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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Gold Standard: Student Events makes a devil’s bargain

Published: November 30, 2007
Section: Opinions

Student Events has a number of fantastic projects going on at any given time. Shortly before the break, I had the pleasure of attending one of these, an SE forum involving free food from Taqueria Mexico. I love Taqueria.

At this well-attended gathering, I became involved in a discussion of SE’s new finance structure. I found myself in a situation that has been uncommon for me lately: in strong defense of the Union’s posture on the issue. I was very blunt at that occasion, and I now relay to you, dear readers: Student Events is about to make a horrendous mistake.

SE plans to remove itself from Student Union oversight by obtaining its funding directly from the administration. Since the early 1970’s, 1% of yearly tuition has been allocated to the Student Activities Fee. Traditionally this amount is divvied up as suggested by the Student Union Constitution. That document can only be amended by a two-thirds vote of the student body, and the SAF was last amended in Spring 2006, so this a very representative method.

The administration, in directly funding SE, will be withdrawing 17% of SAF – that is, 0.17% of tuition – from student oversight. Effectively, only .83% of tuition, not the 1% granted for over three decades past, will now be money from the students, for the students, administered by the students. In hard cash, that is approximately $170,000 lost to F-board oversight.

Sound a little dry? I fear you may guess that this is standard Union drama like my overblown trial; finance being perhaps less interesting than scandal. I most warn you, though, that this is not the case – all of us stand to be directly and negatively impacted by this change.

The reason that we must alll take special interest in this situation is that nearly all of us are members of clubs or other campus organizations. The administration’s decision to breach the unwritten guarantee of student oversight of student monies does not just represent a slippery slope. It’s more like a gash in the hull of the Titanic. Inevitable, by inertia if nothing else, more and more groups will seek deals with the admin. WBRS, the Justice, the Archon, who knows? None of them love F-board bureaucracy, and may feel that they can compromise the students’ standards without compromising their own.

Eventually, nothing will remain sacrosanct, and all student organizations will draw their funding directly from the top. We should not be sanguine about this probability. Do we really trust the administration to handle the funding for say, the Russian Club, or Brandeis for John Edwards? If not, than we should not trust them to handle the funding for SE, because the one will certainly lead to the other.

Student Events will be making a poor deal, even from its point of view. It will gain no monies in the transfer, only less paperwork and a closer arrangement with Student Activities. A problem arises in that Student Activities and Student Events do not differentiate in their theoretical purposes; only in the specific proceedings they organize and, formerly, in their independence from the administration. As well, SA members are paid, and SE members, volunteers.

What, in a few years time, is to prevent the merger of these two organizations, now that SE is not a student group any longer? Students Events may well have signed its own death warrant.

I recently spoke to one of my friends in the Union, Treasurer Choon Woo Ha ‘08. He remarked that this was the one issue that for a highly fractured and factional Student Government remains “nonpartisan.” Heck, if I agree with the E-Board, they must be on to something.

I do wish that the Union president and her allies had considered more clearly the fatal danger of sundering the student government by pursuing divisive goals and purging dissenters (which, of course, only created more dissenters). It would seem likely that university administration would not so cavalierly have abandoned an amicable and democratic agreement that has lasted, literally, for generations, had it faced a strong and united government.

But things are as they are, and as Public Enemy #1, I can tell you, this is not a time for personal disagreements or philosophical differences to color our views. The entire structure of the student-administration relationship is under assault. All of us must think clearly and work together to run this deal off the tracks.

Step one: contact your friends at Student Events and warn them that this proposal endangers the autonomy of all student organizations. Next, contact your friends in the Student Union and let them know that that you support their efforts to preserve student sovereignty.

Be sure to broaden the circle. I’d suggest contacting faculty, staff, alumni, donors, anyone of any influence that you may happen to know. There is a lot at stake here! Brandeis has a proud tradition as a school that gives special voice to students and allows us considerable self-sufficiency. Let’s make sure that it stays that way.