The War on Fraternities, Part 232

James Jones, president of Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., has announced his decision to step down from his post as of June 2014, a year before his contract ends. Jones’s surprise decision, announced by an e-mail from Jones on May 7, included the equally surprising announcement that decision by the chairman of Trinity’s board of trustees, Paul E. Raether, will also be stepping down. The scuttlebutt is–at least according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)–that that the resignations are directly related to alumni outrage over a new social code at Trinity, announced in October 2012, that will effectively eliminate fraternities, sororities, and similar social organizations at Trinity. Let’s hope that is the case, and that a new and different top administration will realize the extent to which the new Trinity social code severely restricts students’ freedom of association.  

Since the 1960s college and universities have waged a never-ending war against college fraternities and sororities. Greek life has always been a source of suspicion to college administrators, and sometimes justifiably so: questionable hazing practices, licentious parties, “Animal House” antics. But in recent years, fraternities and sororities have represented a political threat as well–a threat to the desire of college administrators to control and regulate every aspect of student life, social as well as academic. Fraternities and sororities are typically single-sex organizations, and that goes contra to the insistence of administrators that all aspects of college life must be gender-neutral and gender-blind. Fraternities and sororities also admit their members selectively, which goes against fashionable anti-elitism. Finally, fraternities and sororities are often havens against campus political correctness. Inside a fraternity house men can safely joke about the latest humorless pronunciamentos from the campus women’s center. Inside a sorority house women can be free to like men instead of viewing them as adversaries as their feminist professors insist. 

Many colleges and universities have simply banned Greek houses outright. The Trinity social code is more subtle and insidious: It makes it impossible for Greek houses to exist. First of all, all campus “social organizations” must henceforth meet nearly 50-50 gender quotas, both in membership and leadership. So much for the traditional single-sex Greek structure. Then, they must be officially approved by the Trinity administration–and students who associate with unapproved groups “will be subject to separation from the College.” The houses must also terminate their affiliations with national Greek single-sex organizations. Furthermore, Trinity has given itself the right to siezeand sell the houses of fraternities and sororities that do not comply with the above rules and turn them over to more compliant organizations. And notably, the code exempts campus athletic, musical, and academic organizations from its strictures: it’s aimed squarely at the Greeks. 

Not surprisingly, many Trinity students and Trinity alumni are up in arms over the new code, and some have threatened to withhold donations and also challenge the provisions in court. The announced resignations of Jones and Raether are a good sign, suggesting that Trinity might have jumped the shark this time. It’s a small and tentative victory for those who believe that college students, like other citizens, ought to be able to be able to associate with the friends of their choice.  

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

One thought on “The War on Fraternities, Part 232”

  1. Ms. Allen, you’re a great writer, but I still don’t understand why you defend fraternities. They promote sexual assault, academic cheating, binge drinking, and sending their alumni to Congress, among other social pathologies. One of those pathologies would, to my mind, be bad enough to consider dismantling them. Taken as a whole, it’s clear that fraternities are a plague upon the earth and should be burned to the ground (or at least sold and repurposed).
    You give two main reasons here for defending them, freedom of association and their function as political refugee camps where students can, if not actually do anything meaningful–hooking up is much to important for that to get in the way–gripe and commiserate.
    Regarding freedom of association, someone’s going to have to explain that to me. What we’re talking about here is not really freedom of association in general, like the freedom of assembly in the Constitution. It’s freedom of association after you join a larger association, the university. As Greg Lukianoff has pointed out, courts have not recognized this as legally compelling. I don’t see how you get to a “freedom to join a fraternity at Trinity College” from a natural rights perspective, either.
    Regarding the political refuge idea, I can’t see how you wrote that with a straight face. I can’t see your face, so maybe you didn’t. Look, political correctness on campus is pretty bad. I went to uber-liberal UNC, so I can tell you. But it’s not so bad that students must hide in secret meetings in order to discuss their politics, like in Soviet Russia or something. The idea is absurd. Fraternity basements, the last urine-soaked, stale-beer-and-vomit-smelling redoubt of liberty lovers in the political correctness archipelago!
    In reality, standing up for your beliefs is not that big a deal. If you tell the school that affirmative action is bad, you may be called a racist (happened to me), but… that’s about it. If you’re serious about politics, you need to man up.

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