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Will the University listen?

| Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last March, residents of Zahm House discovered to their dismay that their traditional “five-man” and “eight-man” common rooms were going to be no more. This was a decision made by the Office of Housing, announced just 15 days before room picks.

The Office of Housing claimed that the break-up of these common rooms was done in part to create new community social spaces, yet they did not contact the community itself to see what it thought. According to a Viewpoint published by a Zahm resident at the time, “the proceedings of these changes were hidden from [Zahm residents] until they were finalized” (“Zahm’s fight to preserve community,” March 24).

Despite a strong, civil and unified response to the policy change, the pleas of the residents fell on deaf ears in the administration. With little time given for students to respond, the policy change was imposed on the residents and is still in place.

Upon our return to school this year, everybody was taken by surprise by the new print quota system. Confusion and anger could be heard all over campus by students who had suddenly seen a drastic reduction in their ability to print all of the materials they would need for classes and other purposes.

The strong reaction seemed to be met with surprise by the people at the Office of Information Technologies, who have since worked with members of the Student Senate and others on the issue. This tumultuous process could have been avoided, however, if the people at OIT had instead consulted the students on the best way to go about changing the print quota system instead of imposing the change.

This August, amidst preparations for the flurry of activity and fun that was the first football weekend, students were notified that this year’s commencement would not be held in Notre Dame Stadium. As we all know by now, this came as a shock to the seniors, who were suddenly unsure about whether they would be able to bring all of their friends and families to see them graduate.

In the process leading up to this decision, it appears that very few students were consulted in any capacity, and the majority of them were blindsided. Since then, seniors have reached out to the administration multiple times to see if there was a way to rectify the seating limitations, but nothing has changed.

At this point you are probably wondering why I am rehashing the debates which any student, especially regular Viewpoint readers, are probably well aware of. I am writing because I have recently been made aware of a new issue that is coming to light, and the administration’s track record on consulting students worries me. This is an issue that will have far greater implications for people’s lives than new University lounges, commencement seating or limited print quota.

The administration is contemplating a change in its 14-year-old ban on the manufacture of University-licensed products in China, opening up manufacturing in a few select plants. This policy affects workers both in China, where their freedom of association is banned, and in the countries where Notre Dame’s licensed products and apparel are currently manufactured.The administration has claimed that the way the change is implemented will encourage workers rights in China, but I am highly skeptical.

The administration has recently indicated to student and faculty leaders that they will be opening a public discussion to seek the input of the University community on the policy change. While I applaud this move by the administration as a step forward, I think we have good reason to be skeptical of the legitimacy of this dialogue.

First of all, the administration has a poor track record when it comes to listening to and valuing the input of the student body, as they demonstrated in the examples above.

Second, and more importantly, it appears that the University almost moved forward with the China policy change with no dialogue at all; I have been told that production at the factories in China was going to start in January.

If true, this indicates that the minds of many administrators have already been made up about the change, and they have rarely changed their minds before. They have decided instead to open discussion first, but the administration has not earned the benefit of the doubt, and to me this “dialogue” looks like little more than a superficial PR move.

When this dialogue does open up, I want the administration to understand one thing; the students will oppose any change that does not respect the rights of workers, and we will make that loud and clear. I hope this time, when it could truly matter most, they will listen to us.

Skyler Hughes
Stanford Hall
Nov. 16

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Rebecca

    Lastly: Follow the money. In this case, supply chains and subsidiary companies. Notre Dame is a signatory to/participant in the Fair Labor Association (FLA) – it will push this and other affiliations hard (as well as trot out the convenient “in line with Catholic Teaching” canard). Notre Dame’s FLA threshold for University licensees is three tiered: companies over $50 million a year in “consolidated revenue”, $1 million to $49 million, and under $1 million. There are different accreditation/verification criteria at each level for a company to be deemed an official licensee and provider of Notre Dame branded items. The point? Smaller companies as “suppliers” and “manufacturers” to skirt both FLA- and self-imposed thresholds. All of which is clearly in line, of course, with “Catholic” Teaching and “commitments to human rights”.

  • Rebecca

    Skyler, Well done on all counts. Especially this: “If true, this indicates that the minds of many administrators have already been made up about the change, and they have rarely changed their minds before. They have decided instead to open discussion first, but the administration has not earned the benefit of the doubt, and to me this “dialogue” looks like little more than a superficial PR move.” Of course it is – if word hadn’t “leaked”, then there would be no “discussion”. Talk to staff and faculty about this, about how many times similar things have happened in the past.

    Know this: This “dialogue” is not being done to garner opinion from students, faculty, and staff. It’s being done so our University can show its peers it’s being “open” and “pro-active” on the issue. Opinions/reactions of our external “peers” are just as important, if not more so, than those campus-related.

    Know this, too: Hold no illusions. If production is about to proceed in China on any Notre Dame sweatshirt, t-shirt, tailgate blanket, or bottle of Fighting Irish Hot Sauce (really?), that production will occur as scheduled. The question for the University will be finding a way for this to happen that doesn’t look “inconsistent” with the University’s stated “mission” in this area. In other words, crafting a rationale to fit an outcome already decided. Which is why so many policies are worded so…ambiguously: they can be interpreted and applied in a variety of ways depending on the immediate situation/circumstances. There’s a word “adults” like to use to describe this: “fungible”, “easily replaceable”.

  • Rebecca

    Ever wonder, Skylar, why the University makes major policy announcements in January and the summer? Why new rules, procedures, etc. are rolled out during the same time periods?

    Think about that for a minute…

  • Is it that bad?
    • Rebecca

      So, to make sure the scale/equation is understood: According to Mr. Kristof (from January 14, 2009, “Where sweatshops are a dream”), it’s better if a 10-year old girl gets her fingers chopped off in a slave-wage factory making Fighting Irish Baby Bibs than her scavenging for food on a mountain-high pile of garbage because she has a job in the factory? That’s the assertion, correct?

  • Aaron

    Great article Skyler. Definitely agree that this track record of decisions is troubling and does result in a questioning of discussion legitimacy. Another decision that has occurred recently with essentially non-existent student input is the elimination of the Notre Dame PE Department, PE requirements and swim test.