Thursday, January 3, 2008

Zywicki on the Student Life Initiative

I was doing some background research on the history of the Student Life Initiative, looking through the Dartmouth Review's archives (since last spring, The Dartmouth's archives are unfortunately gone), when I came across an old quote from future trustee Todd Zywicki in a January 2000 article about the administration's approach to social life:

Some are alarmed at the broad mandate for control of students' lives that an enforced Principle of Community would give the College. One example of an infraction that the new judicial system would punish, the report says, is last year's 'ghetto party,' a fraternity party that had a theme some students found offensive. The scope of the new 'unified College-wide judiciary system,' then, would include supervision of expressive conduct, including speech. The Principle of Community also seems to apply to casual interpersonal relations and political beliefs, especially beliefs about the educational value of 'diversity' and affirmative action.

'This is brainwashing, pure and simple,' says Todd Zywicki '88, Assistant Professor of Law at George Mason University. 'They want to ensure that students think in the way they desire. This report is an astounding social engineering document and its aim is the re-education of students once they get to Dartmouth. The College doesn't like that it doesn't know what goes on behind the closed doors of a fraternity. They want pervasive supervision of students.'

The dismantling of fraternities and sororities at Dartmouth would mean the end of student-controlled social spaces and the regulation of student social lives by the Dartmouth administration. In this way, campus critics argue, the Social Life Initiative represents the infantilization of students at Dartmouth...

'Greek organizations are Burke's 'little platoons' that link atomized students to the history and legacy of Dartmouth, and act as the mediating institutions that Tocqueville talked about,' says Zywicki. 'Fraternities provide a comfort zone for students to consider and debate uncleansed ideas. That's why Dartmouth wants them broken into atomized pieces, the better to remold them into the new Dartmouth mindset.'

I also found this section of the article really interesting:

Whatever the particular merits of the Greek system, Dartmouth's move to tightly regulate the social lives of students on and off-campus signals the adoption of the in loco parentis role that universities abandoned in the 1960s and 70s in response to student protests. 'Students don't rebel against adult guidance in the way they did 30 years ago,' President Wright told The New York Times last March. Wright's Dartmouth is leading universities in returning to the pre-1960s mission of defining students values—in his case, 'based on Dartmouth's Principle of Community and on adherence to norms of civil behavior.'

It's clearly a break from the past. 'I graduated from college in 1968 and the whole point of going to college then was to get institutions and parents out of my life,' Harry Lewis, Dean of Harvard College, said in the same March 3 Times article. 'I worry about the narrowing impact that such a well-supervised college experience might offer... There is something troubling about students working so hard to fulfill the dreams of others. It makes it harder for them to discover something of their own, get excited and pursue it.'

Zywicki's concerns about the judicial enforcement of the Principle of Community, which did not end up happening, are right on the money. The Principle are incredibly subjective:

The life and work of a Dartmouth student should be based on integrity, responsibility and consideration. In all activities each student is expected to be sensitive to and respectful of the rights and interests of others and to be personally honest. He or she should be appreciative of the diversity of the community as providing an opportunity for learning and moral growth.
The SLI report actually suggested hauling organizations in front of the what became the Organizational Adjudication Committee for failing to provide "moral growth" and for not being "sensitive" and "respectful". Trying to enforce these wishy-washy moral standards would have been a parallel to the House Un-American Activities Committees. Although Dartmouth has stated that the Principle of Community are not judicially enforceable, during the Zeta Psi fiasco this apparently took place anyway, according to a 2001 TDR article:

Dean Redman argued to me, in person, that he was able to punish Psi Upsilon for violating the Principle of Community. Yes, that selfsame Principle of Community that the Student Handbook notes 'in itself is not adjudicable'. The vehicle for this was a requirement of the Minimum Standards that says fraternities and sororities are obliged to incorporate the spirit of the Principle of Community into their charters. Thus, Dean Redman claimed the ability to punish them for violating the spirit Principle of Community. In essence, he is punishing them on the basis of a speech code that applies to 40% of the College's undergraduate population, but not to the other 60%. If these students were not Greeks, their speech would not be punishable (ignoring, for the moment, Redman's asinine views on harassment).

