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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Union’s proposed amendments would only make things worse

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

The Student Union needs complete, systemic reform. But the great number of amendments to the Constitution proposed this week by the Executive Board (including and with the full support of President-elect Todd Kirkland ’13) does not reflect this reality. The package would largely preserve the existing problems, like the ones noted with elections, of the increasingly unwieldy student government.

There are a few good ideas contained in the presidents’ email, and members of the undergraduate community should vote for them. One proposal calls for the integration of the representatives to the board of trustees—often overlooked yet probably the most important office after the presidency—into the e-board structure. The representatives will still be elected, which is important, and they shall still have power independent and not subject in any way to orders by the president. But now they will be completely aware of all e-board actions so, theoretically, the Union could someday make an attempt to be a strong, unified voice.

Similarly, the representatives to the board of the Brandeis alumni association will now have to be members of the joint student club-administration venture, Future Alumni of Brandeis. This is welcome, as aware as we are of the great uncertainty surrounding the position in the last year. The position is important and the change makes sure the responsibility is not taken lightly again.

But the core proposals students are being asked to approve will likely only entrench the paralysis of our government. One of them adds to the responsibilities of the Union Senate. But when that most venerated and respected of bodies comes to students’ minds, as it unfortunately must from time to time, none of us ever express a belief that “if only the Senate controlled more things we do,” student life would be improved. The Campus Operations Working Group, which is a group of students that tries to argue for better campus facilities, has so far achieved only modest success.

But it is nonetheless a refreshing idea. Whomever disagrees should receive great credit for killing it: As with all good ideas, the best way to stop it is to refer it to a committee. That is what the amendment giving power to the Senate would do.

The lack of transparency and accountability of the caustic F-board-Treasury tryst is hardly helped by the proposed addition of a student life staff member to try to help, and is made worse in a measure that would require the Union’s chief financial officer to have been a member of it or else merely appointed an assistant to it the year before. The funding of clubs at Brandeis is unique, decisions theoretically made by students for students. But F-board allocations are as mysterious as ever, and the Treasury has in the last year proved particularly inept at explaining why such power is given to so few.

Finally there is Herbie Rosen and Kirkland’s plan to revamp completely the quadrennial Constitutional Review process. I absolutely agree that the constitution should be easier to change (and it needs many changes). But just as devolving power to the Senate would take us in the wrong direction, bringing new vigor into a Judiciary that is best when lifeless is a terrible idea.

A constitutional review should be taken, like most things, whenever students demonstrate a desire for it. Such things are easy to measure at Brandeis and, also like most things, are simply more effective when done by the most visible office, the presidency. The proposed reforms will bring the student body more surveys, more speeches and more posturing, except now from all three branches.

The Union needs to change direction completely. The current steps, however, dig us deeper into gridlock. The Brandeis community deserves an effective, unified government, with the same people as the go-tos for the few changes a year any student government is capable of making. Dueling, competing branches of government only ensure that little gets done. We need system-wide change, but not in the direction of diluting the only members with any clout in favor of increasingly irrelevant offices that serve only as resume-builders.

This is not a matter of fighting over deck chairs on the Titanic; it’s trying to save a plummeting airplane by adding chairs to the cockpit so you can hold a multi-branch debate over who’s to try to grab the steering wheel.

The Kirkland team would do well, instead, to come up with a short list of policies it wants to see enacted. Students don’t care who has the power to lobby or ask or beg for them, we don’t care about the allocation of Union prestige. A very simple list of changes to the Brandeis administration and the student experience is what we all need. And a very simple Union capable of effecting them.