In a world of increased occasions for forms of social control, the university is extending its reach. In an AP story today we learn that universities are broadening the scope of their campus behavior codes to apply to student conduct off campus, in an effort to cultivate humanity, to borrow from Martha Nussbaum. One purpose is to make students better citizens within the community. From the article:
We have a responsibility to educate our students about being responsible citizens,” said Elizabeth A. Higgins, Washington’s director of community standards and student conduct, whose office has ‘educated’ 19 students since the extended code of conduct took effect in January.
The scope of these codes can be quite broad, as the article reports that the University of Colorado code “regulates any conduct that ”affects the health, safety or security of any member of the university community or the mission of the university.” The article further reports that Seattle University “has put its students on notice that cyber-patrolling will continue this year.”
Universities have a unique institutional role with regard to their students, and the impact of student conduct on surrounding communities can be significant (with both positive and negative externalities). Extending the scope of behavior monitoring to off-campus sites and to the internet does, however, reduce the realm of personal privacy and provides another occasion in which institutional control over behavior applies beyond the institution’s own parameters. Even if the purpose of this sort of cultivated humanity is to produce good citizens, it is unclear to me that more extensive monitoring is the way to achieve that goal. Without spaces to develop a sense of serendipitous self-determination, cultivating humanity may be more like growing corn – we get more homogenization and a good food supply, but we may also get more corn than we bargained for. Besides providing another occasion when one can mention Foucault’s work on forms of social control, it may be that universities are merely catching up with other institutions such as private companies who expect certain kinds of behavior from off-duty employees. Is it likely that law schools will increase the monitoring of their students off-campus or on-line any time soon as well?