Residential Education Program

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To the Editor:

I have until now remained silent over the administration’s decision to acquire the fraternity and sorority houses. The administration, with the backing of the board of trustees, has the obvious power to implement its plan, and, from the begining, the successful acquisition of the houses was a fait accompli. My sincerest hope was that the process would be completed with minimal damage to Colgate’s reputation and community and that the adiminstration and board would turn their attention to more pressing matters.

Unfortunately, the process has been attacked in a highly publicized campaign by alumni and students alike, the administration has devoted precious time and resources to defending the plan, and the tempest has of late become national news (on April 12, 2005 CNN posted an article in which various ugly aspects of the tug-of-war was made public, including the following quotation by James Leach, Colgate’s spokesman “[t]here have been sexual assaults, hazing, violent fights and a pattern of problems over the years. Many people thought change was necessary . . .”) All of this brings to mind the following three questions:

First, why did Colgate’s new administration under President Chopp, with the board’s backing, determine that the acquisition of the greek houses (and the implementation of the residential education program generally) should be its first order of business? With the Greek system in decline, various other matters deserved more immediate attention as they contribute more directly to Colgate’s national standing and quality of education. These matters include, among others, the size of the endowmnent, feeding students into the highest corners of business, government and industry, maintaining and augmenting academic standards, and improving Colgate’s standing versus its peer institutions. The adminstration’s arguments range from liability, safety, health and other related matters (all of which are completely valid). However, the administration had available to it cleaner and, in some cases, swifter means of remediation at its disposal.

Second, how do the members of the adminsitration and board of trustees intend to repair the damage done to the very fabric of Colgate society? There can be no doubt that donations, the very lifeblood of the University will suffer, as will the health of the Colgate community. As the administration has spent a good deal of time recently defending the acquisition plan with road shows and a vigorous letter writing campaign, its effort would have been better spent building the endowment and fostering greater placement opportunities for Colgate students in the community at large.

Finally, how can the specific quote picked up by the CNN article be justified as anything but incompetant public relations? Not only has the issue now been elevated to national prominence, but the university’s spokesman revealed the crux of the problems as involving “sexual assaults, hazing [and] violent fights.” One does not have to be part of the public relations circuit to know that “spinning” a story is absolutely critical to maintaining the integrity of an institution. Mr. Leach should take a long hard look at this quotation and determine how best to counter its potential negative impact on recruitment and the univeristy’s national standing generally.

Matthew E. KaplanClass of 1993