Dear President Schapiro,
The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) housing proposal has already achieved its long-term goal of building a stronger community. On a campus of divergent views, the extent to which students agree about this new proposal is stunning. Too bad we all hate it.
The stupidity of the CUL proposal – especially limiting the size of housing draw groups to four students – is fairly self-explanatory and has been discussed on these very pages. I will not waste your time repeating it. The question which I pose to you now is this: how did an idea which is so clearly unpopular and undesirable make it so far up the ladder of campus politics, particularly given the repeatedly declared commitment of the CUL to solicit student feedback?
That was a rhetorical question, actually, because the answer is obvious: the CUL has solicited feedback as promised, they have received an enormous amount, and they have ignored it. How do I know? I know because I wrote the CUL a letter on this very subject and received an auto-response saying that they would probably not have time to respond to my letter individually.
This tells me not only that they are failing to engage with students as they should, but more importantly that they are so overwhelmed with feedback that they had to set up a procedure to deal with e-mail without having to respond in person.
And what do you think the content of that feedback is? I took the liberty of doing a rather unscientific survey of the first fifteen people I came across on a fine Saturday morning in February and all fifteen were strongly opposed to the CUL proposal â€“ especially the restriction of pick-in groups to four. Some didn’t even understand the question. As one responder exclaimed, “why are you bothering to ask that?!” So let me put forth a hypothesis: the CUL is receiving large amounts of feedback, and that feedback is uniformly opposed to the very existence of its effort; thus the feedback is not exactly given first priority. Traditional avenues for student action, such as the increasingly marginalized College Council (CC), seem to be similarly cut off. My CC representative, in response to large amounts of anti-CUL feedback that she was receiving, sent an e-mail to her constituency that said of pick-in size and gender capping, “Unfortunately, these issues are not particularly debatable.”
President Schapiro, surely you can agree that residential life is a student issue. How should the admissions department evaluate recruited athletes? Clearly the athletic department has a stake. How big should classes be? Clearly the faculty needs to be involved. But why are the opinions of a non-student group the most important ones on the question of where students live? I hope you see the irony in telling a group of people who are now living on their own that they are not mature enough to decide where they will do that living.
Don’t throw this letter out just yet; I do have a simple request. Sanction a campus-wide referendum on the most controversial elements of the CUL proposal using our online voting system, and publish the data. I volunteer to organize the vote, do the promotion for it (I’ll even pay the dollar per day to put it in the Daily Advisor!), and distribute the results. It won’t cost the administration a dime.
However, I want you to promise that when you see the absolutely dismal results â€“ and the CUL will be very lucky to get 20 percent support for some of its ideas â€“ you will send each student a letter (by mail, on nice paper, if that’s all right with you) that can say one of two things. Either announce that you are calling off this whole sordid exercise in bad decision-making, or explain that you do not care about student opinion on this matter, that student voice on this campus has exactly as much weight as it did in our mock democracies of high school, and that in the end you don’t care whether your committees listen to feedback â€“ only that they “solicit” it.
If you don’t hold a referendum, then you’ve already told us all the latter.