Although the Minimum Standards of that era are gone, the current 89-page CFS handbook does state that Greek organizations must, as a requirement for recognition, "ensure that its conduct, purpose, and activities are consistent with the mission of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth College Principle of Community," which does seem to contradict the statement that the Principle are not adjudicable.

The entire concept of the Principle of Community is very questionable. Without a doubt, the presence of any racism, sexism, or homophobia at Dartmouth is a serious problem. But these problems cannot be solved by a three sentence edict from the Board of Trustees. Unlike its peers - the Standards of Conduct, the Academic Honor Principle, and the statement on Freedom of Expression and Dissent - the Principle are overwhelmingly vague, leaving it a danger to Greek organizations when its adherence becomes a condition for recognition. Around Dartmouth, it gets placed on the walls of offices and reception rooms. It becomes the justification for every social life recommendation, every decision, every program. It represents the epitome of 21st century quasi-corporate politically-correct head-in-the-sand thinking - the belief that mission statements and the like actually matter, and that decisions should be based around them. Any belief that the Principle of Community have made Dartmouth a more inclusive place is absurd. Dartmouth has become more inclusive because the world is becoming more inclusive and because students are actively seeking to make Dartmouth more inclusive. Certainly, administrators have been making a difference in improving diversity (the fine folks of the Student Life Department, for example), but the belief that Dartmouth can be socially re-engineered from up high with disregard for the things that students care about (i.e. the Greek system) is flat-out misguided. Dartmouth's improved inclusiveness has not occurred because the trustees published a statement twenty-eight years ago or because they aimed a wrecking ball at the Greek system nine years ago.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now hold on a minute -- Dartmouth committees might be like HUAC in the sense that they are unfair or questionable or have other flaws, but that's as far as the parallels go. Dartmouth is a private institution, not a government or a branch of one.

There is no rule at Dartmouth that is "judicially enforceable" as some kind of law, rather than as a mere condition of a student's contract for housing or an organization's contract for official recognition.

There has been no judicial enforcement of Zete's punishment.

A student, for example, who fails to pay or violates some other term of his contract, such as the requirement that he follow published rules of behavior, can see that contract terminated or some lesser penalty enforced. If the student sues Dartmouth for breach of contract, a court might or might not uphold such penalties depending on whether they comply with the requirement (in the contract) that Dartmouth act reasonably. In the Cole case, the court did not excuse the students' behavior (it was not at issue) but found that Dartmouth's penalty in that case was not reasonable -- in contract terms.

It seems unlikely that Dean Redman told you that Zete was being punished for violating the Principle of Community. You must recognize that a group's failure to amend its charter [for any purpose, including the incorporation of the spirit of the Principle] is completely different from a violation of the Principle itself. Are you sure Dean Redman didn't say he was punishing Zete for this omission, not for a violation of the Principle per se?

Even if he did say that, I wouldn't put much stock in such an unofficial comment to you. You seem bent on creating a legalistic system of discipline at Dartmouth, one that imitates the civil court system, and so you shouldn't mind having only official rulings to work with, not personal comments. The official reasons for Zete's punishment were its violation of a Dartmouth Standard of Conduct and two violations of the house's own local and national charters, according to the Review.

As punishment, Dartmouth terminated whatever contract it had with Zete. Zete was free to sue but did not. You are going to have to work really hard to try to turn this contract question into a "free speech" issue.

David Nachman said...

The quote was from a 2001 Dartmouth Review article, as I mention, so Redman was talking to the article's author, not to me.

When I talk about "judicial," I mean within Dartmouth's judicial system, namely the Committee on Standards for students and the Organizational Adjudication Committee for organizations (including Greek organizations) which are authorized by the trustees to conduct disciplinary hearings.

In comparing the potential adjudication of the Principles of Community, I was making the point that holding hearings on whether students or organizations have been "respectful" and have been promoting "moral growth" is not dissimilar to a Congressional committee trying to determine whether or not citizens are "patriotic" and acting "American"

David Nachman said...

