A Great Day for Brandeis Progressives

It’s a great day for the Progressive Party (if you can call it that).  Adam Hughes will be in charge of setting the tone and moderating the debate in the Senate, which is great.  We’ll also have him to participate and report on executive board happenings.  Personally, there are two operational reforms I think the Senate needs.  First, in debate there should not be any “neutral” speakers allowed.  In my time testifying before the Senate, I witnessed a number of senators take unfair advantage of the rule that speakers for, neutral, and against all receive equal speaking time in turn.  Senators against a proposal in principle spoke as “neutral” and used negative language to destroy the proposal in question.   Secondly, there should not be closed-doors executive board meetings.   Of all the Student Union meetings held, the ones with only the executive board are often the most important, and the student body needs to be informed of their discussion.

By my count, the Progressive Party holds five of the nine Senate seats currently occupied.  We have Noam as Senator-at-Large, Paul as Senator for the Class of 2010, Alex and Lev for the Class of 2011, and Kamerin for Racial Minority Students.  Add Adam to that and I’d say we’re doing pretty well!  Also, I can’t go without mentioning Jason Gray.  He’s with the progressive agenda, but unlike some of our other candidates who unfortunately caused greater divides in their campaigns, Jason is a real consensus President.

A good Progressive is always looking ahead.  Even though we can celebrate Adam’s victory tonight, we must remember that the regularly-scheduled fall elections are still to come, and that those seats will determine control of the Senate.


  • I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

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Author: Phil LaCombe

I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

18 thoughts on “A Great Day for Brandeis Progressives”

  1. If there are only two people for a measure and six people against then the speeches would go for, against, for, against, against, against, against, against. Just cutting out option to speak “in the middle” (and I stress that anyone who is calling it “neutral” is mistaken as to its purpose) doesn’t mean that you will have an equal number of speeches on either side of an issue. The senate doesn’t stop someone from speaking just because there is no one to express the opposite viewpoint. I agree with Mike that it’s the job of the Senators to police themselves and the job of the chair to enforce the rules, but it’s much worse to have someone abuse a point of information (something that is supposed to make the chair aware of a fact that is not known or has been mistated) than speak a little more on one side when they’re supposed to be speaking in the middle.

    Rivka, I personally apologize that you were treated the way that you were when you presented your petition to the Senate. It was completely rude and unprofessional of any Senator to say the things you’ve reported were said. You also have the right to slam the Senate for its decision not to pass a resolution in support of your petition, but as I recall there were some problems and issues with the resolution that had nothing to do with the absurd comments of the four senators you’ve quoted. Four senators still doesn’t make a majority.

  2. re: neutral speakers…

    I think this route of voicing oneself in senate debate is a useful one, as Rachel points out, when some senators are truly undecided. It is an opportunity for the room to better understand the concerns/questions/ambivalence of those yet undecided so that the discussion can be guided in a consensus-building (or at least decision-finalizing) direction. The option of neutral speakers is to be, among other things, a device for efficiency.

    However, when abused, the neutral speaking position can indeed become very frustrating, and we may subsequently become tempted to do away with it. What needs to happen is the following. The meeting chair needs to crack down on misuse of neutral speaking slots and remind senators of their intended use. But leadership always requires the acquiescence of those being led, and so it must be that senators themselves seek to make more appropriate use of neutral speaking slots.

  3. I agree with Phil 100% on the “neutral” speakers. We saw senators abuse the neutral speaker rule last year. Senators said they were neutral simply because they may have qualified one statement, but they really used their turn to speak to strongly oppose one side. This skewed the entire process because speaking time was equally allotted like this: for, against, neutral, for against, neutral, etc… but in reality it went: for, against, against, for, against, against, with the extra againsts claiming they were “neutral.”

    As for whether or not the last Union was “progressive”… it feels really, really weird to apply that term to the Union/Brandeis Senators, but for lack of a better one, I understand it to mean the following:

    A progressive Union is one that seeks to use what limited power they have to actively improve student life at Brandeis, with an emphasis on the institution’s historic commitment to social justice and an awareness that the school is part of the outside world.

    Last year Phil and I sat and watched incredulously as several Senators spoke against and voted against a simple measure to inform the administration that the students of Brandeis would like to be more actively involved in important decisions (such as, but not limited to, the arming of the public safety officers) and feel that setting up an ad-hoc summer committee with two appointed students is not adequate involvement. 850 students signed their names to this resolution– almost exactly as many as voted in the last election. But the Senate voted it down. One Senator gave pedantic and condescending musings about the dangers of “too much democracy,” comparing the students telling the administration “gee, it would be nice if we had just a little more input” to the election of generals in Athenian democracy and the early Continental Army. (WTF?!?!) Another Senator told Phil and me that our collecting 850 student signatures voicing frustration over the administration’s procedures was “disgraceful” and that we should “just focus on our homework.” One Senator actually told us that he could not support the resolution because “what about all the students that DONT want their voices heard by the administration? What about THEM??” Finally, a Senator informed us that passing a polite, toothless resolution that expressed a student desire for more comprehensive student input in certain decisions was simply beyond the power of the Union.

    …As I already mentioned, I know the use of the term “progressive” to describe the Union/Brandeis Senators is loaded and awkward. But I think that the incident described above shows that whatever the Union was… it was absolutely ridiculous and embarrassing.

