Visions Of A City On A Hill



Gregory R. LaBanca '05

I do not live at Colgate. I commute to Colgate from across the street at Phi Delta Theta located at 114 Broad St. It is this one fact that drives our administration absolutely batty. The crux of the problem, which President Chopp et al refuse to admit, is that they simply cannot abide having groups of Colgate students thinking, acting and working outside of their well established control. Colgate has often been described as a City on a Hill – and the City on a Hill has become restless and intolerant of any who may impede its march towards the philosophical uniformity of its student body. The City on a Hill, rather than projecting the example and ideals of freedom through the light of knowledge and education has instead taken its message to its self-proclaimed subjects by force of arms.

Last Tuesday, Ms. Chopp deigned to descend from her faux-Ivy Tower to hear the demands of the rabble, crowded into the James B. Colgate Hall foyer. Above her, on the second floor landing, stood her coterie of yes-men and yes-women, sallow faced with the gray pallor of dead fish, limp arms akimbo in mock outrage at the audacity of the simple-minded student-folk below. “How dare they assume to bring their ill-formed ideals of democracy and freedom to the entrance-hall of our lady-sovereign,” they seemed to say. Over 100 students, lit with the fire of democratic passion, stared straight back at where senior Sean Devlin, granted the right to stand halfway up the stairway with Ms. Chopp, prepared to present Ms. Chopp with a 1,200 signature petition and 13 demands regarding the very freedom of Colgate students, trampled upon by the dictates of our maroon-soaked monarchy. Ms. Chopp, with a slightly embarrassed smile crinkling her lips, responded to the demands by declaring that, despite Colgate’s status as a private institution, the administration was respecting the rights of its students. Upon hissing from her audience, Ms. Chopp responded, and my memory fails me, so I paraphrase: “Well, you were allowed to demonstrate that today, weren’t you?”

Well, in response, let me thank you, Ms. Chopp for restraining yourself one last time. Thank you Ms. Chopp for deciding that breaking up a rally was one guaranteed freedom that you would not violate. Thank you Ms. Chopp for demeaning all of us inside an astonishing ten seconds by assuming that the freedoms we enjoy are the providence of an administration that, in the name of benevolence, restrains itself from taking that final step, that fateful step, of making its utter control over our lives fully explicit. Colgate may indeed be a private institution, and I may have chosen to go to Colgate, but then again, not receiving a higher education was simply not an option. One hundred years ago, anti-union forces in our nation’s factories argued that life-endangering and autocratic working conditions were of little consequence, since a worker could simply choose to work elsewhere. Of course, these conditions pervaded all areas of employment and one couldn’t very well choose not to seek employment. Today, college campuses all over the land are cracking down on student rights, seeking to create their own bastions of social experimentation to design the ultimate all-encompassing educational environment. The choice we face is either to go to Colgate or to approach the working world with naught but a high-school degree.

With regard to the argument that a private institution is legally granted to operate as it pleases: the rights I enjoy at Colgate are those rights that I enjoy as an American citizen – I did not leave those rights behind on Whitnall Field when I matriculated. The rights in the Constitution are not granted to us – they are inalienable rights that have devolved upon us by nature of my status as a human being – or, for the religious type, they are those rights endowed upon all of us by our creator, whomsoever your creator may be. The Amendments are a sampling of those inalienable rights which are so fundamental and essential, that they had to be explicitly stated so as to inform our government that these rights could absolutely not be infringed upon. If the government, the highest power in the land, is specially instructed not to infringe on these most fundamental rights, it stands to reason that no power lesser then it (i.e., Colgate) shall be allowed the dispensation to violate the same.

Students of Colgate, the vision of Democracy that Colgate seeks to bestow on you, by its own noble privilege, is tyranny by any other name. The vision may be that of democracy, but it is democracy in the vision of Colgate, democracy in the vision of Chopp, Golden and Weinberg. It is the vision that a flock of resume padders has peddled to the gods of the college rankings, and now imposes upon you with the silver-tongued double-speak of a demigod. This is not the Vision of Residential Education, it is the Vision of Residential Re-Education – a 1984-esque attempt to take in young, formative minds and repackage them in the manner most suited for clawing another step up the college-ranking ladder. Only the democratic vision of tyrants could preach self-governance while replacing already existent governance boards with community coordinators. Only the democratic vision of tyrants could proclaim the goal of building democratic communities while threatening with expulsion those who continue to associate with de-recognized Greek organizations. Only the democratic vision of tyrants could proclaim to educate leaders while coercing the sale of their houses under duress.

The City on the Hill has become a tyrant. I, along with the other residents of the Chenango Valley, must now watch as our “benefactor” atop the hill merrily gobbles up its horror-stricken neighbors. Most of use are inextricably tied to the City on the Hill – some by choice, such as Greek Row; some by necessity, such as Sushi Blues and the Mobil Gas Station, and all are subject to the proclamations that come down from atop the tower that sits upon that hill. Fellow residents of the Chenango Valley and fellow students of Colgate University: the vision of Colgate is not that of the administration to make, it is the choice of those to whom the vision belongs. To the students: you are losing your college. Thirteen men came to found an institution for their collective education. Two hundred years ago, the students of Colgate – the students who were Colgate – built East and West Halls themselves from the quarry out back. Two hundred years ago, the students, with their own money, bought the books for the Colgate Library and the tea that warmed their literary and philosophical meetings on the nature of man – societies which would eventually evolve into our current day fraternities and sororities, made secret due to the duress of a gathering administrative storm against those whom it could not control.

Today, in 2005, we have reached a critical juncture. Visions dance in the hallucinations of deans with too much power, too little cognitive ability and too many illusions of r?esum?e grandeur. Their visions shall become your own, but only if you succumb to their mellifluous honey soaked words of appeasement. Granted, such a fall is all together too easy. Together, we are told, we shall build a strong student democracy, based on expectations, not rules; based on conduct boards, not judicial boards; based on collaborative effort, not on individual will. And all it will take is the destruction of already existent communities, already independent and operating for over 100 years, to ensure the vision of democracy to which we are all ordered to aspire. Thirteen men and 13 prayers was enough to begin this community of scholars of which we are a part, but 13 prayers will save neither these scholars nor the Chenango Valley citizens, kind enough to give us a home for the past 200 years, from the power-mad administrative beast that has evolved, nourishing itself from its own cancerous and lecherous bureaucracy.

My fellow Colgate students, this is a call to chart your own vision. Tear down the tower atop the hill and refuse to accede to the demands of those whom are your equal but purport to be your superior. Confuse and confound the administration at every chance you get. Fight a guerilla war of protests, harassment and non-compliance to take back the freedoms which reside in you but which the administration has decided it has the right to take from you. Limit this not to a Greek issue – we are merely the first group to be felled in the opening salvo of the administrative siege which has infested our beloved Colgate. Recognize that you may have been spared this time around, but that the actions this year set the precedent for Colgate to eliminate or take reprisal against any group, or any member of any group, with which Colgate takes exception. If you feel that your group, or ideals or philosophy is safe – if you feel that your own personal vision would never be harmed by Colgate’s, then at least have empathy for those who are being oppressed by the administration. If you value you own freedom, do not sit silently and watch it being dragged away from others – we have a duty to each other to protect our mutual freedom, honor and integrity not simply as Americans, but as human beings. At the end of the day, reject Colgate’s vision and chart your own – that’s what democracy is all about.