From the Community | Faculty Senate decides to take us back to 1955

April 30, 2023, 11:06 p.m.

Last Thursday, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution which begins: “The Faculty Senate finds that the current mechanisms are insufficient to ensure the academic integrity of our degree programs and, in line with the Articles of Organization of the Academic Council, re-assumes final responsibility for the maintenance of academic integrity.” That to me is a curious statement, because as someone who served as Chair of the Faculty Senate, I could not recall any mention of such a responsibility. Although The Stanford Daily notes: “The Faculty Senate’s latest motion, introducing proctoring, was passed by their action alone and justified ‘on the authority of the Faculty Senate,’” despite numerous readings of the governance documents of the Faculty Senate, I find no reference to any such authority. 

The only reference to any such authority in fact does not and cannot pertain to the Faculty Senate. In The Daily’s reportage of the Senate meeting we find this passage: 

“In 1955, the ASSU Honor Code Committee acknowledged the Honor Code as a privilege that students received from the faculty. ‘The faculty hold the prerogative to revoke the code at any time, if they feel it is not being handled properly,’ [Prof. Richard] Taylor said.” 

Yet here as well there is no specific document spelling out the Faculty Senate’s authority — which makes sense, since the Faculty Senate did not exist in 1955. 

Indeed this resolution does more than wind the clock back to 1955 — in so doing it erases the founding spirit of the Faculty Senate, shreds the current Honor Code, and violates a spirit of enfranchisement and participation enshrined in the Honor Code. Moreover, it does so by evoking extremely problematic characterizations of students. 

A lot happened between 1955 and 1968, when the Faculty Senate was established. It was founded in response to increased student (and some faculty) activism around civil rights and the Vietnam War. Stanford elected to have a robust and rational process through which University policies could be discussed and debated as democratically as possible. The fact that every Senate meeting contains a moment when any senator can ask a question of the President and the Provost is a sign of the founding spirit of the Stanford Faculty Senate — that everyone should be held accountable.  

So much of what had happened in US history since 1955 had been about enfranchisement of minorities of all sorts, and a recognition that if democracy is to have any meaning, it must have as wide a participation of peoples as possible. Hence the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, our country has yet to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, approved by the US Senate in 1972 but as yet unratified by the states.

I mention this historical context to show that the climate of the time was filled with the recognition of the importance of enfranchisement, and of democracy, and the people who established the Faculty Senate had these things on their minds. This basic spirit continues today — the current Honor Code remains a strong index to the same, essential collaborative spirit: “While the faculty alone has the right and obligation to set academic requirements, the students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honorable academic work.” 

What triggered the resolution to destroy that principle was the perception that students cheat with such frequency that they have breached the contract. Yet it was never debated whether or not proctoring will actually help reduce cheating, or, more importantly, whether the as-yet unsubstantiated gain warrants ripping up proud traditions and standing policies. In essence this resolution violated an important covenant regarding the Honor Code and in effect blackmailed the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) into either accepting the C-12 proposal it had unanimously voted down or accepting the Faculty Senate resolution. In either case it places the undergraduate student body within an entirely anti-democratic process. 

Those favoring the resolution spoke in ways that were to me deeply troubling, and of another age. For example, it was remarkable to me how ready many senators were to lump all undergraduates into one criminal class. When UGS representatives mentioned trust, not a few senators and others rolled their eyes in mockery. Sponsors of the resolution said it was “students” who had breached trust by cheating in the first place and accused “students” of acting “entitled.”  When this happened, I could not help but think — yes, that is exactly why some people did not (and still do not) want voting rights for Blacks and other minorities — after all, they were untrustworthy, tended toward criminality, and were demanding more and more social entitlements. 

Shockingly, and again reminiscent of the civil rights era and the period of decolonization, students were thought to be not ready for democracy precisely when they exercised their rights and took positions that were not the ones those in power wanted. This was made most apparent when senators made the argument that the UGS “would never change its mind” about proctoring, as if it were incumbent upon them to do so. It is exceedingly strange that Stanford puts in place a Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) curriculum extolling the virtues of citizenship and democracy, and then the Faculty Senate brazenly acts to disenfranchise the undergraduate members of its community and squelch a legitimate democratic vote.

Stanford undergraduates had followed the rules — they made their voices heard through their duly-elected representatives. They placed their faith in a process put in place by their university wherein a negative vote by the UGS or any of the other participating bodies would have mooted the re-instatement of proctoring. The Faculty Senate, departing from the spirit of its own founding documents, and in reversing a key principle of Stanford’s Honor Code, dragged us back to the good old days of 1955, when people were all in their proper places, to override the UGS vote. Let’s be clear: those favoring proctoring were losing, so, rebuffed by the democratic process, they simply changed the rules of the game and reinstated authoritarianism. They rationalized this take-over by deploying a now familiar tactic — delegitimizing a fair and honest election.  

Ironically, the Faculty Senate, in passing a resolution to restore authority it never had, may have also acted improperly in unilaterally changing the principles of the Honor Code (“While the faculty alone has the right and obligation to set academic requirements, the students and faculty will work together to establish optimal conditions for honorable academic work”).

Perhaps on all COLLEGE syllabi there should be a disclaimer: “Some of the ideals and values mentioned here may not apply to you. If you wish to find out, ask your professor.” Simply put: in the increasingly Orwellian world of Stanford University, those who voted for this resolution broke a rule and broke a contract in order to punish an entire category of people for the acts of the few who break rules and contracts. This is called “collective punishment” and it is illegal and unethical. I brought this up in Senate — no one cared. Those who voted to strip the entire undergraduate population of their rights were able to do so because it is they who feel entitled to hold to no other code of behavior than the one they themselves invent.

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