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Crisis at Colgate University By: Christine Burtt
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Colgate University says, “Sell us your Greek houses or we’ll eliminate you.  Go underground, and you may be suspended or expelled.”  This is the edict from this small liberal college to the fraternities and sororities in the village of Hamilton, New York.

Colgate’s coercive land-grab scheme of prime real estate started about 18 months.  The “Residential Education Vision” mandated that all students live in university-owned housing.  Private fraternities –and later, sororities - have been an integral part of the campus for 149 years.

President Rebecca Chopp and Chairman John Golden boast that Colgate will create and implement the first comprehensive four-year residential program in the country.  The administration argues that only by owning the prime real estate of eleven Greek houses can they ensure the “safety and personal growth of students on a par with what is found in university housing.”  Dean Adam Weinberg sees it as a mission to capture “educational moments.” 


To alumni involved with Students & Alumni for Colgate, Inc. (www.sa4c.com) or the student-led FACT (Freedom of Association Coalition for Truth www.colgate-fact.org), Colgate’s heavy-handed tactics are nothing more than extortion, a “progressive” attempt at social engineering, and the next step to eliminating Greek life at Colgate.


Greek alumni leaders have spent more than a year trying to negotiate with the school.  They offered long-term leases, immediate and unquestioned access to the houses by university personnel, in-house residential advisors, and required residential education training for the Greek-letter undergraduates. 


At every turn, their efforts were rebuffed.  It was “my way or the highway.” The school consistently reiterated their threat that any private property owned by fraternities or sororities that had not been sold to the University would loose their recognition and that any student who “participated” in an unapproved organization would be subject to suspension or expulsion. 


The Trustees passed two resolutions to this effect, and there were numerous documents from the administration expounding the edict.


By the end of April 2005, believing they had no alternative, the alumni of five fraternities and two sororities had voted to sell or gift their house to the school.  Another fraternity lost their long-term lease to the school.  Two other fraternities are still negotiating.


Importantly, the national leadership of Phi Delta Theta campaigned against the sale citing the fact that in other instances around the country where Greek houses had been sold to a University, the alumni members loose interest, and the chapter is weakened.  In some instances, the fraternity eventually disbands. 


Several of the fraternities at Colgate are holding off on conveying the title of their property because of a lawsuit filed by Delta Kappa Epsilon.  The general causes of complaint relate to Colgate University’s violation of federal anti-trust law by creating a monopoly on housing in Hamilton and environs.  Despite a denial for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, the case is moving forward.  Colgate, in its response to an amended DKE complaint, opened the line of inquiry for discovery far beyond their stated goal of owning the houses to ensure the “safety and personal growth” of students. 


Ironically, official crime incidence reports for 2001-2003 show that liquor violations and drug violations for on-campus property versus non-campus property were 1,328 to 5 and 443 to 3, respectively.  Fortunately, forcible sex offences and illegal weapon possessions were in the single digits, but even here, on-campus property versus non-campus property reported 7 to 2 and 9 to 0.  It’s safer to live in a private fraternity or sorority than in Colgate-owned housing!


Half of Colgate alumni and more than one-third of the student body are members of Greek-letter organizations.  The grade point average of the Greek cohort at Colgate is as high or higher than the rest of the student body.  Each House points with pride to the community service hours volunteered by their members.


Students living in privately owned fraternities and sororities are responsible to manage their residential property, hire staff for food preparation, create, fund and account for a budget for house social activities, and sustain an atmosphere of trust, fellowship and integrity. 


Curiously, this is exactly the objective of Colgate’s residential vision – except that the administration insists on owning all the properties (a predictable revenue stream and cheap source of new housing), and requires all students to submit for approval a plan of how their house will operate, and the difference they will make to the community.  Students are directed to make a proposal for a social event to a “community council.”  If the plan is approved, they may receive some funds from the school for a chaperoned party.


