Change to Housing Policy Draws FIRE

by Pei Xiong Liu, News Editor

The administration’s recent change to housing policy has drawn wide criticism from students, and now from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). At the time of publication, a protest against the amended policy is scheduled to take place Friday at noon in Usdan. The protest is being led by Lucas San Juan ’13, who has been a vocal critic of the amendment and submitted a Wespeak to The Argus decrying the new policy.  At the protest, San Juan plans to deliver a speech and collect signatures for a petition opposing the administration’s new policy.

“We want the revision to the housing policy dropped,” San Juan said. “Clearly, it was meant to target Beta, but the policy has the effect of suppressing our rights as individuals. In the administration’s vendetta against Beta, they have created this policy without any other concerns.”

The amendment, which was announced on Monday and takes effect next fall, bans students from living in or visiting property owned by private societies which are not approved by the University. Students violating the policy face disciplinary action including suspension. According to President Michael Roth, the aim of the amendment is to clarify the existing housing policy.

“The intent of the policy is to make clear which buildings on campus are residential Wesleyan buildings and which aren’t, and my hope is that Beta will, like DKE and Psi U and Alpha Delt, become part of Wesleyan program housing,” Roth said. “This is about having a coherent housing and Residential Life policy. Beta has been here for a long time, and I’m hoping that it will exist again as a Wesleyan fraternity, not in its current ambiguous status.”

FIRE, which is a non-profit group whose stated mission is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities,” has sent Roth a letter stating its concerns about the amendment. According to the letter, the new amendment amounts to more than merely a clarification of the current housing policy; it is an infringement of student rights.

“This policy blatantly violates Wesleyan’s moral and contractual promises of freedom of assembly in Wesleyan’s Student Handbook,” the letter read. “It has no place at an institution committed to fundamental rights.”

The letter cites a section in the Wesleyan Student Handbook that states, “Faculty members and administrative officials should ensure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.”

FIRE has helped bring lawsuits against other college and university administrators—through its nationwide network of attorneys—that the organization has felt violated the rights of students or faculty. The organization’s website’s case archive lists over 200 cases.

According to San Juan, the University’s latest move affects every student, not just Beta members.

“Yes, the policy focuses on Beta, but it affects everyone,” he said. “By limiting freedom of association, it curtails the rights of all students and changes the relationship of students to the administration. Instead of being roughly equal, this places the administration in a paternalistic position over us, telling us what we can and cannot do.

Roth said that although the language of the policy could have been more polished, he emphasized that the administration’s intent is not to limit students’ rights.

“I’m not particularly fond of the language myself, but all I want is a situation where the Greek organizations of the University are actually a part of the University,” Roth said. “This is not an attempt to get rid of fraternities, and it’s not an attempt to tell Wesleyan students were to go, but I understand that it is a change that some people find to be ‘administrative overreach.’ We went over [the language] quite carefully by seeing what other universities did when they had similar issues.”

San Juan sees the policy change as part of a larger trend.

“The administration has been trying to change the character of the school for years, and if we don’t take a stand now, it will send a message to the administration that they can do whatever they want without recourse,” he said.

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