University President Lee Bollinger thinks you are an idiot or at least too stupid to decide what character traits you do and do not admire in your peers.
“Civility, dignity, diversity, education, equality, freedom, honesty and safety” these are the “values” of the University community. That”s what the Code of Student Conduct now renamed (in traditional Orwellian “newspeak”) the “Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities” says anyway, along with its paternalistic supporters like Bollinger. In fact, these values are so important that the University had to establish a disciplinary mechanism to coerce students (and only students) into upholding these supposed “values of the University community.”
Question one: Where did these values come from? More specifically, who decided that these are the values of “the University community.” What makes the person or body who/that makes the aforementioned decision qualified to do so?
Question two: Why these values? This particular selection seems arbitrary to the point of being ridiculous. Why is “safety” an explicitly-stated value of the University community and not, say, “tolerance” or “courage”?
Assistant Principal … I mean Office of Student Conflict Resolution Director Keith Elkin, whose sole duty is to ensure that students behave (that has to be a rewarding job), doesn”t even know the answer to this question.
“I have to plead some ignorance in that I joined the University after the values were set,” Elkin said when he spoke before the Michigan Student Assembly about the Code earlier this month.
Question three (this is the most important one): What constitutes a violation of the above-mentioned values and why? And what happens when two or more of these values conflict? How do we determine which value “wins” when we have to choose between, for example, “freedom” and “safety”?
Despite any claims Bollinger or Vice President of Student Affairs E. Royster Harper might make about how students are deeply involved in the recommendation process, students have absolutely no substantive authority to decide what our own values are supposed to be and how those values should be enforced (or if they should be enforced at all). The ultimate authority to modify the Code rests in Bollinger”s hands, not students or even a democratically appointed committee composed of students, faculty, staff and administrators.
For the sake of argument, let”s assume (wrongly) that we need a Code in the first place and that the arbitration process is fair.
Let”s temporarily accept the contractualist argument presented in the Code”s Introduction, that “When students choose to accept admission to the University, they accept the rights and responsibilities of membership in the University”s academic and social community. As members of the University community, students are expected to uphold its values by maintaining a high standard of conduct.”
Let”s further assume that even though the Code purports to promote the values of the entire University community (which I suppose is composed of students, faculty, staff and administrators) it is okay for the Code to apply solely to students.
If students are supposed to be upholding the University community”s values, values we along with faculty, staff and administrators supposedly hold collectively, why do we have absolutely no power to help decide (not suggest) what those values are and what constitutes a breach of them?
Because the values enforced by the Code have not be democratically determined, the Code is not just structurally flawed (in that it systematically denies students their basic rights) it is fundamentally self-contradictory.
To illustrate my point: Most students are “educated” (there”s another Orwellian euphemism) under the Code for underage drinking in the residence halls. OSCR determines that this is a violation of the Code the rationale probably being, we may suppose, that underage drinking violates the University community”s value of “safety,” or maybe “honesty.”
It is difficult to see what is so unsafe or dishonest about underage drinking, and even if some OSCR bureaucrat could give you decent answer, there”s no question that the “safety” value is selectively enforced otherwise OSCR would also be prosecuting students who, say, ride motorcycles. Particularly with underage drinking cases, students should feel offended that the University is prosecuting their peers in the name of “community values” when almost no student thinks that there is anything wrong with drinking before one”s 21st birthday.
There also seems to be an internal contradiction in prosecuting first-year students enjoying some cheap beer in Markley under the premise that this activity is “unsafe” or “dishonest” when, apparently, another one of the University community”s values is “freedom.” How are Elkin and his cronies to resolve this?
They can”t, the Code”s theoretical foundations can”t possibly be coherent until all students get to decide for themselves what their own values are and if/how to enforce them.
Nick Woomer”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.