Editorial: Club consultant bylaw is highly destructive
On March 31, the Student Union passed a bylaw requiring all secured clubs to select a club consultant from the University’s faculty or administration. According to the bylaw, the consultant, while not a voting member of the club, will be required to meet with the club’s treasurer at least twice a semester. The consultant can also be sought out for advice on other issues the club faces, such as “leadership or membership issues which arise.” The bylaw was passed despite the strong and clear objection of the University’s secured independent media organizations — the Justice, WBRS and BTV — and this board opposes both the content of the bylaw and the process by which the bylaw was passed.
Requiring media organizations to have a club consultant threatens the journalistic integrity and independence fundamental to these clubs. The Justice makes every effort to publish unbiased, factual articles every week. Justice staff and editors frequently interview and write about Brandeis faculty, staff, students and alumni, and any Justice club consultant — be they faculty or staff— would create a conflict of interest. Moreover, the consultant will be in a position of power and could seek to leverage their position to undermine the impartiality of our published content.
Members of the Justice’s executive board repeatedly raised this compelling concern in meetings with the bylaw’s authors and other senators. Union members continually replied that clubs could determine the extent of the consultant’s involvement and that the consultant would only be able to pressure a media organization if it let them. This argument fundamentally misconstrues the power dynamics between University students and employees and ignores the many ways that University employees have control over aspects of student journalists’ lives.
Throughout the process of crafting and passing the bylaw, Union members expressed that their goal was to make the wording as broad as possible, since they intend to eventually expand the club consultant system to all chartered clubs. However, the result was that BEMCo, Club Sports and the Justice — three secured clubs affected by this bylaw that serve different purposes and should have been treated differently by the proposal — were bound by vague rules. Any sensitive club-related policy that does not respect each club’s unique role poses real threats to the work these clubs were created and secured to do.
The compromise the Justice, BTV and WBRS proposed — establishing a designated “Financial Consultant” for media organizations — would have been a significant step toward addressing these concerns. Such a clause would not have prevented club leaders from reaching out to their consultants for non-financial matters, as some Union members claimed, but would have alleviated the danger of a media organization having an all-purpose “Club Consultant.”
This board also doubts the Union’s presumption that there will be enough willing staff and faculty members to eventually consult with every club on campus. Having University employees train students to be effective treasurers and pass on that knowledge from graduates to incoming students is an attractive goal, but it expects too much from individuals who already have other commitments on campus. Furthermore, although faculty and staff tend to stay at Brandeis longer than students, they too come and go every few years. Limiting consultants to tenured professors might help, but it would require professors to be responsible for multiple clubs. Professors and administrators should not and cannot be forced by the Union to become club consultants.
This board is equally disappointed by the process by which the bylaw’s wording was crafted and passed. After rejecting outright the idea of an opt-out clause, for media organizations with ethical objections or for clubs that already meet informally with faculty or staff, the Union then refused to even change one word in the title of the consultant from “club” to “financial,” would have alleviated many of the Justice’s concerns. The Union also did not provide secured clubs with the final wording of the amendment until late in the process, undermining their ability to effectively voice concerns to the Senate. Considering the club consultant idea was initially floated over a year ago, it is perplexing that the amendment’s language apparently could not be finalized until a Senate executive session that ended about 10 minutes before the official vote.
In addition, as a result of its hasty writing, the proposal’s language fails to define key terms, leaving the potential for its meaning to be warped or misconstrued. This undermines the effectiveness of the bylaw and threatens independent media organizations.
Furthermore, the only formal opportunity for constituents to address the Senate between the bylaw’s introduction in the March 24 Senate meeting and its passage in the March 31 meeting was at the open forum held at the end of the March 24 Senate meeting. Unaware that the proposal would officially be introduced on that day, representatives of the media organizations were not present to oppose it. Consequently, representatives of the Justice, BTV and WBRS only had a week to reach out to Senators individually, but only about a quarter of the senators they contacted actually showed up at their office hours, some after confirming with representatives that they would be there. Finally, during the March 31 Senate meeting, Union Vice President Aaron Finkel ’19 tried to limit each media organization representative’s speaking time to three minutes and tried to shut down senators’ attempts to address concerns or questions brought up by the representatives.
As constituents, media representatives’ voices should be heard — through office hours, properly advertised open forums during Senate meetings and the opportunity to speak to our elected Union members. Instead, Union members acted as if they were going above and beyond their responsibilities by occasionally appearing at meetings with representatives of concerned media organizations, generously allowing their own constituents a few minutes to formally voice concerns immediately before the vote and even taking over a half-hour to debate — in a private session — a bylaw that will fundamentally change the future of clubs on this campus.
The Union should take its responsibility as representatives of the student body seriously, which involves actively listening to and addressing constituents’ concerns about Union proposals.