Like Nordstrom's, we did have to make a few concessions to the outside world, though they were few and far between. For example, we were not allowed to have bonfires that were taller than the dorms, because then women's college across the street thinks the school is on fire. The administration is totally fine with 50 mildly inebriated college students milling around an open flame in the middle of a dorm courtyard with no "adult" supervision, but they still don't like explaining it to the local fire department.
To the grandparent: having grown up in Claremont, I can tell you that the reason Harvey Mudd has less problems with alcohol than the other Claremont colleges is almost completely a result of which students it accepts rather than its honor code.
What you say certainly has some truth to it, and I am skeptical this policy would work for the population at large. However, the other colleges (especially Pomona) are also pretty selective in their admissions, and there is a significant overlap in student life between the various colleges. While Mudd's honor code may not work as well with other student populations, I also think that other regulatory systems would not work as well with that student population. For one thing, it's essentially a college of hackers (in the HN sense), so having a stricter or more explicit set of rules would probably result in "creative" ways of following the letter of the law, with less regards to the spirit.
I did however, grow up in an affluent neighborhood, and I seem to recall that some people there neither angels nor saints. Maybe about as many as in my current locale.
I have a similar point to this relating to young children (under the age of 15 and over 5 I guess), allowing a child to have what they want, go where they like and do what they want (within reason), this gift of freedom seems to make the child mature faster or think/act differently.
For example a child given the opportunity to go out late at night before being old enough for nightclubs, who isn't worried about rules that say 'be home by X' or 'no alcohol!' is more likely to find what they enjoy naturally instead of breaking rules just to spite their parents.
Another example, given the option to drink fizzy drinks all day or water, a child doesn't take long to realize water is a better option most of the time.
Most of this is from first hand experience, I think these ideas rely on a reasonably smart child/parent and an open & trusting relationship. The parent must still provide direction on what is right/wrong and communicate ideas.
I'm not sure how that is a benefit and I think a lot of people are mistaking the absence of rules with the absence of authority. The easiest way to get compliant people is to threaten them with punishment but not tell them what the rules are. They had 5 other students explain the nuances, rather than someone with authority because that way, they could still punish you for what those students told you was OK.
It's essentially an open door for exertion of arbitrary power, but dressed up so the people welcome it as freedom. Imagine if traffic laws were "use your own judgment" - no speeding signs, but the cops could still pull you over on a whim and ticket you for speeding. And you couldn't go to court to contest it because there are no rules, and we'd all be driving a whole lot slower. But at least we're being treated like responsible adults, right?
Also, to counter another point: the administrators did not actually have the authority to punish students. The disciplinary board was student-run, and while I was not a part of that process, I am under the impression that the administration was pretty hands-off. While I don't remember for sure, it is very likely that the students giving the presentation were actually the ones with the authority.
The problem with the disciplinary board follows the same logic: just as vague, open-ended rules create more compliant behavior, you should expect that a student-run disciplinary board will also penalize deviant behavior much more enthusiastic precisely because the administration is hands-off.
The important question is whether the (explicit or implicit) rules are good rules, not whether you're permitted to self-police them. Self-policing may be more efficient, but the cost is less transparency and more conservative behavior.
As for the honor code not being up for debate or discussion, that is patently untrue. Not only are there regularly scheduled community discussions of the honor code and any changes that ought to be made to the code or how it is enforced, but there are also rules in place that require any major changes to the code to be approved by a student vote.
As to the student board "penaliz[ing] deviant behavior much more enthusiastic(sic.) precisely because the administration is hands-off," that is not supported by the evidence at Mudd. The most common penalty by far is a short, anonymous letter of apology to the community. More extreme punishments are rare, and can be easily challenged. I don't know of many administrations with explicit rules who would be that lenient.
Haven't repeated experiments shown that this does, in fact, create safer roadways for cars, cyclists and pedestrians?
That's strong enough data for me to strongly doubt your theory.
I call bullshit on this.
What does make a difference IMHO is having as few rules as necessary - BUT making sure that those few are sensible and respected.
Thus - "Don't be a jackass" is a worthy and sufficient rule - if enforced thoroughly.
Already possible. If you are going 65 on a road marked as 65 but there is 100 foot visibility and black ice on the road, you are going to be pulled over. The speed limit is a limit, not "if you go this speed, you can't get a ticket".
Personally, I love the idea but, with disappointment, I can't pragmatically recommend it for all but the most minor of situations.
