While student life over the last decade has improved dramatically at AU, as evidenced by student satisfaction surveys and the numerous regional and national awards won by the office of Student Affairs, the elimination of the Greek system at Alfred University is replete with exciting possibilities for even more improvements. It will help address the serious health and safety problems of drinking, illegal drugs, and hazing endemic to Greek life on the one hand, and on the other hand it will literally change the landscape of student housing and social life, thereby creating opportunities for the entire student body.
The other colleges studied by the Task Force reported that, as is true at Alfred, Greek houses play a prominent role in campus social life to varying degrees, and social life-along with off-campus housing-is what distinguishes them from other student organizations. Other groups have social activities, focused around academic achievement, community service, athletics, religion, or dozens of other purposes. While it is true that some affinity groups, like the Honors Program, Hillel, and Language House, have a dedicated residence, only the Greeks combine a social focus and a house, thereby holding a unique place in student life. If our recommendation is accepted, the elimination of Greek life will leave a hole in the social and residential life of our University.
But it will also create an opportunity to fill that hole by eliminating that which is negative about Greek life and preserving that which is positive. In keeping with the University's mission to value diversity and tolerance, and "to develop our students' ability to think critically, communicate clearly . . . [and] respond creatively to change," the Task Force hopes that the changes brought about in response to its recommendation will focus and energize the campus community to compensate for the lost housing and social life by replacing them with housing and programs that serve as many students as possible rather than a select group, and that do so in a safe, healthy, and economical way.
There are many factors that favor a change in student life at this time, among them:
- A new president seeking to redefine the meaning of "an Alfred education."
- A Board of Trustees profoundly committed to a strong future for the University.
- A small local community deeply dependent on the University for its economic health and hungry for more interaction.
- Key administrators with tremendous experience, knowledge, and talent dealing with residential life at a small rural campus.
- A current climate of financial challenges to higher education in general and Alfred in particular which call for more efficient and equitable use of resources.
- The opportunity to gain increased support and respect from friends of Alfred, alumni, and the world of higher education, all of whom may view a more vibrant living/learning community as enhancing the mission of the University.
- The opportunity to continue attracting even better students and faculty (which has been accomplished at some of the other colleges we studied).
The reports from other colleges and universities reveal certain similar actions undertaken to preserve the strengths of fraternal life and eliminate the weaknesses. The Task Force herewith presents some of the better innovations and changes as suggestions for possible implementation at Alfred.
1) Purchase those Greek houses that can be renovated by the University into special interest houses or other special housing needs (graduate students, faculty, etc.) Whether they eliminated or dramatically reformed their Greek systems, nearly all the colleges we studied purchased the fraternity and sorority houses on or near their campuses. They required Greeks to live in college dorms or allowed them to stay in Greek houses under much tighter controls. This gave other student groups an equal chance at what was considered to be more desirable off-campus housing while simultaneously exerting more University control over the living conditions of their Greek students.
2) Increase the residency requirement to at least three and possibly four years. It is clear that students benefit from a more structured residential environment after they leave home-something almost totally lacking in Greek houses. A longer residency requirement would bring students under the guidance of the Residence Life system and other caring and trained adults. Various forms of residential life should be offered to accommodate the various needs of students with different tastes, interests, and personal habits. (Students can always be granted releases if they earn them.)
3) Raise the standard for dorm releases. In an effort to help the Greek system financially, the University has regularly given sophomores releases to live in fraternities and sororities. Sophomores are generally less mature than junior and seniors and yet they are moving into housing with no adult supervision and many distractions. The University should raise the bar: to earn a release from the residency requirement a student should be at least a junior, have a GPA that indicates he/she can handle the academic work in the less structured environment, and have no record of serious disciplinary violations. The University might also consider withdrawing releases from those students who do not live up to an AU standard of behavior for off-campus living.
4) Create an Alfred University set of standards for off-campus housing which landlords must meet or students will not be granted a release to live there. The University should work with local landlords and the village to implement such a code, which would afford students better independent living experiences while simultaneously bringing more students into the community. (Health and safety inspections would, of course, remain under the jurisdiction of local and state authorities.)
5) Expand the number of special interest houses, each with a distinctive educational focus. These have been a great success and should be expanded by utilizing some of the acquired fraternity and sorority houses. As in the Greek houses, students living in special interest houses should have opportunities for leadership and the responsibility of running the house, balancing a budget, scheduling events, and coordinating the activities and living space. Special interest houses also enable students who are otherwise shy in social situations to meet people and make friends on the basis of a common interest, affording them the opportunity to experience the close bonding that is one of the virtues of Greek living.
6) Continue to promote community service. Another virtue of Greek life is the emphasis on community service, which will help the surrounding communities, enrich students' lives, and (in the words of AU's Mission Statement) prepare "them for a life of achievement and leadership." At some schools community service is a requirement for graduation.
7) Create on-campus social space that allows for alcohol consumption under tight controls. With the loss of fraternity parties, social activities will need to be restructured. It is clear from the letters and emails the Task Force received, even from those critical of Greek life, that the system provides a necessary social alternative to the growing number of excellent on-campus activities. Almost every one of the 20 colleges we studied has created social space on campus for any and all organizations to use on a first come/first served basis, space that includes serving alcohol by third party vendors who are responsible for carding students.
These suggestions combine the best of what we read about
at other colleges and our own ideas. The goals are to create
a more positive student life experience, utilize University
resources more effectively in the service of all the students,
and support the economic vitality of the area.