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Student Union judiciary rules against Union President

The Student Union Judiciary ruled against Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21 in a case brought against her by two members of the Student Union. The ruling stated that she had violated the Union’s Code of Conduct which mandates that members of the Union make “every effort to communicate across branches” and that she overstepped her role in interpreting the responsibilities of the executive senator.

The Judiciary will release a full opinion today, Oct. 18, said Chief Justice Rachel Sterling ’21. Sterling announced the branch’s decision in a Tuesday evening public hearing, where Union members including Tatuskar and the two Union members who brought the complaint, Vice President Guillermo Caballero ’20 and Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20, were present.

The complaint was based in the Student Union constitution, bylaws and code of conduct. Busé and Caballero claimed that Tatuskar unilaterally decided to bar Executive Senator Jake Rong ’21 from Executive Board meetings, when the decision was historically collaborative. They added that Tatuskar barred Rong from attending meetings he was constitutionally obligated to attend in Caballero’s absence. 

Their complaint says Tatuskar’s behavior was “totalitarian-like,” and is indicative of a larger trend. It also lists the policies regarding impeachment proceedings. Busé and Caballero said that the complaint was just the “tip of the iceberg” and hoped that the judiciary case would result in an effective mediation. 

Tatuskar responded that she intended to discuss the executive senator position with Rong on Oct. 2 but had to reschedule for the week of Oct. 8. In the hearing, Tatuskar called the case premature, and said that she and Rong had discussed the executive senator position on the week of Oct. 8. In an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Tatuskar discussed her communications with Rong.

“I honestly would have appreciated having Jake reach out to me. I do not know why he did not speak with more clarification; we speak an aggressive amount.”

Tatuskar and the Student Union Chief of Staff Zachary Wilkes ’20 also said that Caballero had engaged in his own miscommunication, in saying that Tatuskar could choose the non-senate committee co-chairs in spring 2019 and then changing his mind in September. Each senate committee has one senate chair and one non-senate co-chair.

The senate is responsible for enforcing the code of conduct, according to article XI of the Union’s constitution. The Senate, by a two-thirds majority vote, can place a punishment on an individual who violates the constitution—in this case Tatuskar—due to a recent amendment voted on in the senate meeting on Oct. 2.

Punishments range from revoking access to the Student Union office, impeachment, a public denouncement, temporary removal from meetings and expulsion from office. The Senate can also refer the case to the Judiciary again, to Wilkes or the Dean of Students office. Wilkes was present at the Tuesday hearing and defended Tatuskar. 

The Judiciary case involved a series of evidence submitted from both sides. The evidence, obtained by The Hoot, outlines a timeline of several interactions between Caballero, Rong, Tatuskar and other senators.

A series of events 

In June 2019, Tatuskar informed Rong that he will no longer serve on the E-Board as executive senator over a Facebook message. Tatuskar provided portions of the constitution and said that the decision was not made lightly—having the executive senator serve on the E-Board was unnecessary and not required within the constitution.

On Sept. 8, 2019, Caballero was unable to attend an E-Board meeting and messaged Tatuskar over Slack, saying that Rong would take his place. Tatuskar said he cannot, and Caballero cited Article two, section four part three of the constitution, which states that the executive senator will fulfill the role of the vice president. Tatuskar instructed Caballero to tell Rong about her decision. 

The constitution states, “The Executive Senator shall . . . Assume the duties of the Union Vice President in the Vice President’s absence.”

Tatuskar and Wilkes also introduced evidence that discussed two senator’s complaints on Caballero’s attendance and competency as vice president that were raised on Sept. 27.

On Oct. 2, Caballero asked to revisit the topic of Rong being on the E-Board, and Tatuskar responds that she would prefer to speak with Rong directly following a conversation on Oct. 4. 

Rong reached out to Tatuskar to talk in person or over the phone, and Tatuskar said in the Tuesday hearing that they had scheduled a conversation for Oct. 2 which was then rescheduled for the week of Oct. 8. The petition was filed Oct. 7, said Tatuskar. 

The Judiciary’s role

The Student Union Judiciary shall serve as the “final authority” on the interpretation of the Student Union Constitution and problems that fall under it. Therefore, it serves as “the final avenue of dispute resolution,” according to the Student Union Constitution. 

“The Judiciary has the power to deem an Action arising under the scope of the Student Union Constitution to be unconstitutional or to be in violation of Union Bylaws . . . This renders such Action invalid, thereby prohibiting it.”

The Constitution also outlines that it may act “in the capacity” of the president if it is decided that he or she cannot fulfill the duties of the role.

“The Judiciary cannot act in the capacity of another Student Union branch or officer unless that branch or officer is deemed, in and of itself, currently incapable of exercising the powers of that branch or officer properly. If the ability of the branch or officer in question to execute the powers of that branch or officer properly is not inherently compromised, the Judiciary cannot make decisions on behalf of that branch or officer, but remand the issue at hand to that branch or officer for decision-making.”

Editor’s note: News Editor Rachel Saal contributed to this article. 

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