I was quite the attendee of Model U.N. conferences in high school, and by my senior year I had discovered a never-fails strategy. Draw up a “statement of principles,” the vaguer the better: “this body supports human rights;” “this body agrees that disease is a terrible thing;” “this body holds that food and water are absolutely essential to the maintenance of human life.” Gather signatures and bring your resolution up for a vote—as even the most hardened dictators support, in principle, to food and water, it’s guaranteed to pass unanimously. At the end of the day, you’ll be the only delegate to have accomplished anything, and victory will be yours. Statements of principle are foolproof, and I have the blue ribbons to prove it.
I’m willing to wager that Joe Fore does, too, because he has the statement-of-principle strategy down pat. Fore, a sophomore, was elected DSG vice president of academic affairs last Thursday, cruising to the largest margin of victory in recent memory—38 percent. There have been 24 executive elections since I’ve been at Duke, and only one was more Mondalian (Lyndsay Beal for academic affairs by 43 percent in 2002). So what was Fore’s secret?
His opponent, junior Christopher Chin, had The Chronicle’s endorsement. Neither candidate, to my admittedly untrained eye, achieved fliering dominance. What did Fore have that Chin didn’t?
The “Academic Expectations and Responsibilities Amendment.”
The constitutional amendment, sponsored by Fore, was unanimously passed by the DSG Senate in March, and it was approved by the student body Thursday. (Forgive me for writing on it after the fact, but I was sure it was going to fail.) It garnered Fore publicity in one Chronicle column and three separate news stories. It gave him an accomplishment.
What, exactly, was accomplished? No one appears to be very clear on that. The amendment is a Pleasantville of mutual respect and understanding, yet for all its talk of responsibilities, it doesn’t actually make anyone responsible for anything. It boldly affirms our preferences for “an intellectually vibrant community,” “constructive dialogue” and “quality academic advising.” The slightly more substantive bits are redundant: Its provision for “freedom from bias” was already in the constitution, and its (admittedly laudable) section on academic integrity is a rehash of the Community Standard.
Fore concedes as much, sort of. In March, he told The Chronicle that his academic-integrity section is the Community Standard’s “policy counterpart.” And policy is fantastic—except that the amendment is 100 percent policy-free.
“Students, faculty, and staff should work together to foster a spirit of honor and a climate of integrity…. Students have the responsibility of adhering to the Community Standard at all times…. Instructors should highlight the importance of academic integrity…particularly when there are ambiguities.” That is not a policy. That is a list of nice things.
And nice things are fantastic too—except that DSG ought to be making nice things happen, not declaring that nice things are nice. Fore promises that the amendment “is a foundation;” I have absolutely no reason to doubt his hard work and his good intentions, in so doing, he reminds me of nothing so much as 12th-grade me, earnestly informing the General Assembly that before we can take action on worldwide disease, we must first be on the record as stating that disease is bad.
But at least, you might say, there was no harm done. Well, forget the months it takes, from conception to passage, for DSG to declare that nice things are nice. Consider only that constitutions are special things, that their value is inversely proportional to their length. Amending any constitution for political expediency dilutes that constitution and detracts even from the parts the amendment doesn’t touch.
DSG’s constitution now contains a waste of time, there for anyone who’s interested to see; it declares our legislators’ dedication to the uncontroversial, the safe, and the why-not popular. And far from being “a foundation,” Fore’s amendment is much more likely to be a source of complacency—on the part of the Senate, which ought to be passing real policies, and on the part of the students, whose actual intellectual vibrancy is unaffected by any legislation.
Fore’s amendment, in the end, has done very little other than adduce publicity to its sponsor. And Fore has achieved that publicity—that and his election—with only a minimal amount of harm to our constitution. A slightly devalued constitution, a slightly more self-important DSG, and a slightly stronger Joe Fore: Model U.N. appears to have paid off.
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Well done, Joe. You’ll go far.
Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior.