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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Recusal policies need clarification

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: Opinions

One of the defining characteristics of Brandeis University is its relatively small size. Students are able to walk to and from class and nod hello to familiar faces, as opposed to the anonymity one might feel at a larger school. Of course, this means that to some extent, everyone knows everyone.

This has created a very confused atmosphere as of late in regards to what is and is not considered a “conflict of interest.” Most recently, the F-board has been asked about its recusal policies, and while the F-board should be given the benefit of the doubt in its decisions, its response was half-hearted and worrisome. F-board Chair Max Wallach '09 responded to The Hoot, I had a lengthy discussion with other members of the Finance Board, and several of them are not comfortable with me releasing to The Hoot the specific clubs that they recused themselves from during decision making. They feel that this is too personal to be published in a campus newspaper. I will tell you that the F-board used our own discretion on recusing ourselves from the process, and at the very least, no F-Board member made a decision for a club on which he or she is on the E-board.

What is the F-board afraid of? A term such as “discretion” is extremely difficult to characterize and only adds to the confusion. Though the F-board admitted that none of its decisions towards clubs were made by members of that club's E-Board, this response only solves part of the problem;

a student does not have to be on a club's Executive Board to have a vested interest in it. Also, why is an F-board member recusing him or herself from a decision “personal”? In the name of transparency, this should be very public information. It is not the personal feelings of the F-board that are at stake, but the integrity of the fund allocation process.

Furthermore, the recent UJ circus regarding Michael Goldman included two Justices recusing themselves, one whom openly admitted to being biased in the matter, and another who was pressured to recuse himself for his close relationship with the defendant. In an email exchange that would have many students scratching their heads, the two parties involved debated the popularity of the defendent. According to the rationale of the Counsel of Record in the case, “Even if an individual were to have 25 individuals out of over 3,000 whom they considered actual close and good friends within the student body, this would still constitute a less than 8.5% chance that one of them would come before the Union Judiciary.” The problem here is that, in a case involving members of the same organization, it only makes sense that one person would be close to another. To put a number or percentage on “close friends” seems highly subjective. But at the same time, do we truly expect a Justice to remain completely objective when a friend's political position is on the line?

What must occur is a reevaluation of how we determine what is and isn't a conflict of interest. Clubs and organizations must sit down and discuss these issues and decide when personal interests have become too tangled. Also, the F-board needs to be unafraid to make its recusal information available, and in the name of transparency should actively seek to disseminate the information without being asked. The slightest hint of impropriety makes the entire process of allocating funds appear tainted, even if it is not. Recusal is not a personal decision, but a public responsibility.