and ensuring that the Union spend money wisely.

Second, bullying by members of the Union should never have been allowed to persist for so long. Many members of the Union, including myself, were personally attacked earlier in the year, and this impaired our ability to work quickly and impartially to resolve matters. The Union has since implemented a Code of Conduct for all members where gray areas in conduct are now more clearly codified.

Finally, the Student Union and I should have engaged in more outreach. It was not and is not enough to hold office hours, have open meetings and release weekly reports. It is difficult to balance routine Union responsibilities in addition to being a full-time student, working a part-time job (or more), holding membership in clubs, etc., but outreach to specific groups, particularly students of color and Intercultural Center (ICC) clubs, must be more of a priority. It is excellent that my successor Simran Tatuskar has made strengthening outreach one of her priorities.

In dealing with the Student Union, I encourage students to not assume bad intentions at first if a project is introduced that you do not like. If you are willing and able, reach out to the representative, ask questions and voice your opinion. Almost always, the representative will be on your side, even if they disagree. I also encourage students to educate themselves on issues before making judgments.

Remember that Student Union members are your classmates, friends and peers who are full-time students, have part-time jobs, are members of multiple clubs, etc. We receive no compensation for our labor. We are a team of individuals with different opinions, and one person’s actions or beliefs do not reflect those of all others on the Union—not even mine as the president.

If I had to summarize this past year’s Student Union, I would say goal-oriented, driven and persevering. I have deep gratitude for everyone that either served on or engaged with the Student Union, even to give criticism. Your involvement holds us accountable and keeps us informed.

Thank you, Brandeis, for allowing me to serve you for this past year and all three before it. You have given me so much, and I hope I was able to give you something back in return. I wish the best of luck to Simran and to Guillermo Caballero, vice president-elect, next year! They will certainly have their hands full.

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