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Senate Worried About Decreased Transparency in the Union

Senators on the Student Union have raised concerns about members of the Union’s E-board that were not confirmed by a vote of the Senate and decreasing transparency between the Board and the Senate.

“[The Executive Board] consist of a President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary, who are elected by the student body for a term of one year; and members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate,” according to Article III, Section 1, Clause 1 of the Student Union Constitution.

According to the Constitution, E-Board should consist only of members elected by the student body and members who have been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Several people who attend the closed E-Board meetings have been appointed by President Nyah Macklin ’16 but have not been confirmed by the Senate. Therefore, Union Senators are questioning the legitimacy of the E-Board and concerned that unconfirmed members are sitting in on closed meetings, when senators cannot.

The Senate intends on holding confirmation votes at their meeting on Sunday, according to their agenda.

The unconfirmed members, as explained by Secretary Shuying Liu ’16, “ensure that Student Union work with transparency and information flow smoothly between branches.”

“The irony of Liu’s claim is striking,” says Class of 2019 Senator Nathan Greess. “To claim including these members is simply an effort to increase transparency is laughable when you consider all records from E-Board meetings are secret even to elected members of the Senate.”

According to Greess, the President and members of E-Board were notified of the senators’ concerns on March 6. Since then, the Board has continued their weekly closed-door meetings, apparently retaining unconfirmed members.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that E-Board meetings are to be closed, yet the meetings are almost always closed, with confidential information never released to other Union members.
Class of 2017 Senator Matt Smetana says that the E-Board has “collected bodies without approval from all of the venues of the Union: A-Board, Treasury, Judiciary and others, and hold closed-door meetings only accessible to a few individuals.”

In an email to members of the Senate, Executive Senator Paul Sindberg ’18 stated that “E-board meetings have an agenda … We discuss issues until we come to a general consensus on next steps, and then we assign each other to these next steps.” However, according to members of the Senate, unlike the Senate agenda, the E-Board agenda is not public.

Executive Senator Sindberg serves as the Senate’s liaison to the E-Board, but according to his email, he is barred from disclosing some information to the Senate. “We’re also handling one or two specific initiatives that E-Board has currently decided to keep secret. I personally believe this information should be made available to the Senate for discussion,” Sindberg writes. However, continues Sindberg, “the E-Board will publicize that information when they deem necessary.”

Though Sindberg serves as the Senate’s connection and primary source of communication with E-Board, he is apparently barred from discussing much of E-Board’s work with the Senate. Greess notes that in the Senate’s March 20 meeting, President-elect and current Vice President David Herbstritt alluded to a system of E-Board record censorship: Public information is highlighted in orange; secret information is denoted in red.

At the past Senate meeting on March 20, Jacob Edelman ’18 (Features Editor at The Brandeis Hoot) asked the E-Board if accurate records of executive session, including relevant documents or emails, were kept as part of any records that may exist. Vice President David Herbstritt ’17 answered that no notes are kept and during executive session, E-board members shut their laptops and talk face to face.

“The Executive Board holds closed meetings, yet I can find no clause within our Constitution to justify entirely excluding members of the Senate and the community from Executive Board discussions. No other branch maintains such a high level of secrecy. No other branch operates with such little oversight,” Greess said to The Hoot.

While other members of the Union understand a need for some level of privacy, the purpose of a democratic government, they say, is that information is eventually shared with the public. It is also useful to keep records of E-Board meetings to have information for similar issues in the future.

Smetana said that the Student Union is based on the American political system and like the United States government, “the Executive Branch is under a system of checks and balances that limit the branch from gaining too much power.” Smetana continued to state that “claiming that the information is kept secret at the request from administrative bodies doesn’t make it any less unconstitutional and truthfully goes a long way in proving the unnecessary hierarchy found in leadership on campus.”

“It is of the utmost importance to follow the rules of a governing body to maintain a just and transparent presence on campus. By falling into incorrect or misguided procedures, one can create a false and even dangerous precedent that can go unnoticed for a long time,” said North Quad Senator Hannah Brown ’19.

As a result of this decreased transparency, many members of the Union were unaware that unconfirmed members of the Union have been sitting in on E-board meetings, essentially acting as E-board members.

“Our Executive Board has made great progress over the past year, but it still must work to improve transparency while remaining in its jurisdiction,” said Brown.

Macklin stated that she was “unaware this was a problem until very recently” and that E-Board will be discussing these issues in the next E-Board meeting. “We will be taking strides to address it promptly,” Macklin said to The Hoot.

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