Category Archives: Campus News

Lessons from Argentina: Everything will be okay

A strike significant enough to shut down the subway in the nation’s largest city would worry Americans (or should I say the people of the United States, since, after all, Argentines consider themselves to be Americans as well). Yet in Buenos Aires, the magically chaotic capital city of Argentina, a major strike causing the Subte (the Buenos Aires subway) to close for six entire days provoked little concern. There, todo está bien—it’s all good.

This was the condition of Buenos Aires when I moved into my apartment in mid-July. As people could not get to work and students could not to get to class, the streets filled with people enjoying what seemed to be much-needed days off. The responsibility of fixing the wage conflict to get the subway workers back to work was merely a concern of the government and something its constituency did not greatly concern itself with.

Living and studying in Buenos Aires for five months completely changed my perspective on the political system of the United States. During my second week living in my home stay, as I was walking home from class one afternoon, cars started incessantly honking their horns in synchronization and people emerged from their apartment windows banging on pots and pans. Walking in the door of my apartment, my host mom handed me a pot and a wooden spoon and herded me out to the balcony of the apartment. We proceeded to laugh and scream, simultaneously banging on pots and exchanging gleeful glances with the other people in our building and on the street doing the same thing. Our building even managed to make a beat out of it, alternating which floor banged its pots when.

I had participated in my first cacerolazo. In order to protest the policies of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, or CFK as she is commonly called, middle class Argentines refuse to listen to her speeches; instead, they bang on pots, honk their horns and scream in unison to avoid hearing what she has to say.

This form of protest struck me as extremely confusing. How can you hope to change  what President Fernandez de Kirchner is doing if you do not first know what she is implementing? How can you work with the “enemy” without first listening to them?

With my interest in politics, I completed my first oral presentation in my Spanish class on the presidency of Argentina, comparing it with that of President Obama. Argentina historically has had an authoritative and controlling head of state. The Argentine president can implement her own legislation in the absence of any existing technicality granting her legal authority to write legislation.

The president can issue executive documents that, on paper, sound similar to the Executive Orders of the President of the United States. These decretos de necesidad y urgenica, or DNUs as they are more commonly referred, are executive documents with the force of law for a limited period of time. An amendment to the Constitution of Argentina in 1994 legalized DNUs. As the name implies, they are to be used only in extreme circumstances, out of necesidad (necessity) and urgencia (urgency), and only when a matter is so time-sensitive that it cannot be taken through the normal route of a law through Congress. Until 2006, the President of Argentina could issue DNUs without the presence of any legislative controls. Due to modifications to this law in 2006, both chambers of the legislature, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, must now approve or reject any DNUs of the president within 10 days; however, during this period the DNU is enforced. More importantly, an existing exception in the law requires that any existing DNU that offers new rights to a section of the population may not be rejected or removed from the law. Additionally, the role of bribery on the part of the president often taints the legislative process. In 2008, President Fernandez de Kirchner issued a DNU to increase the size of the budget by $11.6 billion, claiming legality and validation for this DNU given the pending possibility of a financial emergency. No emergency existed, besides the lack of adequate funds left in the budget to allow for functionality of the government, yet the decree is still in place today.

Why is President Fernandez de Kirchner not held accountable for her actions? Why is no one questioning the legality of her budget increase?

As I got settled in Buenos Aires, I also quickly learned about the Central Bank of Argentina’s ban on the purchase of U.S. dollars that was part of an effort led by President Fernandez de Kirchner. No matter what ATM or currency exchange place you go to, it is impossible to withdraw any form of U.S. dollar in Argentina. The government implemented the policy in order to protect its foreign reserves and pay off its growing debts in an effort to avoid addressing its rampant inflation. The only people in Argentina able to buy foreign currency must get permission from the national tax agency first and, moreover, must spend their dollars while traveling outside of Argentina. While a ban on the world’s predominant currency may seem perplexing, what’s even more surprising is the nonchalant attitude toward the black market that has developed since the ban. A black market for the U.S. dollar has exploded in the past six months. While the ATMS only offer $4.50 pesos for $1 USD, rates in the black market, referred to as “dólar blue” in Buenos Aires, have reached levels of $6.80 pesos for $1 USD. Shockingly, this illegal market is in no way hidden. Newspapers daily publish rates of the dólar blue market. Websites such as Xoom.com allow for constituents to place an order for the conversion of U.S. dollars to pesos at the black market rate, picking up the pesos at a series of unmarked buildings spread out every few miles. I would know—I myself was an avid customer. Bars even post signs next to the cash registers offering reputable exchange rates of $5.25 pesos for $1 USD. The government makes no effort to combat this black market activity, and it is not concealed whatsoever.

