Trampling Liberty

by Christopher Rubinate | 7/13/01 5:00am

The College recently implemented and then withdrew temporarily a new policy that involves daily, unannounced walk-throughs of all Greek houses by Safety and Security. On July 17th, the administration plans to re-implement this policy. I object to this action on a variety of grounds.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Franklin very well could have been responding to Dartmouth's new policy: the administration claims that safety is at the heart of the issue, but in reality, it's liberty that is at stake.

The auspices under which the new policy was enacted are unwarranted and unnecessary, and the stated goal of the policy is a falsity. The Office of Residential Life says that Safety & Security officers need to go through the Greek houses because, " a pipe may have started a leak in the hall, a toilet may be overflowing, or a fire escape may be blocked." Clearly, the administration suddenly did not begin to worry about overflowing toilets in Greek houses. It would seem that the College intends to bring the only spaces over which the administration does not already rule under its watchful eye with the eventual goal of eliminating the Greek system at Dartmouth. The Trustees and Administration realize that they cannot enforce newer, more stringent policies curtailing activities that go on in the Greek houses unless they have their officers inside the houses on a regular basis. Thus, they have conveniently sprung this new measure on the Dartmouth students at a time when resistance to it will be the least: the summer term when all the Greek leaders are new to their positions and the campus is half-empty.

Even if liberty were not the issue, the administration's new ideas are not reflective of a desire to remedy safety issues within the Greek houses. If leaky pipes, overflowing toilets, and blocked fire escapes really were common problems within the Greek system with which the members of the houses could not deal, then all of the houses would be but festering rubble lining Webster Avenue and Wheelock Street. I might point out that such is not the case. Each house has at least one member (mine has two) whose job it is to manage the upkeep of the physical plant. It is insulting to these house managers and to their brothers and / or sisters to assume that Greek students are too inept to recognize these obvious problems and that a Safety & Security officer who has little to no detailed knowledge of the workings of the building would be more capable of spotting trouble within the house than the residents themselves. A proposal has been given to the deans of Residential Life that would initiate a safety education program for all house managers, residents, and members or Greek organizations. This program could be a thorough overview of the problems that might arise throughout the year in Greek houses and could be led by experts in plumbing, fire safety, health codes, and building maintenance. If the administration is truly worried about the upkeep of the Greek houses and thinks that the Greeks at Dartmouth are too inept to properly care for their residences, then this program would be a wonderful opportunity. Not only would this sort of program help the Greeks to maintain safer residences and perhaps contribute to a more beautiful campus, but it would also save the College a considerable amount of our tuition money. The fraternities, sororities, and coed houses would no longer frequently need to call Dartmouth's Facilities, Operations, and Management employees to fix things in the houses. In addition, the College could drop its plans to hire more Safety & Security officers to patrol all of the houses. This proposal sounds promising and is, without a doubt, feasible. Its only problem is that the administration has shown no real sign of considering it.

The administrators are not the only ones clinging to the new policy. Many students have been quick to concede their rights to the "authority" of the College, and thus condone the walkthroughs. A recent article in The Dartmouth ("Safety & Security checks routine for some" by Kathleen McDermott and Sabrina Peric, 7/9/01) seemed to be aimed at quelling some of the Greeks' biggest fears. Ms. McDermott and Ms. Peric reported that Safety & Security officers' walkthroughs of affinity houses on campus (a similar living environment to Greek houses, according to the two), are "friendly, low-key and do not interfere with students' privacy." That is all well and good, but Ms. McDermott and Ms. Peric have overlooked a fundamental issue: -- the College does not own the majority of Greek houses, whereas it owns all affinity housing. Out of the 14 residential fraternities, the College owns only Alpha Chi Alpha and Chi Heorot. All three of the coed houses are privately owned, as is Alpha Xi Delta sorority. Even if safety were all the administration had in mind in mandating the walkthroughs, the issue of liberty would arise again with regard to this question of ownership. The College has a right to treat in any way it sees fit living spaces that it owns and rents to students as dormitories. Dartmouth can regulate, patrol, and rule over these spaces in any way that it desires, but this practice is not extendable to spaces that the College does not own. And yet, the College's new policy is tantamount to doing just that which it has no right to do. Whether or not the College would like to admit it, the Department of Safety & Security is the law enforcement arm of Dartmouth College. Entrance by the Hanover police into private homes, apartments, and businesses is restricted (by the Constitution, no less) to when they are invited in, when they have reasonable cause to enter, and when they possess a search warrant; the same should be true for Safety & Security officers wishing to enter the private residence of a Dartmouth student. The police would be unjustified in entering a Greek house to check the pipes; Safety & Security would be equally in the wrong in doing so.

I challenge the administration and the Trustees to reveal their true goals instead of hiding behind "continuity of residential life"; to cease lying to the alumni, students, and the community at large. More importantly, I challenge the student body to stand up against the trampling of our rights and liberties by the administration. We are adults and deserve to be treated as such. We do not need the College to supervise our lives. We must recognize that our privacy is an inviolable liberty; a liberty upon which no one, especially Dartmouth College, can tread.