January 28, 2000 | News Releases on Education
"Despite their unique place in American history, despite even their demonstrated success in serving the interests of their membership, fraternities and sororities today are under siege as never before by administrators across the country," writes Maureen Sirhal, editorial assistant for Policy Review, which is editorially independent of the Washington think tank.
The crackdown at more than a dozen mostly elite institutions, such as Dartmouth and Middlebury, isn't about rowdy fraternities behaving as if they're auditioning for "Animal House 2." Rather, Sirhal says, colleges are targeting the Greek system because too many administrators view it as an anachronism-segregated by gender, steeped in tradition, in a word, too conservative.
Ironically, the recent anti-fraternity campaign stems from a revival of administrators acting in loco parentis-an idea that went out with the campus protests of the 1960s and '70s. What's different about the new paternalism, Sirhal says, is that administrators want to do more than curb drinking; they want to "mold a new campus culture" that holds no place for fraternities.
And it's working. Sirhal reports that fraternity membership has fallen by 30 percent over the past decade, a number of schools have banned fraternities altogether, and even in cases where fraternities are still technically permissible, such as Middlebury, members often meet in secret because they'll be expelled if caught performing fraternity rituals.
The Greek system is not without its problems, Sirhal says. But "dismantling fraternities and sororities, or molding them into unrecognizable versions of themselves, accomplishes very little compared to the big-picture troubles that plague students and campuses alike." What needs to change, she says, is a "debased cultural environment"-an environment encouraged by the same administrators who now, suddenly, have found that students need adult supervision.
Sirhal notes that the first Greek society, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776. "It will be a pity if a decade of ideological hostility ends up extinguishing a tradition that remains, warts and all, an irreplaceable link to the country that shares its birthday," she says.