Again, I found myself asking, “Why is this allowed?” What is being done to actively fix the currency valuation problem?

Six months later, I am now repeating the same phrase my host mom would use to respond to my never-ending string of political questions: tranquilo. This phrase, which directly translates to “quiet” or “calm” has the same connotation in the Buenos Aires lunfardo (slang), as an offhanded, laid-back command of “Relax!”

Returning to the United States, I can’t help but be comforted by the Argentine acceptance of tranquilo. While every controversy in the United States political realm seems like the end of the world to politicians, the media, and engaged college students, at the end of the day the problem will most likely work itself out. In Argentina, questions regarding policy decisions and even protests go unacknowledged. It has reached such an extreme that Argentine citizens now protest merely to express their discontent, not sure of exactly where to begin. Focusing in on a single problem would simply be too narrowing.

There are problems, but the government still runs on a day-to-day basis. Buenos Aires is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and even one of the 10 happiest places to live in the world, according to a recent survey by Fast Company. The tranquilo response to political problems has permanently changed my mentality.  It’s impossible to explain away or fix every political problem that pops up. While it’s important to question decisions, at the end of the day, have faith in the system and relax. Everything will be okay. Todo está bien.

Title IX, sexual violence, and the preponderance standard

On Dec. 10, 2012, President Pamela Gann announced in an email to the student body that Claremont McKenna College had revised its sexual violence grievance procedures in accordance with a “Dear Colleague Letter (DCL)” issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR distributed the letter to all educational institutions in the United States that receive federal funding.

The DCL addresses Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which (as summarized by the letter) “prohibit[s] discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities operated by recipients of Federal financial assistance.” The letter states that sexual violence, in addition to sexual harassment, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.

The DCL stipulates numerous Title IX requirements to which recipients must adhere in investigating complaints of sexual violence. It requires that colleges and universities adopt and publish grievance procedures providing “prompt and equitable” resolution of sex discrimination complaints on campus.

As other educational institutions have done, Claremont McKenna revised its sexual violence grievance procedures in response to the DCL. In her email to the student body, President Gann wrote that these revised procedures “reflect our commitment to creating a safe community in a manner that is consistent with the law and which offers a fair and neutral process to all parties involved.”

Whether these procedures are, in fact, truly fair and truly neutral, is up for debate.

Of primary concern is the DCL’s requirement that schools use the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof in evaluating complaints of sexual violence. The preponderance standard is met if, evidence considered, it appears more likely than not (a greater than 50 percent probability) that the offense occurred. The DCL states explicitly that schools are not to use the clear and convincing standard (i.e. it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the assault occurred).

Federal civil courts use the preponderance standard in evaluating complaints. The DCL specifically notes that the Supreme Court uses the preponderance standard in civil cases involving discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a statute which likewise prohibits sex discrimination.

The OCR reasons that since the preponderance standard is used in federal civil cases involving sex discrimination, it is the appropriate standard for college and university sexual violence grievance procedures.

 

CMC’s Grievance Procedures

CMC’s revised Civil Rights Policies and Civil Rights Grievance Procedures are posted to the college’s website.

The document explains that complaints of alleged sexual assaults on campus shall be forwarded to the college’s Title IX Coordinator, who currently is Dean Mary Spellman. The Title IX Coordinator appoints an investigator trained in the college’s grievance procedures to conduct a “thorough, impartial, and prompt investigation of the complaint.” The investigator conducts interviews, gathers evidence, prepares a report of the investigation, and makes an appropriate finding based on a preponderance of the evidence.

If the Investigator determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent, the individual accused of the violation, did commit the sexual assault, the respondent may accept the findings or reject the findings (or accept them in part and reject them in part).

If the respondent rejects the findings in full or in part, the Title IX Coordinator forwards the complaint to the “Hearing Board” (the “Board”). The Board’s task is to conduct a hearing to provide an “equitable resolution via an equitable process.”

The Board consists of three persons appointed by the Title IX coordinator “selected from the members of the Investigator pool who were not involved in the original investigation and faculty who have been trained to review Civil Rights complaints.” The Title IX Coordinator designates one of the three individuals as “Chair” for the hearing. It is the responsibility of the Board to determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the defendant is guilty of committing the sexual offense, and to recommend the appropriate sanctions to be imposed upon the individual. For students, the possible sanctions are “up to and including suspension or expulsion.”

As articulated previously, the Office of Civil Rights justifies its requirement that colleges and universities use a preponderance standard in sexual violence grievance procedures because it is the standard used in federal civil cases involving discrimination. However, the OCR appears to disregard the significant differences that exist between campus grievance procedures, such as CMC’s Hearing Board procedures, and those of the federal civil system.

CMC Professor of Government and Ethics Joseph Bessette has studied both the Dear Colleague Letter and CMC’s revised grievance procedures in depth. He raises concerns about using such a low standard of proof in CMC’s grievance procedures: “What I find striking is that although it’s true that preponderance of the evidence is the regular standard of proof in civil courts throughout the United States, federal and state civil courts, there are so many differences between the rights that the respondent has in [civil] courts compared to [CMC’s] procedures that it really raises in my mind the question of whether preponderance of the evidence is the proper standard.”

In an interview with the Claremont Independent, Bessette identifies eight significant differences between federal civil trials and CMC’s sexual violence Hearing Board procedures that, in his opinion, “argue strongly either for changes in the [college’s] procedures,… a higher standard of proof, or both.”

First. Bessette explains that a judge, who is an expert in the law, presides over all federal civil court cases. No judge-like figure presides over CMC’s Hearing Board procedures. Although the Chair shall be trained in the college’s Title IX grievance procedures, he or she will not, unless by chance, have extensive legal training. Further, the Chair is still a member of the Board that both conducts the disciplinary hearing and determines guilt.

Second. Bessette notes that the federal civil system adheres to extensive and detailed rules of evidence intended to protect the accused. The CMC grievance procedures include provisions stating that that the use of alcohol or drugs may not function as a defense, that sexual orientation and/or gender identity “is not relevant to allegations,” and that the past sexual history of a party and the respondent’s prior policy violations will not be generally admissible. However, the procedures nonetheless fail to address other vital protections regarding evidence—such as rules excluding hearsay.

Third. The federal civil system is bound by “discovery” laws, which allow each party in the case to obtain evidence from the opposing party by judicial compulsion. CMC’s procedures do not include the right to discovery.

Fourth. The civil system guarantees respondents the right to an attorney who may act as an advisor during the proceeding. CMC’s grievance procedures specify that legal counsel is not permitted in Hearing Board grievance procedures “except in cases in which any party to the grievance faces potential criminal charges or if required by applicable law.” Thus, in cases of sexual violence, of which the defendant faces potential criminal charges arising from the same set of evidence, the defendant may hire an attorney. The guidelines state, however, that “In such cases, an attorney will only be permitted in a non-participatory advisory role for the Complainant and/or Respondent at that individual’s expense” (emphasis added).

Bessette notes that a non-participatory attorney certainly does not play the same role as would legal counsel in civil court: “That means the attorney cannot, I take it, speak out in the hearing itself. He can be sitting there, because it’s a potential criminal case, but can’t actually [participate]. I don’t know what advisory role means if you’re not participating… But it’s clear that you’re not playing the same role that your attorney would play in a real civil trial.”

Fifth. In the federal civil system the burden of proof falls on the complainant. Just as defendants in criminal cases don’t have to prove their innocence, respondents in civil cases don’t have to prove that they are not at fault. CMC’s grievance pro- cedures, however, nowhere specify that the burden of proof falls upon the complainant. “Even though the standard of proof [in a civil case] is low, 51% / 49%, the complainant still has to prove his or her case… And there’s no such language in the CMC rules that I can see that puts the burden of proof on the complainant.”

