December 13, 2019

Fraternity paternity

Perhaps just to give alumni something to talk about at their next reunion, U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston of Louisiana recently implied to the presidents at Bowdoin, Colby, Middlebury College in Vermont and Hamilton College in New York that either they allow single-sex fraternities back onto their campuses or lose federal aid. Given the tumult over the budget, Bosnia, welfare, health care, etc., it is difficult to imagine a less important idea coming from Washington.

Nevertheless, Rep. Livingston’s threat has gotten the college presidents’ attention because federal aid, in the form of student loans and research grants, is crucial to all college campuses. As members of Congress have pledged to stop meddling in state business, Rep. Livingston, chairman of the House Appropriations Commmittee, wants to dictate the activity at small college campuses more than a thousand miles from his district. The action is out of touch with the times and with reality.

“As the beneficiary of significant federal funding,” the congressman wrote to the college presidents, “one would think you would be sensitive to the bedrock principles of freedom of association and the liberal arts tradition.” He neglects to observe that within that liberal-arts tradition is the habit of allowing private colleges, while providing equal opportunity for their students, to fashion their own styles of education.

Colby decided a decade ago that fraternities were unacceptable to its community, a decision the Maine Supreme Court upheld. Bowdoin decided fraternities were acceptable only if they were coed (earning it continual enmity from national Greek offices). Many other colleges, of course, have reviewed the records of fraternities and concluded they were worth preserving. The decision should be left up to the college. Rep. Livingston tries to justify his intrusiveness under the guise of Title IX fairness, but his argument doesn’t fly.

Instead, the congressman would punish students who depend on federal student loans and harm research. This hardly meets the goals of fraternal organizations and it is a lousy way to encourage particiaption in the Greek system. The representative from Louisiana should redirect his energies to solving more pressing problems.

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