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Judiciary hears Feng vs. Sourirajan & Coles

On Thursday, April 14, the Brandeis Student Union Judiciary held a hearing, where James Feng ’22 argued that defendants Krupa Sourirajan ’23, Student Union president, and Joseph Coles ’22, Student Union executive senator, had a “personal vendetta” against him which resulted in Feng’s dismissal from his position as secretary of the Student Union. 

In his opening statement, Feng argued that Sourirajan and Coles had animosity against him since his election and violated numerous sections of the code of conduct when it came to their interactions with him. He added that in the week of Sep. 23 to Sep. 30, Coles and Sourirajan were attempting to fill positions from regular elections; however, Feng struggled to do his job because of “pre-existing political biases.” According to Feng, Coles is a political ally to Sourirajan, and she got Coles to help her because of his control in the Senate. 

Although Feng acknowledges the concerns Sourirajan and Coles had with his behavior, he alleges that they used their political bias to remove him from office. According to Feng, after November of 2021, he no longer received communications from the registrar. He said that the defendants deliberately excluded Feng from further correspondence with the administration, which Feng had every right to know as chief of elections. He claimed that after Sept. 27, he “didn’t have any way to say anything.” Feng alleged that they ambushed him that week, eventually resulting in an ultimatum to resign or be impeached. On Oct. 3, Coles debriefed the Senate on the Feng concerns; however, the debriefing took place without Feng’s presence in the executive session. According to the constitution, during the executive session, only members of the Senate can be present. This created an asymmetry of information against himself, Feng alleged. 

Coles represented both himself and Sourirajan at the hearing. He discussed the failure of the Allocations Board elections and highlighted the importance of filling those missing A-Board seats. They also brought up why this hearing was taking place so long after the impeachment of Feng. 

Feng responded that both Coles and Sourirajan admitted that Feng proposed to hold an election, but they turned him down, which, according to Feng, makes them untruthful in saying that he did not take initiative. According to Feng, the elections were not held because Coles and Sourirajan did not let him. He added that he did make mistakes, and even if Coles and Sourirajan thought him incompetent, special elections are the discretion of the secretary and should be used in the interest of the Union. He emphasized once again that it was because Sourirajan and Coles said no to his hosting of elections that they did not happen. 

 

Coles responded that Feng was left off of election emails because he had not responded to emails on four occasions, so the administration reached out to Sourirajan on the grounds that Feng had neglected his duties. He also highlighted that, at the impeachment trial, Feng admitted to the neglect. Coles also said that special elections do not require assistance from anyone else; secretaries do that themselves, so Feng could have held elections if he wanted to.

During questions, Feng was asked what the environment was like and whether he saw peers as advisors during his time as secretary. Feng responded that, in many ways, his peers were advisors because they had more power. He said that he requested to hold elections at three meetings, two times in front of the entire board. Feng “publicly requested them, and the president said no.” 

Feng was then asked if it was within his power to hold the elections, to which Feng responded that the president has a say over the matter, and she did not grant him the approval. It was then highlighted that the president may advise but may not command, to which Feng said that Sourirajan “used her power as president to command me not to hold elections.” He added that he did read the constitution, which does not specify if there is unilateral power of secretary, according to Feng. 

Coles responded by saying that A-board was operational because the Senate sent temporary representatives to the A-board to fill the quorum to arrange club funds. He said that there was no danger to A-Board by sending in senators. He also said there was no impulse to simply elect new A-Board members simply based on the request to fill in A-Board seats. 

It was then asked if a binding mandate is imposed on the chief of elections if the chair of the Allocations Board requests more members. However, no one can make a binding demand on the secretary. That no one had ran during the previous round of elections was another concern.

Feng then argued that the Allocations Board had to work long hours and put in extra work, which is why the chair of the Allocations Board requested positions to be filled: She needed staff to help her, according to Feng. 

Feng also claimed that Sourirajan and Coles abused their power, using a clause about bribery as his backing. “There are other charges in here that I think are ridiculous,” said Coles. 

Matt Shapiro ’24 asked Coles if Coles and Sourirajan directly attempted to communicate with Feng before the ultimatum. Coles said that they did express their concerns between the first two rounds of elections. Sourirajan also sent a Slack message to Feng saying that the elections were run poorly. 

Feng was then asked how he could have admitted to breaching the constitution and then, in this trial, call the situation a small issue. However, these concerns were out of the scope of the hearing, which was centered on Sourirajan and Coles. 

Feng re-emphasized that his main allegation concerns political bias. He said that it was the motivation for their misconduct. 

Justice Eamonn Golden ’24 led the hearing. 

 

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