State of the Student Union Address – with full text

While I’m not sure if it lived up to Adam’s promise of it being THE BEST SPEECH EVER, Jason Gray’s address really brought home to me all the accomplishment – with almost no infighting – that has been achieved this year. We’re in the process of setting up a committee on endowment ethics, we established OSRA, the Student Bill of Rights will soon be implemented into Rights & Responsibilities, the Weight Room was finalized and will be here next semester, free bikes are coming soon, Brandeis Votes was a success and we had tons of civic participation this election cycle… the list continues.

While there is still a long way to go on Dining Issues, and the newly established CEER, OSRA, and the various other committees established have their work cut out for them, I am very nearly satisfied with our progress thus far – and that’s something I’ll rarely say.

Ideologically, I was most struck by  the point near the end of the speech when Jason challenged every single club to get involved in the surrounding community. This. is. a. fucking. great. idea. Hear what he had to say:

The University’s Department of Community Service has the resources and connections for all clubs to be able to partner with Waltham and provide services to the community.

For example, the debate team could teach public speaking at a local school. An a capella group could sing at a local shelter. Your club can play chess or knit at a nursing home, shoot hoops at the Boys and Girls Club, cook a holiday meal for those in need, or organize a talent show at the YMCA. The opportunities are endless.

Every club could have a community-service component to it.

Today we challenge every club and organization to engage the community in service, and we commit ourselves to helping this challenge succeed.

State of the Union – Jason Gray

Monday, November 17, 2008

7PM. Rapaporte Treasure Hall

Thank you.

Students and staff, University administration, the Brandeis community: Tonight I have the privilege of reporting to you on the State of our Union.

It is great to be here at this point in time. It is great to be here with all of you.

Today I am proud to be a Brandeis student. Our academics are rigorous and competitive with the best schools in the country. Our artists’ creative and innovative work is on display all-over campus. Our athletes are making us proud with their high levels of play. Our activists are showing their leadership and ability to make change in our society. The Brandeis Student Body is intellectual, inquisitive, friendly, passionate, and talented.

Today, the Student Body is strong, even before we have the new weight room.

The University is growing. There is a new Film major, average SAT scores are increasing. Soon we will have a new science building, residence hall, Humanities center, and Admissions complex. Today the University is strong.

And what we do as a Student Union Government has been reinvented.

At times last year the Union had become a place for ego and infighting. But we have changed a culture – and now the Union is a place as passionate to work together to improve this University as it has ever been.

At times last year the University administration and the Student Union could not even agree to disagree. One campus paper called it “gridlock.” But we have changed a relationship – and now communication and respect are at levels as high as they have ever been.

And on this day, as I assess where we are, and where we need to go, I am confident in saying: the State of our Union is strong.


But we must not forget the challenges we currently face.

This is a period of financial uncertainty, and the financial collapse on Wall Street has impacted us here on South Street. We have an endowment that is barely growing, more students are deciding to graduate early, and costs are rising. This has led to 10M dollar budget shortfall for the University, and depending on the state of the economy, a similar situation in the year ahead.

Real cuts will have to be made. We have asked the University in the strongest of terms – and they have pledged in the strongest of terms – to ensure that any cuts that would impact students are as minimal – and are as rare – as possible.

But we understand they cannot be avoided. There will have to be sacrifices. When money is tight, we have to prioritize.

Each time a decision is made, we ask that the impact on students – on our academic and college experiences – is weighed and considered to the highest degree.

These decisions will never be easy.

They must be made together; challenges that arise are met most effectively by mutual respect and real, legitimate community-involvement in the decision-making process.

It leads to better decisions; it eliminates the student-administrative conflict that has arisen in the past; and it is what is right – students are the most vital part of this University.

This is why we are pleased that the University is heading the call to involve the community in this process. Senior Vice President Jean Eddy and Executive Vice President Peter French have convened a budget advisory board – a committee of students that will advise them on these decisions.

The model of community-involvement in administrative decision-making is something that we commit the Student Union Government to strive for – and something we call on the University to strive to create as well.


Similarly, we hope the Committee on Endowment Ethics and Responsibility will create a channel for community involvement in the investment decisions made by the University pertaining to social and ethical issues.

The committee will research and make recommendations to the University administration and the Board regarding initiating shareholder resolutions, and will make recommendations regarding targeted divestment, new investment, or changes in investment levels.


Our own financial system has also undergone changes. From 2003-2007, unused club monies rolled over. Some of this rollover money was spent on clubs – which is the most appropriate use of the money – and at the end of last year, there was 115K in rollover funds remaining.

