Universities all across America sell fictitious worlds in order to get students to apply and attend. My perception of Wesleyan as a high school senior is very different to what it is now as a first-year Wesleyan student. Perhaps part of that was my naïveté, but is it wrong to fault Wesleyan for trying to showcase its strengths, especially since their existence is based on students being satisfied enough to continually attend? I don’t think so. However, a problem does exist when the actions that the University takes are in contradiction to the values that it claims to hold. I would call this misrepresentation and lying.
My understanding of moral code that the University says it holds, is that the institution essentially believes it is an upstanding person—a mensch. Theoretically, the administration treats people fairly, both in working conditions and pay. In addition, it in no way condones or allows morally reprehensible behavior, such as harassment and assault, both sexual and otherwise.
However, the Scott Backer revelations have done the University no favors with regards to showcasing how aligned it is with this supposed moral code. With evidence suggesting that administrators turned a blind eye to Backer’s scandalous past, there were many voices from the student body decrying what clearly appeared to be passivity, ignorance, and incompetence from the people in charge of our education. For me, this incident was the first piece of evidence that the University was not as strongly aligned to its stated values as I had been led to believe in my information session in 2015 when I first visited Middletown, or at first-year orientation last fall.
It’s unfair to suggest that one single incident should take down the moral character of the Wesleyan administration. There is a problem, though, when the moral code is continually violated and treated as nonexistent. The R.J. Julia bookstore allegations present just such an opportunity to start a trend of moral turpitude. Currently, the allegations, if they are true, suggest that the University misled employees of Broad Street Books about the security of their jobs and the potential pay they might receive. In addition, they also suggest that there were unfair and racialized hiring practices, which have become known as the “R.J. Julia Experience.”
My goal is not to determine what the complete accuracy of the allegations is. It is difficult to know the absolute truth, if it is possible to know at all, since there are two sides to every story. Yet, I find it unlikely that an anonymous Broad Street employee decided to slander the University on a whim. As a result, I think it is important to treat these allegations with some seriousness, while also acknowledging that not everything stated is necessarily true. (For instance, some parts of the allegations may be exaggerations.)
Based on this framing, what the R.J. Julia hiring situation suggests is another instance where the University’s actions did not entirely stand up to its moral code. Misleading and underpaying employees is not something that a mensch would do.
Even if the R.J. Julia situation is fabricated, I still feel uneasy about the administration and its decision-making process. Maybe this is because of talking to jaded upperclassmen, who distrust the administration for a variety of reasons that I haven’t been around long enough to accumulate. Ultimately, I think that there is a strong feeling on campus that the University is primarily concerned with self-image and not actual authenticity involving its morals.
This is an interesting but unsettling conundrum. Students come to Wesleyan based on the assumption that the University’s stated values are also their actual values, only to learn that people mostly feel otherwise. Does that mean that people who want a school that values equity and fairness should go to a different institution with fewer marks on its record?
In addition, by continuing to attend Wesleyan, am I allowing the administration to continue abusing its morals, if indeed it is currently doing so? I don’t have the answer to this question, but the point is, why am I even asking it? It really sucks that the school I love has such a barrage of issues that I ideologically oppose.
Finally, why did the issues of Scott Backer and R.J. Julia happen? The only two options that make the most sense are either shifted priorities (i.e. the University is not attempting to follow its stated moral code) or incompetence. And isn’t it ironic that a school full of some of the smartest people in the world is run by sheep?
I suppose, in the end, the members of the administration must make compromises and may not like the decisions that they come to, specifically regarding R.J. Julia. But I just wish that I had more confidence in the University’s actions and their basis.