Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson sat down with the Maroon-News this week for an exclusive interview announcing the release of a new Residential Education Plan (RE2). As the plan builds upon Colgate’s 2004 “Vision for Residential Education Plan” while addressing concerns that were brought up in the 2009 Campus Life Survey, RE2 will have far-reaching implications on student life.
Amongst the biggest changes proposed were recommendations for an increased number of sororities on campus and the elimination of the 1991 “all bid” rule. Other significant modifications included the expansion of programs and discussions relating to diversity – beginning with Orientation and the first-year experience (FYE) – and the extension of the Wellness Initiative into the endowed Wellness Institute.
The Plan also explained that assessment will be introduced to ensure that “residential options align with the community standards” and that greater support will be given to projects focusing on “a diverse set of residential and social options,” as well as those built around student-faculty collaboration.
The Dean of the College’s decision to support an increase in the number of sororities on campus comes after last Fall’s recruitment, when “average class size for sororities ballooned to 61 women,” according to RE2. The push for adding more sororities had been exacerbated when Kappa Alpha Theta was suspended in 2008, leaving only three sororities on campus to support the hundred-and-some women who expressed interest in Greek Life. This situation was compounded by the enforcement of the “all bid” rule, which guaranteed Greek membership to all eligible students.
The issue wasn’t expected to improve any time soon, however, given that the Board of Trustees had deferred the question of expanding Greek organizations on campus for a five-year period, and the Dean of the College Division had showed no clear signs of making other recommendations.
RE2’s announcement of the Division’s recommendation to add one or two sororities to the existing structure thus is not insignificant but, in order to become actual policy, these recommendations must be approved by the Trustees.
“Any expansion of Greek Life needs to be ratified by the Board of Trustees,” Johnson explained. “But they do, of course, take into consideration the recommendations of the Dean of the College.”
While the Board can’t make any decisions until they next meet in June, ratifying these recommendations would mean further steps be taken next Fall, and even in the Spring, to allow for other sororities to be set up and readied for the recruitment process. Realistically, one or two new organizations could be in place as soon as 2012.
This would mean that Kappa Alpha Theta, whose suspension ends in 2013 and must first reapply to their national organization before applying to Colgate, could find it more difficult to try to reestablish itself on campus, if four or five sororities already exist on campus.
As for the recommendation to repeal the “all bid” rule, which as Johnson explained, “seems to be pretty unique to Colgate,” this change would apply to both fraternities and sororities.
“While I certainly understand the reason why the policy is in place,” Johnson said, “we don’t have a rule that says, if you want to be in Konosioni, you are guaranteed to be in Konosioni, or if you want to be on the swim team, you’re guaranteed to be on the swim team. So, I understand why the rule is in place because we want all of our residential options to be as inclusive as possible, but … when you have something like the all-bid rule applying to one residential option and not others, it may send a signal to students that they have to be in Greek Life before they’ve explored any other options.”
“I think a better way to proceed is to have Greek organizations recommit to nondiscrimination and inclusivity and have each chapter put out their clear expectations and standards with respect to recruitment,” Johnson explained.
In all, the recommendations for Greek Life and other plans – coupled with the “Community Standards and Expectations” – outlined in RE2 are part of the Division’s effort to ensure that the Colgate “residential experience” facilitates “a specific set of outcomes as part of experiential learning outside of the classroom,” according to the draft of the Plan.
Moreover, RE2 displays the Dean of the College Division’s greater focus on “transparency” and granting student autonomy. This is, perhaps, a response to criticism the Division garnered with the confusion of the “walk-through” policy and the “all-bid” enforcement last Fall.
“Our student community is one of our biggest assets, so they should necessarily be one of our most significant partners as we work to build an excellent residential educational experience,” Johnson said. “I think that at the core of this – and one of the things we are hoping to achieve – is to make our goals and objectives transparent, to make what we’re about more transparent, and to educate the community about what residential education means, so that students can more easily engage in partnerships with us to make this the type of community they’d like to see.”