Faculty Beat: Disentangling Honor from Dissent

Faculty debate dissent policy, likely to reject change

During Monday’s monthly faculty meeting, faculty discussed a revised dissent policy that was initially proposed by Senate. Senate will take into account this discussion and present final revisions on the Policy to faculty for a vote in early March, which will determine whether these revisions are adopted. Faculty are likely to vote against dissent policy reform, according to Student Body President Pax Lloyd-Burchett, kicking off further procedural maneuvers by senate to keep dissent policy reform on the faculty agenda, and a race to win faculty support.

The policy is controversial for its use by the administration against anti-racist protestors at Reed, most recently for marching through Hum 110 lecture and occupying the President’s office. Professor of Philosophy Steve Arkonovich and Vice President of Student Service Mike Brody, representing Reed’s Legislative Committee to faculty, presented a consensus revised policy on the instigation of Senate. The current proposal, according to President Lloyd-Burchett, is a “quick fix” representing a “centrist position.” It minimizes changes to the policy by only striking statements codifying acts proven to violate the policy as honor violations, along with adjacent sentences linking violations of the dissent policy to “obstruction, the credible threat […] and use of force.”

Those present at the meeting were generally supportive of reform, although a diverse range of views were present. Faculty speaking broadly agreed on “disentangling” the Honor Principle from the dissent policy, but disagreed on how and what other aspects of the policy should be changed. However, many more faculty were absent. President Lloyd-Burchett, speaking to the Quest, expected a silent majority of “old and white” faculty to vote against the Legislative Committee’s proposed dissent policy in March.

In fact, the most explicit and passionate speeches were given by those in favour of the proposed changes, along with further reform. Professor of Linguistics Sameer ud Dowla Khan openly thanked the Legislation Committee and Senate for “working to make these changes [to the dissent policy] and asked whether more vague language could be struck out. Professor of Theatre Kate Bredeson took the same concerns more seriously. She spoke of “dang[erous] vague language” and “defensive policy,” which she found “distressing” as a faculty member. Since faculty have ultimate responsibility for legislation, she argued, they have a duty to protect students from “vague policies” used in “unknown ways” by the administration. After all, “if we’re going to use [the dissent policy] to honor case people, we should be straightforward about it.”

Reflecting the pro-reform tilt of the discussion, perhaps the opinion most critical of reform was given by Professor of History Jackie Dirks when she tacitly reminded those present of the purpose of a dissent policy. She asked those present to think of examples of “dissent,” beyond speech, that the Reed community would find broadly acceptable.

Many other faculty spoke about their own opinions on what other changes should be made. The tension between the many points of view was identified by Professor of Psychology Kris Anderson: she recognized that “enough substantive concerns” about the policy were in the air that, should protest be in the air again, the community would be forced to restart the long legislative process. She was “shocked” that senate did not propose more ambitious changes to the policy.

But the upcoming faculty vote, should it fail, is the not the last word on the dissent policy. If faculty vote against proposed revisions, President Lloyd-Burchett aims to “buy time” with procedural moves. Senate could call a student referendum, which would require at least half the student body to meet quorum, which, if successful, would force faculty to hold a re-vote. And while the dissent policy cannot be changed without faculty approval, Lloyd-Burchett hopes to use the time to prepare other politically viable revisions and lobby faculty, and encourages other students to do the same. The difficulty here is to reconcile so many views on the dissent policy. “You change one line,” he says, and “you win two faculty, and you lose two others.”

The dissent policy itself only came under recent criticism in the 2017–2018 academic year. Reedies Against Racism identified dissent policy reform as one of their demands during their September Day of Boycott. In that year, Reed administration began honor processes against students participating in a flash protest and walkout from Hum 110 lecture, who were identified in a film recorded by Dean of Faculty Nigel Nicholson. Later in the year, Reed administration began Judicial Board cases against students participating in the two-months occupation of Eliot Hall, protesting Reed’s involvement with Wells Fargo for its links to private prisons. In both cases, the complainants — Nicholson as well as administrators — cited actionable violations of the dissent policy, and as the policy is defined, the Honor Principle. Despite the majority of these cases proceeding through the J-Board, the Quest has no way of accessing cases in which students received substantial sanctions.

Following these incidents, the student senate, under former president Kaylee Ma, decided to initiate the process of revising the dissent policy. After an initial senate open forum, senate then proposed changes to Reed’s Legislative Committee, comprised of students, faculty, and staff. The Committee has shepherded changes through a long drafting process involving staff and faculty input. After the presentation of revisions to the entire faculty, senate will now consider the discussion, and present final revisions to the dissent policy for a faculty vote in March.

Given the range of faculty opinions on the dissent policy, senate will now be forced to lobby faculty hard to ensure a majority vote in favor of change.

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