The idea of “theme houses” is not new to Colgate.  Upperclassman can already apply to live in Balkanized housing: Black students are encouraged to live in the Harlem Renaissance Center, Asian students at the Asia Interest House, “peace studies” students at the Bunche House, homosexual students at the Class of 1934 House, “environmental activists” at The Loj.  Other houses seek to attract students who want to live in a substance-free environment; those involved in the creative arts, or in a “democracy experience” for sophomore men.  There are specific meeting houses for Latino students and Jewish students. 


Colgate University is being re-made into a niched prep school, where diversity is measured by skin color and sexual preference; intellectual diversity is discouraged. In fact, the school seeks to attract “more angular” (less well-rounded) students, as articulated by a faculty member. 


The effort to eliminate Greek life at Colgate has simmered for many years, fueled by a tenured, militant faculty who see their job as molding young minds to their worldview. 


Faculty members have voted twice to eliminate Greek life at Colgate:  once in 1989 by a vote of 134 to 37, and again in 2001, by a vote of 140 to 40.  Greek life represents an area of diversity not controlled by the administration or faculty and its presence is contemptuously tolerated.

This is perplexing when one considers that the primary customers for a university are its students.  But, the faculty members are terribly out of synch with their constituents.  Only five teachers of approximately 250 at Colgate are self-described traditionalists, or conservatives. (Victoria Fontan, a visiting professor who teaches a required CORE class, brags of her ties to Hezbollah and the wife of terrorist Al Zarqawi!)


In an on-line poll taken by The Colgate Maroon News 12/19/04, students reported that Colgate is: 22% Too Conservative; 59% Too Liberal; 19% My Atlantis (refers to being a good fit for one's personal political views.)   When 59% of those who responded say the school is too liberal, what does that say about the academic and social culture at Colgate?


Colgate University prides itself on a rigorous academic program.  Indeed, the average SAT score for the 2007 class is 1378.  These are not slouch students.  Clearly, they are responsible, focused and self-disciplined.  Yet, the administration’s priority is to make students feel good about their role in the world.


In an administration document entitled “The New Liberal Arts Curriculum,” President Rebecca Chopp (who received a doctorate degree in feminist theology) lays out a vision for a required “…core curriculum responsive to…the changing interests and needs of students. Each of the components of the core program is designed to address questions of identity, culture, and knowledge. These courses enable students to address the question of ‘who am I?’”


Admirable as it may be that students will graduate from Colgate knowing who they are, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (www.goacta.org), a non-partisan, non-profit organization that analyzes core curriculum in major colleges and universities across the country, gave Colgate an “F” grade for its core curriculum. 


Incredibly, a student can make it through four years without taking a writing or composition class, no math class that involves numbers, natural sciences requirements satisfied with classes in psychology, physical science classes satisfied by an entire course on AIDS or another specific disease, no American history, no literature, no economics. 


F.A.C.T. – Freedom of Association Coalition for Truth (colgate-fact.org) is a student-led organization (not approved by the university).  FACT organized a student protest rally on April 12, 2005 with more than 350 students attending.  Featured speakers included FACT president Sean Devlin, ‘05 DKE, David Horowitz (www.frontpagemag.com), David French, president of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org) and other Colgate alumni and students.  After the rally speeches, the students marched to president’s office where they gave a list of 13 demands and a petition with signatures of 1,200 (of approx. 2,800 enrolled) students to Rebecca Chopp.  She was alternatively patronizing and uncomfortable. 


The event received national news coverage from all the major broadcast and cable television media, local newspaper coverage, and Internet weblogs.  Colgate’s answer to the demands has been to stall and mumble the same propaganda on “safety and personal growth.”


The stealth campaign to eliminate fraternities and sororities is symptomatic of the crisis in academia across America.  Political diversity, intellectual diversity, and tolerance for traditions such as Greek life must be defended and protected.  Colgate University is the latest battleground.

Christine Burtt is the Executive Director of Studens & Alumni for Colgate, Inc. www.sa4c.com

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