On October 14, 2022, Clemson University officially began its journey toward a grim and totalitarian future. The Tiger Town Observer editorial staff wishes to express our deep disappointment with Clemson University’s new implementation of RealResponse, an anonymous text message reporting system. With our own attachment to the Clemson Family in mind, we refuse to stand for the disturbing effects such an application will have on the students, staff, and faculty members of the University.
Clemson University recently announced the release of RealResponse, a platform available to all students, faculty, and staff to make anonymous tips for allegations of misconduct. Clemson News proudly stated that the University would be the first in the nation to offer RealResponse to its entire campus, 6 years after the Clemson Athletics Department became one of the first to utilize the app in 2016.
The mission of RealResponse, as stated on its website, is to “equip athletic organizations with a tool to promote accountability and trust.” The app was originally designed as a channel for athletics departments at D-1 schools to provide accountability among coaches and teammates. Clemson is the first and only client, thus far, to offer RealResponse to an entire campus population. Attempting to implement a system meant for athletics departments to an entire campus is imprudent at best. Offering an anonymous text message reporting system to all students, faculty, and staff changes the Clemson Family for the worse.
In RealResponse, students, faculty, and staff may submit anonymous text tips, including photos and videos, to a number provided by the app. The texting hotline will be “monitored” by Clemson’s Office of Internal Auditing, connecting individuals to administrators with the Office of University Compliance and Ethics. The Office of Internal Auditing reports directly to the Clemson Board of Trustees, yet there is no indication that the Board has approved RealResponse as a platform for misconduct reports.
The Office of Compliance and Ethics already provides channels for students and faculty to make anonymous reports, either by phone call or filling out an online incident report form. The key difference with RealResponse is that members of the Clemson community can make reports via text and include photos and videos in real-time.
The implementation of a texting function begs the question: What benefit does texting provide that calling or filing a complaint online does not?
Tracy Arwood, associate vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer, told Clemson News, “The addition of RealResponse to Clemson’s existing reporting channels provide yet another option to encourage the reporting of misconduct.” Clemson News notes that text messaging is a “medium people already frequently use and trust.”
We do not view frequent usage of an anonymous reporting system as a net benefit for the Clemson Family. In fact, it seems apparent that a higher frequency of anonymous reports via the app will have a negative impact on the efficacy and reliability of reports. “Frequent” usage leads to “careless” or “thoughtless” usage, encouraging the Clemson community to increase their number of reports through the app. Shockingly, no indication of a concern for the reliability and seriousness of reports is mentioned in the Clemson News announcement. Any student, faculty, or staff member can submit photos and videos of any other student, faculty, or staff member to the faceless “official” responsible for evaluating the report.
Further, we doubt the reliability of texting as a medium for delivering reports. RealResponse cites its “comprehensive documentation repository” as a benefit for providing “athletes a safe space to deliver concerns and feedback to their administration.” Yet on a university scale, texting provides no greater benefit than a phone call or online form as a method for submitting misconduct reports.
The Office of University Compliance and Ethics has clearly acknowledged the involvement of two parties: the person submitting the report and the administrator handling the report. Yet the Office has overlooked a third party involved: the individual accused of misconduct. A real-time text message reporting system hands university administrators unwarranted, discretionary power to investigate third-party individuals. These individuals may or may not consent to be videoed or photographed for wrongful misconduct allegations that others deem as “harassment” or “discrimination” according to Clemson admininistrators’ arbitrary standards. This system eliminates due process, placing the burden on the accused rather than the accuser. Whether the university pursues further investigation or not, a presumption of innocence is removed. Permanent documentation of flagged misconduct is available in the RealResponse app without the consent or knowledge of the third party.
Tracy Arwood stated that “Encouraging and implementing safe environments for everyone at Clemson is an utmost priority,” claiming that RealResponse “helps Clemson support those endeavors.” The Tiger Town Observer editorial staff fails to see how anonymous text message reports contribute to a “safe” environment on campus. Instead, it achieves little more than scaring students and faculty into compliance.
The Office of University Compliance and Ethics is apparently responsible for receiving various “confidential” information, yet by its own admission, according to the Standards of Ethical Conduct, “Clemson University is also subject to laws requiring public access to some types of information.” If the Office to which reports are made cannot guarantee anonymity beyond a certain escalation, there is little point in real-time anonymous reporting in the first place. An automatic response to a text message report reads, “If the concern is an emergency or requires immediate assistance, please contact the appropriate authorities (e.g. 911 for an emergency).” Students should indeed know the appropriate authorities to contact in the event of a real emergency beyond bureaucratic university administrators whose primary concern, by nature, is that of university business.
The Tiger Town Observer is foremost concerned with the culture this application will create on campus. This system does not simply provide a platform for complaints to be filed – it encourages members of the Clemson Family to report on one another. As members of this community, we are deeply disturbed by these implications. A reporting system that encourages frequent reports of vague “misconduct” accusations threatens the intellectual and academic freedom of the members of this public university.
The app follows the university’s current standards for misconduct, defining possible reports with vague terms such as “unsafe conditions, harassment, discrimination, threats, or other forms of misconduct.” Encouraging such accusations among the Clemson Family breeds fear and distrust among one’s own peers. The app puts professors, students, and staff alike under constant threat of a simple text message escalating into a full investigation. Members of the community are encouraged to submit reports with ease and simplicity. The use of peer-focused accountability tactics eerily recalls tactics of totalitarian regimes, stifling criticism and demanding compliance from members of the community. Clemson University proudly promotes itself as a close-knit Family, loving and caring for one another no matter the diversity of thought among its community members. Losing this identity is the first step to destroying the Clemson institution and the values it was founded upon. *
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” – George Orwell, 1984