Sixth. In a civil trial, the defendant has the right to see all the evidence and to cross examine the witnesses. CMC’s grievance procedures, on the other hand, don’t actually require that the complainant or respondent even appear at the Hearing Board procedures. Although the explanation of the Hearing Board procedures seems to assume participation, the document states several pages later that complainants in CMC grievance proceedings retain the right “To participate or decline to participate in the grievance process related to a discrimination, harassment, and/or sexual misconduct complaint with the understanding that the process may continue without their involvement and that the Investigator and/or Board will determine an outcome with the information available to it” (emphasis added). The document similarly states that respondents have the right to “participate or decline to participate in the review procedure, with the understanding that the process will continue regardless…”

Bessette says, “Now as I read that, that means you can be accused of some really serious misconduct by a person, and that person doesn’t necessarily have to appear and make the case in front of you and be cross-examined by you.”

Seventh. Bessette explains that federal civil trials have a minimum of six jurors and that at-fault verdicts must typically be decided unanimously. In CMC’s grievance procedures, however, just three members of a Hearing Board determine the guilt of the defendant. CMC’s procedures do not specify that the Board must determine guilt unanimously; it simply states that the Board will “determine an appropriate finding based on a preponderance of the evidence.” Bessette notes that the document’s failure to explicitly require unanimity implies that only a two thirds majority is necessary to determine guilt, asking rhetorically, “How much easier is it to ‘prove’ an accusation if you only have to persuade two out of three people that it’s slightly more likely [that the offense occurred] than to convince six people?”

Eighth and last, Bessette notes that federal civil cases are almost always open door, unless they involve serious matters of national security. Bessette explains that public trials serve to protect the accused: “If a defendant or a respondent is being mistreated some way by the process, the public can witness that… It’s a protection to an individual who is accused of something.” CMC Hearing Board procedures, on the other hand, are closed-door, offering no such public oversight. The grievance procedures state, “Board hearings are closed. The hearing itself will be recorded but not the deliberations. The recording will be destroyed after the appeal period has been exhausted.” The guide specifies that the complainant and respondent may listen to the recordings, but does not say whether they will be available to members of the CMC community.

To summarize—CMC’s Hearing Board procedures do not include a judge-like figure, specify proper rules of evidence to protect the accused, delineate rights to discovery, grant the defendant the right to an attorney who may participate in the hearing, specify that the burden of proof falls upon the complainant, permit the defendant to be confronted by and cross-examined by the complainant, require a unanimous jury of six to determine guilt, or open Hearing Board procedures to the oversight of the CMC community.

That CMC’s sexual violence grievance procedures lack so many of the legal protections afforded by the federal civil system argues strongly for a higher standard of proof, changes to the procedures, or both.

Musings on the mainland

Gun-rights advocates have often insinuated that if the government saw fit to ban firearms, it would see fit to ban knives to curb other types of violence. Though skeptical of gun control, I had always laughed off these sorts of slippery-slope scenarios as far-fetched and improbable. Last fall however, I was studying abroad in Beijing during the 18th Communist Party Congress. For the duration of the congress, a meeting of about 3000 party officials from around the country, the sale of many basic household items was banned in Beijing. These included lighter fluid (to prevent self-immolations), balloons (to prevent leaflet distribution), and yes, scissors and knives (to prevent assassination attempts and other political violence). To make matters more comical, 110,000 civilian “volunteers” were recruited from around the city and paid 40RMB (7 dollars) a day to don red armbands and keep an eye out for “suspicious activity.” The two-week extravaganza reminded me yet again that as an American-born Libertarian, I had wandered far from home both geographically and ideologically.

It was during this trip however, that I was able to reflect on the common American perceptions of China, and how they stacked up against reality. As the world’s second largest economy and a “rising superpower” in the eyes of many Western intellectuals, China has not escaped mention by major American media outlets for a single day in recent years. But when I finally visited China for myself, I realized just how much comparative confidence I still had in the United States.

