Democracy at Brandeis?

In the comment thread of Loki’s “On Campus Protests” Adam Hughes, a commenter, said this:

I think it is important to note that a university is not and should not be a representative democracy. For better or worse, the power hierarchy puts the students below the administration.

This is an important issue that I think we really should address.

No one is proposing that we set up a full-fledged constitutional representative democracy here at Brandeis. However, the spirit of liberal democracy contains much more than the right to vote. Democracy, frankly, is a short-hand for a whole host of values, such as freedom of expression, privacy rights, a civic society, egalitarianism, rule of law, and, most importantly to this discussion, self-determination.

If the administration decided to restructure the Student Activities funding mechanism in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But when the F-Board constitution specifically says that Student Activities receives its funds from F-Board, and the University runs roughshod over that document, I get worried. Most importantly, when the Student Body (as expressed by the Student Union) unequivocally rejects this proposal, and the University doesn’t back down, it unveils many problems.

Simply put, the University has a history of ignoring student wishes and imposing its own agenda. I wouldn’t even necessarily call this a malicious move: it seems to me, at this time, that the University considers students’ opinions as an afterthought, or not at all.

The Administration decided to unilaterally change the funding mechanism. They didn’t wait for student input – it didn’t matter to them. That’s worrying.

With this move, they showed that the F-Board constitution means nothing to them. They showed that they don’t believe in Student Autonomy.

Now, nowhere does it say that Jehuda and all must legally give one toenail-clipping’s worth of thought to student prerogative and student autonomy. That doesn’t mean they should.

The University should respect our opinions, because it “rules” this campus and the mandate to rule comes from the consent of the governed. They can run this place like a dictatorship.

What stops them? The idea that dictatorship is bad.

What animates me? The idea that self-rule is good. The idea that, when expressed clearly, the will of the students should prevail in issues wholly affecting them. The idea that it is moral and just that the University respect the Student Union’s internal laws and regulations in cases that affect the Student Body and only the Student Body.

Beyond that, I feel that the Student Union is a Union . And as a Union we have of course every right to protest decisions that we disagree with. And putting aside all other considerations, we have every right to act together to convince the powers that be to reverse their actions.

Even if an organization that isn’t the Student Union protests a campus-wide issue, more power to them! Everyone has a right to assembly, to protest, to petition. Everyone has a right to express grievances; everyone has a right to have their voice heard. Protests are good! Civic engagement is good! Apathy is the death of Democracy.

Even is we put all those arguments aside, here’s the essential truth as I see it:

This is an issue that is 100% about undergraduate students. It only affects students: F-board, Student Activities, and the Student Union all have as their goal the betterment and advancement of undergraduate quality of life.

Therefore, by ignoring the unanimous will the Student Union, the Administration is quite clearly saying that it puts its interests -or its conception of the students’ interests- over the clearly expressed interests of the Student Body. It believes it can represent us and lead us better than the very people we chose for that job. That is an ugly, authoritarian, elitist argument that has no place in an institution that purports to carry the legacy of Louis Brandeis.


7 thoughts on “Democracy at Brandeis?”

  1. Jehuda Vader

    Sahar, I am your father.


    But in all seriousness, Sahar and Alex are entirely right, even if written from the point of view of Marx. We are not a proletariat, simply a student body working to preserve our rights. Nor are we a swaddled infant.
    And no associations between Pres. Reinharz and Darth Vader are intended other than the fact that he is, coincidentally, Sahar’s father.

  2. It is true though. We are not the proletariat, by any means. Arthur, by tossing that word around, I feel you show a profound lack of interest in understanding our position fairly.

    As a side note – Jehuda is not my father. I am not a child. I am an adult, and reject this paternalistic attitude you’re trying to force on me.

  3. I hold no responsibility for what I said, I was channeling Karl Marx’s angry spirit at the time.

  4. To those who wish to write as dead political figures: this is cool by me. but remember, there is no anonymity on the internets.


    The proletariat, my friend, does not go to Brandeis. The proletariat does not go to college. The proletariat is not you. You are what we like to call “the bourgeoisie.” That is, you keep the proletariat down. You must have been referring to the students. The students that are paying to go here. Would you like your Brandeis bill to be paid in dollars or THE BLOOD OF THE WORKERS? There are people starving in every corner of the world and you have the nerve to call yourself the proletariat. “Level-headed” students such as yourself should understand that your “priveleges” being curbed is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, compared to plight of the worker. So continue to swim in your pool full of money you capitalist swine, but one day you will feel the wrath of the real proletariat.

  6. Just a small note. Like any level headed student, I agree that the status quo was better- that f-board, a body of peers, be left to distribute and grant money. However, we must realize that there is no inherent dislike of the proletariat in any move in which their priveleges are curbed. Simply put, the administration felt it could better utilize these funds. Do I disagree with this assertion? Of course. Look at it this way: when we were younger our parents would prevent us from doing things, even though this infringed on our liberty. This was because they perceived unlimited freedom-correctly so-as having its downsides. in much the same way, the admin’s train of thought is just that they want to recapture some financial responsibility. Once again, I do not agree with this, but we mustn’t vilify them.

  7. Student organizations that are established by students (like the undergraduate Student Union and the Graduate Student Association) that rely on constitutional decision-making procedures, and create Student Activity Fees in a democratic way (even if administered through the University administration), the students through their representives are the only ones who can decide how those funds are distributed.

    I believe the administration at Brandeis has historically valued student civic engagement and a fair democratic community within the campus, but when events like this occur, students must speak out to keep these imprtant rights.

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