Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who regulates the regulators?

So, a report from CTV tells us that Cambrian College in Sudbury ON hasn't really been on the up and up with its Health Information Management program. It turns out, despite the fact that students might spend as much as $17 000 to study at Cambrian, the program wasn't actually recognized by the certification body for the profession.

Students are ticked, rightfully, and the politicians are ticked. The governing Liberals say there's nothing they can do to right the situation for those already scammed. The NDP argues that these people should be compensated. Cambrian College, bastion of integrity, has offered each student two grand.

Putting aside any potential recourse the students have against the college (a lawyer would probably be able to better address that than I), there is the question of whether we, the public, should compensate these people.

First off, my sympathy goes out to these people. They were trying, earnestly no doubt, to lay the foundation for a productive career. They trusted Cambrian College, and they were taken. Generally, my response might be, caveat emptor. Obviously, the students did not know for what they were really enrolling. They did not know what they were actually purchasing. When consumers make mistakes, even monumental and sympathetic ones, we, as a society, tend not to re-imburse them. Generally, this makes sense. Beyond the issue of moral hazard, we generally think that its not fair to take money from some people to pay for other's mistakes. We do not absolve people of responsibility merely because we feel bad for them.

This situation is not quite as simple, though. What expectation do students have of the colleges and universities? These schools are overseen by the government. They, essentially, have the government's stamp of approval. With such an assurance, does caveat emptor still apply?

When we impose vast amounts of regulation on many aspects of life, we work to take the sense of responsibility away from the citizenry. We breed the mentality that if something is legal, it must be safe, because, otherwise, the government would not allow us to have it. It's sometimes difficult to fault people for falling into this trap. If the government treats us as infants, it's not that surprising when we turn into infants. This is the reason that choice, responsibility and liberty are so important.

An argument could be made that these students had a reasonable expectation that their program was worthwhile, and that they have actually been failed more by the government than by the school. This is a very attractive opinion, if only because it allows us to root for the little guy. Still, I'm not totally buying it.

These aren't people getting a basic liberal arts degree. We're talking about Health Information Management. This seems like a fairly specialized, and somewhat involved, field of study and career. It seems that a student who would do their due diligence in selecting a school and program to attend would determine if the school/program was certified and respected in the field. Rolling the dice on a program like this seems irresponsible.

Further, regardless of what forces are working against the sense of personal responsibility, we must not fall into the trap of absolving people of their mistakes. Adults must be assumed to be adults, and the results of their actions must be assumed to be their responsibility (this goes out the window if Cambrian College committed fraud of some sort). Treating people in this manner is better for them; it is better for us; it is better for society.

Cambrian College wronged these people, and regardless of what legal responsibility they have, they should make things right. Unfortunately, if Cambrian College does not step up, it is not the government's duty to take on their responsibilities.

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