The late economist Milton Friedman had often emphasized that how people “vote with their feet” should not be overlooked. Reflecting upon this statement, I can only be proud of the fact that over 60,000 people from mainland China still choose to permanently immigrate to the U.S. every year. While I met several American expatriates who were working short-term in China, I did not meet a single one who had chosen to settle there permanently. If all one hears of is the overhyped Chinese “economic miracle” and the United States’ economic struggles, this phenomenon should appear confusing. If one looks beneath China’s thirty-year boom, however, one sees that for all the talk of China “surpassing the U.S.,” flaws abound in the Chinese economic model.

The lack of innovation in the Chinese economy was a constant theme in my conversations with Chinese natives. One student, an economics major at my host university commented that the United States would always be a step ahead of China because the Chinese only ever copied what the Americans did. The enormous market for counterfeit electronic goods in China seemed to affirm his statement, but the failure of China to innovate was not limited to the technology sector. When I asked my Chinese roommate to recommend Chinese television shows to me, he replied that although there were a few good ones, he watched mostly American shows. Before returning to his laptop to watch Prison Break, he joked that he found it humorous that a country of 1.4 billion people could not produce a single good show.

While I was abroad, I also learned that local officials in China were promoted or demoted based on their success in meeting targets for economic development and population control among other things. My roommate, who was a native of the rural Shaanxi province, spoke of how the seizure of village lands for development projects was a point of heated contention and even violent conflict at times between farmers and local officials. The seaside village of Wukan made headlines around the world when its villages revolted and drove local officials out of power over alleged abuses like illegal land-seizure. With no voice in the political process, Chinese citizens have few legal and institutional ways of fighting back.

Additionally, though the Chinese government has been given substantial praise for its ability to direct enormous amounts of investment into developments in a way that the U.S. could only dream of doing, many of these investments have led to enormous waste. For instance, I had the opportunity to ride on China’s newly constructed high-speed rails, the pet project for which the Communist Party has obtained the most bragging rights. I later learned that although high speed-rail tickets cost 35% of an average Chinese urban resident’s income, they were sold at artificially low prices set by the government. Many prominent Chinese economists like Huang Yiping of Peking University, have expressed doubts of China’s high-speed rails ever making a profit. While they serve a small sliver of China’s elite, the high-speed rails have continued hemorrhaging public funds and contributing to the national debt.

As I followed American politics on my laptop in Beijing, I often cursed the rampant pandering both candidates engaged in during the 2012 Presidential debates and lamented the inability of Congress to solve the looming deficit crisis. However, when I remember America’s core ideals of, individual freedom, human rights, and political equality, I am reminded of precisely why so many of the Chinese friends I had made expressed their hopes of coming to the U.S. one day. When I realize the amount of opportunity and social mobility still available in America and the amount of innovation that has taken place here, I can only feel a sense of deep pride.

During a particular discussion in class, one of my teachers, a Beijing native, lamented the fact the Chinese government’s abuses of power could not be adequately checked because one party alone controlled the state. He then expressed envy at the fact that Americans at least had a choice. Ever the cynic, I made an offhand comment on how two equally inept parties made neither for much of a difference or for much of a choice. He immediately objected, remarking that having just one more choice can make a world of difference. I thought on all that I had learned about China, and could only agree. Sometimes, another choice makes all the difference.

Scripps meets Charles Krauthammer

Dr. Charles Krauthammer, political commentator, syndicated columnist, and Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke at Scripps College on Thursday, February 7th, for the 7th annual Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program. The Public Affairs Program aims “to bring the world to Scripps students” by inviting a conservative speaker to campus each year. As this year’s Malott Commons Associate, I was fortunate to not only help with the planning and logistics of bringing Dr. Krauthammer to campus, but to also spend the majority of the day with the extraordinary speaker and leader.

During Krauthammer’s visit, fifteen nominated Scripps Students had the opportunity to meet him for discussion. Most of the students selected were liberal, producing a cross-ideological dynamic that provoked interesting and informative dialogue on social, cultural, and political issues. Dr. David Andrews, Scripps professor of International Relations and Malott committee member, led the discussion session. He began by directing much of the conversation, but as the session progressed students warmed up to asking more questions.

