Union president faces Judiciary complaint
The complaint alleges that Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21 stymied communication between members of the Executive Board and Senate by excluding the Executive Senator from E-Board meetings.
Student Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21 is the subject of an open formal Judiciary complaint regarding the duties of the Executive Senator and alleged violations of multiple parts of the Union Constitution, Bylaws and Code of Conduct concerning communications with other Union members, according to multiple sources familiar with the complaint.
The complaint, jointly filed by Union Vice President Guillermo Caballero ’20 and Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20, alleges that Tatuskar has hindered the relationship between the Senate and the Executive Board and hampered efforts at transparency and collaboration by unconditionally barring Executive Senator Jake Rong ’21 from attending Executive Board meetings, Busé explained.
Neither the Judiciary nor the petitioners provided a copy of the complaint to the Justice.
Busé’s and Caballero’s complaint centers partly around the Sept. 8 E-Board meeting, which Caballero could not attend. When Caballero informed Tatuskar that Rong would be attending the meeting in his stead, Tatuskar allegedly told Caballero that Rong would not be allowed at the meeting, Caballero told the Justice on Sunday.
The situation highlights a lack of clarity in the Constitution regarding which Union position should act as the liaison between the Senate and the E-Board, as well as the procedure when the vice president is absent from E-Board meetings. While the Executive Senator having a position on E-Board is not guaranteed in the Constitution, Article II, Section 4 says that the Executive Senator should “assume the duties of the Union Vice President in the Vice President’s absence.” Article III, Section 3 details the duties of the Vice President, one of which is to “serve as the liaison between the Senate and the Executive Board.”
The constitutional question for the Judiciary to consider is whether or not the Executive Senator should serve as the liaison to the Senate in the vice president’s absence, and thus become a de facto, temporary member of the E-Board.
Rong told the Justice that before the academic year began, Caballero told Rong that Tatuskar had decided “the Executive Senator did not need to be on E-Board this semester.” When Rong later asked Tatuskar “to clarify her reasoning behind the decision,” she allegedly repeated Caballero’s message and did not offer further explanation, according to Rong. Rong declined to comment on why he did not ask for more clarification.
Tatuskar took this action without consulting any other E-Board members, Busé told the Justice on Sunday, expressing concern that there was no discussion about the change. On past E-Boards, the position of Executive Senator has been a “malleable role that we can reevaluate, but it always has and always should be a collaborative discussion” between E-Board members, Busé said.
There was also allegedly no initial communication about the decision to other members of the E-Board. Busé explained that when she saw Rong in the Union office at the beginning of the year, she told him, “I’ll see you at E-Board,” and he reacted with confusion. The two realized that Tatuskar’s message to Rong had not been relayed to other members of the E-Board.
With 23 members, the Senate is by far the largest of the five branches of the Union. Without the presence of the Executive Senator, the Senate now has just one representative to the Executive Board — Union Vice President Caballero, who also serves as the Senate’s president — which Busé said was not the proper amount of representation for a branch of its size. The three other branches — Allocations Board, Judiciary and Treasury — each have one representative to the Executive Board, but are all much smaller than the Senate.
As the sole Senate representative to the E-Board, Caballero now acts as the liaison between the two branches and gives reports on the E-Board meetings to senators each week, a role that has been filled by the Executive Senator in past administrations.
Busé said this constitutes a violation of Section I (9) of the Code of Conduct, which says “members shall make every effort to communicate across branches.”
According to Busé, this particular section is concerning because Caballero “is given the sole responsibility of communicating everything back and communicating from the Senate to us, and as the vice president, he’s often got so much else on his plate. … The role of Executive Senator is to be that liaison and to help improve that communication. … One person can only do so much.”
Caballero allegedly tried to address the issue with Tatuskar in September, but the two could not find a time to meet, and Tatuskar allegedly did not make an effort to reach out to him to talk about it, according to Caballero.
Additionally, intra-Union communication, the Senate and transparency with the student body are all negatively affected by fewer communication channels, Busé told the Justice.
Besides the weekly reports by Caballero in Senate meetings, the only other channel for senators to find information about the affairs of the E-Board is through the Brandeis Briefs that are emailed to the student body by Union Secretary Taylor Fu ’21 each week, which Busé said creates a barrier for collaboration if the reports say that certain officers have no updates. Out of the five Brandeis Briefs the community has received this semester, only Monday’s email contained Executive Officer Reports.
