January 26, 2020

EDITORIAL: What Goal Is Cornell Trying to Achieve Through Greek Life Reforms?

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Few people would argue that the social scene on this campus is doing fine. Even fewer would say that the Greek Life that existed on this campus 12 months ago was a healthy system.

It is clear that reform is necessary. It is urgent. And it needs to come from the adults paid to unearth them — not patched together on the backs of college students without the institutional knowledge, experience or mental bandwidth to reform them. But are the University’s reforms good?

Well, the 14-page PDF slid onto the OSFL website on Tuesday was extensive. The enumerated regulations mandate catered alcohol service or a “BYOB” policy, hired security for events with more than 100 attendees and a contracted monitoring service. Folks’ partying is limited — Thursday to Sunday — the “punch bowl ” concept is nixed and “Closing Time” has got to play by 1 a.m.

The reforms that have unfurled out of the different governing bodies of the University are necessary. The fraternity system somehow continues to hold one of the most powerful social influences on campus, and it is no secret that behind curtains of philanthropy, networking, brotherhood and power — historically, 76 percent of U.S. senators were fraternity brothers — is an organization richest in social currency.

The plurality of serious incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact on campus occurred at fraternity sites, according to the 2019 University survey. The first documented instance of fatal fraternity hazing occurred here, far above Cayuga’s waters, when Mortimer N. Leggett died on Oct. 17, 1873 trying to join the Kappa Alpha society.

Not all of this is the fault of Leggett and his classmates. Had they attended Dartmouth College and Leggett fell in the woods while blindfolded, it is more likely that he and the two men guiding him would have fallen into a bush than a gorge.

But 150 years later, the problems continue here, and the faults and falls of carelessness and malice can be seen still. It is true that there inherently is more risk here — built into our landscape, into our high stress levels, into our lack of social outlets — a fact acknowledged even by President Martha E. Pollack on Thursday.

And Cornell is clearly taking the elephant-esque problem of social misconduct seriously: While the IFC president once called the recruitment process “laissez-faire,” the University barred four fraternities from recruiting this semester.

The reforms are a huge step forward. But it’s too early to tell in what direction they’ll go. And the concerns raised about financial inequity, social stifling and the feeling of babysitting are valid.

It is true that different Greek organizations do have different economic access and different resources. A skim through 2017 I-990 tax forms show large differences in the finances of fraternities. While one fraternity netted nearly $26,000 in assets at the end of the 2017 fiscal year, another closed with over $1.4 million. For chapters lacking funds, hiring security can be daunting and may even lead to increased social dues for members. The financial issues that surround the new event management reforms perpetuate the idea that Greek Life is for those who can pay for it.

Of the 14 fraternities still on campus who have been found responsible for hazing in the last decade, 10 of them have social dues above $600 per semester. By placing a flat tax on all fraternities, organizations with more cash will continue to have more influence.

It is true that if you’re bored on a Saturday, you have few social options, especially once you’ve checked off the routine karaoke and hockey nights. Will these reforms create safer parties — or more isolation?

It is true that college-aged students are adults, and many fraternity houses and Collegetown annexes are privately owned or rented; it is true that adults should have a degree of privacy in their home, and should be able to live without fear or anxiety that a CUPD-led roving force will roll up the driveway.

And if the reforms had a goal somewhere — a listed measurement system, a tally of students needing their stomachs pumped, a rewritten mission for Greek Life — then The Sun, and frazzled college kids, would be able to rest easier.

But the lack of information on the underlying trajectory of the University has cramped the ability of anyone to enthusiastically celebrate.


The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.