Social Contract and the University

From Socrates, to Locke, to Marx, each political philosopher has created their own perception of how societies should be run and their own understanding as to how human beings should live in accordance to one another. One could say that time period strongly affects how each philosopher views the political world (making their theories exclusively relevant to that time), but a modern political scientist could also argue that many political theories from centuries ago are still applicable to the civil societies that are established today.

One of the greater known philosophers, who heavily influenced the field of political science, Thomas Hobbes, proposed the theory of social contract and created a fundamental idea that later played impact on the formation of Western political philosophy and the “democracy”. Hobbes’s account of society in his book Leviathan conceptualizes human life in the state of nature as being one filled with hardship and oppression, with no government and no law to regulate the people within each territory. He specifically describes this particular society as, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes states that in order to overcome these hardships, as a society, the sovereign must form a contract that each man must enter into, which would provide each person with protection and security as compensation for their obedience.Though Hobbes may possess a rather cynical view of the natural world, it’s safe to say that his views are rational and legitimately valid, as human beings often only consider their self-interests and desires.

Funny cartoon about the social contract.

Funny cartoon about the social contract.

In more ways than one, the University, or any type of institution for that matter, can be portrayed as possessing a social contract with its students and/or consumers. For example, when we make an agreement to attend our respective university (and pay our ridiculously large tuition), we expect the institution to provide us with a safe and secure environment where we have access to all the resources that ensure us protection from danger or any other risks. Examples of these resources are: the Career Center, Financial Aid, Services for Students with Disabilities, and so on. There are also resources like: Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) that provide services for dealing with mental health and providing students who seek them with a safe environment.. but are these resources truly beneficial?

Unfortunate, recent events have in some ways tested how universities utilize their social contract when “supposedly” attending to the necessary demands of their students. With sexual assault becoming more and more prevalent on college campuses, many feel that universities across the country are neglecting their students and the social contract that they vow to protect their students with. In several instances, victims of assault (mostly young women) feel doubly wronged, not only by their alleged attacker, but by their university as well. Several reported cases have described numerous university as failing to justly punish individuals accountable for executing these assaults, which often times leads to no real responsibility held by the attacker, but a world of trauma for the victim. Often times, the victim resorts to dropping out of school, as their only option for escaping the lack of institutional support failed by their college campus. In one unsettling case back in 2010, a female freshman at the University of Notre Dame committed suicide after reporting a sexual assault that went unpunished by a ND football player.

LSA sophomore Anna Kreiner and LSA freshman Darian Razder carry a mattress across the Diag to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses as part of the Carry That Weight campaign in solidarity with Columbia University junior Emma Sulcowicz.

LSA sophomore Anna Kreiner and LSA freshman Darian Razder carry a mattress across the Diag to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses as part of the Carry That Weight campaign in solidarity with Columbia University junior Emma Sulcowicz.

Early last Wednesday morning, Michigan students took to the Diag to protest the University’s approach to sexual assaults that occur on campus. They included a list of seven demands aimed at raising awareness, while participants carried mattresses over their heads symbolically representing the weight victims have to carry around with them everyday. From the political approach, those who participated in the protests were asking the university to revise their social contract and create stricter programs to improve social conduct on/around campus. Hobbes would most likely argue that the University is failing to defend its students, despite the fact that these same students are living up to the standards held by our beloved institution. Conclusively, I believe that the demands of these students are justified as a part of the social contract we sign as students at a university such as this. As students, it is our duty and responsibility to obey the rules created by our university, just as it’s the university’s responsibility to protect us and provide us with the necessities to succeed.

At Michigan, it’s so inspiring to see a body of young people protest for something as serious and important as sexual assault, letting their voices be heard and respected as not only students, but in some cases survivors.

~Ari Shaw

Advertisements