The Future of the System

by Chris Curran | 10/29/01 6:00am

On Oct. 23, Dean Redman wrote a letter to all Coed Fraternity Sorority leaders outlining the future of the Greek system. The proposals are ambiguous and contradictory in nature, leaving significant issues unresolved. The administration should be pressed to define their goals more clearly and divulge their true intentions. I attempted to contact Mr. Redman for comments about his letter, but he was unavailable. One interesting tidbit from the letter is that it outlines a goal of inclusivity. This is not a word; the administration just made it up to suit its ends. Check the dictionary if you don't believe me. And while I think its meaning is plainly obvious, it occurs to me that everyday the parallels between our world and that of Mr. Orwell's "1984" grow stronger and stronger. What is so troubling about the ambiguity in the letter is that it leaves so much enforcement to the discretion of the same administration that has pledged to "end the Greek system as we know it." Vaguely worded principles are not the Greek student's friend, for their enforcement is not likely to be interpreted in a way beneficial to the student nor to his or her organization.

One such principle is "CFS organizations must create a social environment that minimizes high risk behavior." At first glance it appears to be a laudable principle that no one could disagree with. But the devil is in the details. Who decides what constitutes a "high risk environment?" How would this be enforced? Administrators at Williams College recently banned beer pong for all its students and threatened suspension for any student caught playing the game or found in possession of drinking paraphernalia. Will Dartmouth follow the same paternalistic path? The underlying principle of safety is good, but a healthy degree of skepticism is warranted for how such a principle would be implemented. It's important to press for detail now so this vague principle does not become a carte blanche for whatever Parkhurst wants.

Some other principles are contradictory. It is suggested that each house create an Internal Adjudication Board to enforce a new code of conduct. This is a great idea and some houses already utilize this mechanism to resolve disputes and hold one another accountable. But the following proposal is that CFS organizations report violations to the larger community. This negates the idea of an internal board. What purpose is served by an internal board that must report every violation and punishment to ORL? Why not just skip the middleman and have everyone self-report to ORL? Clearly such a system would not work, and neither will this new system for students are much less likely to hold each other accountable if they know their judgment will be questioned by a higher authority with the power to overrule them. The natural progression for the proposed system will be for houses to hold no one accountable, lest they make a judgment and be forced to submit to the overseeing of ORL. This would erode the significant good that the boards could do, were they strictly internal. These boards already are successful; tinkering from outsiders in Parkhurst is likely to do more harm than good.

The letter also left significant issues unresolved. Of chief concern is the proposal that graduate students live in Greek houses, in lieu of UGAs. The letter states, "If the pilot program [with Graduate Advisors] is not recommended then concepts as to how to implement UGAs in CFS facilities should be addressed." Both options are unacceptable and pose numerous logistical challenges. Assuming the graduate student were not a member, what would he or she do during meetings, when only members may be present? What graduate student would wish to be a stool pigeon for the administration living among students hostile to their presence, as a non-member of the house? Also, would the administration pay for the room rent of the outsider?

Another unresolved issue, that is contradictory to a good number of the earlier principles, is the stipulation that "all interested students receive an invitation to join a CFS organization." A large fraction of the letter focuses upon establishing codes of conduct and raising standards for members. These two principles conflict. Total inclusivity and high standards work against one another because not every student who chooses to rush has good character or would uphold the standards of an organization. If houses are forced to take people who have disciplinary or academic problems, their entire organizations will be weakened. Worse still, if these persons create problems, it will be the entire organization that is held accountable. This would be patently unfair. I do not mean to suggest that a large number of these persons exist, nor that persons denied bids necessarily have character flaws. The vast majority of persons denied bids are done so because of a desire to keep house sizes consistent, not as a statement about a person's character. I merely contend that these people do exist, and that despite their small number, they could do substantial harm to houses. Tolerance should never be extended to persons unwilling to uphold the ideals of a house for it erodes the essence of the organization. High standards and the guarantee of a bid for all conflict, and latter must yield to the former.

The future of the Greek system is undefined. That is both a blessing and a curse. The uncertainty makes it difficult for organizations to do long range planning, but the ambiguity can also be helpful as the most troublesome proposals are not yet ingrained in policy. Some of the proposals are unrealistic and others contradictory. We, as students, should challenge the administration to defend their views. Let's expose the proposals before they are implemented. Only by constantly challenging the administration's view of the future can we work toward better change.