On the front page of its Local section, today’s Delaware News Journal reports the latest in the ongoing saga of the University of Delaware Residence Life program. (The News Journal recently blasted UD for failing to repudiate the worst aspects of the program.) Yesterday evening, a group of student leaders and the Student Senate met with UD Vice President for Student Life Michael Gilbert and professor Matthew Robinson, who chairs the faculty’s Student Life Committee. According to the article and a student who attended, the students essentially told UD to stop trying to educate students through the residential program.
The students made a good argument: lots of student organizations already provide the programming that ResLife has been trying to impose from the top down. That’s the marketplace of ideas at work. The alternative is ResLife indoctrination, optional or not.
Besides, making controversial programming “optional” puts freshmen in a very awkward position from Day One. Freshmen would be told that they can opt out of events at exactly the time when they feel tremendous social pressure to go to lots of activities-especially dorm activities-in order to get to know the university and make friends. Making a politicized program “optional” does not go far enough if UD is to respect student autonomy-politicized topics should not be in the 2008 ResLife proposal at all.
And here’s another thing. The article quotes Robinson saying that “the draft we have now does not look a lot like previous drafts.” Indeed, the “previous drafts” were full-blown proposals that came directly out of ResLife. Call them drafts or proposals, it doesn’t matter to me, but three times ResLife sent a plan to the Student Life Committee, and three times the plan was sent back. I call that “rejected,” but the UD officials keep saying that nothing has actually been “rejected.” Double-speak is nothing new when it comes to ResLife (see what this official report has to say about replacing the word “curriculum” with the word “program”).
According to the article and inside reports, the current draft is already largely done. Inviting students to weigh in on a few parts of the plan, at this very late date, seems like mere window dressing, an attempt to say that students were consulted about the plan. But most of the draft has had virtually no student input. And the Student Life Committee has refused to reveal the details of the working draft for honest debate (so much for the new transparency). I call on the Student Life Committee to open the draft to genuine debate, and I urge the Faculty Senate to insist on making the final draft available for inspection as soon as it is delivered to the Senate. The students and the public deserve it. What does ResLife have to hide?