If you haven’t heard by now, the University reversed its decision to take away TDX’s house just eight days after first announcing it.
To say this is an unexpected turn of events is an understatement. After the initial revocation of TDX’s housing, I had written a piece defending TDX and Greek life in general (not the most original of takes, I’ll admit) only to have to scrap it when this decision was announced. This is such an absurd turn of events that the headline, “TDX housing restored after University discovers ‘procedural flaw’ in SOE guidelines” is virtually unparodiable. Admin has turned into the hook, butt and punchline of a joke entirely of its own making. It’s a self-destruct sequence so excruciating that I imagine even folks who don’t particularly like admin must at least feel some degree of pity, if not sympathy. After all, you really don’t hear stories about university officials being forced to apologize to frats all that often.
And, of course, it doesn’t help that they cited perhaps the dumbest possible reason to explain all this: procedural errors.
Like, sure, Jan.
“Procedural errors” is a terrible reason to cite because it sounds like a lie meant to cover something else up (just like when administrators cited the very similar-sounding “administrative misstep” to explain why they reversed the decision to revoke the Outdoor House’s theme two days after they initially announced it, and it sounded like a lie meant to cover something up). What happened behind the scenes for TDX? Did some wealthy alumnus make a call? Did aliens scramble an administrator’s brain to make them more benevolent? We can only speculate, and we may never know.
But what I do know is that if this “procedural error” is the actual reason, then the situation is arguably worse. Admin claims that the “procedural error” is that it determined TDX’s fate based on a curved grade, as opposed to its raw grade, which was actually acceptable enough for them to keep their house. But, if this is true, then the question must be asked: Why on Earth would Greek organizations be graded on a curve?
TDX leadership characterized the process of attempting to meet the University’s requirements as trying to hit a “moving target.” If they really were being graded on a curve, that statement would literally be true. After all, being students, we have taken one-too-many tests to not know what grading on a curve does. The goal is to create an even distribution of grades such that there will always be people getting high grades even if no one scored high and always people getting low grades even if everyone scored relatively high. Grading on a curve is, by definition, a system meant to produce bad or failing grades, even if no one has failed in terms of raw score. If the administrators’ goal was, in fact, to merely regulate the conduct of Greek organizations and make sure they meet certain standards of propriety, why would they grade the organizations with a grading system that would, by definition, give a poor grade to at least one organization even if all of them have met the standards? In other words, organizations have either conducted themselves in a way deserving to be on campus or they have not, and if a Greek organization has met those standards, what difference does it make how it stacks up against other ones?
And, as most crafty students know with regards to their classes, curves are most often used in large introductory classes to weed out students by issuing them less-than-stellar grades. Are administrators trying to do the same with Greek life, weeding them out with the curve one by one? Perceptions that administrators are attempting to end Stanford Greek life as we know it are aplenty. By admitting that they grade on a curve, administrators have arguably bolstered suspicions that this is indeed the case.
And if it is indeed the will of administrators to end Greek life — or, at least, residential Greek life — on campus, it might be most advantageous at this point for them to come out and say it.
It might obviously generate some intense pushback, but is the present situation actually any better? Banning Greek life is potentially defensible, by which I mean there are decades of precedent from other colleges and universities doing exactly that based on sound reasoning and well-researched arguments. If the University were to similarly put forth a clear, transparent plan for Greek life that details their reasoning, the reception might be better than they expect.
I’m not saying myself or anyone else will necessarily agree with admin should they choose to do this — but I do know that students aren’t irrational; if they are offered a sensible plan based on legitimate rationales that will concretely improve the campus (as opposed to weird, arcane bureaucratic maneuvering), they will listen. Then, at least there will be a better chance for a genuine and productive conversation about the role of Greek life on campus, and there will certainly be a smaller chance of gaffes where administrators are forced to apologize due to “procedural flaws.”
You build consensus with honest, open talk about concrete and transparent policies. You can’t build consensus around unstated goals achieved through bureaucratic sorcery. If Stanford wants to ban Greek life, it should come out and say it so we can have an open, honest conversation about that. And if it doesn’t, then it really does seem that the Stanford bureaucracy needs to get a grip and get better at doing bureaucracy, even if it’s just for their own dignity’s sake.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.