Editor’s note: The following is an expanded version of a letter published in the Dec. 14, 2011, issue of PAW.
President Tilghman’s Oct. 26 PAW column on Greek life at Princeton is rife with factual inaccuracies. Yet it is the basis for what she hopes, come the fall of 2012, will be a ban on incoming classes joining until sophomore year.
She asserts, “Greek-letter national organizations have never been an integral part of Princeton’s culture …” In contrast, Frederic C. Rich ’77 in his The First Hundred Years of the Ivy Club, 1879-1979 notes that three founders were members of Zeta Psi and many of the rest probably affiliated with other chapters. He explains, “Despite the attacks led by (President) Maclean and the pledge required since 1855, chapters of national fraternities flourished, nominally underground, in Princeton. At a time when ‘honor’ was also a big issue, the students rationalized that a forced pledge was not binding. Much of the rhetoric focused on the important right of a boy to enter his father’s college ‘and there unite with his father’s fraternity.’ The biggest support for the fraternities came from their alumni, and their strategy, though not subtle, [was] effective for years. Every year immediately before opening the college, alumni would come to Princeton to induce new students, many the ‘flower of the flock’ – sons of trustees and sons of the emerging social and financial elites of New York and Philadelphia – to join the national organization they supported.” Is it any wonder that well over half of Ivy today also belong to these brotherhoods and sisterhoods, now grown to 800 campuses (including every Ivy League one) and international in networking scope?
Why does our titular head thus seek to discourage membership in our some 10 fraternities and four sororities? Their “selectivity” is the answer. Trying to attract the best, she realizes that many of the brightest come from religious and racial backgrounds that were discriminated against in the past. In turn, these sought-after scholars, sharing that perception, gravitate to Harvard and Yale where “finals clubs” at the former and “senior societies” at the latter comprise only about 10 percent of the undergraduates. So marginalized in the campus scene, they don’t matter. In contrast, well over 70 percent of Princeton juniors and seniors dine at the eating clubs. Five are “sign-in.” But among those that bicker are numbered the most prestigious. Is it any wonder that Cannon Dial Elm, about to reopen in Cannon’s former’s clubhouse, has elected to become the sixth selective club? And that President Tilghman candidly notes, “Princeton’s Greek-letter organizations … are serving as a pipeline to the selective eating clubs.” To give non-Greeks a better chance in bicker is one of her ostensible reasons for hindering joining. But all alumni/ae who believe in freedom of association should not be so easily deceived. We Greeks are only “the canary in the mine shaft.” Her real, long-range target is the selectivity of the bicker eating clubs that play such a large role in campus life!
Harvey A. Silverglate ’64 and Samantha Kors Harris ’99, in an essay posted Oct. 26 at PAW Online, already have documented how “Princeton falls short on protecting free speech.” Both are affiliated with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Headquartered in nearby Philadelphia, FIRE will be devoting increased attention to protecting “freedom of association” when it comes to the Greeks across the country and at Princeton. Its website deserves a good look. So does Annual Giving’s. While doing my part to keep my class’s percentage of contributors undiminished, my check for $14, for the some 14 chapters at Princeton (I’m seeking to learn the exact number), will annually express my displeasure so.
But more than that, we need to get organized to fight with FIRE for the right of freedom of association for entering students at Princeton in 2012 and the years beyond – and to meet the other unsubstantiated criticisms the President’s Page levels at Greek life.
I’ve asked the offices of the co-chairs of the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life, Vice President and Secretary Robert K. Durkee ’69 and Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherry, for the names of the leaders of those chapters and how to reach them. I’ve asked both their offices for the same information on the 11-member committee formed to implement her policy on the fraternity and sorority freshman rush ban. I’ve also asked for dates when it is going to hold hearings on campus, so that we may appear before it. To date, all that has been forthcoming is general data available on the University’s website. The administration’s unwillingness to put those of us, who oppose what is about to be crammed down our throats, in touch with each other is outrageously unfair! So is its stonewalling of who appeared before the working group, what they had to say, the documentation – if any – that was provided, and the feedback the working group received on its website.