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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Fear and Loathing at the UJ

Published: January 29, 2010
Section: Opinions

MCS_4899Editor’s Note: The following piece is factually embellished and contains multiple incidents that did not actually occur.

“Hurry up, Bret,” I said. I was getting impatient.

“Hold your horses,” he replied, carefully studying the shot glass in his hand. “I’ve got work to do later, and I can’t go overboard.”

“F*ck you and your f*cking limits.” I had already gotten a head start on the day’s festivities, and this came out a bit louder and angrier than I had intended it to. Nevertheless, it seemed to press the right button. Bret smiled, nodded his head, and gave up trying to measure out his share of whiskey. He picked up the handle of Jack and poured it liberally into the half-filled Coke bottle before him.

“Okay, I’m ready.”

“Hold on,” I said, as Bret got up to head for the door. He turned to see me filling the shot glasses. “One for the road.”

* * *

Of the many facets of our Student Union government, none strike me as more ridiculous than the Union Judiciary. This isn’t because of its members; I know them to be good, friendly people, and you couldn’t find anyone who would take his job more seriously and with greater passion than Chief Justice Judah Marans. However, the mere fact that small disagreements in our tiny, close-knit community can get so out of hand that we need a formal trial procedure of several hours to settle them strikes me as an inherent flaw in our system. Can’t we just sit people down and talk things out like mature adults?

It’s been my experience that the biggest effect of any Judiciary trial, be it about Union elections or Bill Ayers, is to make all those involved look like pompous fools.

The most recent trial, involving the removal of Union Secretary Diana Aronin from office, is no exception. On one side, the Union Senate now looks petty and vindictive for pursuing their complaint to such a great degree.

On the other, Diana has to face a great deal of embarrassment and finger pointing for what amounted to a very minor mistake. You don’t have to take my word for it; just read the comments on the Web site of the, ahem, other Brandeis newspaper to see this all played out.

Meanwhile, the crux of the entire debate, midyear representation in the Senate, has proven to be a complete non-issue. The Union can’t even get someone to sign up to represent the quad the midyears live in.

It was clear that this trial was going to be a theater of the absurd. So my friend Bret and I decided to approach it the only way we possibly could.

* * *

“So, the rules are simple,” I said as we walked to the courtroom in Lemberg. “Anytime that anyone, be they counsels, witnesses, or justices, says something you disagree with, you have to take a drink.”

“This could be a long day,” Bret responded.

“Imagine listening to it sober.”

We entered the room as Ryan Fanning, representing the Union Senate, was making his opening statement. His argument appeared to be nice and constitutional, focusing on Article XII, Section 5, which requires a vote on an amendment referendum within fifteen days of its submission. It’s pretty dry stuff, but I guess I was with him so far.

At some point, however, he mentioned something about potentially important consequences of Diana’s failure to act. This gave me the foothold I needed, and I took my first swig of the trial.

Diana’s defense was centered on several points. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the idea that the finals period isn’t part of the actual semester, thereby invalidating the proposed amendment, but I figured it wasn’t worth getting worked up about. But when counsel Deena Glucksman insisted that the real responsibility was on Union President Andy Hogan’s head for advising Diana not to put the amendment to a vote yet, I had to shake my head.

“Come on, let’s take some personal responsibility here,” I thought. Andy’s a good friend of mine, so I silently toasted him as I took another drink.

* * *

The trial dragged on, and Bret and I got more and more tipsy. “This is just crazy,” I whispered to him as the two counsels started debating some obscure point.

“Yeah,” he remarked. “It’s almost as bad as the trial you were in.”

“Oh please. That was completely different.”

“Really?” Bret looked at me with obvious skepticism.

“Yeah, that was actually important.”

“Sorry Adam, but rules are rules,” he announced before taking a big sip from his bottle.

I stifled a laugh. Of course he was right, and I must have been more drunk than I thought to try to protest that. I decided that disagreeing with yourself called for a two sip penalty, and I raised my bottle to my lips.

