Kerby: Bad faith administration led to TVUC policy

Steve Kerby, Staff Columnist

The administration of Case Western Reserve University is in bad company when it comes to justifications for policy decisions. Especially over the past two years, a new trend in delivering transparent and flimsy reasons for administrative decisions has arisen among higher-education institutions. Now, CWRU has joined that club, most recently for the ridiculous ban on the distribution of all non-Bon Appetit food in the Tinkham Veale University Center, as reported in The Observer two weeks ago.

The concept of “administration in bad faith” gives misleading explanations for new policies to deflect scrutiny. An administration that is no longer straightforward with its constituents may dismiss its critics with paper-thin reasonings. The administration’s spokesperson can claim that critics are being underhanded because a justification has been given. A public face of legitimacy and responsibility is maintained despite ignoring public comment and peddling half-truths by giving a single shaky motivator. This is administration in bad faith.

Of course, the most public and national example is the current administration of the United States. Under this administration, nearly every policy has some ragged justification that crumples under an iota of investigation. Net Neutrality is dead on the national scale, justified by Trump’s Grand Old Party as maintaining and expanding freedom on the internet when its true reason is almost exactly the opposite. Several panels investigate voter fraud under the pretense of stopping ballot-box stuffing; in reality the panels disenfranchise minorities, especially African-American citizens. The list continues, but I think my point is clear.

Democracy is more than just voting. The Greek word demokratia means “the people rule,” meaning that every citizen can be involved at every level through voting, engagement, running for office, public debate and petitioning the government. Every single pillar of democratic society is undermined by administration in bad faith. Petitions are ineffective, public debate between supporters and the opposition is clouded by half-truths and votes stop creating significant changes. My alarm is warranted as I see our own administration at CWRU governing with similar tactics.

Consider the controversy about Bon Appetit in TVUC. The administration’s justification was that outside food can pose a health risk to students with allergies. Later, they regretted the sudden shift and wanted to promote dialogue on the subject. TVUC Executive Director Randy Barnes is quoted in The Observer saying that “We now are engaging with the Undergraduate Student Government and other student organizations to hear members’ input and recommendations regarding the policy.”

To be blunt, this explanation is embarrassing. The adjacent Thwing Center still allows students to sell and distribute food right next to Bag-It, a Bon Appetit facility. Groups can still give away food in Leutner Commons and Fribley Marche, dining halls that are the core of Bon Appetite’s presence on campus. It is laughable to suggest that non-Bon Appetit food in TVUC is somehow more dangerous than the same food in Nord Hall. Besides, most students are adults and should be responsible for their own food allergies. The administration should be consistent.

If health risks are the real justification for banning external food in TVUC then student-distributed food should be banned in all university buildings.

This mortifying prospect is the natural conclusion of the new policy. Again, I do not think health risks are the true reason for banning non-Bon Appetit food. There must be some justification the administration is too embarrassed to express. I expect that the new policy is meant as a favor to Bon Appetit by maintaining its monopoly on food on campus and protecting the low-quality eateries in TVUC.  This is administration in bad faith; the true motives for changes are hidden behind layers of bureaucracy and don’t actually benefit the student population.

The campus community will soon see whether the quiet offer of discussion by the administration is fulfilled, but judging from past events, I’m pessimistic. It’s much easier to pretend to lend an ear and disregard all opposition.

The spat over TVUC is only the most recent embarrassing example. The true issue is the administration’s lack of trust in the student body to make high-level decisions. They continue feeding students laughable explanations after the fact and hope that general apathy cools raised voices. This playbook of administration in bad faith is a key poison ravaging liberal democracy, and our collegiate administration should come clean immediately.

Steve Kerby is a senior studying astronomy and physics. His patronus is an emu.