The beginning of the academic year brings with it new enthusiasm and excitement among our students, and nothing is more representative of Brandeis student life than our club system. With over 250 organizations on campus, student organizations are the primary mechanism for students to get involved on campus and in the community. For many students, the current club offerings on campus are sufficient to help them find their passion, but every year multiple new clubs go through the club creation process. With all the rhetoric on campus about finding our passion and self-development, it would seem that creating a new club would be easy. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case.
Every step of the club chartering process is needlessly complicated and often controlled capriciously by Student Union senators. The official Student Union club creation guide lists 13 necessary steps to get a club recognized, many of which are very detailed. As a potential chartered club, you must have a yearlong plan, attend a series of meetings with various Student Union members (by my count, three is the minimum, but it regularly takes more than that), and signatures of 135 students. It often takes up to a semester to get a club chartered, and then once chartered, clubs often have to wait another semester before receiving funding.
The only reason I’ve ever heard for holding such a complicated process is saving money. People assume that if we allow more clubs to incorporate, then we’ll run out of money to sponsor all the clubs we currently have. The adversarial nature of Allocations Board meetings, where it seems that clubs need to compete for scarce resources, is probably to blame for a large portion of that fear. The truth—which is one of the Student Union’s best held secrets—is that there is no shortage of cash. Most years the Student Union collects more money from tuition fees then they give out in club support, and as of last year they had built up a fund of tens of thousands of dollars of excess money. A-Board could give away more money than it does; we have no shortage of cash. There is no resource crisis to justify the complicated process the Student Union has created.
Instead, what this process means is that the Student Union is open to all forms of nepotism, corruption and old-fashioned rudeness. Senators know that they alone control club funding, and also know there is no real mechanism to remove them from power. Most initial meetings are done one-on-one, and Student Union senators are often asked to evaluate potential clubs on such nebulous formula as “similarities to other clubs” or “community fit.” In practice, this means that the Student Union acts with no oversight. The success of the club creation process instead often depends on which senator you happen to meet with or how many friends you have in the senate.
In addition, though, even in cases where the Student Union acts properly, the club support process can be problematic. By forcing potential club leaders to jump through so many hoops, we dissuade our students from even exploring the process. With endless bureaucracy, we artificially limit our students’ potential.
A more efficient system would see the Student Union slashing back its club requirements to only the essential aspects of the system. Firstly, we need to include the forms required by law or university regulation, such as the anti-hazing or discrimination forms. Secondly, we need to ensure some basic amount of support for and interest in the club, such as requiring five to 10 interested members for the group. And finally, we need to make sure club leaders have the support they need by connecting them with the club leaders listserv and SUMS account. All the other steps are unnecessary. Most importantly, we shouldn’t allow the Student Union to vote on accepting new clubs that meet all their requirements. By allowing them to vote, all we do is encourage political gridlock or corruption while not doing anything to improve the quality of our clubs. These reforms would make the system cleaner, easier and more functional for students.
The Student Union is already largely regarded as inefficient, and its impacts on student life in most ways are minor. In terms of club recognition and resource allocation, however, the Student Union has a complete monopoly. We can’t let the Student Union operate without oversight, especially when their byzantine regulations limit the ability of our students to truly pursue their passions. Justice Brandeis once said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it’s time to focus that sunlight on the Student Union’s club support system.