Dartmouth’s Correct Judgment
Last Friday, Dartmouth College permanently derecognized its chapter of the Zeta Psi fraternity. According to a news release from Dartmouth, this decision comes after the administration found that the fraternity was circulating internal “newsletters” describing “exploits, many of them of a sexual nature, of various members of the fraternity and other students.” The publications featured the names and photos of specific undergraduate women at Dartmouth in its descriptions as well as a promise of “patented date rape techniques” in an upcoming issue.
The decision is being called excessive and unwarranted by critics. But let me ask one question: what would be your reaction if Dartmouth had turned the other cheek with regards to this situation? The same people who are calling the college’s reaction extreme (as well as its supporters) would be utterly disgusted if Dartmouth had done nothing about it. In failing to respond to the newsletters, there would be an implicit acceptance on the part of the college of the fraternity’s ideals expressed through the newsletters. We certainly would not tolerate that, and blame would be heaped on the college for doing nothing.
Dartmouth’s action is all the more warranted when one considers a similar situation which occurred in 1987. The same fraternity was found to be publishing similar, sexually explicit letters; as a result, the college derecognized it for a period of one year. If for no other reason, by mere virtue of the condition that this has happened before, Zeta Psi should be permanently disbanded and the college is justified in its actions. The fraternity was given the chance to learn from its mistakes, and failed to. This isn’t a minor offense, where another chance might be the appropriate solution. The content of Zeta Psi’s newsletters is of a serious nature, so they deserve a serious reaction.
One of the arguments used by the fraternity in a Friday op-ed piece in Dartmouth’s student newspaper (available at <www.thedartmouth.com>) by its president, Gene Boyle, states that Dartmouth was out of bounds in derecognizing Zeta Psi; the fraternity claims that it has violated its own ethical standards, policies and procedures, leaving the authority to disband it solely to the Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America, Inc. While the newsletters may very well have violated the organization’s own rules of conduct (and let’s hope they have), they have also certainly created an atmosphere of discomfort on the Dartmouth campus as evidenced by the 250-strong student protest in front of the Zeta Psi house on April 18. As students, we need an environment that is conducive to learning and student interaction, and faculty members also strive for that same atmosphere. This is evidenced by the letter signed by over one hundred faculty members, voicing their disappointment with the college’s “acceptance and support of structures that promote such attitudes of entitlement and disrespect.” It is the responsibility of the administration to provide and maintain, to the best of its ability, this relaxed atmosphere.
In the fraternity’s defense, Boyle attempts, in the op-ed, to pass the newsletters off as “humor, satire and parody.” While you can’t punish someone for having a bad sense of humor, promising patented date rape techniques is hardly humor. Boyle goes on to point out the fact that the newsletters were internal and not intended for non-members. Well, what does he want, a gold medal for his efforts to keep it contained? Zeta Psi tried to keep the newsletters contained because they knew their actions were wrong and they were (hopefully) ashamed, but still continued to carry out publication of newsletter after newsletter. This is what they should be ashamed of and apologize for.
Another issue that has been brought up is freedom of speech. Zeta Psi feels the college’s decision violates their right to free speech as well as Dartmouth’s own Principle of Freedom of Expression and Dissent, accessible at <http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frstyear/principle.html>. This principle recognizes “freedom of the individual to make his or her own disclosures, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of the law and responsibility for one’s actions.” By derecognizing the fraternity, Dartmouth is merely holding it responsible for the consequences of its actions: the creation of an uncomfortable environment that will not be tolerated as it directly impedes the achievement of Dartmouth’s mission. Thus the college is not violating its own principle but, rather, sticking to its commitment to uphold it.
Dartmouth College has made the right decision to permanently derecognize the Zeta Psi fraternity. The fraternity has undoubtedly created an uncomfortable atmosphere on the Dartmouth campus, and the response by the administration should renew students’ faith in their respective college administrations. A college administration has the obligation and mission to maintain a positive atmosphere for its students, and any college that does so deserves praise, not criticism.