“That doesn’t really [make] people privy to information about how [senators] can … collaborate more. So, it’s really just … closing the possibility for collaboration and transparency,” Busé said.
The decrease in communication has resulted in senators often being in the dark when it comes to the E-Board’s affairs. “I don’t think I’ve been told anything that’s happened in E-Board, really,” Class of 2020 Senator Dane Leoniak told the Justice on Sunday, although he speculated that the issue is “probably mostly transitional pains.”
Having never previously served in an elected position on the Student Union, Caballero said he did not know the Executive Senator had to be specially appointed to E-Board. “In my head, I even associated Executive Senator with Executive Board. That’s why they called it Executive Senator, and I knew that Aaron Finkel [’19] and Kent Dinlenc [’19] … both sat on E-Board. So I thought that the case was that Jake Rong would sit on E-Board with me as support as well, which was a surprise when I learned that was not going to be the case,” he explained.
Although the complaint directly concerns the issue of the duties of the Executive Senator, at its core is the lopsided power-sharing dynamics on the current E-Board and a lack of collaboration that used to be commonplace, according to the plaintiffs.
“For me, … [the complaint is] more about the mutual respect and mutual understanding of the collaborative nature of our Student Union,” Busé said.
Caballero said his goal for his tenure was to increase cohesiveness and collaboration between branches of the Union, but the absence of the Executive Senator from E-Board has caused a decrease in transparency that has been detrimental to his goals. He explained that Union members ask him for E-Board updates, and E-Board members ask him about Senate business, with all of the explanatory work falling on him.
Several current and former executive senators, however, saw the complaint as unwarranted and defended Tatuskar’s actions as constitutional.
During an interview with the Justice on Saturday, Rong pointed to each of his constitutionally mandated duties and said that he does all of them, just like past Executive Senators. Attending E-Board meetings is “an additional responsibility” not mandated by the Constitution, he said.
The duties of the Executive Senator are defined in Article II, Section 4 of the Union’s Constitution as follows:
“The Executive Senator shall be the Secretary of the Senate and preside over the Senate meetings with the Vice President. The term of the Executive Senator shall be one semester. The Executive Senator shall:
- Be elected by a plurality vote of the Senate.
- Be responsible for the training of new Senators, along with the Vice President
- Assume the duties of the Union Vice President in the Vice President’s absence. If the Vice President’s office becomes vacant, the Executive Senator shall carry out the duties of the Union Vice President until a new Vice President is elected.
- Write and distribute the weekly agenda for the Senate.
- Maintain the minutes and attendance log of the Senate.
- Manage the budget of the Senate and prepare all financial documents.”
When asked to compare his tenure with that of Spring 2019’s Executive Senator, Kent Dinlenc’s ’19, Rong said, “I think I do pretty much the same things that he did when he was in this position.” Similar to Rong, Dinlenc “fulfilled all of the Executive Senator duties as outlined in the constitution,” Dinlenc wrote in an email to the Justice on Monday.
Though Dinlenc attended “every E-Board meeting and knew everything that went on in E-Board,” he was opposed to his position being included in the E-Board because he saw it as “redundant.” Barring Rong from E-Board meetings would not change the power dynamics “unless the VP has a bad relationship with the Senate,” Dinlenc wrote.
“Simran has full authority to reject Jake from attending meetings. It literally doesn't make a difference who gives updates to the Senate so long as everything allowed to be de-classified is de-classified and nothing is intentionally withheld,” Dinlenc told the Justice.
Although the appointment of the Executive Senator to the E-Board is not currently mandated by the Union’s Constitution, it has been Union precedent to do so. Until three years ago, the Constitution required the Executive Senator to serve on the E-Board, but an amendment removed that requirement to give the Executive Senator more latitude to choose how they fulfill their duties, Rules Committee Chair Scott Halper ’20 told the Justice on Sunday. This semester is the first time in Union history without the Executive Senator on the E-Board, according to Busé.
Communication surrounding the complaint itself has been erratic; several members of the Executive Board, including Union Diversity and Inclusion Officer Nakul Srinivas ’21 and Director of Advocacy and Accessibility Sasha Manus ’21, have told the Justice that they have no knowledge of the complaint or its substance. The two declined to comment on the case because of a lack of knowledge.
In addition, many senators did not know of the complaint’s existence or that there was a Judiciary case at all until it was announced at Monday night’s Senate meeting.