This was a large problem. Year after year, students were paying their Student Activities Fee, yet the money was not being spent as efficiently as possible.

Any increase in the Student Activities Fee was temporarily capped for one year last March.

The previous Union government came to an agreement with the University to have students vote on how to use the rollover funds.

And when our government was formed, we were tasked with implementing the results of vote. The vote was close. The weight room bested solar panels by 22 votes. Some students legitimately called for a runoff. But at the point that our government was formed, the rules were already set and the vote had already occurred. To change the rules of an election after the election would have created an inoperable precedent, and one threatening to our democracy.

We soon began negotiations with the University to see that a new weight room would be finalized.

Over Winter Break, Athletics will receive the order and install the new equipment for a renovated weight room.

We wanted to ensure that every student – we’re all paying for it – would have the opportunity to use this equipment: there will be no priority times for specific groups of students and Athletics will be offering a first-time weight lifters group fitness class.

Rollover is now negligible.

Yet still, the financial crisis is impacting the funding available for clubs and organizations. Fewer students, increasing costs, and decreasing alternative sources of funding has led to a lack of available funds.

And every year, more clubs are created and existing clubs are expanding. The amount of money clubs are requesting is steadily increasing year after year.

We have worked to make additional money available for clubs and organizations.

The previously hard to access Capital Expenditures fund has been amended to become a Reserve Fund, allowing for more funding for more clubs.

We are implementing a new financial management system that will allow for better coordination of finances between different parts of the University, and will allow clubs to better manage their finances. This will ensure that the money we pay in SAF will be spent more efficiently than in the past.

The Office of the Treasurer is increasing our ability to provide the best assistance to clubs and organizations.

We are trying to do more with less. But it is becoming increasingly difficult.

Club leaders are not getting what they need. They are frustrated about the lack of available funds. I frequently meet with students and club leaders who would like to do more, whose organizations are excited to do more, but given the reality of our finances, cannot do more.

It is necessary to allow the temporary cap on the Student Activities Fee to expire, which will translate into an increased vitality of our student and club life.


Another integral part of student life is ensuring that our community is confident and comfortable with its rights, and that we able to proactively defend our rights.

Currently Rights and Responsibilities, the Student Code of Conduct, is not adequate. The document is cumbersome. It is hard to read. It emphasizes responsibilities and does not sufficiently outline the rights that students’ deserve.

You should be able to protest without prior approval. You should have the right to know if someone searches your room, or your computer. You should have the right to request emergency treatment without fear of punishment.

Here at Brandeis, ought not to settle for a partially sufficient document.

In fact, we have the opportunity to come together as a community to make it as close to perfect as can be.

To more clearly protect our rights, to more loudly protest inadequacies in the system, to codify and to establish a system of true community standards, we drafted the Student Bill of Rights, written by students, for students, and approved by the students with 90% of the vote.

The University’s standard of student behavior, for the first time, can be community-engaged.

Last night, the Senate debated a resolution calling on the University to change the current evidence submission rules so that each party can now have a fair amount of time before the hearing to review any evidence submitted. The resolution passed overwhelmingly and the University should make this change.

Today, we commit ourselves to a renewed effort to incorporate the Student Bill of Rights into Rights and Responsibilities. Today we commit ourselves to an increased focus on the rights that students deserve, and after negotiations, will call on the University to do the same by adopting the Student Bill of Rights.

Events toward the end of last year brought the Student Conduct Process to our attention.

To provide needed, peer-to-peer, rights-related advisory services to students, we established the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy – OSRA. This Office must be developed and maintained.

OSRA has been distributing rights information to students, and has been advising students throughout the conduct process.

We must also begin to integrate it into the University’s established conduct system, and hope to begin earnest discussions with Student Life about the future of OSRA.

A student club – the Advocates – has organized to provide rights information to Off Campus Students. The Senate’s Social Justice Committee has committed themselves to focusing on rights-related issues. And together they are planning a workshop this week that will highlight Search and Seizure rights.

We are proud that Student Rights is now both a focus and a priority.


But we are first and foremost students here at Brandeis. This year the Union has set as a goal to place a wider focus on academic affairs.

To assess the areas of Academic Affairs that need to be addressed, we created an Academic Survey.

Over 700 students responded, and these results will enable the Union to prioritize the issues that need to be dealt with based on the opinions of the student body.

And the Union is going grass-roots. Our Director of Academic Affairs will team with other academic resources to go door-to-door in residence halls.

We are also focusing on the research program at Brandeis. Sometimes it is hard to know what research opportunities are available. What professor can you ask? How do you get involved? What is available and how do you apply?

