Soviet-Style Surveillance at a Connecticut University
When every faculty member is an informer.
Last month, in a statement issued by its Office of Equity and Inclusion, Central Connecticut State University established a new policy designating faculty, administrators, and nearly all other employees as "mandated reporters.” In that capacity, they are required to report to this office any information they come across pertaining to "gender-based discrimination." Infractions indicative of such discrimination range from "sexual misconduct" – a capacious concept that at other universities has included jokes told within earshot of persons who consider them sexist – to “dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.” And to ensure that every instance of discrimination is rooted out, persons reporting it can do so anonymously.
The statement establishing this policy raises more questions than it answers. First, and most obviously, it fails to include any definition of "gender-based discrimination," or any indication of its limits. Can such discrimination manifest itself in speech as well as in action? If it did, could any punishment by the university be reconciled with its stated commitment to academic freedom, and to the right to free expression guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and in Article I, Section 5 of the Connecticut State Constitution?
Other aspects of this new policy are no less problematic.
Who at the university decides whether a charge of gender-based discrimination is valid? What are the penalties for its commission? Would those accused of it enjoy the rights afforded defendants in legal proceedings, such as the right to counsel, to confront one’s accuser, and to have access to all relevant evidence? And would "information learned from third parties" -- which is included in the statement among the kinds of evidence the university considers worthy of investigation -- be subject to the rules in the criminal justice system on the admissibility of hearsay evidence?
One wonders on what authority the university will adjudicate allegations of conduct that is clearly criminal, such as rape. Should not such allegations be forwarded directly to the criminal justice system? And by what authority does the university involve itself in domestic violence, which by definition involves family members and is clearly beyond its jurisdiction?
Finally, and perhaps most critically, since reporting gender-based discrimination is mandatory, are there penalties for not reporting it?
Defined as a denial of a social good or benefit to which an individual would otherwise be entitled, discrimination based on sex and gender is wrong. Imposing punishment for its commission in proceedings that observe due process is appropriate.
Nevertheless, as a historian of the Soviet Union and international communism, I find CCSU's policy of mandatory reportage profoundly disturbing. It is reminiscent, in substance if not in scale, of the requirement of Soviet citizens, when millions were starving to death in the 1930s, that they unmask peasants hoarding grain by reporting them to the NKVD (the acronym of the political police); failure to do so was deemed evidence of treason and punishable by execution or by confinement in a labor camp. To save themselves or to settle scores, husbands denounced wives, wives denounced husbands, and children denounced parents.
Another instance of such reportage concerns the Stasi, the East German political police during the Cold War, who employed 174,000 informers, or roughly 2.5% of the population -- a percentage even higher than that of its Soviet equivalent.
By comparison, under its new policy, every faculty member and administrator at CCSU is an informer.
As one who has taught CCSU students and served the university for more than three decades, I fear that the policy it has instituted will inevitably have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinions, not just on issues pertaining to sex and gender, but on everything in the university's curriculum that is debatable and on which reasonable people may disagree. Such exchanges are the very reason universities exist. Without them, universities are mere instruments of indoctrination, enforcing a stifling orthodoxy its faculty are too intimidated and fearful to challenge.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at CCSU and serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars.