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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Schlangel appoints task force to examine Union operations

Published: March 4, 2005
Section: News

A new task force dubbed AMP, standing for, a more perfect…, has been formed to conduct a review of the Student Union, according to President Mark Schlangel 05. Former Union Secretary Danny Silverman 05 has been tapped to chair the committee, which is tasked with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the entire Union structure, including student government, secured organizations, and campus clubs.

The committee is composed of Student Union officers as well as representatives from secured organizations and club leaders. Assistant Dean of Students Alwina Bennett is also a member.

This is really an exciting time in the life of the Union, Bennett told The Hoot. The current constitution has been in place for five years and we are in a position to evaluate the effectiveness of our process.

The Union is more than just government, said Silverman. The Union is 3,100 students living their lives. It is every club and organization on campus. It is our newspaper, it is our concerts. Nothing is off limits in this review.

The formation of the committee comes in the wake of increased calls for reform both from within student government and from other segments of the campus population.
The growing number of concerns expressed by students about Union operations and club funding availability provided the impetus for the formation of AMP, according to a media release distributed by Union Communications Director Alan Tannenwald 05.
Silverman told The Hoot that club leaders have become increasingly frustrated with the Union structure. Everyone is thinking bigger, and frankly our system is not set up to support that, he said. For instance, the way we allocate money is virtually unchanged from the 80s.

The newest Student Union Constitution was ratified in 1999 and took effect in 2000. However, many of its provisions date further back, to a time when the Student Activities Fee was substantially smaller, according to Union Treasurer Aaron Gaynor 07.

Everything is based on percentages. The percentage of the SAF that each group gets has stayed the same, but the actual amount of money has gone up and up, as tuition and enrollment have increased, he said.

Silverman said that the new committee is an opportunity to examine, what works, and why, and what does not work and why. We want to talk to everyone, from the heads of the biggest clubs on campus to the students who have never even joined a club.

On Sunday Silverman and Bennett gave a presentation before the Union Senate in an executive [closed] session. Titled, Union 2005: Looking Inward, the presentation outlined four broad areas of interest for the committee to pursue, according to minutes obtained by The Hoot.

The first area is, balancing the legal system, and deals with the operations of student government. Included is an examination of the current system of four branches (Executive, Senate, Judicial, and Finance Board) and looking at ways for the branches to be more efficient and to better cooperate.

Bennett told the Senate that students see the government as too bureaucratic and hate asking for money.

Silverman said that he believed current checks and balances may be inadequate and the scope of governance ill-defined, leading to distrust of the Senate.

The second area is, Better coordinating club creation and funding. It is meant to examine the entire life cycle of a club. Specifically, Silverman asked whether the current system of two types of clubs, recognized and chartered, is sufficient.

In a follow-up conversation with The Hoot, Schlangel noted that some clubs, such as sports clubs, have different needs than normal clubs, while other clubs only need to request money once, for their initial startup costs. Silverman and Bennett questioned whether the current Finance Board procedures are the most effective, and suggested looking into ways to encourage clubs to cooperate on larger projects.

The third area of focus, improving/changing operations of secured organizations, is meant to examine the structure and function of the seven secured organizations.
The original secured organizations were the newspaper and the radio station, Schlangel told The Hoot. The idea was that they need to be independent and autonomous so that they can report objectively without fear of retaliation. But now what it means to be a secured organization is unclear.

Bennett said she finds it notable that normal clubs must present detailed plans and proof of cost before receiving money, while, secured organizations are given a lump sum of money and then decide what services they will supply to the community. She said that not having to justify behavior leads people to become, lazy.

The Secured Organizations include The Justice, WBRS, BTV, Archon, BEMCo, Waltham Group, and Student Events.

I believe that the secured organizations would benefit from having wider participation from the student body in their planning and decision-making, said Bennett, emphasizing that she was only speaking for herself and not representing the committee or the University.

Silverman cautioned that the goal of the review is not to point fingers. In truth, the Union is the biggest culprit here. There is a need for greater transparency and accountability across the board. And if that means we can give the Secured Organizations some good suggestions, all the better, he told The Hoot.

The final area of focus is, improving Union operations and club oversight. This area deals with how groups coordinate events and activities, what types of services and training the Union and the University provide, and how the Union manages money. This includes a re-examination of the two year old financial amendments, which gave the University more oversight and control over the Unions financial structures.

Bennett expressed her excitement about the new committee. Mark [Schlangel] has reached out to a diverse group of people representing a broad segment of the campus. It will take some hard work both on the part of the committee and the community but I feel optimistic that some substantial positive changes can happen as early as this semester.

Schlangel said that, In choosing the composition of the task force I paid special attention to ensuring that it was a representative group of students. It is essential that a task force, whose mission is to review the state of the entire Union and issue a proposal that will affect all types of students organizations, be composed of students that represent the multitude of groups at Brandeis.

Because this proper care was taken it its formation, the task forces final proposal will have more salience and resonance with the community, he added.

Silverman told The Hoot that the committee is going to operate in a, transparent but confidential, way. The process will be completely open, he said, but in order to make sure that we can do the best possible work, we want people to be able to come to us, confidentially, with innovative new ideas. This is a safe zone where anything is possible. What would you do if you had to start over with a blank slate? What is your ideal of what student life at Brandeis could be? We want to hear it.

Next week the committee will outline a timeline for its work. It will hold public meetings in addition to meeting privately with interested groups and individuals. There will also be a confidential online survey. The committee will release a report with its findings and recommendations for change when the process is concluded.

This Union review comes less than a year after a financial amendment to the constitution was passed which was a result of over three years of review of Union finances. Unlike this review, the previous one was initiated due to a clause in the Union Constituion requiring the review.

As part of the changes previously passed, the Union voted to raise tuition by $7 per student in order to raise $40,000 to pay for a budget analysist who works for Walton but is charged with maintaing Union finances.

Editors note: Danny Silverman 05 resigned from Student Union government last semester to help found The Hoot, where he holds the position of Managing Editor. Silverman was not involved in deciding the placement of this article.