Subscribe to The Brown Daily Herald Newsletter

Sign up for The Brown Daily Herald’s daily newsletter to stay up to date with what is happening at Brown and on College Hill no matter where you are right now!

Subscribe

Op-eds, Opinions

Carroll ’21: Response to Sachar ’20: The Problems with CCB’s Claim to Student Government Status and Why it Should Matter to Students

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Sunday, October 18, 2020

Beginning last year, Brown’s Class Coordinating Board began rebranding itself as a student government. At first, these efforts seemed rather inconsequential or were otherwise unnoticed by members of the Undergraduate Council of Students and Undergraduate Finance Board, some of whom even met with and agreed to coordinate with CCB as a student government. Without knowing the history of CCB or many of the concerns raised in this piece, these UCS and UFB members unwittingly undemocratically recognized CCB as being a student government and having a status above other student groups.    

However, soon after, members of UCS realized that CCB was not recognized as a student government prior to that year and that records pertaining to CCB’s University recognition had been modified. UCS’s reference to CCB as a student government was unprecedented, and it unfairly and undemocratically legitimized their organization over other student groups. 

These realizations prompted us to reconsider our actions, and in turn, we re-aligned our reference to CCB to match its historical recognition as a category III student group recognized through UCS.  (In previous years, CCB even openly identified itself “as a UCS Category III student group” in its own documents.) 

However, having been empowered by its edited status and UCS’ unwitting agreement to allow CCB to characterize themselves as student government, CCB is staking a claim that they should be recognized as fully and officially your student government.

After personally seeing the student body’s frustrations with CCB and watching CCB leverage its status to legitimize practices I find undemocratic and harmful, I felt compelled to examine UCS’ complicity in this process. We were wrong to allow CCB to undemocratically rebrand itself as a student government, and I believe it is vital that I explain why. 

For years, Brown students have expressed concerns of feeling unrepresented and unheard in the undemocratic systems of this University. While I have campaigned for years for reform, I fear CCB’s tactics and practices move us further away from a Brown where your voice matters — and more toward a system where small groups of favored students rise via undemocratic and unfair means to receive privileges not available to other students. 

The issues here are no small matter. CCB wields immense power on campus. It singlehandedly controls roughly 7 percent of Brown’s annual $2,000,000 student budget and even receives special funding from the President’s Office and the Advancement Office to put on Senior Week, an event that ultimately costs nearly $300,000 yearly. 

Despite existing for nearly two decades and being allocated well over a half a million dollars in student money in just the past five years, CCB has only publicized and documented one year of information on how it distributes its funds. Underscoring CCB’s levels of access to the administration — as suggested by their generous Senior Week funding — the Class Board was actually founded by Brown administrators, and at least in its early years, made donations out of surplus senior budgets to University coffers through the Brown Annual Fund. It is important that a student group well-connected to the administration and entrusted with disproportionate levels of funding and access be held accountable to the student body — especially when that organization claims to be representing you. 

Edited University Records

In an op-ed late last spring, outgoing CCB Senior Co-President Sonia Sachar ’20 claimed CCB’s “student governance status,” citing evidence from the Student Activities Office’s former records system, BearSync. However, earlier that very same school year, CCB’s recognition in University systems was changed from its historic categorization as an “events and services” club to instead be newly classified as a “student government.” Club categorization documents from BearSync reviewed by The Herald document the shift in status between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. This status change was made by someone who works for the University, according to emails reviewed by The Herald. This happened without any public announcement or the knowledge of the student body. The Herald could not confirm what prompted the changes.

Further, that same year, CCB rewrote its constitution to redefine itself from being a “student group” to a “student government.” One would think that public representatives seeking to be recognized and seen as such would do so through a proactively transparent process that actually engages the body they are trying to serve — not in internal club meetings and agreements. 

Pre-Coordinated and Uncontested Elections 

CCB claims to represent the student body but fails to meet typical standards for fair and transparent elections. Sachar states that student government holds “more privileges than other student groups,” leading to the reasonable assumption that CCB elections for its membership are what justify CCB’s “privileges” — such as its funding. However, what many Brown students may not know is that there is a system inside CCB wherein class representatives pre-coordinate their elections behind closed doors, often allowing class representatives to secure themselves uncontested elections. Notably, the most recent CCB elections sparked controversy when every CCB incumbent avoided electoral contest to run unopposed. Currently, 0 percent of the Class Board was elected into their positions for this year by the student body in a contested public election. 

Deep in the CCB bylaws, “internal voting” protocols detail that before public elections, the Class Board anonymously decides “who will be rerunning and for what positions.” While CCB classifies this vote as a “suggestion,” it is not hard to imagine the potential impact such a protocol would have on elections, including producing a dimming effect on competition and discouraging students who lose such an internal election from ultimately running. For positions on the senior board — the most powerful and well-funded of the four class boards — the organization becomes even more exclusive, banning all challenges from those not previously in the organization for at least a year. While similar limitations on candidacy are understandable in moderation for some clubs, limiting eligibility for an entire board to just a handful of students seems highly inaccessible, particularly if these elections are used to claim status as representing a quarter of the student body (the entire senior class).

In the aforementioned op-ed, Sachar, who helped run CCB’s spring elections according to their bylaws, wrote that “there seemed to be no apparent catalyst” for the uproar surrounding CCB last spring. This claim is debunked by the actual posts Sachar referenced, and reviewed by The Herald, which clearly and directly call into question CCB’s then-ongoing uncontested elections. 

