It was not until recently that I fully understood the weight that a director of the Union can hold, and how this position alone has the potential to make the Union no longer student-run.
A student-run Union lies largely in the fact that students have the ultimate say in all Union-related decisions. They are more than just “involved” in the decision-making process. There are risk management and liability considerations, but the Executive Board and its decisions receive no other formal oversight.
A director of the Union would play into this as an advisor; the person in that position should ideally serve as a wealth of knowledge to students and the Board, provide continuity in a place where high turnover rates are inevitable, and ensure smooth operation of the Union on a day-to-day basis.
I have never gotten the opportunity to experience having a director of the Union, but there have been many instances where I wished the position were filled.
Regardless, I remain apprehensive. As a member of the Executive Board, I know that the Union is capable of its operations with the staff that we have, even if it is not ideal. I am worried that a director will overstep her bounds, especially since the job description used to recruit the current candidates specified the role as “directing” student government bodies, instead of “advising.”
In trying to fully understand this topic, I have spoken with a variety of people. In an email, former Grand Marshal Julia Leusner ’08 outlined her relationship with the director of the Union at the time. The following quote of hers has stuck with me: “At no time when I sought advice or had questions for the director did I feel pressured to follow a directive or act a certain way.” This is exactly what we should expect from a director of the Union. The person in that position should not have an agenda that extends beyond advocating on behalf of students.
The Executive Board lacking strict administrative oversight allows students to make the Union whatever they want it to be. It is okay if students want and pursue something that isn’t necessarily in line with the goals of the Institute, and such freedom gives students the room to explore and create what simply cannot exist on other campuses.
It is when a director of the Union overrides a decision of the Executive Board, for instance, that the Union can no longer be considered student-run. It is when the director attempts to “direct” or “manage” student government bodies, rather than advise them, that the Union can no longer be considered student-run. Yet, if the person hired into that position truly understands her place in the Union, she should never even come close to that.
I hope that, whenever the position is filled, the director of the Union will understand and respect the boundaries of advisement. I hope that, if there are disagreements or worries, the director will have long, productive conversations about them with the Board until a consensus is reached, as opposed to exercising powers that she does not, and should never, have. I hope that whoever comes into the position has a deep respect for the amount of time and energy students have put into this Union over the past however many years, and that she would never do anything to undermine that.