Constitutional Musings

As you might know, I’m on the Consttitutional Review Committee. I get to be one of 17 people who will attempt to rewrite the Union Constitution this year.

As your representative, it behooves me to let you know what sort of changes I’m thinking about proposing. I welcome your feedback.

Snatches of thought:

  • The Senate has historically, well, sucked. How can we fix this?
  • The Problem: Senate is set up as a legislative body, but it can pass no real “laws”.
  • Lets take an analogy from like real life: a person in NYC has so many people that they elect: county eeec, local council member, borough rep, major, assemblyperson, state senate, governor, comptroller, state AG, House rep, 2 senators, + president + more local politicians that I forget. In theory, having all those positions be elected increases accountability. In reality, normal people can’t keep track of all those people they vote on, so those politicians are not accountable to anyone, since they don’t have bosses, only voters. A solution is to decrease the number of directly electable positions, but instead allow the recall. That way the people voters vote on are more likely to actually be scrutinized.
  • We could decrease the number of senators, so that each election is more important, the “quality” of senator goes up, etc.
  • People have a low opinion of the Union because their interaction with it is usually the senate. So many people have come up to me and said something along the lines of “At first I thought you were just exaggerating or crazy when you talked about how bad the Senate was, but I went to a meeting yesterday and now I understand completely.”
  • Does the Senate have a function, really? All it really needs to do is charter/recognize clubs.
  • Let’s be honest; all the power in the Union is found in the E-Board and F-Board.
  • Let’s ignore F-Board for the purposes of this conversation: it seems to work more-or-less fine.
  • If all the power is really in the E-Board, and most of the E-board is unelected, we seem to have a problem here.
  • There are alternate models to democracy than just representational voting.
  • Brandeis has less citizens than Athens did. Brandeis isn’t that big.What’s wrong with direct democracy?
  • Voting costs nothing, and with the internet, is so easy.
  • The Union doesn’t legislate. What power does it have? It’s power lies in interaction with adults, appointments to committees, and in controlling the flow of our money.
  • If you want to reform the Union, reform the process of appointments.
  • Logically, the answer to all this is to allow the Senate to confirm all appointments, or to even make the appointments themselves.
  • But! The Senate sucks!


  • I want more direct democracy at Brandeis! I just don’t know how to fit that ideal into reality. I need ideas, here!
  • Non-monetary power in the Union is concentrated in a mostly-unelected e-board and in the people they appoint to University Committees.
  • Committees are where policy is made: let’s focus on that.
  • IRV voting is a more democratic form of voting, and is easy to implement and understand. We have to switch to that. Tufts, MIT, Harvard, and a bunch of other schools have already switched to that system.

What do you think should be changed about the Union Constitution?






7 responses to “Constitutional Musings”

  1. Andrea

    I’m pretty sure that “recall” and “initiative” are both in the union constitution already. You just have to get a petition together.

  2. Organize!

    Yeah, the union was created when voting would have been a little more difficult. However, this is no longer the case. Another item to add to Jon’s demands would be to have non-senatorial sponsored resolutions that can be voted on by the student body. I would call this a referendum, save that Jon already used the term. A process to select such propositions/resolutions would be to require a petition signed and get something like 10% of the people that voted in the last student union presidential election.

  3. Jon

    A direct democracy is really critical in fostering a participatory democracy, something we really lack at Brandeis. Some quick ideas for reforms (although these would apply equally well to the Board of Trustees as to the Senate):

    1. Recall – at any point in time, if a certain percentage of constituents sign a petition, their senator has to stand for election again. Hopefully it will motivate senators to do something while they’re on the senate.

    2. Initiative – by petition, students can put issues on the ballot to be decided by the student body at large. This would be really great for passing resolutions (expressing the will of the students where the senators may be reticent to do so), amending union bylaws, and implementing specific projects (could be equivalent to those fabled “student union projects”).

    3. Referendum – when the union makes major decisions, it has to be approved by the whole student body to be made official. This would be great for the constitutional review itself, as well as for confirming e-board members (if we desperately need to keep that around).

  4. Andrea

    I still think it’s essential when advocating the idea of more online voting to mention the fact that the online voting software needs to actually work.

  5. Felige, that’s an odd model for Athenian political change. Individual members or small groups of the upper class were generally the ones overthrowing the government, at least during the period of Athenian empire. Male citizens did indeed have the right to vote.

    IRV would be nice, but it doesn’t solve the more pressing problem of indistinguishable candidates that no one cares about.

    Eliminate the E-Board, reduce the number of senators to something approaching proportional representation, and let the Senate itself make the decisions. Reduce committees to advising the Senate.

    And yes, leave the treasurer/F-Board alone. I don’t actually think that it works well, but there’s no way to improve allocation of money to clubs and get the University to agree. The one financing change that I’d like to see is making the secured status of an organization subject to review every few years.

    I think there are larger reasons why people have a low opinion of the Student Union than the Senate’s utter irrelevance. Good luck addressing them.

    I wouldn’t have an issue with direct democracy as a means of getting students more involved. I think it might lead to worse decisions, but since the administration (usually rightly) doesn’t let students make substantive decisions, it doesn’t matter that much.

  6. Felege-Selam

    Ok wait.

    Athens did not have a direct democracy. The people had the right to engage in stasis meaning civil strife. They voted for representatives and if they were ignored for long enough they would grab some weapons and violently overturn the government.

    That’s just not an option at Brandeis.

    1. Shit, I accidentally mentioned Athenian Democracy at Brandeis. That’s like Godwin’s law territory. Let me go fix that, shall I?