The Student Union’s Transparency Problem

Please welcome Nelson Rutrick, who is the newest member of the Innermost Parts team. He starts off his tenure here with a special report. ~ Sahar

As a former member of the Student Union Executive Board, as the only EBoard to attend nearly all Senate meetings although it was not mandatory (besides the VP and Executive Senator), and as the only student who attended Senate meetings regularly who didn’t “have” to be there – I, sadly, have a lot of experience with the procedures of the Brandeis University Student Union. Sure, maybe attending all of these meetings makes me a loser in some sense, but it also gives me the ability to speak knowledgeably about what goes on in our Student Union.

I am working on finals right now, but I am a bit bored writing about the morality of political assassination and instead would prefer to clue in the non-insiders of the Student Union as to what really goes on there on this relatively new blog which often deals with the Student Union.

The Senate

In all of my time in the Student Union, I have never seen a single objection raised in the senate when a senator called for the meeting to be put into ‘Executive Session’ – or barred to all non-Union members. Executive Sessions are called at around one-third of Senate meetings to discuss material deemed to sensitive to be reported on by The Justice or The Hoot. So, read once again: in the last semester, to my knowledge, there has never been an executive sessions motioned that was not greeted with unanimous consent by the 21-member Student Union Senate.

Entering an Executive Session requires a majority votes, and were often called over the last semester to discuss issues too important to be heard or reported to the Student Body such as:

1. The amount of money the Student Union has in unspent funds that it has left over from past years.

2. Whether the past Secretary of the Student Union should be held responsible for releasing vote totals to his friends mid-election.

3. Whether it is more important to uphold freedom of speech rights for Student Union sponsored journals or whether it is more important to uphold protections against “hate speech.”

Although I personally am opposed to all Executive Sessions, no senator in the Student Union has yet opposed one being called. Are our two new Innermost Parts senators going to start objecting to these oft-called sessions?

The Executive Office

Every Executive Office session is closed. What happens during meetings is generally not allowed to be discussed with anyone outside of the Executive Board, on the discretion of the Student Union President. The main difference between EBoard meetings and Senate meetings is that Brandeis administrators attend EBoard meetings often, and are much less likely to be candid when speaking with The Justice reporting their words. I think there is legitimacy in not inviting students to all EBoard-Administrator meetings. Beyond these meetings, though, I will say that I see no reason for the EBoard to maintain its intense secrecy that is often considered unnecessary even by other Union insiders who consistently vote for Senate Executive Sessions.

The Finance Board

The Finance Board, officially, holds all meetings openly unless outsiders are removed by a majority (4/7) vote. To my knowledge, however, no student has been allowed to attend a FBoard meeting unless they were specifically invited since (and perhaps even before?) Choon Woo Ha was elected treasurer. Does anyone have an interest in following and questioning the allocations granted by the FBoard? Maybe not, it really isn’t that exciting – but perhaps it might shed some light on why we have so much extra money that we are renovating the Brandeis gymnasium with Student Activities Fee dollars.

The Union Judiciary

Perhaps the only open branch of the Student Union Government – all meetings are open. It requires a majority vote of the five justices to close meetings.


This is a brief breakdown of the transparency granted in the Brandeis Student Union Government, an organization that has over a million dollars a year to dole out on behalf of students. Is there something wrong here?


5 thoughts on “The Student Union’s Transparency Problem”

  1. Nelson, I’m glad you brought up the issue of executive session. I did not witness any Senate first-hand this year; however, in my time on senate last year I can recall maybe 2-3 executive sessions the entire YEAR, at least one of which was standard procedure (exec. senator elections). I think the frequency this past year must have been due to the personality of the senate and/or the particular issues that came up. Even still, 1/3 of meetings is a really surprising amount, and I can’t quite imagine it. It definitely contrasts with my memory and image of the senate as a very open body. Next year, we will achieve the openness I remember and hopefully go beyond it.

    -Eric (Senator ’09)

  2. That’s an idea. Representation that takes into account what constituents want?

  3. I would like to correct two assertions Nelson has made.

    First, there were a number of Senators to oppose moving into Executive Session during the impeachment discussion last semester of the Secretary. The main Senators opposed to it were myself, Andrew Brooks, Tania Kupferman, and Justin Sulsky. I have opposed moving to Executive Session several times but we never receive enough votes to oppose the move.

    Second, I don’t recall ever moving into Executive Session to discuss free speech rights of clubs.

    I have always erred on the side of having open sessions unless convinced otherwise before the meeting that it is something that the University administration is discussing and doesn’t want to be public yet.

    Openness is certainly the key to a trusted government and I have done as much as I can to make the Student Union open. I completely agree with Nelson that more is needed, especially from the Executive Board – which Senators have constantly complained is very opaque for as long I have been in the Senate.

  4. personally I find the lack of transparensy troubling. While i understand the union’s desire for candor in their discussion I feel that students have a right to know what goes on in their union at all times. Perhaps hopefully the Union will if they want to close session let in a certain number of non involved students to their meetings while still keeping out the press. In this way the student union while being able to discuss important matters would be able to get student input to truly reflect the will of the students

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