Libresco: Exposing our committees

Apocalypse Next

I didn’t know I had been appointed to the Yale Standing Committee on Science and QR until about eight months after my term as a committee member began, because that’s how long it was before I was ever contacted about scheduling a meeting. I believe it met about twice that term, but meetings were not scheduled at a time I could attend, and I never received agendas or minutes from any meetings that did occur, so I can’t tell you what it did. My friend who served on the Course of Study Committee did get to go to meetings, and she found the work of approving courses rewarding. However, the committee discussed only one, relatively narrow longer-term item the entire year, and she herself had no opportunity to propose agenda items or topics for discussion.

As a result, I’m extremely skeptical of Yale’s response to the Title IX case, which has been primarily the formation of new committees. Yale has created a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, but I don’t have reason to believe that it will be any more effective or responsive than the committee I served on.

I can’t help being suspicious that Yale creates these committees whenever scandal erupts to coopt the news cycle and dissipate student anger. I attended one of the talkbacks at the Provost’s office following the Title IX filing, and I can’t tell what Yale plans to do with the comments it solicited, besides get them directed at administrators rather than news cameras.

Yale’s committees move slowly and some of the information they collect is confidential, so we often end up waiting forever for an anodyne-sounding report. The administration may be doing its best to work within constraints, but from a student perspective, the outcome looks identical to what I would expect if Yale only ever intended to quiet criticism on campus.

The Title IX filing is primarily focused on Yale’s handling of sexual assault and severe incidents of harassment. Yale’s disciplinary responses in these situations are hard to discover (one of the reasons Yale women distrust it), so let’s just consider a high profile incident — the DKE case — and take a look at Yale’s reaction.

After the DKE incident, the University announced the creation of a Committee on Initiations and Hazing that would examine initiation ceremonies of registered and unregistered undergraduate organizations. At the time, I was an officer in the Yale Political Union, the largest undergraduate group on campus, but neither I nor any officer since was ever contacted by the committee. I never saw incidents that would have garnered their interest, but the oversight and continued silence hardly gives me confidence in Yale’s commitment.

The other committee formed in response to DKE, the Sexual Misconduct Policy Task Force, has birthed a new committee to “evaluate how the University can best educate the Yale community about sexual misconduct and respond to incidents” (“DKE task force advocates education,” March 2). The same News story that announced the creation of this new committee didn’t give its name or any details of what it actually plans to do, so I am even less able to evaluate its impact than I was able to spot the problems with the Initiations committee.

Yale can’t ask us to just give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when our experience with committees is so poor. It’s entirely possible my skepticism about the new committees is unwarranted, but Yale has not given us the data we need to be convinced.

The administration could make a good start by announcing clearer goals for these committees instead of vague statements about oversight and improvement. Agenda for meetings could be posted (with any confidential details censored) so that students have some idea of what data is being considered and how recommendations are made. Instead of only releasing a list of recommended actions to the News, the committee could detail proposed solutions that were discarded and explain why they were rejected.

To keep track of all this data, a central website should be created where students can easily see what committees exist and browse through their reports and recommendations. Currently, you need to know that a committee exists and know it by name to even have a chance of finding information.

Forcing committees to clearly disclose their goals, their recommendations and the data that informed their judgment isn’t enough to guarantee that they will be useful. But at least with access to this information, students could evaluate the work that is being done and hold the University accountable for its promises of action.

Leah Libresco is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.

Comments

  • Labanite

    I’m with you. And for the record, I also got onto a standing committee, and only found out that meetings had occurred at the beginning of Spring Semester.

  • 11

    I had the same experience with the Science an QR committee two years ago. I believe it met two or three times, and we didn’t do anything of substance.

  • penny_lane

    This is exactly why Dean Miller’s “But…but…we formed *committees*!” argument really doesn’t cut it.

  • concerned

    From my perspective of having completed an exclusively male (faculty) Graduate School (PhD) program, the current University committees covering campus sexual harassment and assault constitute highly unethical educational policy and practice. This is because they so clearly serve to maintain a defective student learning environment. Over the years, if not over the semesters, these committees have shadowed the horrible victimization of indvidual students rather than undertake the real work of equal opportunity.