Last Tuesday, the Argus reported that the WSA rejected the idea of a “student leadership stipend” put forward by Bradley Spahn ’11, citing budgetary concerns and questions of who student “leaders” were as the main reasons for abstention from the debate and for skepticism of the bill.

Now, much as I often take to the pages of this noble publication arguing that human beings act primarily in terms of their own economic interests, in this case I will have to violate my own standards and say that, despite the fact that this “Leadership stipend” would probably do wonders for my wallet, I have absolutely no interest in seeing it passed because of the unimaginably predictable squabbling which would occur should such a bill be passed.

However, before outlining my opposition, I should like to make a few things clear: unlike many of the policies which I have defamed in this column, there are valid reasons for supporting this particular policy and, should Mr. Spahn and his fellow supporters of the program solve some of the concerns presented here, there is no especial reason why the policy should not be enacted. In fact, from an economic perspective, Mr. Spahn is probably in the right, because of the fact that the incredibly engaged, active and dynamic character of Wesleyan’s political, social and activist leadership constitutes a massive positive externality which is currently enjoying no monetary price other than whatever incidental social capital individual student leaders can claim for their efforts. Moreover, given that the admissions office sells this activism and leadership as part of its marketing practices, it seems a foregone conclusion that those students who are student leaders should not be forced to forego money from the administration for providing a vital marketing service. As such, from an institutional perspective, Mr. Spahn is correct.

However, despite this argument from pure economics, there is a complicating factor that I believe the Argus article dances around but never quite addresses, and that is the fact that this is Wesleyan University, and at Wesleyan University, everything is political. This will almost inevitably throw a monkey wrench into the best-laid attempts at apolitical compensation which student groups like the WSA might undertake.

To illustrate what I mean, consider the following hypothetical situation: suppose that the leader of a fictional group called the “Wesleyan Young Stalinists” applies for student leadership subsidies. Doubtlessly, the question of whether the Wesleyan Young Stalinists have any tangible effects as a campus group will come up, but even if this question is settled, another one still remains: normatively, ought Wesleyan to give money to a group which is dedicated to the memory of a craven dictator who committed atrocities against his own people? The answer is not clear, since presumably, the WSA legislature in question is morally neutral as to the question of “student leadership.”

But, of course, the very idea that a group like the Wesleyan Young Stalinists could exist anywhere but in the twisted minds of the publishers of the Hermes probably sounds a tad alarmist (full disclosure: this author writes for the Hermes and does not mean to imply that his mind is not twisted). So, let’s take another, more realistic example. Let’s say that the leadership of the now-defunct SEWI apply to have their activism compensated by the WSA. Now, let’s add another problematic issue: the WSA is funded, like most of the university, at least in part by the return on our investments. Given this, and given that SEWI was fond of suggesting that anyone who contributes money to a particular group automatically endorses that particular group, by SEWI’s logic, doesn’t this imply that they are receiving money from not just the WSA, but from General Dynamics and Raytheon besides? And, if this is the case, doesn’t SEWI have a moral obligation, by their own standard of morality, to reject the WSA’s money? And what happens when someone does reject the WSA’s money?

Or, to use a really contentious example, suppose the Wesleyan College Republicans apply to have their leadership compensated. As the WSA is partially funded also by our tuition, wouldn’t several students object to such funding for a group whose primary objective is to oust one of the campus’ sacred cows from the White House? The answer is not clear. Of course, Spahn could suggest that, so long as the group funds both SEWI and the Wesleyan College Republicans, their moral responsibility is absolved, but this still doesn’t deal with the question of the Wesleyan Young Stalinists. What if a certain variety of leadership is arguably detrimental to the campus, or to the world? Do we still fund it, even if it is “socially irresponsible?” Really, I wonder that I’m making this point and not the Left.

But unlike the Left, who would doubtlessly try to get this proposal passed with strict ideological barriers to entry, I will instead make a very conservative suggestion: don’t pass it at all, and avoid the problems. Once we have a better idea of the consequences, reopen the debate, but let’s not cross this bridge too early, only to watch it burn.

  • Anonymous

    C’mon Mytheos. You’re just looking to pick an argument here. Your logic doesn’t work for the already-existing SALD, WSA and named awards, which also reward leadership with money, so why would it work to prevent the creation of new leadership awards?

    You know what, I have another idea that uses your logic! Let’s get rid of college all together. Even though it educates thousands and thousands of well-meaning people, it also produces and rewards some mean ones, so we should just not have put the institution in place to begin with. Any imperfect institution should not be created, regardless of how well intentioned it may be, and regardless of much positive impact it could have.

    And also, why is this a Right vs. Left argument? Can you see things through no other lens? Athough I appreciate your conservative column, please don’t turn it into a joke. Pick your fights wisely. This was a dumb one to pick.

  • Anonymous

    For the record, the WSA’s money comes entirely from the student activities fee that each student pays annually along with tuition, room, board, etc. It does not come out of Wesleyan’s endowment.

  • Mytheos

    I am employed to see things through a Left and Right lens. My column is called “Mytheology: Wesleyan Viewed from the Right.” Naturally, I can see things through other lenses, but with respect to this column, at least, it’s not my job.

    And no one is suggesting getting rid of anything. If I were suggesting that, you’re right – my arguments wouldn’t even remotely meet the burden of proof. But I’m not arguing for a rollback of something. I’m arguing against the active pursuit of something, and just because we do things that violate my logic in the status quo is not an argument for doing MORE things that violate my logic. I’m sorry you found the column to be an unwise allocation of resources. In my defense, this was a slow week.

  • Anonymous

    Although I still disagree with your logic and with the position you take in this column, I apologize for being so snarky above.

    February 14th, 2009
    2:43 am

  • Mytheos Holt

    Apology accepted. I’m glad we got the misunderstanding fixed.

  • Noa Wotton

    Your arguments are usually reasonable, but I’m disappointed with the partisan polarization.

    “But unlike the Left, who would doubtlessly try to get this proposal passed with strict ideological barriers to entry”

    Really? You’re better than that. “Wesleyan Viewed from the Right” does not necessarily mean a lens of inflammatory prejudices and immature insults. Unless, of course, you want to say that these things are an essential part of the political Right, which would make a lot of people on this campus happy. But I don’t think you believe that and neither do I–so let’s hear the view from the right in a tone that invites consideration, instead of alienates and polarizes.

    O’Reilly-talk only accomplishes two things. (1) it turns off people who might have listened to you and (2) it gets off people who are just into politics for the bashing and drama. What it does not do, is contribute anything to anybody’s understanding.

    There are people who share many of my views who make statements about the Right at least as obnoxious. I apologize for their closed-mindedness and hope that you won’t stoop to their level out of defensiveness.