How Bad Policy Gets Made: Hats and Headcoverings

As you may know, the masters of the universe are busy revising and consolidating policy manuals in the name of simplification and clarity. If you just cringed, or even flinched, involuntary, prepare yourself for worse. If such a project were proposed as the central theme of an episode of The Office or Bob’s Burgers or something, one would expect hilarity to ensue; unfortunately, this is real life, and so the outcome is closer to abject stupidity, if not horrifyingly and stupifyingly bad decisions and more, imminent embarrassment for the colleges that we love and to which we dedicate ourselves.

You may recall the hootenanny about hats from 2010 or 2011 (can’t remember exactly when the “head covering policy” and the inconsistent enforcement of it became an issue on campus; I thought I wrote about it, but can’t find it now. Anyway, it was a big enough deal–specifically, the lack of enforcement–that it was turned into a “scenario” question for the VP Search Committee that led to Margie’s hiring a year or two later). As I recall, word came down, rather suddenly and without explanation (surprise, surprise) that the policy had to be enforced and universally. This led to a couple of unpleasant confrontations on different campuses between students wearing various kinds of hats and headcovers for various reasons and the security guards who were following orders. The policy–long as obsolete as it was futile with respect to deterring or affecting gang activity, and about as culturally arbitrary as banning sneakers would be–seems to be a zombie element of the Policy Manual. The current version (see Page 77) reads like this:

Headcovering Policy
Students entering City Colleges of Chicago buildings are required to remove all head coverings unless such coverings are associated with religious beliefs or documented medical conditions.

 

This week Mike Davis contacted me about the revised version of this policy. Apparently, he’s among those reviewing and commenting on the drafts. The draft form of the new policy reads as follows:

Dress Code Policy

CCC students are expected to dress appropriately while on campus as a demonstration of their seriousness of purpose, out of respect for their peers, faculty and staff, and to model behavior that is consistent with their chosen career pathway and what will be expected of them in the workforce.

(a)      Head Covering Policy

The wearing of head coverings can cause undue attention and distraction and may interfere with the educational process for all students.  Students should not wear baseball hats, caps, hoods, and other head coverings while inside CCC buildings and facilities.  Students will be asked to remove their head covering to comply with this policy.

Religious or Medical Exemption – This policy does not apply to head coverings associated with an individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs or a documented medical condition.  If a student wishes to wear a head covering which is associated with his or her sincerely held religious beliefs or a documented medical condition, the student must request such an accommodation at the College Student Services Office by completing a Religious and Medical Head Covering Exemption Form.

(b)      Clothing Policy

Students should not wear clothing in an indecent or improper manner.  Examples of inappropriate clothing include clothing that exposes undergarments and/or indecently exposes body parts.  Shirts/blouses, pants/shorts/skirts, and shoes must be worn at all times.

Failure to adhere to the dress code policy will be considered a violation of the Standards of Conduct and a student may be subject to discipline.

I can’t even deal with that first paragraph, so I’m going to completely ignore it, lest I get lost in it. I also cannot and will not deal with the B section, but except to say that in 12 years of teaching, I’ve never experienced a situation that requires this policy. Maybe I’ll find people running the hallways barefoot in their underwear tomorrow, but somehow I doubt it. Let’s talk about the headcovering section. Mike’s response was much kinder than mine would have been; when he saw the draft, he responded writing,

“Someone better re-think this immediately.  All students who wear head coverings (and Truman has a lot of people in hijabs (employees and students)) are going to be required to ask for permission to continue doing so by filling out a form at the Student Services Office?!?!?  Headcoverings are not an issue, and this targets Muslim students.  This is extrememly dis-respectful and doesn’t belong in the manual.We’ve had a ‘no hats’ policy for a while.  In winter, people wear their winter hats in class (because many times its still cold in there), and it doesn’t bother anyone.  Seeing hijabs only adds to the diversity of the school.  Making people register for them is really just awful.”

Truman’s VP, Pervez Rahman, responded with wholehearted agreement and proposed dropping the second sentence of the exemption section. That was a Thursday. The response from VC Michael Mutz that arrived on the following Monday begins by saying, “We need to finalize this language.” (The ol’ ‘Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry!’ treatment, as John Hader would refer to it). Why? My guess is that they’re trying to get this ready for approval at the February Board meeting. Impressively, it gets worse from there.

