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Judiciary rules Student Union President and Vice President violated constitution, Senate responds

The Judiciary ruled that the Student Union President and Vice President violated the Union constitution and bylaws in a case centering on the ability of the executive senator to sit on Executive Board meetings.

The results of the case mean that the executive senator has the right to sit on the Executive Board in the vice president’s absence, reads the full Judiciary opinion, in order to increase transparency and communication in the Union.

After the full judiciary opinion was released on Friday, the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Scott Halper ’20, authored an amendment condemning Simran Tatuskar’s ’21 actions and calling for her to apologize to several Union and ex-Union members, and recommended an apology to the Brandeis student body. It also recommends that the executive senator serves on the Executive Board when the vice president decides it is necessary.

The proposed amendment, which will be voted on at this week’s Senate meeting on Sunday, is part of the Senate’s powers to enforce the Student Union Code of Conduct. Punishments range from revoking access to the Student Union office, impeachment, a public denouncement, temporary removal from meetings and expulsion from office, according to an earlier Brandeis Hoot article.

“The Judiciary is the ultimate arbiter of the constitution. They’re the ones who are supposed to be interpreting the constitution. And you may agree or disagree with our decision, but our responsibility with the Senate is to impose a punishment,” said Halper in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

Halper said that he and the Rules Committee took in opinions from the Senate and members of the student body, and concluded that the apologies were what was best for the Brandeis student body and members of the Union. Any apology, said Halper, would be reviewed by the petitioners, the Judiciary Committee and the Senate to make sure the statement was accurate to the case.

There were no calls in the Senate for a higher punishment, said Halper, including impeachment. Guillermo Caballero ’20 contested this, writing to The Hoot, “Many students and some senators talked to me about an impeachment inquiry, however, I think that would not necessarily bring a learning opportunity for all parties involved. However, I do believe that a temporary suspension from office would have been an appropriate response to the many breaches of the constitution.”

Tatuskar challenged the idea that a public apology would be beneficial, given that the disagreement was Union-specific and instead she is apologizing to individuals personally and privately, she said in an interview with The Hoot. Tatuskar wants to move forward by focusing on opening more lines of communication and creating more accountability within the Union.

“I am still having private conversations with people as I should be, and I guess my perpetual concern is that if you mandate an apology, it becomes less genuine. And I am apologizing to those who I feel like I truly need to, but that’s being done on my own terms, and that’s being done on my own accord.”

Tatuskar also said she was working with the Dean of Students Office to hold a mediated conversation with the complainants, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Buse ’20, Caballero and Chief Justice Rachel Sterling ’21, and said she was uncomfortable revealing who she was speaking to privately.

“I fully admit that there were things that came up that I accept full responsibility for that I didn’t do correctly. That is what it is. But I also think that it was a personal issue and a personal situation and all it showed was a lack of communication. I think that that communication, now that it’s happening, should be authentic. It shouldn’t be mandated, and it shouldn’t feel forced.”

Halper contacted Tatuskar mentioning the amendment on Monday before the Senate met, which Tatuskar confirmed in an interview. The Senate will ultimately decide whether to enact the amendment, said Tatuskar, in their vote on Sunday.

Halper also said the Rules Committee would consider a censure against Vice President Caballero that would be introduced at this week’s Sunday Senate meeting. The two amendments were not drafted simultaneously, said Halper, because Caballero did not attend the Monday evening Senate meeting on Oct. 21 when the amendment regarding Tatuskar was introduced. 

The two constitutional violations, said Halper, were also different in scale. The Judiciary opinion found that Tatuskar violated two articles of the constitution and one article of the bylaws, while they found that Caballero violated one section of the bylaws in missing “several mandatory Student Union events and meetings” and in not effectively communicating his disagreement with Tatuskar over the role of the executive senator, according to the judicial opinion.

“I was surprised by the decision,” wrote Caballero to The Hoot. “I thought we were able to miss a certain number of meetings to account for sick days or other circumstances. I do agree that I should have communicated my decision about co-chairs to Simran [Tatuskar] but I didn’t think that I was mandated to communicate the change on my decision about co-chairs given that I gave that power to the chairs,” continued Caballero.

Caballero was referring to another disagreement in the case where he said that Tatuskar could choose the non-Senate Committee co-chairs in spring 2019 and then changed his mind in September. Caballero wrote that he trusts the Senate’s judgement in drafting the amendment.

The Judiciary’s Opinion

One of the central elements of the case was the role of the executive senator. The Judiciary ruled that Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21 erred in not allowing Executive Senator Jake Rong ’21 to sit on Executive Board meetings in the absence of the vice president.

At least four Union-elected members attend Executive Board meetings, where the Executive Board manages Union operations, meets with university administrators and carries out initiatives based on student concerns. The executive senator is required to fulfill the duties of the vice president in his or her absence, according to Article two section 4.3 of the constitution.

The complaint was brought to the Judiciary on Oct. 7, before Rong and Tatuskar met in person to discuss the situation. Rong said he wished the complaint wasn’t filed before that discussion, he said in an interview with The Hoot.

“I would have liked to talk before the… complaint was submitted,” said Rong. “I definitely wish that conversation had taken place sooner, and I think that if we had more conversations of that type as opposed to trying to hash out everything through Slack, for example, we might not have had to have it escalate to that point.”

Rong said that the Union is working to improve communication and Union culture as a whole. Tatuskar also said she hopes the Union will move on to take concrete, actionable steps to improve communication.

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