Category Archives: Editorial

Secret Societies, “Private Organizations,” and Why We Should Care

The following opinion piece is written as a guest contribution to the Claremont Independent.

Last month marked two years since my admittance to Claremont McKenna College. I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and anticipation I felt as I signed and returned my acceptance letter. I had joined the ranks of an elite group of extremely talented students and gained access to an incredible alumni network. I had every opportunity in front of me, all thanks to CMC.

Part of my excitement was that all of my future class would begin with a clean slate. The barriers and cliques of high school had been leveled. It didn’t matter whether we were from a private school or public school, AP or IB program, American or international students. We were all CMCers now; individual work ethic and character would define us from that day on.

Of course, I soon found that these feelings, though well-founded in principle, were naïve and incomplete. There are other factors beyond merit that affect achievement. At such a small campus, it soon became clear that “who you know” and reputation is a large advantage when competing within the CMC bubble. I soon learned that a minor degree of cronyism is a fact of life and social outreach is a means to success. While it is not true meritocracy, I like to believe that these opportunities are available to all and correlate with effort.

But my concern is not networking; my concern is its exploitation. Before Spring Break, the ASCMC Elections Committee was forced to ask former ASCMC President and Vice President to remove themselves from deliberation on the new Executive Board appointments and restart the appointment process. While we do not have all the facts, it has come to light that membership in a “private organization” significantly skewed the former officers’ decision-making. Since then, we have had underwhelming journalistic coverage (aside from satire) on the issue. In order for us to avoid a more calamitous ethical issue, I find it necessary to put forth a number of issues raised by this recently uncovered secret society.

My objective in this article is to first reaffirm the foundation of CMC culture and then argue that secret organizations are antithetical to it. Yes, secret societies are self-important and laughable, but they are equally threatening to CMC’s culture and should not be dismissed.

The “Princes” pose a serious problem for the delicate balance of our inclusive philosophy and selective on-campus organizations. It rails against our inclusive culture and delegitimizes campus leadership positions. If students suspect, or have substantial proof that, a group has underhandedly manipulated distributions of power on campus, student media has a responsibility to fully investigate and report on these unacceptable actions. In response, I believe the student body must perpetuate a culture that actively discourages further creation or reconvening of any such secret groups.

While we can reasonably anticipate a certain degree of cronyism in on-campus selection processes, secretive and calculated motives are much different from the advantages of equal opportunity networking. Networking is fair because it is open to everyone—secret societies are neither.

Students apply for the Executive Board because they believe they will be judged on the merits of their applications, their ability to work with fellow students, and possibly by who they know. But, in this case, they cannot reasonably suspect that those reading their applications will have blind allegiances to their competitors based upon subjective membership in a “private organization.” When the Elections Committee calls potential candidates, including myself and other current “members of the corporation”, to tell them what they should and should not run for in order to better maintain footholds for a sputtering old boys’ club, they violate the premises of CMC. When they manufacture an Executive Board based not on merit, or even connectedness, but in accordance with secret frat membership, they pose a greater threat to our social scene than any Friday class or TNC fence.  Moreover, they remove the collaborative attitude of CMC’s culture, breaking down relationships between students and replacing them with undue barriers like those found at other colleges to which I refused to apply. And the threat is not limited to the social scene: the Princes systematically threaten the career opportunities of non-members, putting themselves before others in a predetermined selection process.

Two great ironies of the past few weeks have been that (1) these actions happened at the hands of the ASCMC administration that promised transparency and reform and (2) just days after writing an open letter intended to resurrect the social scene through inclusiveness, the same individuals attempted to preserve the influence of a “private organization” through pervasive measures that are just as much of a threat to CMC culture. We need a critical eye to look past the messaging and into the inconsistencies of CMC politics.

At best, we know that a more extreme form of cronyism took place in the original Executive Board appointment process —a form that violates CMC’s networking-as-usual. At worst, we have found a group that challenges the fabric of CMC, a systematic virus that extends to other prominent groups on campus. In either case, these actions are intolerable. We need publications to start a discussion regarding campus culture and how to reconcile ambition and ethics. The virus must be further investigated by the student press and strongly discouraged by future CMCers.

To begin this discussion, the student body needs the complete story. Through investigation, we must find the extent of the damage and set a standard so that future campus leaders act in accordance with the opportunities guaranteed by our acceptance letters. While we move on from the transgressions of the past, we must not forget CMC’s inclusive foundation and protect against the actions and groups that threaten it.

An Open Letter to President Pamela Gann

Mastheads

An Open Letter to President Pamela Gann
March 1, 2013

Dear President Pamela Gann,

Claremont McKenna College recently instituted a new student media policy requiring student
journalists interested in contacting administrators to do so strictly through the Office of Public
Affairs. The OPA may then facilitate an interview for the student, but can choose instead to
provide the requested information or a statement on the given issue, which denies the reporter
the opportunity to speak directly to administrators who are most familiar with each topic.

We urge you to reconsider this policy because it undermines our ability to provide timely
coverage of the issues that students care about. In hindering student journalists’ access
to CMC administrators, this approach to student media decreases the transparency of
administrative actions and harms the relationship between the CMC administration and the
students whom it is meant to serve.

Max Benavidez, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs, and Alissa Stedman, Director of
Media Relations, outlined and discussed this policy in a February 4th meeting with editors
from the Forum, Claremont Independent, and Claremont Port Side. They said that this policy
is meant to put student journalists in contact with appropriate sources and to provide them with
accurate information. External news media already operate this way, making this new policy a
formalization of such practice for all media.

This policy makes sense for external media, and we appreciate the respect implied by treating
our publications the same way. Yet campus publications should be treated differently. Unlike
external media, we are familiar with CMC and its staff, and we care about stories that will never
be national news. And in our attempts to adhere to the new policy by contacting administrators
through the OPA, we have found OPA staff to be slow in responding to our requests – if they
respond at all. We have missed deadlines because of this policy, preventing us from keeping
students informed about the issues that affect them.

We understand the administration’s desire to ensure that information published about CMC
is consistent and accurate, particularly in the wake of the SAT scandal. Yet the SAT scandal
demonstrated the need for more accountability, not less. Student media provide necessary
external oversight by informing CMC students and the Claremont community about what is
happening at CMC. Yet to do so, they must have access to administrators who are free to speak
openly and candidly. The interactions between our writers and CMC administrators should not
be mediated by an office explicitly devoted to public relations.

CMC prides itself on its close-knit community, and rightfully so. Yet when it comes to fostering
an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, this policy is a step in the wrong direction. Trust
administrators to accurately represent CMC and its policies, and to carefully explain their
own perspectives on a given issue. And trust our publications to ethically communicate those
perspectives to a community of students that deserves access to information about CMC’s
policies and the people who shape them.

Sincerely,

Editors' signatures

PDF Version of Open Letter