- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Greek fraternities and sororities didn't invent fun; they perfected it, as they like to say, but their antics have been under fire on college campuses across the country.

Hazing and drinking aside, the main issue now is freedom of speech. College administrators judge some activities as racist or insensitive.

One example occurred at the University of Georgia, where administrators warned fraternities in July against displaying the state flag with its Confederate emblem.

Black students objected to the flag, saying it reminded them of slavery. In an e-mail message sent to fraternities, administrators threatened to penalize any group caught displaying the flag. After student protests, administrators apologized to the fraternities, saying the university had no written policy against displaying the flag.

Civil libertarians say university officials around the country have instituted policies that in practice apply only to the Greeks.

In some administrative actions against fraternities:

•Administrators at the University of Tennessee last month suspended Kappa Sigma after some members wore black paint on their faces and dressed up as the Jackson Five for an air-guitar competition at a campus party.

•A chancellor at Syracuse University in New York suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon and took action against one of its members after the student dressed up as golf celebrity Tiger Woods at an off-campus graduation costume party in May. The chancellor said his administration would be "amenable to developing a reporting system that includes bias-related incidents as defined by university policy."

•Officials at the University of Louisville in Kentucky suspended Tau Kappa Epsilon this year for at least five months and ordered its members to undergo sensitivity training after the fraternity was found guilty of conduct that "seriously alarms, intimidates or harasses others and serves no legitimate purpose."

The charge stemmed from an off-campus Halloween party last year where several fraternity members wore black face paint and dressed as rapper Snoop Dogg and the movie character Shaft. A black fraternity member wore a Ku Klux Klan costume, which he burned at the party.

•Administrators at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire put Psi Upsilon on probation and ordered all members to undergo sensitivity training after the school's Greek Judiciary Council found the fraternity guilty of racial harassment.

The charges stemmed from an incident in which several fraternity members stood outside their house and chanted "wah-hoo-wah," a traditional cheer at Dartmouth. The council found that the cheer was offensive to American Indians.

•Officials at the University of Mississippi decreed that all students belonging to the school's Greek system must undergo sensitivity training after a member of Alpha Tau Omega attended a 2001 Halloween party dressed in a police uniform and pointed a toy gun at another member, who was dressed in overalls, had painted his face black and was wearing a straw hat. The university suspended the fraternity for a year, but did not punish any students.

•Administrators at Auburn University in Alabama settled a lawsuit brought by a Beta Theta Pi, which the school suspended after members attended Halloween parties last year in blackface, do-rags and Afro wigs. The Halloween party was organized by another fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, the oldest black fraternity on campus.

The university suspended both fraternities and suspended 15 students. Ten students sued the university for $300 million for violating their First and 14th Amendment rights.

A county judge last November ruled that Auburn violated its rules of fairness and required the school to readmit the students. The university settled the lawsuit out of court on May 15, and agreed to allow the fraternity and its members back on campus.

A report released by the Heritage Foundation in 2000 concluded that the Greek system had become a victim of political correctness.

The report said colleges target fraternities because many administrators see the Greek system as an anachronism, segregated by sex and steeped in overly conservative tradition.

Fraternity membership fell by 30 percent over the last 10 years. Schools like Williams College in Massachusetts and Bowdoin College and Colby College in Maine have banned fraternities altogether, the report said.

"Universities should be centers of free expression and equal rights," said Thor Halvorssen, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in Philadelphia.

"In fact, fraternity students, unpopular in the eyes of administrators, very frequently find their rights deliberately disregarded. In a free society, individuals who find fraternities or their protected expressions and behaviors offensive should not have the power to call upon the selective and heavy hand of coercive authority and censorship."

Greek groups should have the same rights and responsibilities as other official student organizations, Richard Mullendore, associate provost at the University of Georgia, said in a letter to FIRE.

"A bureaucrat's power and budget are directly proportional to the amount of turf he controls," said Winfield Myers, an education analyst with the Democracy Project, an educational assessment and outreach organization in Wilmington, Del.

"Deans and radical professors have successfully projected their ideology into classrooms, textbooks, residential life, and student groups through kangaroo courts, intimidation, financial threats, tenure and hiring policies that favor their allies, and peer pressure. Yet fraternities remain enemy territory in their midst something no turf-hungry bureaucrat can resist."

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship in New York, said administrators should teach students how to have discourse over civil disagreements instead of censoring anyone including fraternities.

Educators should allow an exchange of ideas even if the ideas are offensive, Ms. Bertin said.

"Administrators are trying to walk a very fine line to ensure that all students feel that campuses are welcoming places for them where they can get an education. But administrators would do better if they allowed more free speech and help find students more constructive ways to deal with issues."


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