State of the University

Colgate University recently received the results of a nationally conducted survey which provided evidence that, generally speaking, Colgate students do not approve of the way the administration implements university policy, and do not have good relationships with administrators.

Though some level of dissatisfaction is to be expected, these results were particu­larly troubling because we scored poorly both in an absolute sense and relative to our peer institutions.

The results point in particular at a lack of transparency between the two par­ties and at the difficulty students have communicating clearly and effectively with administrators.

In my nearly four years at Colgate, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of campus life and work extensively with a number of administra­tors regarding the problems addressed in the survey.

Thus, I feel like it is my responsibility to share my insight and advice in the form of an (attempted) balanced account of what is going on at Colgate University and what we can expect moving forward.

My hope in doing so is that it will help open the lines of communication between students and the administration and pro­vide direction to those students who simi­larly recognize these issues and want to help fix them.

Colgate has undergone marked changes in almost every aspect of its structure and function over the past decade and subse­quently, has been forced to adjust and respond to these changes.

In some cases, we have only just gotten to the point where it is appropriate to assess these developments.

While I fully recognize that Student Life/Affairs is not the most important or only thing that has changed, it is the area which I have worked the most on, so I am limiting my discussion to it.

As a member of a fraternity, I have found that Greek Life has played an integral and invaluable role in my Colgate experience through the lessons it has taught me, the camaraderie and support network it has provided me with, and the way those two things have combined to help me pursue the things in which I am interested. I believe that the Colgate community (students, fac­ulty and administrators) recognizes these benefits of the Greek Life system, but has trouble reconciling them with contrast­ing notions of how Greek Life affects the campus’s social scene and climate.

From my various experiences, I have gathered that the issues currently surround­ing Greek Life stem from the evolution of the system over the past decade and the challenges of responding to those changes.

Colgate used to have many more Greek chapters than it does now.

With the loss of each chapter, whether a sorority or a fraternity, Greek Life has become more concentrated and more ex­clusive. Yet, as the number of houses has decreased, the demand for spots in those houses has at least stayed the same, if not increased.

Concurrently, Colgate bought and took control over the physical Greek houses themselves, providing them with a means to control, to a certain degree, how they operate and what happens inside of them. This has led to a number of both positive and negative changes too extensive to be adequately described here.

Inevitably, I find myself applying my Economics major to the situation.

By limiting the supply of Greek Life spots in the face of increasing demand, Colgate has inflated the value of Greek Life membership and exacerbated the gap between Greek social options and what, for a time, was coined “alternative” social options.

While the improving alternative options are a step in the right direction, they do not get to the core of the problem.

Primarily, the sudden and overlapping combination of chapters disappearing and Colgate buying the houses led to a clash between a Greek Life system seeking to maintain some of its autonomy and an administration trying to make the hous­es safer by incorporating them into the university structure.

As the students, administrators and Board members involved in making those decisions are, for the most part, not the ones currently evaluating them, there has been a growing disconnect between the purposes of these changes and how they have actually played out. This has not only altered the social landscape, but also has affected the way a large number of stu­dents view the administration and vice versa. Specifically, in seeking to adapt to the new policies and responsibilities asso­ciated with these changes, both sides have had great difficulty finding the balance of trust and transparency required for a working relationship.

This buildup of resentment and frus­tration between students and the admin­istration has not gone unnoticed and has recently triggered a number of discussions and debates aimed at fixing it, particularly regarding the rush process, alcohol con­sumption and the role of Campus Safety. The debate which affects the most students is on the role of Campus Safety, which for many students is very unclear. Recent oc­currences of unprofessional and in some instances, unlawful behavior by Campus Safety officers has instilled a strong sense of spitefulness towards the officers in a majority of Colgate students. During a recent forum where students had an op­portunity to ask Director of Campus Safe­ty, Chief Bill Ferguson, questions about the role of Campus Safety, a couple of important things came to light.

First, that Campus Safety is not the po­lice. They neither have police powers, nor do they have to abide by local or national law enforcement protocol.

Their powers are dictated by Colgate University. Second, Chief Ferguson admit­ted that unfortunately, his officers do not always follow protocol properly.

However, he cannot do anything to rem­edy the situation unless those violations are reported. So, it is important that students know their rights when it comes to Cam­pus Safety and that they contact Chief Fer­guson when they believe that an officer is violating protocol.

The relationships between students, Campus Safety and the administration are of particular importance with the introduc­tion of the points system, Good Samari­tan program and a new event registration policy being worked on.

It is expected that by clarifying which violations lead to which consequences, the points system and the Good Samaritan pro­gram will lead to more responsible student behavior and thus a safer campus. While still very early on in the process, the goals of revising event registration are broad in their expected reach and impact. Ideally, the new policy will create an environment where smaller social gatherings and larger party-type events occur in a more balanced proportion, where drinking is done more responsibly and controlled more effectively, and where there are late night social op­tions which are available and appealing for every Colgate student.

Under the current structure, the evo­lution of social life at Colgate will largely depend on a Office of Residential Life that has been given more responsibilities than it can handle and has thus acquired more power than it should have, and a Depart­ment of Campus Safety that students do not trust.

As these are the two parts of the ad­ministration that students interact with the most, they are the ones which stu­dents use to assess the administration as a whole. I believe that reforming how these two offices operate will go a long way in repairing student-administration relation­ships and think that some of the develop­ments mentioned above are steps in the right direction.

I fully expect that some will view my take on Colgate to be biased or naïve and I respect that.

My experience here has probably been the polar opposite of many other student’s experiences. I also concede that there is a lot more to Colgate than what I have described here.

So, I return to my original inten­tion in writing this article: it is clear that there are issues between students and the administration.

Where these issues stem from and how they can be solved may be open to conjec­ture, but they are being worked on. The lesson I wish a senior had told me was that it all starts with the students. If you find something you don’t like about Colgate, figure out a way to do something about it. You’ll be surprised how much you can do around here.