To the Editor:
Many thanks to The Torch staff for covering and reporting on the student forum that took place on Nov. 9 in Ness Auditorium, and for The Torch article published on the front page of the Nov. 15 Torch entitled “Faculty Task Force Discusses Secret Society Findings.” Secret societies are an important campus issue and have not had the public discussion they merit, and I am grateful that The Torch showed leadership in reporting on and publishing this significant article.
I did note an error in the article for which I request a public correction. On page three, I am quoted as saying: “The membership of a faculty member in a [secret] society creates a certain level of favoritism in the classroom.”
I have never made this claim, and it is vital that a correction in the newspaper be printed for the record. What I and the other members of the task force do claim is that it is the very possibility and fear of favoritism that is destructive to the classroom and college experience. Unlike employee membership and participation in registered student groups, like sororities and fraternities, outsiders to secret societies cannot know the parameters and content of the relationships and expectations between members. The not-knowing by the majority of the student population about these relationships is the source of anxiety, fear, suspicion and assumption of favoritism—even when unfounded—that is so detrimental to the university community, and to students in particular. This has been the underlying conclusion of the work of the task force and the motivation for our recommendation that university employees be barred from active membership in secret societies.
You will find this conclusion on page five of the April 10, 2017 report submitted by the task force: “Wittenberg says in its Mission and Values statement that our community is rooted in the ‘free and open exchange of ideas’ and devoted to intellectual inquiry. Students must be able to trust that they stand on equal footing when they enter any classroom or office on campus.” There are several quotes throughout the materials submitted by the task force that emphasize that the fear or suspicion of favoritism is problematic and destructive, including on pages three and six. The results of Adam Barstow’s 2017 senior Honors thesis is our source for the statistic that more than one-third of students answering his survey who are not members of secret societies suspect that there may be unequal treatment. Mr. Barstow’s results can be found on page 53 of the April 10 report.
The task force urges readers to look at the information gathered and shared with the Wittenberg community, which includes surveys; articles from a variety of news sources (including The Torch); and letters and comments from students, alums and university employees, both secret society members and non-members.
Thank you again for all you do.
Professor, Department of Religion