President Chopp Responds to F.A.C.T.’s Demands

Dear F.A.C.T.:

As I studied the documents you gave me, it appears that the petition and the list of demands must be separated. In my conversations with students, I have learned that many of the petition signers did not know of the existence, let alone the nature, of the 13 demands. While I am not making a judgment about whether the signers of the petition would or would not support the demands, I will respond to these as two separate documents: a petition with nearly 1300 (your count) signatories and a list of demands created by the F.A.C.T. organization (whose membership is unknown to me).

The petition states: We, whose names appear below, oppose Colgate University’s stated willingness to violate students’ First Amendment freedom of assembly rights and Colgate’s blatant violation of private property rights in taking the Greek houses. We demand Colgate University respect our rights as American citizens.”

Colgate has never “stated a willingness” to violate constitutional rights. Colgate has said that students may not join underground fraternities or sororities, a rule that is shared by many other colleges and that relates directly to the quality of a Colgate education. Colgate has expressed the desire to own the Greek-letter houses in order to continue fraternities and sororities with Colgate support and supervision as a component of the educational process. The university, as a private institution, is within its rights in both instances, as has often been confirmed by the courts. In sum, we respect students’ rights, but in doing so we must remain faithful to our responsibility to enhance the educational process and set standards for members of the university community. Colgate has fully respected the property rights of the Greek-letter alumni organizations in their chapter houses and has not “taken” the properties in any sense. The university made every effort to make offers to purchase the properties on fair and reasonable terms, and through extensive negotiations with Greek-letter organization representatives agreed on numerous contractual modifications to address their concerns.

Of the 13 demands presented to me by F.A.C.T. last week, most can be grouped into two categories: 1. demands for the suspension of aspects of Colgate’s plans for residential education, including the acquisition of Greek-letter houses; 2. demands for changes to university policies or ongoing programs, including those with respect to Greek-letter and other student residences. I will treat these two types of demands separately.

1. We are now at the end of the acquisition approval process and will continue our efforts to create a system that next year will have six fraternities and four sororities living in university approved residences. Six active Greek-letter organizations have approved the sales of their houses, and one has approved the termination of the lease of their house from Colgate. Three other active Greek-letter organizations currently without residences, have each been given university housing for next year. One fraternity is suing Colgate, having decided not to participate in the residential education program, and will forfeit university recognition this summer.

2. With the completion of the acquisition process, we will continue working to build the next chapter in Colgate’s history and in the history of our Greek-letter organizations. In this phase, we need to work together to build a residential program that includes a healthy Colgate Greek-letter system. Constructive suggestions regarding Colgate’s residential education system should be shared though your student governance bodies: the SGA, Community Councils (including the Broad Street Community Council) and the Student Affairs Board. Dispute resolution, lines of accountability and the composition of university townhouses are good issues to bring forward through such channels. These, and many other topics, will continue to be considered by Colgate, and I encourage your input through student government. If, for some reason, you feel that the student governance system does not represent you, I urge you to get involved and discuss how best to improve or change that system. The administration will consult with the SGA and other student governance bodies, but the administration and board of trustees have the responsibility – pursuant to the bylaws of the university and New York law – to establish Colgate’s educational program and standards of student conduct.

In approving the new residential education plan, the board of trustees has affirmed the desire for a healthy, strong Greek-letter system. Unlike many of our peer schools, the board decided not to end the system by abolishing fraternities and sororities at Colgate, but rather to support the system. We now need to work together to make sure that fraternities and sororities will serve the educational mission of the college, meet the needs of students and follow the requirements of applicable Colgate policies, thereby enabling them to continue as a contributing part of the Colgate educational experience.

Rebecca S. ChoppUniversity President