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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the editor

In response to an article and letter in last week’s S & B concerning a proposal to add students to the Committee on Academic Standing, I would like to explain somewhat more fully my reasons for opposing the proposal.

Academic standing is not a matter of self-governance, because students do not award their own degrees. If a diploma from Grinnell College has any credibility with the outside world, the reason is that the diploma is backed by the faculty, who set the requirements for the degree, determine the norms for progress toward the degree, and recommend candidates for the degree. Analogies can be found in many simpler, everyday examples of training toward certification. If students were to form their own college and award degrees to each other, they would be entitled to rule on each other’s academic standing, but their diplomas would have a far different meaning.

It was proposed that students should have a voice when academic requirements are being applied to students. From this principle it would follow that students should have a voice in determining other students’ grade in a course, and that the grade would not necessarily express the judgment of the instructor.

Confidentiality is a complicating factor. Details about poor academic performance, and, particularly in appeals, about students’ physical or emotional health or financial circumstances, are sometimes presented by students themselves to CAS. It can even happen that an irate parent attempts to get involved. Students whose academic performance has been poor would reasonably wonder why other students need to know about and to deliberate about such personal and sensitive information.

I don’t know in any detail about the operation of the Judicial Council and the College Hearing Board, but I believe that there is a stronger argument for participation by students in the handling of cases of student misconduct which is injurious to other students. Similarly, the argument for students having access to some types of confidential information would be stronger in cases of this type.

My opposition to the proposal was not based on any information about irresponsible behavior by any of the students who had been attending meetings of CAS. My opposition was one of principle. This is not a matter of self-governance and not a matter of trust, but a matter of where the responsibility for the decisions rests.

Joseph Cummins
Departments of Classics and Philosophy

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