“In every criminal cause the judge should reason syllogistically. The major should be the general law; the minor, the conformity of the action, or its opposition to the laws; the conclusion, liberty, or punishment. If the judge be obliged by the imperfection of the laws, or chooses to make any other or more syllogisms than this, it will be an introduction to uncertainty.”
— Cesare Beccaria
Yesterday, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) released a statement to the Wesleyan community making it unequivocally clear that “although concerns have been raised to us about how the Student Judicial Board (SJB) is administered, we are extremely grateful to these students for their hard-work and dedication to protecting the community standards that we all share here at Wesleyan.” The release went on to state, in the sycophantic tones of a prisoner brought before the bar for sentencing, that “the work of the SJB is both challenging and burdensome. The students who serve on it deserve full and enthusiastic support from the student body.” They then proceeded to lecture us on the necessity of being familiar with the Code of Non-Academic Conduct and suggest that students “advise” the SJB on how to operate more efficiencly.
Because it is useless to reply to campus-wide emails, consider this a response from at least one student who does not wish the WSA’s obsequious attempts to smooth over the abuse of already abusive institutional power to represent him. My only piece of “advice” for the SJB, especially after their execrably inefficient attempts at imposing an unjust punishment, is this: if you believe in the impartiality of legal codes, or in the rule of Law, then you have a moral duty to stop showing up for work, because the code you are tasked with enforcing is a flagrant violation of the former principle, and the way you have treated Eclectic effectively repudiates the latter. The WSA says that “we are extremely grateful to these students.” I say: speak for yourself, WSA.
The WSA says we should be grateful for the SJB’s “dedication to protecting the community standards that we all share here at Wesleyan.” I say that if vague, Orwellian language, ill-defined offenses and continually changing legal burdens are Wesleyan’s definition of “community standards,” then these are by no means community standards that “we all share here at Wesleyan.” In fact, if we did, this school would not deserve to educate even one student. As such, what both the WSA and President Roth should have realized is that the treatment of Eclectic, far from being a freak accident, is but a routine expression of the SJB’s near-unlimited capacity for authoritarianism—a capacity which must be restrained.
There are two proofs for this accusation that can be immediately cited. The first is the Eclectic case itself and the second is a subject upon which I have commented on before, but which it behooves me to bring up again. Let’s begin with Eclectic. Firstly, while I don’t necessarily believe the accounts put forward by the society itself, there’s little doubt that the actions of the SJB were not only sloppy and fiscally irresponsible, but caused copious collateral damage which is an offense to the idea of proportional justice. For one thing, the SJB apparently never realized that there were previous contracts for performances at Eclectic which had been scheduled for WesFest, and thus were forced to make the utterly embarrassing move of lifting the probation temporarily to allow the actual legal power of contract to take effect.
Now, as one particularly perceptive poster on Wesleying pointed out, “The issue is that contracted bands won’t be able to play without a space to play in. Since they’re contracted, the bands will get paid, but the students will get nothing (no show).” So, in other words, because the SJB is too foolish to investigate the ramifications of its actions, students were almost deprived of university money in return for no services. Whether one approves of the original expenditure, not even having the option to see the band means that we were all indirectly robbed. Hardly an exemplary instance of justice, considering that only a society comprised by-and-large of the most obnoxious hipsters among us were the ones actually making noise. If the SJB wants to punish Eclectic for its bad habits, punish the relevant student organizers, not the student society. That would have been the more effective deterrent.
Thankfully, President Roth has seen wisdom and suspended this clumsy misapplication of administrative force. However, there are greater issues at work here than merely Eclectic’s right to monopolize Wesleyan’s music scene. I can suggest two immediately—the SJB’s unjustifiable lack of transparency, and their Orwellian control over student speech. The first one, ironically, came out in the Eclectic case most prominently as a liability for the SJB precisely because they couldn’t respond to the copious press releases which the society released. Nevertheless, it is the height of folly that the SJB does not allow even records of its hearings to be perused (in fact, it’s not even clear that they keep records). Even the Supreme Court isn’t that restrictive, even though they enjoy exponentially more power than the SJB, a large percentage of which is also unjust, but which they have the good taste to wield with slightly more subtlety.
The second issue is not at play in the Eclectic case—however, it bears mention in this article if only to remind students of what else the SJB can do. As I’ve pointed out before, Wesleyan’s speech code is, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of the most restrictive in the country. Moreover, the SJB is tasked with enforcing this Orwellian document as well as the pointless chalking ban. Neither one of these tasks are appropriate for any judicial authority, let alone our fellow students, and should be stripped immediately.
Speak for yourself, WSA. Speak for yourself.