Friday, March 10, 2017

How it would probably work in practice

The USGSO Implementation Committee, recognizing that only fellow students would actually know who was in a prohibited organization, tried to get students out of the policing and reporting business by using a protocol of oath-taking. Students wanting scholarship nominations or leadership positions would swear they were not in a prohibited organization. The crime against the College would then be lying, went the idea, and we know how to deal with lying. We already have an Honor Council that handles lies about the Academic Integrity oath, so just make the Honor Council deal with this new class of lies also. The crime is not belonging to an organization, it's lying about not being in one, in an oath you're compelled to take if you want to be eligible for certain distinctions.

I yesterday pointed out one problem with this idea--the legislation that created the Honor Council doesn't authorize it to deal with anything except academic integrity issues, and by no stretch of the imagination is lying about being a member of the Kappa a matter of academic integrity. And, according to the Crimson, some student members of the Honor Council aren't so keen about taking on this new role either.

But a little thought about how this would play out in practice suggests that unless the student body is largely united in support of the policy--which it pretty clearly isn't now--this way of proceeding would create an unhealthy atmosphere of suspicion, backbiting, and collusion in the student body. Let's review what the Implementation Committee Report proposes:
This document [the student's affirmation of non-membership in any prohibited organization] should be regarded as an agreement between the individual student and the College, as represented by the relevant office. We consider compliance with the policy to be a matter between the individual student and the College. Other parties—faculty, faculty deans and tutors, athletic coaches, fellow organization members, teammates—should not be responsible for policing the policy or ensuring that it is complied with. It is up to the student to meet the College’s expectations in this area. 
Now what will happen when two students are vying for the role as captain of the softball team, and one is in a sorority?  Probably depends on a lot of variables--who else on the team is in a similar organization, the degree of consensus about whether the policy is appropriate, etc. Same thing if two students are competing for Rhodes endorsements, etc. Their peers will have to decide whether to turn them in.

This would create all the tensions the Honor Code legislation wisely avoided. Students are not expected to turn in their peers for violation of the academic integrity code, as they are at some other colleges. But in that situation there are other ways to know who is breaking the rules, and without a requirement, peers have no particular incentive to rat out the cheaters among them. In this situation, students are competing for valued, limited honors. The Implementation Committee's proposal, which Dean Khurana has already accepted, incentivizes them to turn on each other, and to turn each other in to the administration.

Was this intentional? If so, I wish the report had explained why it was a good thing.

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