EDITORIAL: Student Union in need of transparency, communication and professionalism
On Oct. 7, Student Union Vice President Guillermo Caballero ’20 and Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20 filed a joint complaint against Union President Simran Tatuskar ’21, alleging her interference with communication between the Executive Board and the Senate. The complaint centers on a Sept. 8 E-Board meeting that Caballero was unable to attend. Under the Student Union Constitution, the vice president serves as a liaison between the two branches and according to Article II Section 4.3, “the Executive Senator shall assume the duties of the Union Vice President in the Vice President’s absence.” When Caballero attempted to send Executive Senator Jake Rong ‘21 to the meeting in his stead, Tatuskar prohibited him from attending. When asked to explain this decision, Tatuskar cited a statement she made at the start of the year. Namely, “the Executive Senator did not need to be on E-Board this semester,” ignoring the particularity of the situation created by Caballero’s absence.
The Judiciary addressed the complaint in a hearing held Oct. 15, ruling against Tatuskar, and released their official decision on Oct. 18. In their opinion, the Judiciary asserts not only that Tatuskar “overstepped her executive authority when she barred Executive Senator Rong from attending the Executive Board meetings in the Vice President’s absence” but also that “in relation to the Judiciary, we, the Judiciary, find that President Tatuskar infringes [on] our role in the Student Union by interpreting the Constitution, and all documents and matters that arise under it, without our knowledge.”
While this board in no way endorses Tatuskar’s actions, it finds the overall lack of communication and professionalism in the Union to be the most troubling part of this situation. The Oct. 15 hearing revealed a number of communication issues between the E-Board and the Senate, as well as between Caballero and Tatuskar. Busé stated at the hearing that following Rong’s exclusion on Sept. 8, “there was no Executive Board meeting on the 15th, 22nd or the 29th [of September], which means that there has been one full month without any contact between the Senate and the Executive Board, which, you know, to be blunt, does not make any effort to communicate across branches.” This brings to light the enormity of the issue. The Senate and E-Board halted official communication — meaning that they did not fully perform their duties for a month — due to a separate incident in which contact between the two branches fell apart. The dysfunction here is institutional, running deeper than a disagreement between the current president and vice president.
The highest offices of this administration, however, are also clearly struggling to cooperate. In her testimony, Tatuskar highlighted a number of difficulties between herself and Caballero throughout the appointing and approval process for committee co-chairs. Tatuskar claimed that Caballero changed his criteria for appointing committee co-chairs without discussion, reversing a decision he’d made in the spring to help Tatuskar increase the correlation between E-Board roles and Senate Committee members by allowing E-Board members to co-chair the committees relevant to their positions. She asserted in the hearing that his decision was “entirely okay” but that it was never communicated to her, saying, “I had to find out about that through a third party.” This was one of several instances discussed in the hearing, where a lack of communication between the top two executives had caused tension.
Currently, seeing that the Union president and vice president do not run as a ticket, conflicts between them are seemingly inevitable. This board believes that linking the two positions throughout the election process would ensure that the two top Student Union members are familiar with each other, communicate well and have similar goals for their tenures in office. This would greatly reduce the chances of friction between them.
Additionally, it was evident throughout the hearing that there is a lack of efficacy in the procedure for transitioning between administrations and clearly defining the roles of the president, vice president and E-board in general. This board believes that pushing up Student Union elections to be earlier in the spring semester in order to allow previous members to train the next generation would greatly help clarify these roles. New members would not be left to define their positions according to their own interpretations of the Constitution, and an earlier election process would ensure that training and appointments can happen during spring semester, while students are still on campus and communication is easier.
Regarding the professionalism of the Union, this board finds the lack of willingness to communicate and the language used by Union members unacceptable, damaging to the image of the Union and detrimental to its ability to serve the Brandeis community. During the hearings it was revealed that Tatuskar called the Senate a “madhouse” in a message to a former Union member and had referred to Union actions as “fuckups” in messages sent via Slack. Reacting to this evidence, Busé stated that, “I strongly believe there’s evidence of disrespect, lack of professionality and most importantly, risking the integrity of the student union.” Behavior of this kind does not lead the Brandeis community to trust the Union or inspire students to join the organization. If Union actions continue to garner the most attention when they revolve around intra-Union scandals, akin to last year’s ‘Pianogate,’ they will increasingly be seen as illegitimate and ineffective in enacting change on campus.
This board urges members of the Union to put aside their personal differences and dedicate themselves fully to the roles they campaigned to obtain. The commitment to the student body should take precedence over their personal sentiments about their fellow Union members. This hearing is the latest example of systemic problems within the Union, centered around a lack of communication, transparency and professionalism, and it is these core issues that need to be addressed in order for the Union to move forward and serve the community it claims to represent.