Many colleges and universities are trying to reassume the role of in loco parentis, and their primary targets are organizations that exist beyond the jurisdiction of the administrators—fraternities and sororities.
Conceived originally as service or academic societies, fraternities and sororities are today known for their debauchery and elitism. The 1978 film classic Animal House is seen as all too accurate by many administrators and as the pinnacle of excellence by many students. In Pledged, Alexandra Robbins infiltrated a sorority house and revealed that image-conscious co-eds clog toilets with their vomit.
Much of the commentary on Greek life is sensational, but it is not completely without basis in fact. Earlier this year at California State University, Chico State, a fraternity pledge died in a hazing incident in which his frat brothers forced him to consume large quantities of water. Shortly after his death, the university suspended another fraternity for hosting and participating in a professional pornographic movie shoot.
Other fraternity incidents have proven far less tragic or unseemly, though very controversial. In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology disciplined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity after some of its members scuffled with members of the rap group The Roots, over alleged racially insensitive remarks. In the incident two members of The Roots, Jaguar and Black Thought, entered the fraternity after verbal provocation and assaulted residents with a large spoon.
Supporters of the Greek system believe that such incidents are rare and that institutions are too eager to meddle in the affairs of private, and often off-campus, corporations. A new initiative at Colgate has riled both students and alumni supporters of the Greek system.
Colgate plans to force Greeks to sell their houses to the university. Colgate would prohibit students from living in any Greek house that is not college-owned. Other small, liberal arts schools such as Colgate have abolished the Greek system on their campuses. The faculty of Colgate voted overwhelmingly to end the Greek system in 2001, echoing a similar vote in 1989.
According to the Associated Press, all but three Greek organizations have consented to the university’s plan. DKE, the only one of the three dissenting houses that remains active, has filed a lawsuit against Colgate.
The plans come in response to a 2001 drunk-driving accident that killed four. The driver, who was not killed, had been served alcohol at DKE. The university also told the AP that there have been problems with sexual assaults, fights, and hazing at Greek houses.
David French, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, notes that the accident “involved a student who was served alcohol at a fraternity house, left the fraternity, went to a local bar, then got behind the wheel of a car.”
According to French, Colgate administrators are not reform-minded out of concern for the safety of students. “Over the last five years, if there is one constant that I have observed in university life, it is the desire to create an all-consuming campus culture that completely remakes a person from the inside out,” he writes.
“Greeks tend to be resistant to social engineering because of their own, independent labyrinth of social relationships and because of their independent culture.”
On April 12, students held a rally in protest of the Colgate plan. Three hundred fifty students gathered to hear speakers such as David Horowitz and French. Nearly 1300 students and alumni have signed a petition decrying the administration’s initiative.
Larry Scholer is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.