There are so many workplace rules and laws that violate common sense that you have to adhere to (e.g. many "harassment" laws) that spelling them out is almost the only way to avoid frequent problems (e.g. My wife was formally reprimanded for not inviting certain colleagues to an after work - and not work related - function. This is called "bullying" nowadays and we spent months dealing with the disciplinary case/suspension/etc. They now have a policy where you have to officially disclose who you are friends with or not and why. My wife no longer works.)
Update: I read too quickly. It seems they've realized the above and are distributing a book of policies too. A shame.
Nordstrom's became famous for having a "no return policy" return policy, which is the major implication of that 75 word card: a clerk at Nordstrom's could process a return with no receipt 7 months after the purchase if that seemed like the right thing to do to satisfy a customer (especially if it was going to get you to spend $500 more on that visit). But then, the cost of failure in handling a return is maybe $40.
In other environments, the cost of failure is much higher. My team works in one. We're paid to punch holes in other people's very important applications. The cost of breaking rules of engagement could be "halt trading". We have more rules.
Generally, it seems like you want to go the "75 word employee handbook" route when the cost of failure is relatively minimal, and then only if you can use it as a differentiator (you also have to pay for and train people who can demonstrate excellent customer service).
(And, obviously, in 2010, you can't be an employer with a 75 word handbook, unless you want to get sued every time you fire someone.)
IANAL, but I've worked for plenty of companies that have a 0 word handbook. I don't see why companies can't have a 75-word handbook.
Meanwhile, in the majority of US states, at-will employment is subject to "implied contracts", meaning that one very important purpose of an employee handbook is to eliminate any "implied contract" that a terminated employee could claim to exist.
The problem I see with not having rules is different: it can only work when you have people who actually care about the results of their work, and feel that they can make a difference.
I think it can work (see Semco for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maverick_%28book%29) but only with carefully selected people and with conscious effort to foster such culture.
Hopefully the 75-word card still sets the tone, and the full handbook is just to satisfy the bureaucrats.
Two quick examples: 1, During one of their biggest sales of the year my girlfriend was working close to 80 hours per week, working long hours and in many occasions working overnight to make sure inventory was on the shelves for the next day. She was told by HR that she would be paid time and a half for her overtime hours, which is pretty standard I would assume. After getting her pay check, it looked extremely low and after verifying with HR they told her that she mis-herd what they said and for overtime hours she is only paid half of her normal hourly rate.
2: Nordstroms health insurance for employees working on the sales floor is off/on each month depending on how much you are selling. One moth my girlfriend had insurance and another month she did not. She was not notified when she was/wasn't eligible and had to pay more than expected several times on various medical bills because of this.
Even after this poor employee treatment, my girlfriend was not mad, the most frustrating thing was that Nordstrom preaches how well it treats their employees and how they are known for it. Clearly this is not the case.
Was this in the US? And was she salaried? I'm pretty sure this is illegal otherwise.
Maybe she wasn't "required" to work or because she is also paid on commission it somehow doesn't apply to her? I'm really not sure...
The thing that is appalling is that a company that says they are so great to their employees will try to justify these actions and put blame on the ones who are working their butts off and are dedicated to their responsibilities.
The only response she got was from someone in the company who was trying to sympathize with her saying "yeah, well thats why you just don't work more than 40 hours per week"
"QUIDVIS RECTE FACTUM QUAMVIS HUMILE PRAECLARUM"
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble.
I think that would make a nice employee handbook in itself.
Too good to be true in the modern day perhaps. Seems like they broke their own Rule #1
I found it quite an interesting read. Seems like a thoroughly enlightened way to run a company.
That's what I call progress.
Talk to their employees and you'll hear an entirely different story. Sales people are repeatedly told they need to accept fraudulent returns from thieves, which subtracts from commission you never earned since the returned item was stolen. When you shop there, you're subsidizing their insistence on sanctioning thieves.
If I remember correctly, where needed, they also have a large set of rules which do state things that cannot be done, but they are also very broad. Examples that come to mind involve observing shoplifting by employees, sexual harassment and absenteeism. It basically says that if one breaks the law or does things that negatively effect other workers or customers, the offending employee was subject for review and generally if someone is reviewed for these actions, the employee is most likely fired.
The sames person I spoke with gave me the impression that the 75 word "handbook" was a facade to make the company look very good from the outside, but they also had enough internal rules to cover their rear end for these types of scenarios.