* * *

I was not involved in Union politics at all until the end of my first year. I had a vague understanding of what was going on, but I mostly considered the whole thing a self-important put-on. That changed at the end of the spring 2008 semester, when Noam Shuster, a friend of mine, ran a write-in campaign for the Senator-at-Large position. My friend and I decided to help her campaign by urging people to vote for her on our blog.

This seems harmless enough, but in our posts, we said some really nasty things about the incumbent senators, Andrew Brooks and Justin Sulsky. Suddenly, hundreds of people were reading what we were writing, and the rhetoric among each candidate’s supporters was getting angry and accusatory. Somehow, the election became a battleground for deep seated campus divisions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the proper role that support for Israel played on campus and in the Student Union.

After Noam won, Andrew sued then-Union Secretary Nelson Rutrick, saying that he should have disqualified Noam as a candidate because of the libelous statements that came from her campaign, some of those being the statements that I had written. Nelson asked me to be one of his counsels at the trial, and I ended up being called as a witness as well. The Union Judiciary decided for us unanimously, and Noam took her seat.

I still think it was right to support my candidate and my friend, and I know we never actually libeled anyone.

But one thing I know for certain is that it was completely wrong of me to use such harsh language against people I had never met and to turn something as minor as a Senate election into a campus-wide controversy. I have apologized to Andrew and Justin before in person, but never yet in a public forum like the one I used to attack them.

Andrew and Justin, I’m sorry that I called you both “backwards reactionaries.” I’m sorry that I called you “horrible” campus representatives. Andrew, I’m sorry that I said you don’t have “any respect for the democratic process.” I was younger then, and I like to think I know better now.

I’m very grateful that I got the chance to work with you both on the Senate the next year and mend fences, and I wish you both all the best in your post-Brandeis lives.

To the entire Brandeis community, I’m sorry that I acted like petty disagreements on Union issues were more important that the personal respect that everyone on this campus is owed. Leaving this university for a year taught me how much I appreciate it, and I feel that this entire experience has given me a much better perspective on how to pick and fight my battles in the future.

* * *

“Guys, can you please leave the room if you want to talk like that?”

Oops. Bret and I had gotten too loud while discussing the trial, and Judah Marans had to scold us again. I would feel bad about this later, but at the time, such higher brain functions were completely beyond my capabilities. I stumbled out a quick apology, and Bret started laughing.

Judah was irritated. “Come on you guys, this isn’t some kind of joke. We’re talking about really important stuff right now.”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I jumped out of my chair, shouting, “Important stuff? Sorry, Judah, but rules are rules.” I drained the contents of my bottle and threw it at the trashcan, missing by a good three feet. “Thanks for the show, everyone,” I called as I walked out of the room, with Bret following behind and the entire room staring after us like we were crazy.

We ran laughing all the way back to Bret’s Ziv suite, then listened to the Rolling Stones until we sobered up. Then I went back to my room, wrote all this down, sent it to The Hoot for publication, and collapsed into bed.

* * *

“Open up right now!” I awoke early the next morning to someone pounding outside my room, each knock sending a wave of pain through my head.

“Coming,” I called as I struggled to find my bearings. I opened the door, and Hoot editor Ariel Wittenberg came into the room.

“Adam, are you insane?”


“We can’t publish what you wrote.”

“Why not?”

Shifting gears, she asked, “Are you serious? Were you really drinking at the UJ trial?”

“No comment,” I responded.

“Did you really get thrown out?”

“Well, not exactly. I may have stretched the truth about one or two things. There’s a point to it all though.”

“This isn’t journalism. This is crap. You’re not freaking Hunter S. Thompson.”

“I know,” I admitted.

“Listen. If you’re going to write for The Hoot, you have to take it at least a little seriously.”

“Sorry Ariel, but rules are rules,” I replied, as I reached for the bottle of Jack on my desk.