“Those willing to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” Benjamin Franklin’s words did not ignore the necessity of government, they were intended to remind us of the limitations we must keep on government. The power to tax and regulate, given to the government by the people, is meant to ensure prosperity, fair play, and consistent application of the rule of law. In authoritarian hands, even when well intentioned, it can destroy. Unfortunately, the latter method appears to be in play now at Florida State University.
College Greek-letter fraternities and sororities share a birth date (1776) with the country itself. For hundreds of years college fraternities and sororities have contributed spirit and energy to university campuses. So called ‘Greeks’ have been called the heart and soul of large state universities, especially in the South. Greek life brings out its best on college football Saturdays with its rabid fans. The ‘Greek’ students foster fellowship, develop leadership and political skills among their membership, and encourage community service, including raising millions of dollars for charities annually. Greek alumni typically support their respective alma maters more generously than non-Greek cohorts.
Of course, there is and always has been a dark side to college life. Greek life in particular has been rightly criticized for hazing. Binge drinking, excessive use of drugs and other social sins are often portrayed as typical of today’s college atmosphere. However, while the hazing problem may be somewhat unique to Greeks and perhaps college bands, there is no evidence that Greeks’ behaviors on many of these other problems are any different from the greater university population. Those hostile to Greeks in particular are quick to quote ‘studies,’ but most of those merely parrot unreliable self-reporting by students.
Whether the inclination is either to promote the values of Greek life or condemn them, only a few would argue that campus Greeks should not have the same rights as other students or student organizations. The rights of individuals to associate, to speak freely, to generally enjoy life and liberty and to pursue their own version of happiness are assurances upon which every American should be able to depend. Apparently, at Florida State University, most of those God-given rights are being eliminated, of course, for the good of the students. It remains to be seen if the national and local alumni leaders or the current active student participants will accept the surrender of their civil rights and special tax assessments being forced upon them.
Plan is to Target and Bankrupt Greeks
Greeks number in the minority among students. The FSU Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life webpage indicates 7,500 fraternity and sorority members in a 35,000-undergraduate population. According to recent reports, the Florida State Administration now plans to target Greeks as a class, and intends to require all these students to give up most of their civil liberties in order to have the right to not-so-freely associate.
The more insidious side of the plan seems to be the intent to impose a ‘Greek Tax’ on individual students to supplement the salaries of new and current FSU employees and hire even more bureaucrats.
Now meet Dr. Amy Hecht, the newly arrived Vice President or Student Affairs who has crafted this campaign. Dr. Hecht appears to be a disciple of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who once said “You must never let a serious crisis go to waste…. What I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.”
The serious crisis here of course is the tragic and pointless death of student Andrew Coffey who succumbed after after a group of his fraternity brothers gathered and engaged in binge drinking. Coffey registered over a .40 alcohol blood level after his death. Such activity can neither be accepted nor ignored and it has not been. Every member of the FSU community genuinely mourns the tragic death of Andrew Coffey.
After Coffee died, FSU President John Thrasher issued and immediate, indefinite, campus-wide suspension of Greek Life. He expressed his wish to see students “change the culture” to prevent hazing and drug abuse and sexual misconduct.
Many Greek students felt they had done nothing wrong and were being unfairly targeted. Many were outraged. Most Greek organizations operate like businesses with houses and budgets, and the financial damages of an indefinite suspension would be extreme. This has proven true as memberships have reduced, fees gone unpaid, events cancelled, and deposits lost, costing these students significant financial damages, collectively likely into the low millions. The pending loss of an entire membership cycle may be most damning.
At the time, however, the Greek students and their alumni leaders chose to place their trust in President Thrasher. Everyone understood the gravity of a tragic death, and wanted to respect both the President and Coffee’s family during their immediate period of loss.
The University’s ‘First Offer’ is a Death Sentence
Now, nearly three months following the tragedy, the temporary, indefinite suspension remains in place. On January 16, Dr. Amy Hecht presented the University’s “first offer” for restoration of Greek life. National and local fraternity leaders were appalled. Many were left stunned, wondering if their trust, patience and respect for the Administration were misplaced.
No one who attended the meeting was willing to speak on the record. However, multiple sources expressed to The Herald that Dr. Hecht’s presentation was a demand for unconditional surrender.
Those same sources also reaffirmed their support for President Thrasher personally, and expressed agreement with his desire to reform the more extreme behaviors of college life and a deep hope that Thrasher is not mandating this draconian approach and will lead with a much more reasonable one.
At the same time they noted that the indefinite suspension more than likely violates the Constitutional rights of adult students attending FSU. The rights of all students should include due process, freedom of association, freedom of speech and assembly. FSU Greeks had long lost the right of due process, now they face the elimination of even more fundamental Constitutional guarantees, singly as a class.
Unfortunately, Dr Hecht seems bent on imposing unreasonable if not un-Constitutional demands designed to crush the Greeks financially and make continuing operations practically impossible.
One attendee said “The proposals presented today by Dr. Hecht are not just arduous; they’re punitive and destructive in the extreme. If imposed, the market will speak and there will be no more Greeks at FSU.”
“We trusted President Thrasher and joined with him to work to change the culture to make our chapters safer and better, even though we felt the broad suspension was unfair to our chapters who had done nothing wrong. We now can only hope that the President will intervene quickly and present a fair proposal.”
The alternative will require tough decisions.
“We feel we have been betrayed”
The two initial meetings on Tuesday were polite, but most Greek representatives left the meetings stunned by the breadth and depth of the demands, as well as the deeply restrictive aspects of every individual tenant proposed. The word “Draconian” was a common description used by the participants.
Some who claimed to have been working with FSU since the start of the suspension felt a tremendous sense of betrayal. “We worked with the University in good faith. That good faith was not returned, and it’s been thrown back in our faces.”
Time will tell if FSU is serious about working with the Greek community to make it better, or simply intends to impose authoritarian controls over every aspect of the system and its members.
USA Herald will provide ongoing coverage of this saga. Stay tuned for further updates.