Why participation matters? The case of GND voting procedures.

By Angeliki Varela, Class of 2020

Sunday evening is a great time to catch up with friends over coffee, wrap-up your study group session on a foundations class or engage in the race of filling in your name first in the MCG activities spreadsheet. It is arguably not the most likely time to think about matters like student government and participation in collective procedures.

However, last Sunday, when the email on Grade Non-Disclosure Policy (GND) and Voting Procedures was circulated, I could not help but notice that something seemed particularly off about with the GND approval mechanism. Without getting into the technicalities of the defaults and quorum/vote supermajorities that are discussed extensively in that email, a major concern is that the cumulative effect of such requirements makes it extremely difficult, if not effectively impossible, for a given class to change the GND policy.

As a disclaimer, I personally think that the GND is a great idea! The policy recognizes that, as Booth students, we are a talented and diverse group in terms of professional achievements, life experiences and interests. GND provides us with a “fairer” recruitment process, by shifting attention away from academic performance and encouraging recruiters to assess us holistically. Moreover, GND allows us to have more flexibility in terms of taking interesting classes, taking on leadership opportunities and participating in social events we don’t want to miss. The policy affirms that choices matter more than grades.

So then, what is wrong with the current mechanism? If the default guarantees the desired outcome of preserving the GND, then why are we even bothering with a more participative procedure like a vote?

The quick and easy answer has to do with the rights of minority and the guarantee of plurality of opinion in a democratic society. To the extent that the GND policy a is student-run policy with no involvement from the administration, whoever is against it should be, in principle, given an effective say. There are, after all, credible arguments against the policy - academic achievement may be a positive diversification factor in the recruitment process or non-disclosure hurts application chances in certain fields, such as PE. Unfortunately, such concerns are not usually raised in the public forum potentially due to peer pressure and fear of marginalization. Nevertheless, as a majority, we should ensure that the underlying views are not oppressed.

An effective means to achieve this is through a neutral, simple and anonymous voting process. Inviting each class to vote on whether or not to maintain a GND policy would be a better alternative to a default with stringent overturning requirements. The nature of GND as a “gentlemen/gentlewomen’s agreement,” whose enforcement is overseen by the students, leads us to assume that individuals who were not actually given a chance to accept or reject the terms of an agreement (even one that is collective in nature) are going to be bound by it. But this is not always a safe assumption. Simply put, it is not illogical to conclude that a process which effectively disregards individuals who are against the GND policy, increases the incentives of the latter to “cheat” when the opportunity arises.

Why should this matter to those that support GND? Because having a dissenting and disengaged minority, in theory could take us back to square number one: GND can only be effective if we all willingly enforce it. It also encourages disrespect for our collective decisions. Conversely, the opportunity to effectively cast a vote ensures that one is bound by the vote’s outcome. In a democratic society, we have to accept an outcome, even if we do not embrace it and disagree with it in terms of substance.

Last but not least, I firmly believe that our class should have a say on anything that affects its overall experience at Booth, no matter how small or trivial it may seem. In recognizing that what may have worked for the previous class is not necessarily the best fit for ours, we actively shape our MBA path by tailoring it to our needs. After all, our common denominator is that we are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

We can only benefit by adopting more participative procedures on matters that affect our day-to-day lives at Booth. What we gain is a more inclusive student body, where everyone feels confident to raise their voice regarding of how “unpopular” their opinion may seem and a greater sense of collective identity and belonging to our community. In this respect, our overall experience at Booth can only emerge richer.