Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Auditing" the membership practices of student organizations

The College’s Committee on Student Life is considering an audit of “comp” processes — membership training or vetting exercises for student organizations — to eliminate requirements which some committee members believe are “detrimental to campus culture,” according to several attendees of the Feb. 14 committee meeting. (Harvard Crimson)
Does no one hear how creepy this sounds?
In the Church of Scientologyauditing is a process wherein the auditor takes an individual, known as a "preclear", through times in their life and gets rid of any hold negative situations have on them. … Auditing is considered "a technical measure," that according to the Church, "lifts the burdened individual, the 'preclear,' from a level of spiritual distress to a level of insight and inner self-realization." The process is meant to bring the individual to clear status. (Wikipedia, "Auditing – Scientology")


  1. Perhaps I'm missing something but it sounds like the "auditing" being contemplated by the College’s Committee is a review of membership vetting and training processes, while the "auditing" done by the Church of Scientology is of people to induct them into the church or as part of the church's procedures. Taking this one level of abstraction up, the college wants to review processes to make sure they are not detrimental to the campus/society, the church wants to review people to make sure they not detrimental to the church or themselves. Putting the two in the same field, if the Church were a student organization, the college is considering reviewing the church's "auditing" process to make sure its not detrimental to the campus/society. Does that sound correct? If so, these two processes don't seem similar. One is reviewing processes to determine if they could be hurting the campus/society, the other is reviewing individual people to determine if they can align with religious doctrine. Taking each "auditing" at face value without knowledge of any potential biases or hidden motivations, the Committee's goal of auditing processes appears be to prevent future harm to society, while the Church's goal of auditing people appears to be more about ensuring adoption of ideological doctrine. As far as goals go, these don't sound similar and I would much sooner support the former than the latter.

    1. I understand the distinction you are drawing, but find it naively literal-minded. In both cases the institutions are trying to achieve ideological purity, just at different stages of the membership process. "Detrimental to campus culture" is a vague and sweeping category. Is the Roman church detrimental to campus culture by not allowing women to be priests? Is the Republican Party detrimental to campus culture by its opposition to gay marriage? If so, what if their membership practices reflect those principles? Will the audit try to force the organizations into ideological conformity with Harvard College's views of nondiscrimination, just as the College has effectively banned other forms of deviance even among off-campus private organizations to which students belong?

      By the way, a student posed an interesting question to me. What will the College do if it discovers that some professor's course or some department's concentration is far more out of step with the demographics of the College than the student groups the College will be auditing?

  2. Thank you for your response, even if "naively literal-minded" came off a bit aggressive to my ear. I agree with you that there is absolutely an argument to be made that the difference here is of degree rather than category. That being said, there are varying levels of scrutiny that can be applied when assessing or challenging review policies such as these and I think we could agree that the Committee's policy would fair better than the Church's policy would, at least with respect to the lower levels of scrutiny.

    Regarding your student's question, it raises an interesting point but I would think its actual application is less interesting. Correct me if you disagree, but I would guess that the likely answer to "what will the college do" is "nothing." The College’s Committee on Student Life has significant authority over student groups but little or no authority over faculty hiring and firing, and the level of authority in the organizational chart at which the student life and faculty resources departments have common oversight is likely far enough removed and high enough that they would not give significant effort to correcting the misalignment absent significant external motivation (i.e., public or donor outcry, negative publicity).

  3. I agree that the answer to my rhetorical question is "nothing," but that suggests a certain moral inconsistency in rooting out objectionable "campus cultures".

    if "naively literal-minded" comes across as a bit aggressive to your ears, I would suggest that "eat your children" comes across as a bit aggressive to mine. At least I am willing to attach my name to my opinions.

  4. I agree on the moral inconsistency, which is not unheard of when comparing the treatment of students to the treatment of faculty, but your mileage on that may vary.

    Good point about the eat your children! It's just A Modest Proposal, wink wink. Really though, the anonymity was unintended, I didn't realize this platform would still have that old moniker attached to my account. It doesn't look like I have the option to change it under "Comment as" so I guess I'll have to look around in Google or Blogger to see where its pulling from. Sorry about that. :)