I write this letter at an important point in the brief history of the residential education program at Colgate University. As we near the end of the acquisition process and shift our focus to building a strong Broad Street community, those who seek to undermine this effort are saying the decision to acquire the fraternity and sorority houses violates students’ rights. These charges are inaccurate and without merit. A clear airing of the facts will demonstrate that Colgate University supports the Greek-letter system and the Constitution, particularly as it relates to your individual rights.First, it is important to note that I am encouraged by the numbers of students and alumni who have partnered with Colgate as we have begun the work necessary to build a strong and healthy Broad Street community. Alumni of Beta, DU, Sigma Chi and Gamma Phi Beta have already voted to transfer their houses to Colgate. Phi Delta Theta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Theta Chi have agreed to transfer ownership and are collecting votes from alumni now. Phi Gamma Delta plans to donate its house to Colgate. Starting in the Fall of 2005, we will provide housing for Delta Delta Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Phi Kappa Tau. The Broad Street Community Council has Greek-letter and non-Greek students working together to solve problems and create policies.In spite of this good news, groups such as sa4c and Colgate-FACT have posted misleading flyers, billboards and websites that seem to be aimed at dividing our community. I urge you to take the time to read this letter carefully and then to attend the SGA forum on Greek life scheduled for April 20th so we can continue this dialogue as concerned members of the Colgate community.Colgate-FACT has circulated a petition that “demands Colgate University respect our rights as American citizens” and is organizing a rally against Colgate. It is important that you understand that Colgate, as a private institution, has neither the ability nor the desire to limit the protections of the First Amendment. Rather, the Bill of Rights exists to safeguard the freedom of private citizens and organizations from overreaching, improper action by the government. Indeed, the Constitution affords Colgate University, like other private institutions (e.g. Rotary or the Girl Scouts), the freedom to establish a framework for achieving our educational mission without governmental interference.Colgate’s mission is to provide a rigorous and broad-based education grounded in the liberal arts. We believe that residentially based liberal learning provides the best platform to help students develop as independent critical thinkers and thoughtful, engaged citizens. In order to support a high-quality learning environment, we have to establish certain rules and policies. We insist that students pass a prescribed number of courses and complete certain requirements (CORE, distributions, a concentration, etc.) to earn a degree. We set residential guidelines and policies so that the places where students live are clean and safe and support the educational mission of the university. We want you to have the ability to choose from a variety of residential communities so that you can find the one that best meets your individual needs and interests. We insist that all these communities be recognized by the university and comply with the standards we have established. We believe Greek-letter organizations should exist as residential communities operating as part of the residential education program and, for this reason, have required that all Greek-letter organizations be based in Colgate housing.This decision is based in the work by a task force of Colgate students, faculty, administrators and trustees that solicited input and ideas from hundreds of students and alumni. The task force heard how the Greek-letter system is important at Colgate but also realized that fraternities and sororities were far too often places where Colgate policies, state laws and their own national organization requirements were ignored and/or violated. Fraternities and sororities have provided social options, community service and opportunities for students to practice self-governance. However, in recent decades, the positive contributions of Greek-letter organizations have been diminished by disciplinary problems and by antagonism between some of the Greek-letter students/alumni and the university. The history of disciplinary problems showed a pattern of behavior that included repeated alcohol abuse, violent fighting, rape, hazing and in one tragic case, the deaths of four young people and the arrest and incarceration of a fifth. Behavioral concerns and the climate of opposition that grew out of them were destructive to all involved and the Board of Trustees felt strongly that significant changes had to be made. A 21-year-old minimum drinking age; laws against hazing; national fraternity and sorority policie; and parental and prospective student expectations and concerns were all factors that the task force and the trustees took into consideration, but the decision signaled a moral and educational commitment to better provide for the safety of Colgate students and to safeguard the integrity of their Colgate education.Colgate has chosen you because you possess the talent, the drive and the promise not only to succeed here but also to make a positive contribution to the future of our society. What we do on this campus is not a frivolous endeavor. We do serious work for ourselves, our community, our nation and the world. Positive changes are taking place. I encourage you to think critically about the claims being made by some of these groups and do what Colgate students and alumni do best – ask good questions and seek the truth.
Rebecca S. Chopp