We hope to work with academic administrators to publicize and streamline the research process and make it easier to secure research opportunities.

The Union is also dedicated to leadership development and hope that the leadership lessons learned on campus can be enhanced by the creation of a leadership development course.


To create the environment that allows us to get the most out of our academic experience, we have prioritized a focus on student services.

The Hiatt Career Center has made significant advances. They have revamped their website. They are also working to create stronger ties to our Brandeis Alumni.

Now Hiatt must also get a greater number of more diverse recruiters to campus. They must work to improve their ability to communicate to the Student Body about the resources, events, and programming available, and find new ways to better deliver this information.


Over the past few years, students’ complaints about the health center have increased in frequency.

It is a persistent issue, and one that must be addressed.

At the beginning of this year, we called on the University to conduct a serious review of the current state of the Health Center – and the University has agreed.

There are six main issues: increased doctor availability, more comprehensive female services, better privacy, fewer misdiagnoses, improved customer service, and better communication between the medical provider and the student.

By Thanksgiving we should expect to have an action-plan from the Health Center and the University regarding ways that the Health Center will be improved.


In dining, we have seen steady but slow improvement.

The Dining Services Committee has developed a strong relationship with Aramark.

The Committee successfully advocated for students’ favorite foods to return to the Stein menu. More items now count for meals across campus. The Committee has pushed for nutritional facts to be posted at the new Quiznos and Einsteins. Brunch hours are later. You can now eat at Quizno’s on Saturday night.

There are, however, areas that still need improvement.

For over a year the Union has been advocating for the University to transition to Cage free eggs. We are tired of the excuses – this needs to happen.

We are working with the newly formed student Coalition for Food Service Reform. Together, we co-hosted a forum on dining service issues, where over 50 students met to express their concerns and ask questions.

I am confident that our Dining Committee co-chairs will call for much-needed changes in food options, hours, and safety.

Further, we will be working with the University to create a committee to review the current meal plan system. We hope to address the structure of the meal plans and the issue of dollar-to-point parity.


In the past, these, and other, campus life issues were addressed on an ad hoc basis, without a clear vision of where we are and where we need to go.

This year, alongside the Department of Student Life, we have formed the Campus Life Committee, which brings together University department heads and campus leaders to discuss campus life issues in a more structured setting.

This will streamline our advocacy efforts as we discuss campus safety, school spirit, alcohol policy, quiet hours, and more.

At the next meeting, we will call on the University to provide a shuttle for students to the Riverside bus and train stops. We will ask for the revitalization of the Village space and various rooms in Usdan and the castle to create more places for study, and for clubs and organizations to meet.


We have also reorganized the existing committee structure.

The 22 University committees were also at one point decentralized and uncoordinated.

But now they are streamlined directly to the Executive Office, giving us greater ability to coordinate our advocacy.

For example, in response to the University decision to arm the campus police, our public safety committee now has also become a space to address community concerns regarding issues of questionable or improper enforcement by the Department of Public Safety.

The Disabilities Committee is currently in the process of planning a full day event to increase awareness and reduce stigmas related to disabilities.

We have created two new University Committees: The first, for the Psychological Counseling Center, will help to improve and advertise the Center’s services. And the second, for the Office of Communications, will help to get students involved in discussions about Brandeis image in the community.


The Senate has four main roles within the Student Union: to charter and recognize new clubs and organizations, to pass resolutions that express the will of the student body, to work on Senate committees, and pursue individual issue advocacy.

We have seen great progress on these fronts.

The Senate has charted and recognized a diverse body of groups, like the Mixed Heritage Club, the Squash Club, and the Student Philanthropic Front.

In October, the Senate passed a resolution to help fund the Prospect Hill Terrace Community Center.

At the end of last year, in its first act as a newly constituted Senate, we passed a resolution committing to purchasing only sweatshop free clothing.

Turkey shuttles are on schedule. Planning for the Midnight Buffet is underway. Our Diversity Committee is planning an Identity Retreat. The Club Support committee is advising clubs on how to best utilize SAF funding.

The Campus Operations Working Group meets with the Vice President of Campus Operations to advocate for small and large scale facility and infrastructural improvements to our campus.

A TYP committee was newly formed, working to increase understanding of this uniquely Brandeisian program.

And we are working with the University’s Community Prejudice Response task force, which is a platform for students to discuss issues of prejudice on campus.

The Senate, along with students from an academic class, has also formed a bike rental task force. They are in the process of finalizing details of the program and this coming Sunday, the Senate is likely to pass a resolution to secure funding for this campus bike rentals. This is a great, innovative improvement to our community.


