Helping Students Govern Themselves
This op-ed was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 31, 2011.
students govern themselves
October 31, 2011
national security officials where the greatest threat to the homeland lies, and
they're sure to tell you it's in ungoverned territory - those areas around the
world where the absence of law and order allows terrorists to operate without
fear of reprisal.
colleges, too, ungoverned student behavior can disrupt order and threaten
safety. A small subset of students who ignore the social contract and do what
they want, when they want to, can have a disproportionate impact on a campus.
They can compromise the quality of life of all students and waste huge amounts
of staff time and money.
have codes of conduct to address this kind of behavior. When it comes to
substance abuse and other issues, we support our codes with counseling and,
where appropriate, discipline. But if some of a college's students are able to
make life frightening, dangerous, or intolerable for others on or off campus,
that college has a problem with ungoverned space.
sorts of military and nonmilitary means are employed to deal with the world's
ungoverned territories. Ultimately, though, such places cease to be havens for
bad behavior when enough of their people embrace and master effective
governance - ideally, self-governance - in all its dimensions. That is, when
they see the possibility of a better life through legitimate government.
idea can inform college leaders dealing with ungoverned behavior. We have our
codes of conduct and disciplinary mechanisms, but what ultimately matters is
whether our students understand that effective self-governance is the key to
their ability to lead productive and meaningful lives on campus and beyond.
should redouble our efforts to teach students the benefits of surrendering a
part of themselves to the social contract. We should instill in them a fuller
understanding of what it means to be part of a wider, diverse community. We
should encourage them to engage in open dialogue about ethical, moral, and
epistemological questions that extend beyond self-interest. And, most
important, we should teach them the simple truth that progress toward the good
life depends largely on how well they treat others and subjugate their will to
the social contract.
Rush, the founder of Dickinson College and a signer of the Declaration of
Independence, said it best in a 1773 letter to his countrymen on the virtues of
patriotism: "The social spirit is the true selfish spirit,
and men always promote their own interest most, in proportion as they promote
that of their neighbors and their country."
William G. Durden is
the president of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.