Letter to the community: On Synergy staff selection

Feb. 1, 2017, 12:29 a.m.

Synergy will not be giving unofficial offers this year, and we hope other houses will join us in this policy.

After an extensive discussion within our team and consideration of each of our experiences through staff selection, we have concluded that arguments in favor of unofficial offers cluster around two main points, both of which we believe are ultimately fallacious.

First, proponents of unofficial offers may feel that the “system” introduces faults and uncertainty in the process of staff selection, ultimately hindering the creation of the best possible team.

Second, the unofficial offer is often used nepotistically to give positions to “preferred” applicants, most often friends of the current staff.

While arguments against the latter use are obvious and (we hope) may rest unstated, we also wish to argue against the ostensibly well-intentioned former.

We do not have time to work through the logic of the match process in this opinion — so we state here our conclusion explicitly: it does not help either party to establish mutual rankings before the match ( the entire function of unofficial offers). This is a mathematical statement about the algorithm, not an abstract belief or hope. As much as we at Synergy oppose an unquestioning adherence to the system of law under the assumption that mere rigor is a proxy for justice, we believe that only by mutually supporting a fair and equitable system — the Match — can we achieve the best possible outcome for houses, applicants, and residents-to-be.

We now move on to consider the more insidious social influence of unofficial offers, an influence that complicates the staff selection process.

The staff application process is ingrained with fear: applicants fear they will not get a position; houses fear that they will not get the best possible staffs. Such fear however is the inverse impression of the care that both applicants and houses feel for the communities they represent. It is out of fear that we resort to the system of unofficial offers; in order to counter this fear we must learn to trust each other. We must trust that everyone — other applicants as much as other houses — cares about one another, as well as community, more than the mere notion of having a “staff position.”

Unofficial offers gain value by trading certainty against the potential of fear, thereby obscuring the best possible state of affairs. Applicants are encouraged to see any indeterminacy as weakness: by giving unofficial offers we create an environment of false scarcity, which aborts all processes of genuine self reflection which would otherwise be required of applicants to rank houses and conversely staffs to rank applicants according to the best interests of the community. The creation of staff teams should be a coherent and reflective process of self-organization in which applicants and houses decide the future of communities they deeply care about.

In the case of Synergy, if we view a staff position qua employment exclusively, we commodify a position of fundamental social and political responsibility. We all want a Stanford in which every house is the site of community and growth, of solace and vitality; we do want to create a staff that will benefit the immediate community of the house through their commitment to the social and intellectual well being of its members. It is such outward-emanating care for communities — rather than inward-facing competition — that should define the process and intentions of staff selection.

In the Trump era, it is pressing that we interrogate the logic that, “It’s what everyone has always done.” While the issue of staff selection seems a provincial concern with respect to the terror unfolding itself across the nation, we should wonder whether the boundary between relevant and irrelevant is indeed so well defined. Even though the cultural focus on post-graduation employability obscures this, we are the representatives and citizens of the world to be. The practices which we enact here and now are a material divination of those that will define the future of America — and the world over. Currently, our unofficial practices reflect the immoral and myopic perspectives of our contemporary world elite — the elite that forces applicants to fight over the right to earn a wage, that pits individual against individual to the service of an ambiguous “country” or “progress,” that has done the minimum required to stay within the boundaries of social acceptability.

We can do better. We can build our communities in ways that present a real and prescient potential for the improvement of society-at-large, into the ur-sites of social change. And we can start now, by choosing intentionality over transaction, responsibility over competition, care over fear in our selection of staff.


Contact Synergy staff at toyonaga ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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