Changing the views on student leaders

By Chris Baucom
May 14, 1999

What constitutes inappropriate behavior for a leader? Many discussions have centered around the issue recently. SGA is even serving as a forum for campus leaders to come together to discuss these topics. The ANAK secret society has been thrust into the heat of debate, but is the specific issue getting too much attention given a larger problem? Some are starting to think so. We attempt to present both views in this special article.

Despite an institute-wide emphasis on leadership and the implementation of a comprehensive Academic Honor Code, there are feelings that ethics and accountability aren't foremost on the minds of everyone in the campus community. Some students, staff, and faculty may not have a tangible sense of what constitutes a breach of ethics.
"Too often we obsess on what's legal, and not on what's ethical," said Karen Boyd, Senior Associate Dean of Students.
Although some perceive these problems as being campus-wide and not unique to any specific organization, one group in particular, the ANAK Society, has fallen under heavy scrutiny for its role in campus events. One possible reason that rumors have been allowed to propagate is that ANAK's membership list and weekly meetings are confidential. In an anonymous email last quarter, the society was accused of being the "lapdog of President Clough," and also of improperly influencing elections, scholarships, and the press, among other things.
In response to the e-mail, Dr. Gary May, the society's advisor, said, "It was riddled with false information. I'm disappointed that [students] gave so much credence to this thing. There's not any evidence of wrongdoing by the society in its history and I'm not sure why people want to paint it that way."
"By the nature of our organization, some of our members are going to be involved in these processes... but it is incumbent upon us to insure that when we are in these positions that we maintain the highest level of integrity," said Dr. May.
ANAK became the subject of an intense debate last quarter when Wendy Horowitz, a candidate for Student Body President, was rumored to be a member of the society. Conspiracy theories abounded, and many feel that the presumed affiliation may have cost her the election.
"I think there is some belief that the society has some plot or insidious plan to take over organizations or the campus in general," said Dr. May. "I don't know where it's coming from."
Everyone involved has stressed that members of ANAK are free to act as they please, and are not controlled by the society.
"ANAK is a benign society that continues to accomplish phenomenal things for Georgia Tech," said Steve Slawsky, Chair-Elect of Presidents' Council. "The issue is not that the society has misbehaved, but that members of the society have acted in a manner which clearly does not support the claim that ANAK is the highest honor a student can achieve at Georgia Tech."
Although nothing has been proven, members of ANAK have been accused of acting improperly, most notably in last year's SGA election when Marc Galindo narrowly beat Vikas Chinnan. Two members of the Elections Committee that disqualified Chinnan for a campaign violation-but did not disqualify Galindo for a similar violation-were revealed to be ANAK members upon their graduation. All seven members of the committee were either former or current members of Council, so any bias may have resulted from the Council relationship rather than an ANAK relationship. Galindo was presumed to be a member of ANAK at the time of the election.
While no proof of wrongdoing exists, many feel the potential for a conflict of interest is very real.
"When you talk about specific issues where there is the perception where people did something incorrectly, you have to go back to the fact that our group is tied together in making this campus a better place. If there are perceptions that people did something incorrectly or perhaps in question, I stand by the fact that they did it hoping or thinking that it's for the better for this campus," said Anu Khurana, President of ANAK.
"Justification that ANAK, or members therein, are acting in the best interest of Georgia Tech is not enough to validate unethical behavior, especially when the members are not installed through a popular process, yet have significant influence on campus," said Slawsky.
In order to address these and other issues, an SGA subcommittee has been formed under the Joint Campus Organizations Committee to investigate ethics, accountability, and conflicts of interest in student organizations.
"Through JCOC, we are trying to promote a campus community that increases accountability, reduces conflicts of interests, and preserves representation by fostering fair and open elections," said Tobias Stanelle, Chairman of the JCOC subcommittee.
One of the committee's ideas is to require students running for office to provide statements of full disclosure in order to reveal all affiliations, both secret and otherwise. While ANAK has questioned the legality of such a requirement, representatives have expressed a willingness to cooperate.
"We prefer that you remain confidential, but in some cases, for instance a candidate in an election being asked a direct question, there's an integrity issue there. I would prefer that you uphold your personal integrity as opposed to worry about the secrecy or the confidentiality of the group," said Dr. May. "If one of our members wanted to run for an SGA office, and they thought it would be a good thing for the campus and for themselves individually, I would encourage that. And if the SGA rules at the time were you had to disclose your membership, fine. Disclose it."
Some students have expressed a desire for the society to go public, but that sentiment has been met with disapproval by the society.
"I'm not sure if non-secrecy is the way to go," said Khurana. "I think what's most important, ultimately, is making sure that students act with integrity and a high standard of ethics. I think these are valid concerns. I think if we work together it will be fixed. It can be approached the right way."
Although ANAK was founded in 1908, it did not become secret until 1961. According to Dr. May, the society continues to be secret because, "The members don't want to exert undue influence on processes or people because of their status as a member."
When questioned about the society's position on members disclosing their affiliation, May responded, "I couldn't personally encourage anyone to lie about anything. Some people will say, 'I can't answer that.' Some people will say, 'It's not important.' Each individual has leeway to answer how they feel is appropriate, but no one is encouraged to lie."
Although the ANAK society has taken much of the blame for what happens on campus, it is important to consider that ethics and accountability are perceived to be lacking in many aspects of campus leadership.
"The solution is not to spotlight ANAK, but rather to approach the entire Georgia Tech community with ways to improve the ethics and character of everyone," said Slawsky.

Copyright © 1999 by Gregory S. Scherrer, Editor and by the Student Publications Board

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