Probation does more harm than good

Why the Commerce Orientation Week’s sanctions say more about the board that imposed them

Commerce Orientation Week was placed on probation in October 2014 for “verbally abusive and profane taunts to students” and “relentless required running”.
Image by: Jessica Sung
Commerce Orientation Week was placed on probation in October 2014 for “verbally abusive and profane taunts to students” and “relentless required running”.

The changes mandated for Commerce Frosh Week have me worried that Queen’s is losing something that makes it special: a Frosh Week unique to each faculty.

For most students, extra-curricular activities help define their time at Queen’s. 

For some, it’s playing on a varsity team, or holding down a bartending job on campus or downtown. For me, it was organizing Frosh Week. 

I spent two years organizing Commerce Orientation before I decided to serve one term as the Student Co-Chair of SOARB (Senate Orientation Activities Review Board), the Senate committee responsible for monitoring O-Week   and crafting policy on a university-wide basis. 

I’ve had the chance to experience Frosh Week from every angle and had an amazing time. The organized chaos that introduces thousands of first-year students to the university experience has no equivalent.  

However, I’m worried about the direction student and staff policy makers are taking Orientation Week.

When I chaired the committee, four of the six student members were in ArtSci, and two of them held AMS positions. It was easy to see the strong influence from this faculty and the AMS on the board. 

I believe an institutional bias towards the Arts and Science Frosh Week is building in the AMS and on SOARB. 

This bias is causing decision makers to craft policy that erodes the uniqueness that makes the week special and different from faculty to faculty. I experienced this planning Frosh Week and saw it escalate as I assumed more responsibility. 

The most recent example occurred when SOARB placed Commerce’s O-Week on probation. The faculty was mandated to change and conform to a Frosh Week model similar to that for ArtSci students.

According to the terms of probation SOARB presented to the organizers of Commerce Frosh Week, the event was sanctioned for two main reasons: “hazing by means of verbally abusive and profane taunts to students … deemed as verbal/psychological abuse” and “relentless required running”. 

Personally, I would say neither was extreme in my four years, but I don’t think my own levels of tolerance should be the standard for the whole faculty. 

Instead I turn to the University’s annual O-Week survey, which is distributed to first-year students.

The survey’s data is what SOARB would’ve used as their basis for placing Commerce on probation. 

The administration’s survey found that 60 per cent of Commerce students reported that Frosh Week was either “extremely” or “very” demanding. 

To put it in perspective, the next closest faculty was engineering at 51 per cent, and the average across all weeks was 35 per cent. 

Respondents from all faculties  reported some level of hazing, but Commerce ranked the highest. When Commerce students  were asked if they experienced hazing in first year, 22 per cent of respondents said they’d experienced what they deemed “subtle” hazing. 

In response to these results, SOARB went ahead with sanctions that included new hiring terms and criteria for the Commerce Executive on Orientation (CEO) and Orientation leaders — which including going as far as to ban video submissions for Orientation leader hiring.

The fact that SOARB didn’t consult with stakeholders, but instead opted for probation, disappoints me as a former board member.

I’m of the opinion that students are reasonable. SOARB could have sat down with stakeholders, demonstrated that students wanted change and gotten the same results. 

Instead they stepped way past setting and enforcing policy and started controlling the operations of an individual faculty’s week.  

Commerce O-Week brought to you by SOARB. 

This isn’t the first time the Board has done this, as Engineering Frosh Week was sanctioned similarly in 2012. A more measured reaction would’ve been to outline the problems with the faculty’s student representatives and allow a chance to remedy. 

An interesting side note: PheKin respondents reported a similar amount of hazing at 23 per cent and that faculty’s week not only went unsanctioned, but wasn’t even mentioned.

SOARB has taken extreme steps and seized control of the key decisions of Commerce Frosh Week and, to me, this is unacceptable. 

What I’m suggesting is that the solution to problems raised by SOARB isn’t taking control of individual weeks. 

When the board tries to fix faculty’s orientation weeks, it instills the best practices of Arts and Science, because that is what its members know best. The minute all faculty weeks tone it down and follow the ArtsSci model is the minute Queen’s loses one of its most unique institutions. 

It’s not just me who thinks so. Although the survey didn’t explicitly ask the student how much they enjoyed Frosh Week, it did ask what amount of Frosh Week they attended. 

If we use the per centage of students who attended their faculty’s entire orientation week as a measure of how much they enjoyed it, we can surmise as to which faculty had the most popular program that year. 

Of students who responded to the survey, 84 per cent of Engineering, 79 per cent of Nursing and 75 per cent of Commerce students attended every event. These were the top performing faculties. 

The worst? Arts and Science at a dismal 37 per cent. Not exactly the kind of results you’d hope to emulate in other Orientation Weeks.

Hey frosh, how do you feel? 

Bored. So, so bored.

Roy Farrer is a Queen’s alumni and former co-chair of SOARB

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