“‘It’s that fraternity,’ she said. ‘You can’t possibly belong to it and make anything at all out of your college life. And you’re barred from everything that makes college life what it is. Of course I know you’re not Jewish, but everybody doesn’t realize that, and I think it’s a terrible shame.'”
But no sooner had he taken office than the world economy crashed, dragging down the Wesleyan endowment with it
What followed was a long, strained period in which Beta brothers-among them a large percentage of the school’s lacrosse team-ran an increasingly wild house. In turn, the administration became increasingly concerned about what was happening there, and through back channels began pressuring the fraternity to rejoin Program Housing. But the brothers didn’t budge, and reports of dangerous activity-including assaults, burglaries, extreme drinking, and at least two car accidents linked to the house-mounted. Wesleyan had a powerful weapon at its disposal: at any time, it could have ordered the brothers to live in the dorm rooms they had paid for, consistent with the university’s housing policy. But for whatever reason, it was loath to do so.
Why wouldn’t the university act unilaterally to solve this problem? The answer may involve the deep power that fraternities exert over their host universities and the complex mix of institutional priorities in which fraternities are important stakeholders. Chief among them, typically, is fund-raising. Shortly after the university tightened the housing policy for its fraternities, a new president, Michael Roth, was ine to Wesleyan-his own alma mater, where he had served as the president of his fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi-with an audacious goal: doubling the university’s endowment. A man of prodigious personal, intellectual, and administrative talents, with a powerful love of Wesleyan, he was uniquely suited to this grand vision. The endowment was slowly recouping its losses when the university’s odd and secretive chief investment officer and vice president of investments was abruptly fired and then sued for allegedly profiting from his position-the kind of scandal that can make potential donors think twice before committing money to an institution. (He denied the charges; the case settled for an undisclosed amount in .) In this challenging fund-raising environment, taking decisive and punitive action against a fraternity would almost certainly come at a financial cost.
In , the university tried a new tack: Wesleyan suddenly dropped the requirement for fraternities to house women. And yet still Beta refused to rejoin the fold and enter Program Housing. By March, the university at last took a decisive action. It sent a strongly worded e-mail to the entire Wesleyan community, including the parents of all undergraduates, warning students to stay away from the Beta house. The e-mail described “reports of illegal and unsafe behavior on the premises,” although it specified only one such behavior, a relatively minor one: the overconsumption of alcohol, leading to hospital visits. This one example hardly matched the tone and language of the rest of the e-mail, which was alarming: “We advise all Wesleyan students to avoid the residence”; “our concern for the safety and well-being of Wesleyan students living at the residence or visiting the house has intensified”; “we remain deeply concerned about the safety of those students who choose to affiliate with the house or attend events there against our advice.”
The university was entirely in the right to send this e-mail; it was an accurate report of a dangerous location. But many parents of Beta brothers were incensed-they felt that their sons had been unfairly maligned to a wide group of people by their own university. Thirty-seven Beta parents signed a letter of protest and sent it to Michael Roth. In it, the parents asked the university to “issue a clarification which retracts the unsupported statements.” No such e-mail was sent-nor, in my view, should it have been. But that angry letter, sent by those outraged parents, was surely noted in the offices of the administration. The Beta brothers, meanwhile, had announced a plan to hire an off-duty Middletown cop to oversee their events, while continuing to deny PSafe access to their house. Roth was unsatisfied, saying, “The notion that Public Safety would have to get permission to enter a place where Wesleyan students, as Wesleyan students, are congregating is unacceptable.”