By Vanessa Chioaru
This article is written in conjunction with the IE Law Society.
Twice a year, the monumental Labs sign up day is upon us. No other occurrence in the history of IE events is arguably as colossal as this. At 10am sharp, the platform opens for sign ups and the bloodbath of scoring the desired lab begins. It is well known that in order to benefit from this “first come, first served” system, one must make extreme sacrifices such as using multiple devices while in class to get through the queue faster and waiting for hours on end without refreshing your page. The experience can be compared to that of high stress situations of buying in demand concert tickets, except, it is arguably easier to get the latter.
As such, one may wonder where this unrelenting popularity of labs stems from? For starters, there is a lab catered to the interests of every IE student, enabling students to pursue their interests and harness their skills, whilst enhancing one’s CV, with what IE depicts as an “alternative to traditional work placement.” Additionally, no application criteria are required, enabling everyone to apply and providing an easy opportunity to gain experience, especially for first year students.
Frustrations with the System
The simplicity characterised by this lack of criteria, however, brings about various issues. The “first come, first served” method possesses two detrimental flaws: its persistent desire to promote equality and its unrelenting effort to provide a “just” enrollment, ultimately inhibiting student participation.
The egalitarian doctrine seems to be at the core of the process, defined as trying to provide equal treatment and equal opportunity for all those trying to participate, evidenced through a randomised allocation in the queue at a singular opening time. Yet, this process seems to have the opposite effect, nurturing an unfair environment where students affected by external circumstances are excluded. It is clear that not every aspect can be regulated, so when egalitarianism fails, the system attempts to excuse its shortcomings with utilitarianism, instead aiming for the greatest good for the greatest number of people, even if the minority misses out. Subsequently, this “greatest good” extrapolates the existing discrepancy and leads to a smaller number of people reaping the largest benefits.
The second flaw of the system is its obsession with advertising the aim of a “just” enrollment process. Under Rawls’ social contract, everyone will have personal liberty and equal opportunity with justice focusing on protecting the most vulnerable. For this theory to have success, a hypothetical scenario is created where the veil of ignorance is put in place to eliminate biases. While the system does successfully manage to create the veil, it does not try to uphold the second pillar of Rawls theory: distribute opportunity to everyone’s advantage, even if it is not equal. This is exemplified by the fact that people can sign up for the same lab year after year, taking the opportunity away from those who have not had the chance to enroll at all. Furthermore, no exceptions are made for people who may have had unlucky circumstances and were not able to sign up.
Many students argue that meritocracy is the solution. This ideology, advocated by Plato and Aristotle, requires opportunities to be distributed solely based on “individual merit.” Applying this would mean allowing students to join labs or giving them priority based on GPA. This seems to bring many benefits: it would eliminate arbitrary discrimination and ensure higher work quality since only people with a high GPA would participate. However, when truly analysing this, it seems to be exchanging one problem for another. Filtering out students based on their GPA is against the very philosophy and opportunities IE seeks to provide, as education is meant to cultivate merit by providing new skills and qualifications.
What Could Work Better?
Ultimately, the solution comes down to analysing the values at the core of the labs: interest and motivation. Such traits cannot entirely be determined by GPA or a randomised queue. The simplistic selection should become layered, requiring more from candidates, such as motivation letters or interviews, to truly determine whether they would be the right fit. Having a holistic selection process would ensure that justice and equality are achieved and lasting.