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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Op-ed: The remarkable failure of the TCU Senate

Regardless of one’s support for or opposition to the recent boycott, divestment and sanctions resolutions voted on by the Tufts Community Union Senate, one thing that many students on campus can agree on is the Senate’s ultimate culpability in sowing divisiveness on campus.

Whether out of hubris or pure obliviousness, the TCU Senate provided and administered a largely unregulated platform, with over 300 students in attendance, for the single most divisive and polarizing issue of our time. Such an undertaking is a solemn responsibility that must be handled with the utmost caution, care and attention. The remarkable failure of the TCU Senate to fulfill this singular duty has degraded campus discourse surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, a profound disservice to all.

This dereliction of responsibility was readily apparent from the start of the meeting. The Senate failed to inform the coalition opposing these resolutions of relevant substantive changes to the first resolution before reading it, sparking a quasi-“gotcha” moment that immediately squandered any legitimacy as a mediator the Senate could have. Intention is irrelevant when the outcome is the same, and the outcome of this mistake was an opposition that was unjustly less prepared to speak on the resolutions at hand.

Over the course of the meeting, the Senate did not attempt to remove members of the audience who were jeering and harassing other audience members and fellow students. The Senate’s rules were clearly stipulated at the beginning of the meeting: Any individual who disrupted the proceedings would be asked to leave. However, the senators did not follow through on this a single time. When I asked one senator why they operated with such carelessness with respect to their own rules, they answered that it was simply infeasible, given the size of the crowd, to remove individual members of the audience who were disruptive. This answer is telling: The senators themselves admit that they were wholly unprepared and unequipped to respond to the vicissitudes of the audience. To be clear, the Senate chose to reserve a room with a towering capacity of over 300. The student body filled that capacity and more, and the Senate quickly found that because of their chosen meeting structure, order was infeasible.

Another troubling sign that illustrates the Senate’s inability to maintain order was their lack of clarity regarding their own rules. They paused proceedings to deliberate among themselves what their actual rules were. During one of the many breaks that the Senate took, a senator asked me if a member of the independent TCU Judiciary was present. Even though this comment was made outside formal debate or deliberation by the Senate’s leadership, it represents a sentiment of unreadiness on behalf of the Senate. After the meeting, the same senator remarked that the Senate’s bylaws were in need of an “overhaul” and lamented that it took an eight-hour meeting to realize that. The Senate should have foreseen the complications of such a large meeting and prepared accordingly.

Finally, the Senate undercut the opposing speakers countless times, stating that the opposition was bringing in irrelevant facts. After an opposing speaker asked why his points were irrelevant in discussion with senators, the Senate allowed him to continue speaking. These facts are incongruent: If the opposition was in fact bringing in irrelevant facts, the Senate had every right to interrupt. However, the Senate reneged on their charges of irrelevant speech and allowed the opposition to continue. As a student, I expect that our elected representatives act not out of arbitrariness nor fecklessness, and once again the Senate has let me down.

The blame I put forward in this piece is not necessarily pointed at the opposition or support of these resolutions. For both sides, I am extraordinarily proud of my classmates who spoke with respect and contributed their perspectives to this ever-important topic. However, this meeting should never have taken place. The Senate showed on March 3 that it has absolutely no business administering a platform for pertinent, divisive political topics. The Senate’s responsibility is to encourage fair debate and to preserve and protect the safety and security of the Tufts student body. For almost eight grueling hours, the Senate failed in every way to meet either of these objectives. To the Senate, if you feel such an existential duty to hold a large public forum on such charged topics, I urge you to at least do it right.