My overall point here is there is faulty logic in dealing with the Principle of Community:

The college says that the Principle of Community are not enforceable:
"Because the Principle of Community is a statement of aspirations and values and not a promulgation of rules, it cannot be the basis of a disciplinary hearing."

Yet abiding by the Principle of Community is a condition for the recognition of Greek organizations, which places the Princple beyond merely being "aspirations" and certainly into the category of "rules"

Anonymous said...

So Zywicki called out the SLI while it was launching. Now that it's dead, why's he still talking about it as if it's some kind of threat? How relevant is his scary "social engineering" theme when the very program he's talking about was officially buried by the administration?

Anon. 1:40 said...

There's a difference between requiring organizations to put the Principle into their charters and actually requiring them to abide by it.

Where does Dartmouth say that "abiding by the Principle of Community is a condition for the recognition of Greek organizations"?

David Nachman said...

Anon. 9:15 -
It's a January 2000 article, but interesting because of his recent controversial comments.

Anon. 1:40 -
Abiding by the Principle is listed as a condition for recognition in the CFS handbook, which is linked to in the post.

Anonymous said...

You're right, as you said originally, that "Recognition for all Dartmouth College CFS organizations is conditioned on adherence to [the] ... General Requirement[] ... that its conduct, purpose, and activities are consistent with the mission of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth College Principle of Community."

So why, again, do we think that Dartmouth has ever punished a group for violating the Principle? It says clearly that the Principle is not adjudicable. A 2001-era comment to a Reviewer, repeated third-hand, is not an example.

I still think you've fallen into Emmett Hogan's willful self-confusion. Zete's punishment for failing to amend its charter was not a punishment for violating the Principle. (Hogan was also confused about the difference between an individual and an organization, between state action and private action, between criminal and civil law, and between a speech code and something else, but we'll let that go.)

David Nachman said...

According to Review article:

"The vehicle for this was a requirement of the Minimum Standards that says fraternities and sororities are obliged to incorporate the spirit of the Principle of Community into their charters. Thus, Dean Redman claimed the ability to punish them for violating the spirit Principle of Community."

How exactly does one incorporate the spirit of the Principle into their charter. Dartmouth organizations are required to not discriminate, but that's Dartmouth-wide policy, not a facet of the Principles of Community.

None of this makes any sense. According to the rules, CFS organizations need to be re-recognized every year. So presumably Redman approved Zete's recognition every year, including accepting its charter. But when Zete gets in trouble for other reasons, suddenly its charter is no longer acceptable.

Anonymous said...

"How exactly does one incorporate the spirit of the Principle into their charter"?

Easy. Insert a sentence in the Preamble or Purposes section that says "The Chapter values all community voices" or whatever. It would take a few minutes at the annual house corporation meeting. It's easy, and it does not make the Principle adjudicable.

Emmet's conclusion that the Principle has become adjudicable does not make any sense, and it's in an article that's several years old, full of idiotic statements, and written by Emmett. Just because he says so does not make it so.

"Dartmouth organizations are required to not discriminate, but that's Dartmouth-wide policy, not a facet of the Principles of Community."

How is that relevant? Dartmouth organizations are required to clean up their lawns, too, if they have them.

"presumably Redman approved Zete's recognition every year, including accepting its charter. But when Zete gets in trouble for other reasons, suddenly its charter is no longer acceptable."

You need to get the facts on this. I'll bet Zete's violation was prior to its next re-approval, and it was never re-approved after being told to amend its charter the first time. And if Zete was approved notwithstanding its failure to amend, then wasn't that kind of Dartmouth? The corporation probably only meets at Homecoming, meaning that a correction would take months; Dartmouth avoided derecognizing Zete for a silly matter of months after it made assurances that it would comply next time around.

None of this is confusing or nonsensical. If Dartmouth's derecognition were unjustifiable, then Zete (with Toddy on its side) would have sued. The Zete corporation knows better than anyone whether Dartmouth followed its own rules, and they haven't bothered to take any legal action at all.

Anonymous said...

Zywicki's past views on a past program are interesting now that he has got himself in hot water. But they are not worth discussing on their merits. His unsolicited and somewhat ignorant opinions on a program that no longer exists should stay in the archive.