Editorial: Administration should sever ties to Deru or open up its admission process

The Daily Northwestern

The Daily caused quite a stir last week when we explained the history and operations of Northwestern’s secret senior honor society, Deru, and published the current roster. Reactions to the article ran the gamut from outrage at Deru members to outrage at the administration, which funds Deru, to outrage at The Daily for publishing the names.

We have carefully considered all of the various opinions and perspectives on this issue, and we’ve come to this conclusion: The administration should either return Deru to its former, unsecret self or sever all ties to the organization. We are concerned that a student organization that holds some degree of influence with the administration – no matter how small – and receives some degree of funding – no matter how small – can operate in secret without the scrutiny of a greater student body they purport to represent.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with secret honor societies, and they are present at many high schools and universities. The problem is Deru’s relationship with the NU administration. Deru members organize Senior Week events, but they also act as something of a liaison between students and administrators. We don’t mean to overstate the impact of Deru in dictating the direction of campus issues. After all, many students and student groups meet with administrators about campus issues. But this particular group does have some degree of special influence due to its history and prestige and because it lacks the bureaucracy of groups like Associated Student Government.

Moreover, unlike ASG and almost every other group that lobbies the administration, Deru members are unknown to the student body at large – or they were, until The Daily published the roster. Secrecy may allow fewer headaches for those in the organization, but it prevents students unaffiliated with the organization from lobbying members to represent their interests.

This is important because even a cursory examination of the rosters finds Deru is not representative of the NU student body as a whole. Aside from the obvious fact that there are no Medill or Bienen students in Deru, the organization also draws from a very narrow cross-section of student leadership at NU. A student involved in ground-breaking undergraduate research or an award-winning chamber music group may be just as qualified to represent the student body as the ASG president or the Dance Marathon co-chair, but they are much less likely to earn a spot in Deru due to the current system of admission, which encourages members to pass down membership to their student group successor.

One way to remedy this is to lift the veil of secrecy from Deru and make the group’s admission system more democratic, either through an open and advertised application process or other similar means. If the administration and the group chooses to go that route, which would return Deru to how it functioned in its first 100 years, the group would gain accountability and legitimacy.

If Deru wishes to continue the recent tradition of secrecy, they have every right to. But in that case, the administration should stop supporting Deru financially. While the administration’s support of Deru may be small, the amount of funding is ultimately irrelevant. The point is that the administration is using any amount of money (which inevitably comes out of a pool to which all students contribute) to fund a secret society, on the false pretense that it represents the NU student body.

It is hard to know the true tangible impact of Deru’s work. The group may very well have – and probably has – brought about positive change to the NU community. But the ends do not justify the means. Deru pursues its agenda from a perspective that does not represent the NU community, and regardless of the results, The Daily is troubled by the process.

It is time to return Deru to its longtime open status or separate it from the administration completely.