Good Intentions, Questionable Methods

We are grateful for the Undergraduate Council’s effort to evaluate student opinion on social group sanctions, but we encourage them to be transparent about the results

Last week, the president and vice president of the Undergraduate Council, Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 and Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18, sent out a survey to the undergraduate body hoping to measure student opinion on the administration’s handling of Harvard’s social club penalties. This student input would then be relayed to the Faculty as another source of information as they deliberate on the recently proposed policy to prohibit all students from joining such a group.

First and foremost, we appreciate this effort to gauge student opinion. As these proposed policies will primarily affect students at the College, it makes sense that we should have the opportunity to voice our opinions on the subject. Indeed, the fact that this responsibility has fallen to the UC demonstrates the administration’s failure to seriously consider the input of the student body.

However, it is important that these results accurately reflect the views of undergraduates. We urge Sachee and Khansarinia to take into consideration the statistical limitations of their survey and to be completely transparent with the results. Data about response rates and the demographic distribution of their survey should be made public. We also hope that they will present to the Faculty and others a balanced assortment of qualitative responses that most accurately represent the views of the student body.

The statistical consequences of the methodological approach to the administration of their survey should also be considered as the UC evaluates the results. As Sachee and Khansarinia admit in their email, by polling the entire student population, those with a vested interest will be more likely to respond. It is important that the UC understand and admit these limitations.

Finally, we hope the UC leadership will continue to consider and assess the opinion of the student body, perhaps in ways that enable students to provide still more nuanced feedback. Though the survey’s option for open-ended feedback is appreciated, the hard statistics are produced by a severely restricted set of multiple choice questions. With only three proposed solutions and three possible responses, students are limited in their ability to express their views. The gravity of this issue requires a more rigorous approach in evaluating student opinion.

We are glad students can express their thoughts on an issue as serious as the sanctions. To the end, this survey will be most effective with a larger response rate, so we encourage all students to take it. And we encourage the UC to understand the consequences if many students do not.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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