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Sep 1, 2023

The Economics of Complaining: Balancing Due Process and Administrative Efficiency

The administrative dilemma surrounding the economics of complaining is complex. On one hand, there is a moral and ethical imperative to allow students, staff, and faculty to voice their grievances. On the other hand, there is the potential for the complaint mechanism to be weaponized, leading to a flood of complaints that can overwhelm the system. This creates a quasi-economic mechanism where the "cost" of complaining must be carefully calibrated.

First, let's consider the basic principles of due process. Due process is a legal concept that ensures fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially as a citizen's entitlement. In the context of educational institutions, due process means that every complaint must be investigated thoroughly, impartially, and within a reasonable time frame. This is essential for maintaining the integrity of the institution and for ensuring that justice is served.

Next, we must address the cost of complaining. Instituting a cost, such as requiring written grievances or mandating a multi-step review process, serves as a filter. If the cost is too high, it deters legitimate complaints, thereby perpetuating a culture of silence and entrenching bad behavior. Conversely, if the cost is too low, the system becomes inundated with complaints, many of which may be frivolous or vindictive. This not only strains administrative resources but also risks overshadowing serious issues that require immediate attention.

The George Floyd era brought about a significant shift in this dynamic. In an effort to combat racial microaggressions and low-level hostilities, many institutions lowered the barriers to complaining. While well-intentioned, this policy change was not thoroughly considered. The result has been a surge in complaints, without a corresponding decrease in microaggressions. Moreover, it has created false expectations that all grievances will be addressed, leading to disillusionment and mistrust.

So, what is the solution? We should return to the principles of due process and consider raising the cost of complaining through a multi-level review. This doesn't mean making it prohibitively difficult to file a complaint, but rather instituting a balanced process that deters frivolous complaints while encouraging legitimate ones. For example, a preliminary review could filter out complaints that don't meet a certain criterion, followed by a more thorough investigation for those that do.

In conclusion, the economics of complaining in educational institutions presents a paradox. While it is crucial to have an open channel for grievances, the system must also protect itself from becoming a tool for vendettas or from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of complaints. Striking this balance requires a nuanced approach that respects the principles of due process. Best intentions are not enough to create a working policy and solve the underlying problem.

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