Friday, June 9, 2017

It's easier to kill Dracula than to kill a fraternity.

This story from yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education is a case on point.  It reports on a rogue fraternity gone wild.  The particular fraternity gained national notoriety when the Huffington Post published what allegedly are strings of emails in which brothers boast of rapes, drunkenness and more.  The article adds that, despite complaints from other students, the university was able to do little more than decry the rogue organization.

In the 1960s I majored in fraternity at my alma mater.  It's fair to say that we were the college's Animal House.  At one point we wore the "triple crown" : academic probation, disciplinary probation, and national-chapter probation.  Everything except double secret probation.

Not long after I graduated, the college began admitting women.  And not so very long after that, the college withdrew recognition of all 11 fraternities. My fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, lost its house, which was converted to the college's "art house."  But the chapter never died.  Alumni, in addition to loudly voicing their ire about the withdrawal of recognition, continued to work with current brothers to procure a new house.  Eventually, the college caved and Phi Psi recovered its historic venue and came out of the shadows.

American higher education has for decades, if not centuries, been characterized by a love-hate relationship with "Greek Life."  If we administrators are honest, we will admit that fraternities and sororities contribute to recruitment and retention, as well as alumni loyalty... often for a lifetime.  At the same time, they are the loci of outrageous misconduct, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and hazing.

In my day, as a pledge, I suffered a broken nose during hazing.  A fellow pledge faired worse: two broken arms as a consequence of hazing antics.

That hazing remains alive and unwell was driven home starkly by a recent death in a Penn State frat house.  Predictably, PSU --- still reeling from the jail time imposed upon the school's disgraced past president --- has announced tougher rules for the Greeks.  It's a cycle that has been repeated at hundreds of US colleges and universities down the decades.

The Greek system is woven into the fabric of American higher education.  It seems that we can no more separate our colleges and universities from it than Mr. Trump can escape the clutches of his right-wing base.

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