A new week. A new USG-related brouhaha. The Prince breathlessly reported this morning that the USG had failed to follow through with a recently passed referendum—that all USG members publicly declare whether they’ve signed a pledge to never solicit recommendations from University administrators. If the Prince comments are any indication, a handful of students have gotten pretty vitriolic about making sure USG members are prohibited from asking administrators for references because of a possible “conflict of interest.”
I understand the spirit behind the pledge—that USG members shouldn’t be unethical. But it’s unclear to me why getting a recommendation from an administrator has become the flashpoint over ethics and why asking for a recommendation should even be considered unethical. [Full disclosure: I'm the U-Council Chair on the USG.]
Several USG members work very closely with certain administrators over long periods of time. The ULC Chair, for instance, works hand-in-hand with Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson to address student life issues (i.e. gender-neutral housing). The current ULC Chair, Arthur Levy ’10, has held the position for two years. I profess that I actually have no idea what Levy’s relationship is with VP Dickerson, but I’d imagine they’ve developed a good working relationship over the years. Why shouldn’t someone such as Levy be able to ask VP Dickerson for a recommendation? She has known him for over two years—a longer period of time than most student-faculty relationships. By now, she probably knows him well enough to make an informed assessment about Levy and his leadership abilities. And who knows? It’s entirely possible that VP Dickerson may not think highly of Levy and would decline a hypothetical request for a recommendation. She could even write him a bad recommendation, for all we know.
If students feel that a USG member is using his position only to advance his personal ambitions by sucking up to administrators, the students have the power to vote him out of office in the next election by choosing someone else. That’s how a representative body works. That’s why there are elections. (And why are students on the Honor Committee exempt from the referendum?)
Furthermore, as far as I know, the USG has never had this sort of running-for-office-for-the-sole-purpose-of-getting-a-recommendation problem. There are much easier, less time-consuming ways to get a recommendation from an administrator. And do people really believe administrators dangle recommendations in front of USG members like carrots to silence the USG? Conversely, do people actually think USG members are unwilling to disagree with the administration over issues they care about?
Whether students acknowledge it or not, the USG has actually accomplished several large projects that wouldn’t have been possible if the members were simply sucking up to the administration: grade deflation letter distribution, Garden Theater, gender-neutral housing, etc. The USG has made real strides towards reforming P/D/F, something that has eluded past USG administrations for years. In addition, the USG is currently negotiating with the administration about the painting fines that have threatened to wreak havoc on student bank accounts.
This uproar only seems to demonstrate how overly competitive Princeton students have become with each other—and that some people are so hell-bent on getting themselves ahead that they want to cut down other students who may pose as “competition.” (And for the record, I have not asked—and am not planning to ask—any administrators for recommendations. If anything, I feel that my professors and advisers know me better anyway. But even still, if a USG member wants to ask an administrator for a recommendation, why should he be prohibited from doing so?)
And why stop at administrators for USG members? If the goal of this pledge is to prevent a “conflict of interest,” then using the same logic USG members should be prevented from getting recommendations from ANY faculty member with whom they’ve worked in a USG capacity. What’s next? A student referendum banning USG members from bickering eating clubs where other USG members are already in? After all, what if they use their position to garner up-cards instead of fulfilling their USG duties. I smell “conflict of interest”!
Is this a symptom of grade deflation and its effect on the student body? Can students really not stand the thought of a peer getting recommendations from administrators whom he may know very well? It seems like much of the controversy is over unfounded and baseless paranoia. It’s getting creepy!