Even if one disregards the mass disqualifications resulting from their election standards, the rest of the CCB elections must not be accessible if, often, only incumbents are willing to run just to take back their seats unopposed. If CCB, or any organization, is truly interested in claiming representative status, it needs to curate accessible elections. In addition, it needs to ensure that the work done by students involved is accessible enough that hundreds of students aren’t blanketly disqualified from running for certain positions from the start. While like many student organizations, CCB’s most recent spring elections took place during the pandemic, this does not account for the long-term structural problems in CCB processes. 

I am happy to hear from CCB that it is currently re-evaluating its election policies, including its policies on internal elections and Senior Class Board requirements. However, I hope before any decisions are finalized, the Board publicizes these efforts and engages candidly in conversation with the student body about what needs to be improved. 

“Internal Policy” to Exclude Other Students

In Sachar’s op-ed, she mentions a potential amendment to the CCB constitution, proposed by CCB’s Constitution & Elections Committee, which I view as directly harmful to other students at Brown by excluding UCS and UFB members from serving in CCB. Sachar called out UCS members for attending CCB’s “public meeting” on what she described as an “internal policy.” However,  the reality was that this amendment would have directly impacted UCS and its members by barring any “members of Class Board” from leadership positions in “the other branches of student government.” The first reason listed by the CCB committee presenting the idea was that the amendment would “drive (the) idea of co-equal branches of government.” This “internal policy” was something most certainly relevant to the Brown undergraduate community as a whole and highly concerning. Class Board ultimately abandoned the amendment proposal and never publicly documented it.

Class Board’s move was unprecedented, unwarranted and over the years would have undemocratically banned hundreds of students from participating in CCB, their “student government.” 

UCS members have participated in CCB for years and, to the best of my knowledge, did so without incident, including when this amendment was proposed, so I question the motives behind such a move. At best, it seems it was CCB’s attempt to legitimize itself by haphazardly mimicking UCS/UFB policies. I find it incredibly troubling that CCB would work on a new policy that would negatively impact its own members who also served on UCS. But it was even more troubling that rather than even try to defend or explain the controversial amendment, Sachar and members of CCB instead simply criticized members of UCS for the way they defended themselves and their peers. 

An organization seeking to represent the student body should not be able to decide who can and cannot run for election in limiting ways and through opaque decision-making processes. What’s more, I ask why an organization already apparently struggling to garner enough interest to fill its roles, let alone host competitive elections, would move to restrict interested students from running, further limiting its membership. 

Conclusion

I regret the role I’ve unwittingly played in legitimizing Class Board’s undemocratic practices including by not responding to Sachar’s op-ed or the concerns surrounding CCB earlier. With Sachar’s piece being released during finals period and the height of quarantine, the official UCS response was admittedly rushed under strained circumstances, ultimately allowing flaws that detracted from the most important point: You should be able to determine and control your own representation.

With this conversation likely influencing if not completely shaping the future of student representation and advocacy at Brown, it is vital that now the roles of CCB, UCS and UFB be considered carefully and that the public has access to the information coloring the conversation. While CCB laments UCS no longer referring to CCB as “government,” the reality is that UCS, UFB, CCB and the SAO all should never have begun referring to CCB as government last year without you, the student body, having a say in that. Not a single one of us should have the responsibility or power to undemocratically decide whether or not CCB is your representative government. 

I ask CCB not to take this piece as an attack nor petty feuding but rather a first step toward addressing the serious concerns raised by the student body and a much-needed clarification of the narrative presented by Sachar, which I believe contained misinformation not addressed by the official UCS response

As I’ve written before, I believe undemocratic practices and the degradation of standards at this University poses a threat to all of our interests in all facets of life at Brown. Any one regression of norms creates precedent for the next. If you want student representation that works for you and a Brown where your voice is heard, it has to start from the ground up.

Across every realm of this University, including, but certainly not limited to, CCB and UCS, we need democratic reform to ensure that those in power are held accountable to you and the interests of the student body.

Jason Carroll ’21 can be reached at jason_carroll@brown.edu. Though he is the current UCS president, the views expressed in this opinion are his own. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Clarifications: A previous version stated that Sachar “ran CCB’s elections” when it is more accurate to say she “helped run CCB’s elections.” Additionally, the sentence beginning “In Sachar’s op-ed, she admitted to CCB’s Constitutions & Elections Committee proposing an amendment that would directly harm other students at Brown…” seemed to imply that Sachar admitted to this causing harm, when it is clearer to say “In Sachar’s op-ed, she mentions a potential amendment to the CCB constitution, proposed by CCB’s Constitution & Elections Committee, which I view as directly harmful to other students at Brown…” The op-ed has been updated to reflect the changes.

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. It’s said that democracy when left to it’s own natural predisposition, goes from democracy, to an establishment, to an oligarchy, to a dictatorship, then finally to a monarchy. And that’s why for democracy to work, it has to be shaken every sixty years or so. But for student governments, that has to be four years or so owing to the short life of the student in campus.

    http://www.africa54.co.ke

  2. UCS has history of writing their own historical narrative according their own self-interests and the student body deserves a factual understanding.

    Can the Brown Daily Herald fact check this article? Like Wrenn ’18 ’21 did last time?

    https://www.browndailyherald.com/2020/05/24/wrenn-ms18-phd21-fact-checking-ucs-executive-boards-herald-letter-historical-perspective/

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*