Matt Carberry (kingpin248) wrote,
Matt Carberry

Cornell's "Fun Police" issue an APB...

Yesterday, The Cornell Daily Sun reported that CU's administration is imposing significant changes on the Greek system. Most notably, within two years, freshmen ("first-years" in university-ese) will no longer be allowed to attend fraternity parties, and rush and pledge period must go dry. The Sun strenuously objected in an editorial, and the comments on both pieces are mostly negative. Ithacating in Cornell Heights also takes issue with these developments - and frankly, so do I. At no point during my time on the East Hill did I consider rushing; but then, as now, I saw no problem with how they conducted their affairs. The new rules to be imposed are an unnecessary overreach into the lives of students who have done nothing wrong.

Looking at this, I note two historical parallels. For the first, we turn to the other remote outpost of the Ivy League, Dartmouth College. About the same time I got to Cornell, Dartmouth was deliberating something called the Student Life Initiative. When that trustee committee released its final report in January 2000, the main thrust was major reform of their Greek system. In that case, the fraternities and sororities had (and to this day still have) a near total strangle hold on that campus's social life. There, the most drastic aspects of the plan were blocked for whatever reason, and the Greek system lives on. I was reading a 2005 Dartmouth Review article about this, and one quote near the end bore similarity to Cornell's scenario: "There is a pervasive sense that an ideal social world can be willed into existence with some arcane initiative." It's particularly poignant, given this quote from Cornell's associate dean for the Greeks: "We want to make sure the [Greek] experience remains relevant, and to do that we have to have a culture change." News flash: A culture change comes about through voluntary adoption, not via command from on high.

I also recalled something from my own history. In the Navy, we often threw around the term "YFG"; it is an acronym for "You Fucking Guys." It refers to the practice of bringing together a large number of people (most often, the crew of a boat) and dressing them down for the sins of a few. One example of note was in March 2009, shortly before I left the Navy. A shore based Sailor was driving under the influence, entered a freeway via an exit ramp, and struck a van head-on, leaving one of the van's passengers dead. A few days later, every shore command and every in-port submarine had to send its crew to the main auditorium on base for a "training discussion" on the matter. Sometimes, incidents like this result in the imposition of restrictions across an entire local area. Cornell's Greek system faces a similar situation. The Sun's editorial got it just about right in referring to this action as "reactionary." There will undoubtedly be the argument that the administration is making a wholly justified motion of no confidence in Greek self-governance, based on the three incidents that transpired last spring. I disagree. Let me reiterate that number of incidents - three. Two of the chapters have been shut down (one by Cornell, the other by its own national), and the other is on probation. The other thirty-nine IFC fraternities and eleven Panhel sororities conducted their operations within the rules - or at least, they were adept enough not to get caught breaking them - and yet they suffer for the transgressions of others. I have the sense that the administration's action is motivated primarily by a public relations concern. Whether it originated internally or externally, Cornell may have felt a pressure to "DO SOMETHING!" about the Greek system, and this is the result.

In the post at Ithacating, B. C. is on the money when he says that this will have a negligible effect, if any, on underage drinking at Cornell. There are plenty of organizations with off-campus residences and resources to meet such student demands as may arise. Where I break with him is on the point (that he seems to be leery of) that "Cornell's focus should be on a much larger scale," which in his view would be "nothing short of Orwellian" if carried through to the extreme. One Sun commenter mentioned Cornell's "role as Nanny." The technical term is "in loco parentis" , and it's exactly what I thought upon hearing about this. Hey Cornell, how about this solution: allow and expect your students to behave like the young adults they are. Bring the hammer down on offenders when they foul things up, not on everybody because they might screw up. If you treat your students like children, then childish behavior is what you'll get. The University can use first-year programming to educate freshmen about the dangers of binge drinking all it wants, for whatever good it will do. It can and should enforce the drinking laws on campus, lest it expose itself to liability. And Cornell could reserve the ability to use its internal judicial system to punish offenses committed elsewhere. But if the CUPD ever decides to start rolling through Collegetown looking for cups of Natty Ice in some freshman's hands, it will be severely misdirecting its resources. The Ithaca Police, on the other hand, would be within their jurisdiction to conduct such patrols - but unless and until people get out of control, the IPD should let the people be.

Nietzsche supposedly said "out of chaos comes order" (according to Howard Johnson in Blazing Saddles). And that's how it should be in the non-academic lives of Cornell's students. Let them come up with whatever social arrangements they see fit to devise, as long as they don't infringe on the rights of others. Permitting them to work their way through their undergraduate years with as little official guidance as possible will allow them to learn more than the University could ever hope to do by trying. In particular here, let the Greeks decide for themselves what are "healthy experiences in becoming a fraternity man or sorority woman." "Freedom with responsibility" has long been one of Cornell's guiding principles. The University is taking another step toward depriving its undergraduates of both - and by doing so, severely impoverishing their experience on the Hill.
Tags: alcohol, cornell, insanity, nauseating detail
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