    I look forward this year to a Union full of Senators that dont use their positions as personal ego-boosters but who understand that they DO have some power– and they use that power to improve Student life at Brandeis and to preserve Brandeis’ reputation for a commitment to social justice both on campus and in the world.

  4. Phil – of course senators should take their jobs seriously and seek real solutions. I think what other people are saying is that senators shouldn’t take themselves so seriously in a haughty-taughty “I’m important at Brandeis because I’m a Senator” kinda way.

  5. I agree with Rachel on this one. It is a bit silly to say that the last senate was not progressive. Brandeis students will tend to be progressive on most of the issues that are not explicitly political ( middle east politics clearly fits in that category). No one strongly opposed gender neutral housing, energy reform or other such things. Arming the police can not be aligned as either progressive or anti-progressive but merely an individual choice in this matter.

    Some members of the senate may be better or worse at facilitating the actions of the senate of course….

    Congrats to Adam

  6. Senators should take their job very seriously. They control the power dynamic between the administration and students that so strongly affects student life and the character of our university. In my opinion, the Senate hasn’t done enough to move power back towards the student body. The university administration can still take unilateral action and get away with it. We’ve seen this with guns, Jimmy Carter, and pro-Palestinian art, among other incidents. It’s not just about progressive proposals, but ensuring that Brandeis students are included in a participatory democracy on this campus.

    Rachel, if you’re neutral then you can speak in the time allotted for either “for” or “against” speakers. Choose one and state your reservations. “Neutral” speakers are not a part of Robert’s Rules of Order. When I visited the Senate, I was astonished that they could allow such a procedure. If someone is truly neutral, he or she should focus on listening in order to make up his or her mind. Both sides must give the pros and cons with equal time. The “neutral” rule compromises the fairness of debate governed under Robert’s Rules.

  7. Rachel and Alex sum up how I feel pretty nicely. Senators do take themselves too seriously. The Senate doesn’t have a lot of power, and it is not our goal to give it more! A political party is extremely unnecessary and just as silly as many of the things I loathe about the Student Union.

  8. Rachel I can’t speak to parliamentary procedure, but regarding your last paragraph –

    I agree with you in that parties are a real bad idea. As for individual senators, well, I can’t speak to that. I think what you’re seeing is a combination of two forces:
    1. Very real frustration with the Student Union senate of 2007-2008 among a certain group of people for a variety of reasons.
    2. Using Adam as a lens to realize that now people we personally know well are in positions of power. This occurs naturally as we age.

    Therefore I think many people feel a certain sense of “my god, I can believe in the Senate again.” which tends to lead to an attempt to cluster these senators one is familiar with under some sort of group name or label.

    All which is a long-winded way of saying – Rachel, I think it’s a mix of a. finally knowing and trusting specific senators, and b. excitement over Adam’s win. There no political parties in the student union and I doubt there will be in the forseeable future.

  9. Speaking in the middle is not for people who are “neutral,” it’s for people who have not made up their minds because they have issues with both sides. A truly “in the middle” speaker explains why they haven’t decided, which actually allows the discussion to be more productive. Rarely do people who have made up their minds change, but if you know why someone is on the fence you can target your arguments.

    That’s not to say that it’s not ever abused, but both sides abuse it equally, not just as you suggest by those using “negative language to destroy the proposal in question.” Why would someone speaking in the middle be more able to destroy a proposal with negative language than someone speaking against it? Is it because of the veneer of undecidedness? Senators tend to be pretty smart, and they can probably distinguish between someone who’s against and someone who’s really in the middle.

    I’m also pretty confused by this tallying up of senators for “progressive” ideas. To the best of my knowledge there is not one Senator currently elected (nor can I remember any last year) that was against any of the proposals that this blog terms progressive: gender-neutral housing, endowment transparency, promoting specific proposals to make Brandeis more “green.” Please tell me if you know of one. Where Senators actually differ the most is on whether or not to charter certain clubs and on resolutions put forward that have no concurrent advocacy on the Brandeis campus (anyone who’s been to a Senate meeting knows where I stand on those), not on the platform of your so-called “Progressive Party.”

  10. Phil I totally disagree with you. Brandeis Senators already take themselves too seriously, and if we had political parties it would turn into some sort of whimsical satire. I feel as if next we will have paparazzi covering Senatorial sex scandals.

    But seriously, there is no real “divide” between the Senators… everyone generally agrees on most things and want to work together to make stuff better.

  11. Yo yo though. This blog is the platform. The soapbox. The opportunity for us to express ourselves.

    That’s all the platform we need. Let’s start writing more about positive vision and get to work.

  12. Indeed. We have a shared idea of what it means to be Progressive at Brandeis, but we need to better articulate it. It would be great to have a statement of beliefs, perhaps a group platform.

  13. Yeah….

    Because of our country’s awful two-party system, “party” is considered a dirty word.

    What if we were, say, Campus Progressives?

    i.e. Adam Hughes, Campus Progressive for Vice President


    Campus Progressives (capitalized) hold five of nine Senate seats

  14. Party is a bit of a loaded word. Let’s not go there.

    But I think your focus is right phil. Time to start articulating an agenda.

  15. Err. I’d prefer there not to be a ‘Progressive Party.’ And I’d prefer not to have a membership in such a party if it exists.

    Congrats to Adam though!

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