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Visions of a new Student Union

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Opinions


Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of living, learning, and growing up in this most venerable of institutions, Brandeis University. I have built a life of commitment to learning, not just as a good in and of itself, but as a tool to understanding, appreciating, loving, and recognizing ourselves as integral parts of a vibrant society, rich in the complexity of its interactions, relationships, hopes, joys, fears, pains, struggles, and injustices. Yes, education equips us with the skills necessary to pursue professional success and material comforts, as well as the privilege of building a life in modern America that ensures such comforts for our current families and families to come. Yet education also empowers us to begin to understand the intricacies of those structures upon which our society is based and to question their role in the pursuit of a common good.

From this education comes not just a set of skills in thought and background knowledge to pursue our own interests. This education instills a sense of duty and moral obligation that first reaches toward all members of our Brandeis community, permeates across the land, and shoots off into the farthest reaches of the Earth.

Now what does this mean for Brandeis and what does this mean for the New Union? It means that, as our immediate community, Brandeis must be recognized as our world entire, the perfection of which must be treated as something sacred in quality. And, at the same time, while we must venerate and uphold the sanctity of our own community, we must understand that the greatest injustice in the world is to extend our universe of moral obligation no further than the simplicity of our own lives or the physical space of our own campus. The greatest task for our New Union must be the recognition of the figurative walls that exist around the Brandeis campus, sheltering us and hiding us from the enormity of the plight of our fellow man and preventing our immersion into that very world community which we are expected to lead upon graduation.

To lead a community without a vested interest in and understanding of the beauty and struggles of that community is but tyranny, and tyranny ought to be destroyed in all of its forms. To educate us to lead without such a vested interest and understanding is to educate us to be tyrants.

Let the first mission of our New Union be a creative enterprise. Let us bind our university to the interests of Waltham, to the greater Boston community, to our nation, and to our world. Let us burst the Brandeis bubble and break down those barriers that prevent our immersion into the community and impede our education.

Let the Union demand the opening of university funds for Brandeis alumni and soon-to-be alumni who wish to dedicate themselves to projects in public service and social entrepreneurship. As a university that prides itself on its commitment to social justice, we must do everything in our power to encourage and to help fund promising, well-planned ventures with such aims. We must be proud of the numerous institutions on this campus committed to serving the community and uniting our interests with the greater community’s interests. Through the Waltham Group, through Community Engaged Learning, and through countless activist clubs and organizations on campus, Brandeis students have sparked wonderful institutions devoted to the perfection of our world. Brandeis funding and guidance can provide the necessary incentives and support for student leaders to help fan those sparks into a flame upon graduation.

Let the Union serve as a voice for student activism and service at Brandeis. Let us debate those issues over which our student leaders have voiced their concerns and back them with the weight of the student body.

Let us make the New Union transparent. There is no issue in the New Union that ought to be discussed behind closed and locked doors. Without a vested interest in the community we serve and without accountability to that community, we are but tyrants.

Let us work for transparency in the university’s endowment. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, argues that civil disobedience must be pursued nonviolently, for “the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek”. As we must purify the ends of our education by channeling them toward our self-actualization and the perfection of our world, so too must we purify the means through which that education is pursued. We must ensure that the money we invest into our education is not channeled toward organizations whose aims and means actively harm the pursuit of a more perfect world.

Let us recognize that a just society is inconceivable in a world of environmental disrepair. Let the New Union work toward the greening, beautification, and environmental sustainability of our campus. This goal must be pursued through both individual and collective actions. Let us first purify ourselves as individuals by conserving energy and minimizing waste. Let us also collectively demand the establishment of an environmental sustainability fund for the university and the incorporation of the environment into any short-term and long-term planning model. Let us form an advisory board of both students and administrators to address the beautification and greening of our campus. Let us diminish car dependency and discourage car use on campus by providing inexpensive or free public bikes or bike rentals so that students can easily travel around campus and Waltham without needing a car. In conjunction with providing convenient, clean, and efficient transportation alternatives, let us devote less of our campus’s space to car infrastructure and more toward green space and worthwhile buildings.

Let us recognize the injustices of the current system of dining services on the Brandeis campus. We students are required to purchase grossly overpriced meal plans with inflexible food options and dining hours. We spend more on a meal than the price of the food we eat and we spend more on a point than the value of the point. If given a choice, there is NO economic reason to purchase a meal plan. The only worthwhile meal plan would be no meal plan. One can have the same flexibility by simply buying a large amount of WhoCash at the beginning of the semester and buying all of his/her food with this WhoCash. Required to buy meal plans, we are forced to pay an organization that has no reason to diminish its prices or to provide better service to us. Aramark monopolizes our food services. We are required to pay them and they face no competition from outside providers. Aramark also makes little effort to improve its labor practices and to diminish the quantity of its waste.

Aramark’s contract is up for renewal in spring 2009. The Dining Services Committee and administrators must begin exploring other food service providers for the campus and drawing up the demands that any organization that receives Brandeis’s food services contract must meet.

Let us use the voice of the student body to bring our world’s leaders to this campus to speak. It is important that we, as learners, are exposed to the leaders of today for guidance and for inspiration. We must also do everything in our power to bring leaders to campus that represent well-balanced opinions on every issue, thus encouraging our critical thinking and opening us up to the diversity of opinions in our world.

Let us reject the problems of old in the pursuit of our New Student Union. Our current Union is bound by inaction, meaningless debate, a grossly inflated sense of self-importance, and unwillingness to look toward more progressive, proactive initiatives on behalf of the students. We have seen the gross over-politicization of a seemingly distasteful advertisement that our very own Gravity humor magazine published last year. Individuals were hurt, the Union’s own by-laws and the Rights and Responsibilities were trampled upon, and people felt less free to speak at an institution and in a country where the free market of ideas ought to be our prized possession. By encouraging leadership that is neither truly vested in the interests of nor accountable to those whom they represent, we encourage tyranny. Tyranny ought to be rooted out and destroyed in all of its forms.

Let us build a New Union. Let us immerse ourselves in the perfection of our community.

Note: The author is running for Senator for the Class of 2010.