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Asking Questions

Every good Eph lawyer knows that, in court, you only ask questions that you already know the answer to. Why doesn’t the College poll students on their opinions about anchor housing? Daniel Rosensweig ’08 notes that:

a choice not to poll the students indicates one of 2 things: first, that those in charge don’t care what the poll indicates; or second, that they’re afraid it will reveal overwhelming opposition. If they both cared about the results, and they expected the results to be favorable, then a poll would only serve to validate the system through evidence of widespread campus support.

Exactly correct. The more interesting question is why the 4 student members of the CUL don’t call for a poll. Indeed, as the anchor housing debate winds down, the last unanswered questions concern what those 4, relatively powerful, students request/demand on behalf of their peers. (If I were Anchors Away, I would be privately lobbying them to insist that CUL not institute the plan immediately, that it allow for 6 months of further discussion. If there really is widespread feeling against anchor housing, this feeling could be expressed during the spring College Council elections.)

My sense is that, despite the fact that CUL students like Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 and Karen Untereker ’05 have conducted themselves in an examplarly fashion throughout the debate, they still habour a bit of a we-know-better-than-you attitude. In other words, even if 80% of the students — once being fully informed about CUL’s every-detail-worked-out plan — were still against it, Noah, Karen and the rest of the CUL would still vote to impose it.

CUL knows best.

If I am wrong about this inference, I apologise! In other words, if a substantial majority of (informed) student opinion against the plan would cause Noah and Karen to vote against the plan, then I retract the above. But then Rosensweig’s question stands unanswered. Someone should ask Karen about this tonight . . .

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#1 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On February 13, 2005 @ 11:26 pm

Policy isn’t (and shouldn’t be) recommended or adopted based on student majority opinion. That, quite simply, is your answer.

The CUL is much more interested in WHY students support (or don’t support) the concept than how many students support (or don’t support) it.

#2 Comment By Diana On February 14, 2005 @ 11:15 am

The CUL brings up the example of the old fraternity system: If they had polled students then about whether or not to abolish them, opinion would have been overwhelmingly opposed, yet we are all happy that they were abolished.

#3 Comment By Kevin On February 14, 2005 @ 6:28 pm

While it is true that policy at a place like Williams is not and should not be based on student majority opinion, I would still suggest that when the policy in question affects all students and is intended to increase their happiness, it might be wise to at least have some idea whether or not the students themselves believe that the policy will accomplish that goal. I’m not saying that opinion polls should become scripture, just that it would be nice if the CUL had some formalized and non-anecdotal measure of whether students are happy with the current housing situation and whether or not they believe the cluster system will make things better. It seems to me that it is difficult to increase student happiness by forcing upon the students a system that a large majority dislikes, no matter how well constructed that system is in theory.

As an additional note, Matt Piven, the host of the show, did ask Karen about why there has not been an official poll to guage student opinions. Karen’s response (this is from my memory, but I believe it is fairly representative of what she said) was that the CUL believed that most students did not know much about the proposal or were misinformed in what they did know, and this caused them to have a more negative opinion of cluster housing then they otherwise would, making the poll not a good gauge of how students would feel about the system as it is actually put into practice. This is a fair point, but Jon Misk ’07, the other guest on the show, had a good rebuttal in questioning why CUL was pushing so hard to get cluster housing operational by next fall, rather than taking some time to let students become better informed and more involved in the process.