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Committee unveils Student Bill of Rights

Published: March 28, 2008
Section: Front Page

Last Monday, the Brandeis Student Union unveiled its first draft of the Student Bill of Rights. With the new draft, students will be able to identify their rights and understand how to properly defend themselves in cases of disciplinary action.

Since its inception at the beginning of the academic year, the Executive Committee on Student Rights, which consists of Laura Cohen ’09, Ryan McElhaney ’10, Pat Garofalo ’08, Senator for Racial Minority Students Gabe Gaskins ’08, Director of Union Affairs Jason Gray ’10, Assistant Treasurer Justin Kang ’09, Union Advocate Brian Paternostro ’08 and Class of 2008 Senator Asher Tanenbaum, has been working with Brandeis students to better represent the student body.

Currently, the Bill of Rights contains 11 statements addressing students’ rights, including freedom of expression, association, publication, the right to protest, and the right to due process and procedural fairness, among others. The document protects rights of the student body not explicitly listed in Rights and Responsibilities, including not being punished for any type of expression, the right to a hearing in the case of disciplinary action, and the right to privacy. Students are also guaranteed the right to request emergency services, even in the event of illegal activities, although illegal items will be confiscated.

The Executive Committee hoped that the bill will help defend the Brandeis community against an undue usurpation of rights. In an e-mail, chair of the Executive Committee on Student Rights, Jason Gray ’10 stated, “It is important to substantiate the rights that students deserve, and provide a way for all of us to invoke our rights, and for the Student Union to help to defend student rights.”

Gray also wanted students to reach out with recommendations on how to better the current draft, which can be found online at The feedback from students as well as from the Department of Student Life will be incorporated into the final draft of the bill. If the Committee gets two-thirds of the vote of the Union Senate or 450 student signatures approving the bill, it will be voted on in referendum form on April 13.

Since its release earlier this week, the bill has received positive responses from many students. InVEST coordinator and DFA member Alex Melman ’11 said, “I think the Student Bill of Rights is very important and provides a valuable explicit definition of the liberties we have as students, liberties which are currently only vaguely hinted at.”

He continued, “I think the first draft is well-put, if a bit structurally odd. I encourage every student to read it and offer opinions as to its revision.”

However, other students are more skeptical of the bill. DFA member Ben Serby ’10 explained, “Honestly, I have no faith in any resolution adopted by the Student Union, since I feel that this is a largely a body of people who have no interest in advancing the rights of students, and since I also don’t trust that the administration will respect the rights inscribed in a document drafted only by the students themselves.”

DFA member Matt Lawrence ’10 also expressed skepticism, stating, “[That the bill’s] timing so close to the election should at least raise an eyebrow. It doesn’t seem to offer anything radically new, although it would be nice to have these things codified.” He added, “I’m not sure I trust the Student Union, before the election, anyway, all that much more than I trust the administration. But I’m more than willing to be proved wrong.”

Some students see room for improvement in the first draft of the bill. Although the Right to Freedom of Expression section of the bill cites the protection of students as stated in the university’s non-discrimination and harassment policies, SSIS counselor Rob Foster ’08 explained, “I would appreciate a more explicit statement about a student’s right to express their gender or sexuality, as opposed to just a right to not be excluded for their gender or sexuality.” He believed that having this right would also “give leverage for students to legitimately ask for gender-neutral housing at Brandeis.”

Editor-in-Chief of Gravity Magazine Jon Zornow ’08 expressed enthusiasm for the bill, stating, “it’s fantastic and covers some points that shouldn’t have been left ambiguous. I especially like the right to due process part, since there were specific events in the last couple of years where there has been a clear lack of due process.”

He added, “the freedom of speech part is also a welcome clause. It’s something that [Gravity Magazine] has sort of just taken upon ourselves so it probably won’t change anything for us, but it’s a good thing.”

Zornow also believes that having a Student Bill of Rights last year might have affected the turn of events in the controversy surrounding Gravity. He said, “I don’t think things would have gone too differently, but in the end I don’t think the ridiculous repercussions would have occurred, such as Gravity not publishing for a semester. With a Bill of Rights in our hands, we might not have acquiesced so easily.”

Other students paid little attention to the release of the bill. Sasha Farfel ’10 said she saw the e-mail sent out to the student body concerning the first draft of the bill, but explained, “I had 20 other e-mails in my inbox and I didn’t read it. I think it’s a good idea but it’s probably not really going to affect my day-to-day life.”

In addition to soliciting student feedback, the committee plans to seek input from professors including Richard Gaskins (AMST), Gordie Fellman (SOC), and David Hackett Fischer (HIST).

Jamie Fleischman contributed to this report.