Mr. Mutz then wonders how security will know who is exempt if the students don’t fill out the form? We need a process, he suggests, or we’ll have to stop everyone or no one. (Nice framing, eh? He’s already ruled out any consideration of abandoning the policy.) He explains that students will follow the process so they can receive a sticker on their IDs, which they can then show to security to prove that they are exempt from this policy. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. Without a sticker on an ID how could a security guard working at an educational institution possibly judge whether a head covering might be worn for religious reasons and distinguish a yarmulke from a ski cap?

My reaction was something like this:

A sticker. On their ID.  A form to get a sticker to prove themselves exempt from a policy that explicitly does not apply to them. We’re going to make students fill out a form to publicly declare and affirm their religious affiliation–a requirement that is beyond the requirements of some of the religions themselves! Anything leap to mind? Any historical associations out there that jump up and bite you? What color do you think it should be? What shape?

I mean, I guess it would be worse if there were a climate of intolerance toward some  of the religions likely to be most affected by this policy…oh wait. I guess there’s this and this and this and this and this and this. Surely our fearless and thoughtful leaders considered these concerns. They even say, multiple times, that they understand the concerns, but in the end, nothing can be done. VP Rahman’s proposal to keep the policy but delete the part about the form and the sticker won’t work, they say. Why not? One person, Beatrice O’Donnell, states that without the sentence in question, security staff would not know where to send students to fill out the form for their exemption!

Talk about missing the point! But that’s enough for VC Mutz who says that it seems to be “very important text” and follows that with a plea to finalize the language (exactly three hours after his first response).  Mike Davis, perhaps accustomed to this kind of inanity from his time in meetings on Jackson, responds, more patient than I would have been, writing,

This policy is a mistake, and should be reconsidered.  Wearing a head covering for religious purposes is the individuals right, and it is not dependent upon CCC’s acknowledgement or permission.  Requiring students and employees to individually get permission to wear their religious head coverings is unnecessary at best.  The whole reason we’ve had a policy was mostly about hats.

I’ve looked around and I found no other places that require students wearing religious head coverings to register.  There is no need for such a policy.

That said, I saw this statement in the security memos:

1. If the individual advises the officer that the head covering is for a cultural, religious, medical, or for special needs, the officer will NOT question the requested exception.

2. Safety and Security Officers will NOT probe for further information.

A third step asked them to proceed to the correct CCC office, presumably for the form.  Just eliminate that step.  That would be fine.  No need to individually mark IDs.  No need to make people sign forms to practice their religion.  This is unnecessary.

Which is when the General Counsel, Eugene Munin weighs in, which I quote in full:

Thank you for your comments and I appreciate your concerns.  As you know, we have had a policy prohibiting head coverings (not hats) for many years.  The policy also included an exemption for those with religious beliefs or medical conditions.  The reason that the most recent change was made is because the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) demanded that CCC have some clearly outlined process by which those with sincerely held religious beliefs could be assured that they were approved for this exemption.  OCR directed that we make this change, reviewed the precise language, and approved the change.  This was part of a settlement in a case that we had with a student from Daley College and we are not in a position to unilaterally modify the language at this point.

As I said, I appreciate your concerns, but this was a settlement of a case with the federal government and we cannot change the language.

Yes. We cannot change the language. At least not as long as we keep the policy. And we’ve had this policy for years! (So, who are we to change it? Is that the point? Really? WTF?) Which raises the question–if they really shared Mike and VP Rahman’s concerns, why not at least consider eliminating the policy? I’m no lawyer, but I know what words mean and I’m pretty sure that such a move would make the OCR issue a moot point. If there is no head-covering policy, there is no need for students to be assured of their exemption from it. So why do we need this policy again? To tell Crips from Bloods on the streets of 1980s LA? Hats are not signifying anything that isn’t communicated in multiple other ways and this policy will do more to cause “undue attention, distraction,” and interference “with the educational process for all students” than it would if I walked in wearing Carmen Miranda’s fruit basket on my head.

I’d love to hear how this policy contributes to the four Reinvention goals. I’m sure it allows for savings that come from consolidating resources. Doesn’t everything they do? More than anything, though, I’d love to hear them talk about how they can fit the CCC commitment to diversity with their preference for a policy that makes people register their religious beliefs so that students aren’t wearing caps in class. THAT is a speech I’d buy a ticket for, even if it were at some fancy downtown club filled with people whose imaginations end at the tip of their egos.

Mike encourages anyone with feedback on this policy to voice their issues to Michael Mutz (mmutz@ccc.edu) and Eugene Munin (emunin@ccc.edu). The next board meeting is February 4th.