When asked about how he felt about speaking at a liberal arts college, he said he had looked forward to being challenged, especially by young liberals. When asked his thoughts on liberal indoctrination on college campuses, he joked that “It’s good to develop antibodies toward liberals.”

I had the privilege of personally interviewing Krauthammer after the student discussion. I asked him about Fox News’ recent decision to purge itself of super right-wing commentators such as Sarah Palin and Dick Morris, to which he responded, “I think Fox News has a record of having come from nowhere and today has overwhelmingly the most powerful, most watched, and most trusted news organization in the country. I wouldn’t second guess any of their choices.” When I asked about the current state of the GOP, he said, “They have a bright future, ran a bad campaign, and had a good man but a terrible candidate.” He said that when any party loses, it seems like the end, but expressed confidence that “we will see a comeback of this great party through conservative Republicans.”

Krauthammer was met by an overflowing auditorium and an immediate standing ovation when he took the stage at Scripps’ Garrison Theater for his evening presentation. He spoke about the Obama administration and the role of the GOP in the current political climate. Krauthammer criticized the Republican Party for failing to select an adequate candidate for the 2012 election. He said that Mitt Romney was a weak candidate to fit the mood of the country, and not the right person to make the ideological argument against overreaching government.

Krauthammer believes that Obama’s goal is to return America to the liberal ascendency of the 20th century that Ronald Reagan reversed. He said, “Obama sees himself as the heir to FDR, to Kennedy, and to Johnson.” Krauthammer, however, concluded by saying that our country will not withstand yet another rise of liberalism. “In the end, the social democratic agenda does not work… You can argue about the virtues and the justice, but if it doesn’t work, it will fail.”

563215_3757365471996_46127199_n
Some of the CI Staff with Dr. Krauthammer. (Back Row, L-R: Amelia Evrigenis, Nadeem Farooqi, Becky Shin; Front Row, L-R: Chris Gaarder, Dr. Krauthammer, Bradford Richardson)

ASCMC Elections Committee’s Exception Yields Controversial Outcome

76604_10151359304705802_1260169041_n-1

On Thursday, Feb. 26th, the CMC Class of 2015  elected Mohammad “Moe” Abdulrahim as Junior Class President.

ASCMC requires that class president candidates  submit 50 different  signatures from classmates. ASCMC set the signature submission deadline from 10:30 to 11:00 pm on Feb. 22nd.

Abdulrahim submitted his signatures at 11:17 pm. His petition violated the ASCMC Constitution: “The Elections Committee will hold a meeting for all candidates at which time all petitions must be submitted. No petitions may be submitted after the close of this meeting” (IV.B.2.b.iii).

The ASCMC Elections Committee passed a motion to accept the late signatures due to the nature of the circumstances affecting his late submission.

In an email to the Claremont Independent, an ASCMC representative stated that a “sudden and unexpected academic obligation” delayed the submission of Abdulrahim’s signatures.  The representative further stated that the signatures were late “due to factors beyond his control.” Another ASCMC representative confirmed that Abdulrahim’s conflict occurred between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. Abdulrahim has not responded to our request for details on the nature of his academic conflict.

The Committee’s actions bring into question whether Abdulrahim’s former involvement in ASCMC influenced the Elections Committee’s decision to make such an exception. Abdulrahim is currently finishing his term as the ASCMC Student Life Chair; his duties include planning and executing all school-wide non-alcoholic events. The Student Life Chair also sits on the ASCMC Executive Board. Four out of the seven (a majority) members of the Elections Committee are members of the Executive Board, including the President, Vice President, and President Pro-Tempore. According the last fully available ASCMC Constitution via ascmc.org, “in the event that an immediate decision regarding the Election Rules is necessary, the Chair shall have the power to make immediate decisions, subject to later approval or reversal by the committee. Both approval and reversal shall require a simple majority vote of the committee” (IV.B.1.b). (As of Feb. 26th, 2013, the ASCMC Constitution is not currently available at ascmc.org.)

Although the Elections Committee’s vote appears to be constitutional, the composition of the Elections Committee favors existing members of the Executive Board.

2013  saw a close election that required precise actions by the Elections Committee. Although candidates won by slim, measurable margins, the underlying petition process proved subjective and  inconsistent.