Thursday, July 31, 2003

In loco parentis and moral tutoring 

Invisible Adjunct (who has decided to disappear for awhile again -- what, you mean your blog isn't your work?) posts about John Bruce's exchange with me on in loco parentis. She quotes a paper from 1999 which I think confirms my hypothesis that the function is now performed out of the Dean of Students office, through Residential Life programs.
Although surveillance of students became less extensive in the years that followed, the regime of moral tutoring persisted into the early 1960s, with curfews, dress codes for classrooms and dining halls, and parietal rules -- including the requirements of "three feet on the floor" and keeping the door open when a male student visited the dorm room of a female student, or vice versa.
This is stated like that was a bad thing. Curfews continued at many schools into the 1980s as a matter of fact (including my own) and think about the decrease in sexual harassment and assault complaints that might ensue from "three feet on the floor" in an open room. "If we can be drafted and sent and shot at in Vietnam, we shouldn't need these rules." I think the reply is that you are free to do so, just not on university property.
In loco parentis is hardly back in vogue today, not even in what the Times describes as "an updated and subtler version." Supervision of the personal lives of students in 1999 remains as it has been for 30 years -- virtually non-existent. Student-life handbooks contain no rules for deportment, as they did in the past, and deans of students no longer strike terror in anyone's heart. Some institutions, such as the University of Michigan, have even repealed their speech codes, arguing that students should be free to say just about anything. Student workshops -- such as Duke University's "How to Avoid Dating Hell," "Self Image, Body Image, Eating & Weight," and "DWI -- See Your RA Drunk" -- continue to be offered on hundreds of campuses, but their concerns are the exploration of personal identity and the discussion of racial, sexual, and gender differences. They are neither subtle nor updated versions of in loco parentis; the values they promote are neither enforced nor enforceable.
I find that a very odd statement, compared to the first one saying that "moral tutoring" is dead. What is moral tutoring, if not to learn how to interact with those different than us? (And we're all unique, right?) This is why I said that in loco parentis is alive and well but changed. The differences induced by the movement of the function from faculty to Res Life offices, in my mind, are twofold. First, the newer form is a moral tutoring that isn't an extension of the family from which the student came, but a substitute. New student orientations launch right in on these changes. Even parents are not let go without some diversity training of their own.
Parents and students were invited to come for two days of orientation. Students were separated from the parents and went through a different program. As for the parents, the first few sessions concerned realities of financing, housing, etc. But soon it became apparent that these activities were not the real purpose of the program. The sessions started to focus on "tolerance" and "diversity." In fact the director of the program accidentally let slip the phrase "diversity training." Our so-called "Parents� Orientation Days" was technically, from their point of view, "diversity training"!

As I suffered through two days of "diversity training" sessions, I waited in vain for some mention of academic standards. The presentation by the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was our last hope for some evidence of intellectual activity, but it was not to be. He talked about majors, courses, credits and graduation requirements � certainly essential topics � but not a word about the pursuit of knowledge or the love of learning. At no point was there the smallest indication that students should have anything but a strictly pragmatic interest in whatever they study. Even the presentation on the Honors program spoke only of the canoe trip and spring break in Hawaii.

John Galvin's article should be read in full.

The second difference induced by moving the locus of in loco parentis, I'm afraid, is the resulting loss of responsibility felt by faculty for their students' non-academic welfare. For most people, feeling parental towards a young man or woman moves one to behave a certain way, and getting that person on the office couch or floor is not what most people do. As I have crossed into the second half of my working life I find I dislike students addressing me by my first name. It isn't a matter of superiority or feeling like "I earned it so dammit I want it", but that using the title indicates the nature of the relationship. It's easier for John to sleep with Jane than it is for Mr. or Ms. Jones to be seduced by Professsor Smith. I don't insist on Prof. Banaian, ever, because I think students can make choices for themselves, but if one asks how I prefer to be addressed I use the title even with non-traditional students. I think it communicates something about how we are to act with one another. It may be the only form of "moral tutoring" left to me.

UPDATE: Financial Aid Office comments on this post,

Is it mainly that in the classic in loco parentis university, the student body was more homogenous, and so the "moral tutoring" was more likely to be in line with students' families' values?
If you were talking about just public universities I might agree. But I see no reason to believe that this hasn't happened as well at private schools and even religious ones. If this was true, for example, would you argue that Morehouse College has just as much in loco parentis as it did forty years ago? (See here and here.)