Everyday I am inspired by the work of student leaders on this campus. Anyone who says that our students are apathetic, or that our legacy of social justice is fading, is wrong.

The passion and dedication of our students is what sets Brandeis apart from many other schools.

Students for Environmental Action has pushed for a reduction of bottled water to help create on this campus a culture of conservation. Democracy for America and the College Democrats traveled to New Hampshire every weekend to help elect Barack Obama.

Gen Ed Now held a week long event highlighting citizenship and bringing civic-minded organizations to campus. The Innocence Club has shown us the importance of fairness and prudence in our criminal justice system. Positive Foundations organized another statewide anti-poverty event.

These accomplishments are but a few examples of the immense power and potential of our student clubs.


These efforts, and others, can be amplified and strengthened with more institutional support.

This must include a physical space on campus for the activist community – An Activist Resource Center.

We want more room, greater planning and physical support for our greatest extracurricular achievers. I pledge that this Union will work with the University to make it a reality.


We also believe in facilitating greater collaboration between campus organizations.

The Union, Student Events, and the University have all come together regarding Student Events’ role on campus.

They are now back as a Union-Accredited organization. They have received funding from the Finance Board, and are working closely with this government.

We are proud to have a strong relationship with Student Events and an understanding with the University’s administration that will create the best event programming on campus as possible.


Also, we hope to revamp club collaboration by creating an online forum for club leaders to easily communicate with each other in the idea-generating, strategizing, and event-planning processes.

There are many great issues, initiatives, and events on this campus. But often programs are unnoticed, events under-attended, issues under-discussed.

We hope that clubs will co-sponsor more events, find common ground and work in partnership with each other whenever possible.

We hope to help create a community of active citizens. The arts, academic, cultural, activist, performance, sports, and religious groups all have more in common than they might expect.

We can bring these groups together and give students an opportunity to meet each other and grow together from shared experience.

Together, we can create a Brandeis community that everyone can feel is theirs.


Let me, though, point out that we cannot build the Student Union and Student Body without engaging all the greater communities in which we live: whether that is city or state, the country or the world.

At the beginning of this term, we promised this type of tangible, results-oriented engagement.

When Hurricanes Gustav, Hannah, and Ike hit the United States and our friends abroad, we teamed with campus organizations to lead an effort to raise relief money for the American and International Red Cross.

We solicited donations with the National Collegiate Volunteers. The International Club donated the proceeds from Pachanga to the cause. Together $5000 was raised in one week.

This year we all had the opportunity to get engaged in the electoral process. Our Brandeis Votes initiative provided that forum through a voter registration and awareness competition. Over 20 clubs signed up to be a part of it. We registered voters. We provided information with Residence Life about getting absentee ballots. And we worked with the Office of Communications on a series of three well-attended forums. Transportation was provided to our local polling station. And Brandeis voted.

The University’s Department of Community Service has the resources and connections for all clubs to be able to partner with Waltham and provide services to the community.

For example, the debate team could teach public speaking at a local school. An a capella group could sing at a local shelter. Your club can play chess or knit at a nursing home, shoot hoops at the Boys and Girls Club, cook a holiday meal for those in need, or organize a talent show at the YMCA. The opportunities are endless.

Every club could have a community-service component to it.

Today we challenge every club and organization to engage the community in service, and we commit ourselves to helping this challenge succeed.


To conclude, I ask for your partnership.

I made it clear to the Union, from day one, that access and transparency were top priorities. I want everyone to remember that “connecting with students” is what we are about.

The Student Union exists to represent the best interests of the student body. To understand the needs of our constituents, we must increase the level of outreach in all of our initiatives.

I’ve been holding office hours in Usdan and Shapiro Campus Center. The Union bulletin board now has an event calendar and Union updates.

We have sent out news updates with greater frequency than in the past.

And the Senate recently created The Outreach Committee, a permanent, standing committee focused on this priority.

On Thursday, they are holding a Massell Quad meet-and-greet event.

They are working to recreate the Stall Street Journal, a publication that will be posted in campus bathrooms to inform students of Union developments and opportunities.

We want you to know when the new weight room will open, who to contact if you have a rights issue, or a concern with dining services. We want you to know who to talk to about changing something at Brandeis for the better, to be able to, what I like to call, effectively complain.

Why? Because our democracy – like all democracies, no matter the scale – works best when all of us are engaged together.

Our agenda is large. The possibilities are infinite.

We have grown and accomplished much in this semester. But we have much more to do.

Let’s get to work.


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