September 7, 2010

An Open Discussion, or an Exercise in Futility?

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At last night’s highly anticipated Interfraternity Council forum in Uris Auditorium, it was unclear what either side in the highly polarized debate — the administrators pushing for the changes to the Greek system and the students pushing against — expected to gain from the discussion. Despite an auditorium filled to capacity with concerned students, the discourse had a distinct aura of futility. Both groups repeated the same arguments and counterpoints that have been discussed ad nauseum without meaningfully engaging with each other — the students still dissatisfied with the administrators’ reasons for the changes, and the administrators (consisting of Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ‘67, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 and Associate Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Travis Apgar) unwilling to reconsider their decision to impose the changes.The forum, billed as an open dialogue on the changes, was dominated by a constant stream of arguments and grievances presented by different members of the Greek community. These arguments — concerning issues such as the lack of IFC involvement in the formulation of these changes, the safety of off-campus drinking and the effects these changes will have on recruitment — were eloquently presented and largely legitimate concerns. But the structure of the forum was such that nearly every argument presented by an audience member was greeted with applause from the more than 400 students in attendance. The three administrators then responded to each argument with a short, defensive counterpoint, rarely engaging in the sort of back-and-forth dialogue that is necessary for compromise.It is not solely the administration’s fault for the lack of dialogue. The nature of the forum — its size, format and the attitude of its audience, among other factors — largely accounted for the poor quality of discourse. It would be wise for the IFC and the administrators to follow up on Apgar’s suggestion that more, smaller discussions between the two groups would take place in the future. Perhaps these will allow the two parties to engage in a conversation that goes beyond each of their initial arguments and allows for mutual understanding going forward.One exchange that was indicative of the forum on the whole occurred when a fraternity member asked Murphy if the administration would look into whether off-campus drinking is more or less safe than on-campus drinking before presenting these changes to the Board of Trustees in October. Murphy replied, “No.” As the auditorium laughed and heckled, it became more and more clear that these changes will inevitably be presented to the trustees no matter how much noise the IFC makes, and, more frustratingly for the council, no matter how legitimate their concerns may be.