College within rights to enter, experts say

by Jennifer Thomas | 6/27/01 5:00am

Despite campus buzz about the possible illegality of ORL's recent announcement of increased Safety and Security monitoring and the prohibition of outdoor alcohol, experts say the College's controversial new policy is well within its constitutional rights.

Although several of the Greek houses and undergraduate societies affected by the policy are privately owned, the College may create any requirements for recognition it sees fit, according to Dartmouth policy. Thus the unannounced walk-throughs by security officials and the banning of outdoor consumption of alcohol, even for those of legal drinking age, are indeed constitutionally valid moves.

In fact, Section IV, paragraph C of the CFS constitution itself reads: "College officers may enter coed, fraternity, sorority physical plants as they deem necessary."

"There is no legal problem with either of the provisions that the ORL issued this week," College Legal Council Robert Donin said.Sheldon Novick, Professor of Constitutional law and history at Vermont Law School, offered a similar opinion. "Students do have rights but in this case I don't see that any rights are being infringed," he said.

Novick pointed out that fraternities, sororities and undergraduate societies do not have the legal right to be recognized by the College. Instead, recognition is a privilege granted them by compliance with College-mandated Minimum Standards policies.

If, however, Greek students wish to continue in their privately owned house in violation of the new policy and, subsequently, without College recognition, Novick said that it would certainly be legal albeit logistically difficult.

Abstract legal theory aside, some very practical concerns have surfaced in the days since the administration's announcement. Sigma Nu fraternity, for one, raised some legal issues of its own.

At the direction of Richard Petty, Sigma Nu alumni corporation president and title-holder of the physical plant, the organization denied entry to Safety and Security officers planning on walking through the house as per the new policy last Saturday evening.

Petty cited liability concerns as the reason for denied entry.

"Landlords have the strictest standards of care for certain safety concerns on their property," he explained. "There are certain things that if [visitors] do and any injury occurs as a result, landlords may have liability."

The College has no legal relationship with the Sigma Nu Delta Beta Housing Corporation, which owns the fraternity grounds, and thus no legal right to force entry onto the premises without consent of the owner.

However, the Dartmouth chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity does have a relationship with the College -- that of recognition -- which Petty admits "obviously ... the tenants will want to retain."

Petty told The Dartmouth that if, after receiving more policy details, he feels the housing corporation has "adequate legal protection" against liability issues raised by these new inspections, he will consider allowing the Safety and Security officers onto the premises.

Donin, however, dismissed Petty's claims.

"There's no reason to think that liability should be an issue," he said. "Any house is responsible for assuring that there are no dangerous conditions on the premises and that would be true whether the people that they expect to have on the premises are college officials or repair or deliverymen."

Although Novick defended the College's right to implement the new policy, he said was not surprised by the ensuing controversy surrounding the issue.

"There's always a conflict or a potential conflict between the needs of the community, the College in this case, and the liberties of individual students," he said.