Response to university administration’s justification for new addition to protest policy

Mon, 2016/10/03

Having had the opportunity to read the information from Dean Stetz in Soren’s piece last week, I’d like to once again offer my comments. The addition in question: II.A.9.d in the handbook section outlining the student code of conduct was added as part of a larger effort to update the language of the handbook motivated by the need to maintain compliance with Title IX regulations for gender and sex discrimination. The manner in which these edits were carried out illustrates my concern for the role of the student in decision making at IIT. These changes were made in a meeting that didn’t solicit student representation, let alone input; and were confirmed and added to the handbook autonomously. I understand the often prohibitive effort that attempting to get an uninterested party’s input takes, discussion of policy especially is often mind-numbing. However, these changes do affect the liberties of the student body and as such I think that they could have at least been pointed out in a meaningful way, rather than left to the students to find and collectively imagine the worst in a vortex of Facebook angst. But hindsight is irrelevant. How will we now move forward having seen the displeasure, concern, and fear that this caused for students?

I will allay discussion of the specific problems of interpretation that the policy raises for now in order to propose a series of ideas on how the school could more effectively represent the interests of the student body in these types of institutional decisions. But first, a comment on a statement that was attributed to Dean Stetz in last week’s article (referring to students concerned with the intentions of the new policy, and its possible effects on student rights) “when there’s a group of people who don’t trust, I don’t know to respond in a way that will build that trust.” I don’t think that the relationship between a student and administrator should be one of trust. I cannot trust an administrator to hold my interests above their own, because if the choice were between the interests of the students and the interests of investors, it’s safe to assume that administrators will choose to keep their salaries over losing their jobs.  We shouldn’t be asked to just believe in our hearts that administrators won’t choose to use vague policy to silence groups and individuals. We shouldn’t be asked to imagine a totally different set of rules than those that are laid out because of how we’re told something will be handled in practice. Ours should be a relationship of mutual respect, and that respect should be apparent in the way that our input is sought out and manifested as well as in written policies on how the university can treat its students. I should not have to take an administrator’s word that something seemingly indiscriminate in its application will be applied with great concern and sensitivity. I won’t, I don’t believe they’re capable of doing so. With that being said, my suggestions follow:

  1. A collection of areas of concern should be determined by SGA and the Office of Student Affairs (OSA): areas which pertain to interests of the student body, as such they will require a student representative to be present or to be consulted before ratifying any institutional change in those areas. These representative positions could be distributed within SGA or PSAC as seen fit, and could fall to the appointment of SGA administrators (these appointments should not be under the control of professional administration).

  2. A permanent position (or multiple to represent undergraduate as well as graduate students) should be made on the Board of Trustees for a student representative, likely a high ranking officer from SGA. This position will hold equal voting weight with the other board members and can be used to introduce issues for action.

I would now like to turn my attention to the issues of the policy itself. It may be a lawyer’s advice to keep wording as vague and encompassing as possible so as to allow for the most maneuverability in any case of application; that’s what I would do if I wanted to create a system where I can win regardless of actual circumstance.  That principle has been faithfully applied to this policy, focused on the word disruption, which is at no point further defined in order to give a frame of reference for enforcement. In fact, Dean Stetz’s defense of the policy is only her good word that the kind members of administration will only deign to enforce this nebulous policy when it suits them. My apologies, that is “when an action was unsafe”. Why then is it that the word unsafe, or danger, or violence never appear in the language of the policy? When the only way that a policy makes sense is to not enforce it, what good is the policy (other than as a convenient backdoor for the university to separate itself from undesirables)? The only sign of good faith that the OSA could offer now is a collaborative rewrite with representatives of student government.

To the student who commented anonymously about vocal protest possibly devaluing his education in Spicknall’s article last week:

You should thank protesters for the free service they provide in educating you on what I imagine is a much needed outside perspective. If we can’t be bothered to even literally hear the complaints of our own colleagues and contemporaries, we deserve no place as decision makers and actors of change in society. Our education is (unfortunately in our world) a privilege, and we have an obligation to use our privilege to help others.

I do hope that other students, faculty, and administrators will offer their own opinions against (or with) mine, so that we may have a discussion on these important considerations of the relationship between our academic, administrative, and political realities. I will continue to offer my opinions on these matters and I hope others will join me.