April 18, 2005
by David French
Last Tuesday morning, I spoke at a rally protesting Colgate University’s plans to force all fraternities and sororities to sell their houses and land to the university. While a transaction between two private parties is ordinarily not of great interest to FIRE, the terms of Colgate’s “deal” are particularly outrageous. Essentially, the message of the university is: sell your land or we will prohibit any student from living in your houses.
The university is justifying this blatant land grab by arguing that the fraternity and sorority houses are essentially out of control—cesspools of sexual assault, binge drinking, and other crimes. This is how Colgate described the situation to the Associated Press:
Colgate University is forcing fraternities and sororities to sell their off-campus houses to the school, a move partly aimed at ending “a pattern of problems” including sexual assaults, hazing and fights, officials said.
College spokesman James Leach said the purchases were recommended by a task force formed after a drunk-driving accident left four people dead and the driver in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Leach’s description of the situation is incomplete, to say the least. The drunk-driving 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. Interestingly, this accident occurred after university officials rejected calls for a bus system running from downtown Hamilton to the campus. It strains the imagination to see how such a tragedy is a product of the Greek system. Further, if you examine Colgate’s own self-reported crime statistics (as I did last week), you will see that the undergraduate dorms suffer from hundreds more complaints of alcohol and drug-related criminal activity than the fraternity system.
So, if the terrible accident occurred after drinking at a bar, and the undergraduate dorms feature hundreds more drinking and drug offenses than the Greek houses, why would anyone believe the university when it says that university ownership will lead to increased safety?
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. Schools are no longer content merely teaching political science, economics, mathematics, or sociology. They also want to create the New Tolerant Man (or woman), reminiscent of the mythical “New Communist Man” from the old Soviet Union. (Colgate, for example, wants to push students into so-called theme houses which divide students by race and sexual preference.) Greeks tend to be resistant to social engineering because of their own, independent labyrinth of social relationships and because of their independent culture.
Conservative or orthodox religious groups are also resistant to the totalitarian vision of the modern university, and they often pay a steep price for defying the prevailing campus ideology. When one understands universities’ all-consuming vision for student life, then seemingly random and disparate strands of censorship come together to form a coherent whole. So, what does a Friday night worship service at a local chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship have in common with the “White Trash Bash” at the PKA house down the street? Both events represent—in very different ways—a celebration of a life and culture that is wholly incompatible the university’s vision of social utopia.