“Zosia and I have come to the conclusion that President Tatuskar has broken the Code of Conduct and the Oath of Office by not including Executive Senator in E-Board meetings and actively pressuring me to bar the senator from those meetings by asking me to communicate to him about her decision to bar him from E-Board, and not allowing him to go in my stead when I was not able to go to E-Board meetings,” Caballero announced to the senators, some of whom appeared to be in shock or shaking their heads. He added that Tatuskar’s actions violated the Union Constitution’s sections on the duties of the Vice President and Executive Senator, and said that the breach undermines communication between the E-Board and Senate.
Caballero said there would likely be an emergency Senate meeting on Wednesday or Thursday to follow up about the hearing.
“I thought a lot for weeks before bringing this to the Judiciary ... I tried my best to avoid this,” he said, saying that filing the complaint was his “last resort.”
No source could confirm whether the complaint was public. Per Article IV, Section 6 (9) of the Union Constitution, complaints must be made public unless two-thirds of the Justices vote to make the complaint private. The hearing, however, will be public, according to Caballero.
In an email to the Justice on Friday, Chief Justice of the Judiciary Rachel Sterling ’21 declined to provide the Justice with the complaint, and she did not specify whether the Judiciary had voted to make it private.
It is constitutionally mandated that a Judiciary case is heard within five days after the Judiciary receives it, but Tatuskar allegedly wanted to push the hearing back to November because of her busy schedule. The Judiciary, however, denied that motion and set the hearing for Tuesday.
Busé compared the current situation to “Pianogate” — referencing former Class of 2022 Senator Alex Chang’s highly publicized efforts to purchase pianos for the first-year lounges — because of its negative effects on Union morale and the feelings of the affected Union officers.
“I am concerned that what I have witnessed thus far is potentially putting us in that same position of people getting hurt, and I know what already has occurred has caused some feelings of concern,” Busé said. “One of the main concerns that Pianogate brought to life was the lack of transparency between the Executive Board and the Senate, and that was even when we did have the Executive Senator.”
Though Busé does not think that the current situation is anywhere near as dire as ‘Pianogate,’ she said that “we’re slipping back into that dynamic, … Behaviors have consequences for people and people’s emotions and people’s ability to do their job … if they’re feeling limited by their fellow members or hurt by their fellow members,” Busé said, referencing emails sent to the student body by Chang and former International Senator Linfei Yang ’20 that were critical of the process of purchasing pianos and was one factor that led to the resignation of former Vice President Benedikt Reynolds ’19.
Though Tatuskar declined an interview, she insisted upon her innocence in a Sunday email to the Justice. “I’d rather just let the hearing take place and to demonstrate my complete innocence there. I’ve introduced copious evidence in my favor of my defense, so I’m sure after the hearing this will be widely acknowledge[d] as a misunderstanding blown out of proportion,” she wrote.
Other senators came to Tatuskar’s defense, highlighting her tenacity and accomplishments as president. “She has done more for the Union and for the student body than any individual member of the Union. At the end of last year she did four times the work of anyone else and that is why she was endorsed by both the President and Vice President, as well as by half the union, myself included,” Senator-at-Large Josh Hoffman ’21 wrote in a message to the Justice.
He continued, “There is no one in the E-board, no one in union, no one in the entire student body that can do the job she does.”
The President and Vice President did not endorse a Union presidential or vice presidential candidate last year, Finkel told the Justice on Tuesday.
Ultimately, Busé sees the complaint as a learning experience for all parties involved, and only wants to encourage more collaboration and discussion within the Union. “I am in no way saying she is inadequate, she is not doing her job, [or] she is making my life miserable,” she said, and clarified that she sees the role of the Judiciary as making the Union better as a whole.
Caballero told the Justice, “I firmly believe … that what we are doing now is standing up for what is right.”
Union Secretary Taylor Fu ’21 did not respond to requests for comment. Chief of Staff Zac Wilkes ’20 did not respond to a request for comment. Union Director of Outreach Kendal Chapman ’22, Rosenthal Quad and Skyline Senator Leah Fernandez ’22 and Union Director of Academic Affairs Jacob Diaz ’20 declined to comment. The remainder of the E-Board and Judiciary did not respond to a request for comment.
The hearing will be held on Tuesday from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. in the Student Union Office’s conference room on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center. It is open to the public.
—Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect that the President and Vice President did not endorse a candidate last year.