Big brother is watching
The University is approaching a slippery slope in requiring students to report their criminal histories
Where is the easy button?
I have been searching Grounds to find it but have not yet caught sight of that bright red button that promises to solve all of life's problems. It isn't that I really intend to use it, but I would like the security of knowing there is one out there for the average Joe. Despite being an institution devoted to creating customers for Staples, I don't think that the University has had much luck getting hold of that elusive device either. Perhaps that is why the school appears to use every crisis as an opportunity to create its own home-spun, tenderly fashioned, easy button.
Overall, the University's academic and administrative leadership can be considered among the finest in the nation. Although I respect the position of administrators on Grounds, and admire their character and achievements, I certainly do not envy their responsibilities. I cannot think of a more challenging job than attempting to coordinate a community of 14,000 undergraduates plus graduate and professional students. The challenges our leadership faces on a daily basis must be truly daunting.
Because of the University's vast size, when a crisis situation does occur, an urgent push for a solution always seems to emerge. In the wake of recent tragic events, the University has been proactive by undertaking a thorough review of policy to see what could be changed to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. The University, however, must proceed with caution when initiating new programs because what may seem like a quick-fix can have potentially negative repercussions for students' rights.
A prime example of that is the University's recent netbadge initiative which prompts students to report previous arrests before logging into their University e-mail account. Students must also agree to disclose any future arrests within 72 hours to the appropriate University officials or face consequences under the honor code. Although the reporting system is entirely legal, University students have expressed mixed feelings about the system. As third-year studio art major Rachel Weinstein commented, "It doesn't really inconvenience me, but I still think it is an unwelcome change. It makes me feel less trusted. The University reprimanding someone isn't going to change their mind if they are set on doing something illegal." Many students have echoed Weinstein's doubts regarding the new system's efficacy.
In fact, The Cavalier Daily published an editorial ("Blurring the line," Aug. 30), highlighting the ambiguity found in the University's ITC codes. Likewise, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rated the University's ITC policy as yellow light for creating the potential to "ban or excessively regulate protected speech."
By leveraging the enormous power the school holds through control of the internet on Grounds, the University is using ITC as a virtual easy button to help University officials identify potentially dangerous students. There is an air of big brother in all of this mandatory and voluntary reporting the University has encouraged recently. According to the Office of the Dean of Students, we are supposed to report on each other if we have "witnessed an act of bias or disrespect in our community," using the conveniently named Just Report It! System. Now we are being prompted to report about ourselves as well. If this were a court of law, I believe we would have the right to remain silent.
Unfortunately, the University has chosen to expend additional energy and institutional power to track almost all of the extralegal behavior of its students. In theory, that means the University should know about every marijuana arrest, underage drinking charge, and indecent exposure arrest of all students on Grounds. When looking at the amount of data that must be collected, and the worthlessness of the majority of that information, it begs the question: Why should University students be required to report those incidents in the first place? Being arrested does not necessarily indicate guilt, and the majority of students that are innocent under the law should not be forced to divulge personal information.
Living in a free society requires that individuals and institutions take risks and there is a cost-benefit trade-off to every decision. The University, however, must proceed with caution when instituting reporting systems of any kind - not necessarily because they are illegal, but because of the message those systems send to students. Through the reporting system, the University has made the decision that investing in an untried method of reducing crime is worth invading the privacy of thousands of innocent students. Even students who believe the reporting system will serve as a barrier to future crimes should consider if the protection granted by the policy is worth the sacrificed privacy. In the real world, there is no such thing as an easy button, so what price are we willing to pay for the goals we want to achieve?
Ginny is an opinion editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.