Greeks Should Call Colgate’s Negotiating Bluff

Imagine, if you will, one’s employer telling you to sell your house to them or they will suspend or expel you from your job (in this case as a Colgate student). “Preposterous” is the word that comes to mind! The Colgate Handbook, which is in part the contract between the University and the student body, as of its June 2003 edition professes that the following:

* Their rights and responsibilities as students shall not be deemed to conflict with the rights and responsibilities insured as citizens.

* Maintaining the rights of free inquiry, expression and assembly.

* Protect the inviolability of the students’ personal and civil rights.

* Right to be secure in one’s person, speech, living quarters, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure.

* Freedom from disciplinary sanctions except by due process, with avenues of recourse available when a student claims to have been subject to prejudicial, discriminatory or capricious treatment.

* The Relationship Statement articulates the rights and responsibilities of fraternities and sororities, and establishes criteria for assessing their performance.

* Continued recognition is based upon chapter performance. Recognition is granted and maintained through a review and approval process supervised by the Office of the Dean of the College.

Sale of private property under the threat of losing (fraternity) recognition and threatened suspension and expulsion (of student occupants) by the proposed Buyer cannot under any guise be deemed good faith negotiations but rather coercion, and constitutes a taking of proprietary rights without due process of law where the Buyer says “sell or we will put you out of existence.” Use of private property is subject to planning and zoning (local government) rights and responsibilities and is not within the purview of another private entity (Colgate University).As a possible resolution to the ownership issue, some of the fraternity/sorority entities posed the question whether the Chapter Houses could be turned into private eating clubs to remove the residency issue, to which the University’s response was that such group(s) would lose its (their) University “recognition” and students would be subject to suspension or expulsion. Am I missing something or is this the denial of freedom of assembly? Colgate has not said to its faculty, administrators or Board of Trustees as a condition precedent to serving Colgate that you must resign your memberships in any and all private clubs that have any amenities other than residences. Why should Colgate threaten the students who desire to assemble in a similar manner?It is my recommendation to my undergraduate fraternity brothers that they prepare for the 2005-2006 school year as usual and call Colgate’s negotiating bluff. Do you think for a moment that Colgate would follow through on its threat to suspend or expel 51 students if they acted in concert? The answer is a resounding “NO.” Threats in negotiations may be cloaked with acceptability, but action on those threats is vastly different. With a legal background, I would relish the opportunity to represent on a contingency fee basis, any and all students who may in fact be disciplined by the University over something for which the undergraduate student(s) does (do) not have standing (the student brothers/sisters do not own or have a vote in the sale of the House). This position becomes even stronger if student members of other fraternity/sorority chapters advise their alumni/ae leaders that they too are prepared to call Colgate’s bluff and agree to live in their respective fraternity/sorority house if, and only if, ownership remains as is subject to all students agreeing to signing a contract with Colgate setting forth the students’ rights, duties and responsibilities applicable to all students regardless of whether the residence is University or privately owned. Put simply, if the student body en masse stands up to the university, the university will meet its constitutional and ethical mandates.A lot more is at stake than whether or not bricks and mortar on Broad Street are identified by some Greek letters. At stake are the students’ constitutional rights and the rights of the alumni/ae to freedom from unreasonable seizure of their private property by coercion, albeit under the guise of good faith negotiations.As my father used to say, “It doesn’t pass the smell test.” Colgate’s Board and Administration owe the student body and alumni/ae, whom they serve, that which passes the smell test as American citizens: respect of their civil rights.