August 24, 2011

Examining the Pledge on Pledging

Print More

On Wednesday, President David Skorton penned an encouraging, albeit long overdue, statement in The New York Times on an issue that has been overlooked at the University for decades. In broad terms, his column stated that Cornell will put an end to traditional pledging processes in the Greek system in an attempt to eradicate hazing and dangerous drinking practices that the current new member education system has enabled.For years, the University has turned a blind eye to fraternity and sorority pledging processes, relying on inadequate enforcement measures and offering mixed signals, at best, on what is tolerated under Cornell policy.Though hazing has been formally prohibited at Cornell since 1980, the University has relied almost entirely on individual reports and accounts to root out hazing in Greek chapters, rather than acting proactively. In a system that fosters silence and loyalty to the chapter above all else, this approach has been far from effective.And, as is regrettably so often the case, it often takes tragedy to motivate action.The University’s new initiative is certainly a step in the right direction, and we commend the administration’s commitment to maintaining the positive aspects of the Greek system in its current form. Seen at its best, the Greek system serves as a major medium for social life and community involvement for over a quarter of the student body. The student experience would suffer if these aspects were to be restricted.Yet the new measure falls short in a number of areas. For an initiative that the administration should have been working on for nearly six months since George Desdunes’ ’13 tragic death, the plan outlined by President Skorton in Wednesday’s opinion piece was not much of a plan. And for an initiative that proclaims such lofty goals of leading a nation-wide investigation into fraternity and sorority hazing, there was little lead for other universities to follow, other than broad and vague statements about the need to end “pledging.”Such a statement may have been expected in the days or weeks following the tragedy; it is discouraging, however, that the University seems to have made such little progress in addressing the issue after six months of internal discussion. Beginning last semester, or even over the summer, the University could have reached out to student leaders to begin to craft a plan while keeping the Cornell community in the loop. Springing the initiative on Greek leaders a mere day before it was announced nationally is not the way to create a comprehensive initiative that can be enacted here and that other universities can follow. If we want to lead and not collaborate, this should be a campus issue before it becomes a national one.President Skorton’s initiative could be a major first step in reforming hazing policy — both on campus and nationally — but the University must get much more serious about the details if it plans to meet its own one-year deadline.