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Student Union Members speak on constitutional amendments

On March 27, Brandeis’ Student Union sent an email to the Brandeis community announcing that voting was open for “proposed Student Union constitutional amendments.” There were several proposed amendments, including changes to Senate composition, the Allocations Board (A-Board) composition, the Judiciary composition, Executive Board and Miscellaneous Positions, the election process and new eligibility requirements for high-level Union positions. The full changes, and explanations, can be found in a document included in the Union’s email.

Following that email, and subsequent vote, the Student Union wrote another email to the Brandeis community, saying, “Earlier this week, we held a vote on proposed chatback we have heard from students, the Student Union decided to revise our proposal for a new vote: First, we are no longer proposing a change to the Racial Minority seats on the Senate or the A-Board. As representatives of the student body, we hear those who are concerned by this proposal and have removed it from the ballot. Instead, the Student Union will share these concerns with the university and work collaboratively with students and other stakeholders to identify solutions. Second, you will now have a chance to vote on each change individually. We heard from many of you that voting on the entire package of reforms was limiting, as some students disagreed with one or two changes but not all. Third, the ballot will be open from today, Friday, March 29, until Monday, April 1 at 11:59pm. This will allow ample time for students to vote over the break and weekend.” This email also noted that “We are proposing these updated changes to you because we strongly believe these proposals will allow the Student Union to be better representatives of the undergraduate student body. We did not want concerns about one of the proposed changes to prevent the many other necessary proposals from passing.”

On April 4, The Hoot spoke with Student Union President Noah Risley ’24, Student Union Chief of Staff Lexi Lazar ’24 and Student Union Class of 2025 Senator and Chair of Rules Allison Weiner ’25 about these amendments.

President Risley said “Spoiler alert, this was actually round one of what y’all are gonna vote on. The next round will be on the ballot [along with votes for the] president and vice president, but that stuff will be much less controversial. … What’s coming down the pipe is like … the role of the executive senator might change a little bit. Things like that.”

Speaking more specifically on the amendments that students had a chance to vote on recently, Risley noted that “what did not pass is getting rid of the International Student Senator, getting rid of the Midyear Senator and getting rid of the Myra Kraft Achievers Program Senator seat. Everything else voted on did pass. … Among other [reforms], A-Board used to elect people to two semester seats and three semester seats. Which led to a lot of weird, confusing math. Now every seat is for two semesters.”

Speaking on the new leadership experience requirements attached to certain offices within Student Union, Risley added that “[Student Union Vice President] Erica [Hwang ’25] and I noticed that when taking on this role, we really benefited from my knowledge of being here for four years, Lexi’s knowledge of being here for four years. And we didn’t want to imagine how awfully it might go if someone got elected and it was just like, ‘boom, surprise, welcome to the Student Union.’”

Weiner spoke on the changes being made to the Student Union judiciary, noting that this change was the one they were “most passionate about. You could say I’m kind of disappointed that some of the ones that didn’t pass didn’t. A huge issue in the Senate this year that I assume has been a perpetual issue is its size and the functionality issues that come out of how big it is. It’s almost impossible to get everybody in a room, which we’re supposed to do every week. There are absences every single week. People aren’t showing up to committee meetings. People aren’t showing up to Senate meetings. … So I’m a little disappointed that not all of the Senate reforms passed just because I felt the most strongly about making the Senate as small as possible.”

Lazar noted that A-Board encountered similar issues, adding that “only about half of those people actually speak in a meeting, even if like other people and everyone’s always encouraged to speak. … You have 11 [or] 12 people on a committee where you just really don’t need that many different inputs, and scheduling around people who don’t contribute to a meeting in the slightest, it makes it really difficult…. I think that’s really what we were trying to go for: streamlining the Union.”

Weiner added on, noting that “a huge issue with the judiciary is that [it] and the rules committee serve similar roles, such that one or the other is always kind of left without much to do. … You either could have gotten rid of the rules committee completely, you also could have gotten rid of the judiciary. I think it made more sense, for our situation specifically, to kind of get rid of the judiciary as it existed previously. Lexi just categorized it perfectly: it was streamlining roles, making sure that everyone has a unique job rather than having five different people whose job is to do roughly the exact same thing. Because then you’re left with probably four people who are doing nothing and one person who is doing everything.”

Lazar agreed, also saying that “with some of these roles, I think it’s hard to not tokenize people or force people to run for something that they might not want to otherwise. But, because there’s such a small pool of available people who even could run, someone’s kind of forced to [run]. It creates too many elections that aren’t competitive. You get people who are kind of being coerced into running or doing it for their resume. … Having however many individual quad senators … [is] redundant because if you just switched who lived in what building, it would be completely different.”

Speaking more in depth on the changes to the judiciary, Risley noted that they passed by a closer margin than others. They continued, adding “I was joking about it with my parents. I’m like, ‘I sound like an autocrat here: we need to vote to get rid of the judiciary and centralized judicial power.’ But what the judiciary does is in no practical way restraining. … So we took the position that matters, the Chief Justice position, and transformed it. … But I think when you read it, you’re like ‘getting rid of the judiciary. That sounds weird.’

Weiner added that they “heard a lot of concern … about the dissolution of the judiciary. I think part of it was that I think for people who aren’t on the Union, it’s really difficult to understand how the Union functions. So I think to a lot of people hearing ‘we’re getting rid of the judiciary,’ means ‘we have no mechanism of constitutional interpretation and no judicial anything and if someone does something wrong, we now are getting rid of the one body that could remedy that issue.’ Which is not what’s happening: the one person who creates that body, that position is being preserved. In the event something arises, a random selection of Union members will comprise what would’ve been the judiciary to handle that issue. But I think it’s hard to get that message across.”

On the new round of voting that will take place soon, Risley noted “we are not going to ask people to vote on if we should get rid of these Senate seats for the third time. Everyone clearly feels that strongly they should stay so they’ll stay.” But, they noted some of the amendments students will be voting on are “existential for the Union: [like the question of] ‘what is a director?’ So as the president, I can appoint directors [like U.S. president’s cabinet secretaries. But this process] is something we need to put more on paper because right now the constitution says ‘the president may appoint directors who are confirmed by the Senate.’” Risley also noted that while a past president had only three directors, they currently have 10. “So,” Risley added, “one of the things we’ll do is define what a director is. Should we write ‘in these are of the directors that should exist?’

Also among the items that students will be able to vote on is “a provision about recalling [Union members],” with Risley noting that if 15% of a Union member’s constituency signs a recall petition, a recall election is held. But, “that seems a bit odd: it’s defined as your constituency. So 15% of the Myra Kraft Senator’s constituency is 15 students.

In closing, President Risley said that “if anyone reading this is interested in talking about the future of the racial minority senator or A-Board , come to a listening session in this office at 5:00 P.M. on Friday. Rani Balakrishna [’25] and I will be hosting it. We’ll be going over some ways other campuses do it. … We’re not getting rid of [these positions], they will exist. [They] just need to change form and we really want and need input for how that gets done.”

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