No, really, fuck the Student Union. In this post, I will thoroughly bash the Student Union. I’ll offer my insight as a former Union insider and then conclude with some ideas on how to make it better. This will be a long post, but the jist of it can be summarized in the title. For those who don’t know my experience with the Union, I spent a year in the Senate and another semester (last semester in fact) on the Executive Board.
For those who have not yet seen the news, the results are in from the special election. We’re headed for a run-off election for Secretary… and Diana Aronin is by far the favorite to win. That’s right, in a giant “Screw You” to the Student Union – as the Facebook group dedicated to her write-in campaign proclaims – students overwhelming support reinstating the impeached Secretary.
I want to recap what has happened over the last two months in case you haven’t been following the news (though I’m sure if you’re reading this it means you have). During finals week, when everyone else was concerned with important things like finals, eleven Senators got together and impeached the Secretary. Why? Because of an internal technicality – she didn’t put an amendment for a vote within the constitutionally allotted period of time.
The amendment would have changed the constitution to add a midyear Senator to our already enormous Senate. Sounds reasonably Democratic – the midyears were the only population on campus that didn’t get to vote for their own Senator to represent them. So why didn’t Diana put it up for a vote?
Two main reasons why putting it up for a vote would have been highly illogical. Firstly, it was common knowledge at the time that come Spring 2010, the midyears would indeed have their own Senator, the Village Quad Senator. In fact, as of last week’s election, the midyears do indeed have representation on the Student Union Senate. Congrats Albert Feldman ’13!
Secondly, the constitution is currently undergoing a “Constitutional Review Process” (more on this later), which theoretically means there was already a vehicle in place to work out these various kinks in the constitution. Why bother the Student Body with a slew of emails for a vote they don’t care about (and doesn’t matter) when the whole thing might just get scrapped in a few months anyway? Sounds like a pretty good decision NOT to put that amendment up for a vote if you ask me.
But the Senate, being the self-important sack of shit body that it is (I was in it once, I know), even after receiving a nice apology from Diana and a promise that the amendment would be put up for a vote, decided to flex its invisible muscles and impeach her anyway. Thereby making a giant issue out of a non-issue. Thanks Jenna Rubin!
What the Senate probably didn’t realize is that the act of impeachment is inherently an anti-Democratic action. Back in the spring, voters elected Diana Aronin to be their secretary. That is to say, they decided they theoretically wanted her to serve out her entire term. In impeaching her, the Senate decided that her offense was so terrible, that they were willing to overturn the will of the student body.
Now to be fair, I don’t think anyone actually really cares who the secretary is. Diana was obviously not a spectacularly good secretary (that would be impossible, its basically just a bureaucratic job) nor was she a bad one. No one really cares, the secretary sends emails out every week – and for most of the student body that’s the only interaction they ever have with the secretary. I’m sure any of the other candidates for Secretary back in the spring or even in this special election would have been fine… and no one would have cared.
So if no one cares, then why are voters excited about voting for Diana as a write-in candidate! Because they hate the Student Union – and basically everyone knows that writing Diana in would be a big “Fuck You” to the Union. It’s a symbolic vote against the self-importance that has come to represent the “Student Government.”
I was a member of the Student Government for about a year and a half. I spent a year on the Senate (a waste of time) and then half a year on E-Board (which was very interesting). The Senate does nothing; they have absolutely no power. Their one main function, chartering and decharting clubs, could be accomplished without much difficulty by a monkey. Yet for some reason they meet for several hours every Sunday arguing amongst themselves.
Generally speaking, the Executive Board of the Union actually does pretty good work. I saw it myself; the people who sit on it spend hours and hours a week dedicated to ensuring that Student interests are represented in the daily functioning of the University. The work is not very glamorous, and because all of it is done in secret, no one really knows that it’s even going on.
Yet even though the E-Board does good work, the entire Student Union as a whole is completely out of touch with the student body. While I was there on the Union, I kept on hearing people ask the question over and over and over again “what do students want?” The whole purpose of the Union is to represent students, so it’s going to be pretty ineffective if they don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why the Union is so obsessed with surveys (not that they are a bad thing).
The real answer to the question, and the reason why nobody cares to vote in Union elections, is that the students want to see the Student Union actually do something besides masturbate. The only good work the Union does is all behind closed doors, and the only thing that students ever see is stupid shit like this secretary controversy.
When people say something along these lines to a Union insider, they will usually argue and defend the Union. Then they come back to the Union office and ask again, “what do students want?” I saw it over and over again in my year and a half in the Union.
It is truly unfortunate that this is the state of our Student Union. The concept of a Union is amazingly cool, and it’s awesome that Brandeis’ Administration actually listens to what the Union says. We learned last year during the budget cuts crisis that having a powerful Student Union is an incredibly useful tool for students. Jason Gray was really effective at making the Union something that students can respect. While Andy Hogan has certainly done a good job in his dealings with administrators, he hasn’t been nearly as effective at winning the respect of the student body – which ultimately culminated in this recent crisis.
Lots of students have good ideas for how to make this school better, but the current system only discourages them from participating. Anyone who wants to float an idea first has to deal with the insane (and incredibly stupid) politics that accompany being in Student Government. They have to deal with all the people who are only interested in padding their resumes, and thus feed off controversy. The current system is completely broken and only makes Brandeis students look like a bunch of idiots.
We can change the Union though and make it something worthwhile. As I mentioned earlier, we are currently in the process of reviewing the Union Constitution. This process is highly problematic due to the fact that the people who get to sit on the committee are the ones who most benefit from maintaining the status quo… not to mention the entire process is being conducted behind closed doors. However, with that said, it still represents a great opportunity to make the Union an institution that actually has the respect of the Student Body.
The first thing that needs change is that we need to get rid of the Senate. In fact, we need to get rid of any position with a title that reeks of self-importance. Like the Union Judiciary for instance… The fuck is that??? The Student Union is no place for a pretend court! The business of the Executive Board needs to be moved into the public eye, and the whole system needs to get a lot less hierarchical.
The election results should be a wake-up call to everyone on the Student Union –especially the Senate. The student body is telling you what they want, and they want you to change.