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Unfairly challenging individual choice

"THE UNIVERSITY of Virginia maintains a strong tradition of student self-government ..." These words, the first words scrolled across the University's Web site, are read by thousands of prospective students who are misled to believe that students at the University are allowed to govern themselves fully. The clearest and harshest example of a blatant violation of student self-governance was the 1998 deferral of fraternity rush to the spring semester by the University administration.

The issue began Oct. 31, 1997, when the Faculty Senate chairman, English Prof. Jahan Ramazani, publicly made the suggestion that moving Greek rush to the second year would help achieve the goal of creating an "intellectual community." What ensued was a five- month debate among all members of the University community as to when rush should be held to benefit the entire University. The Faculty Senate voted to move rush, while Student Council, the elected representatives entrusted with governing the entire student body, and First-Year Council, the elected governing body of the first-year class, both voted to support a fall rush while outlining the clear advantages of having the choice of fraternity membership available in the fall semester.

The debate looked as if it was coming to conclusion when a formal proposal from the dean of students was submitted to the governing body of the fraternities, the Inter-Fraternity Council. The proposal did not just deal with the issue at hand, rush, but rather it attempted to make the fraternities accept an unfair and uncontrollable position on alcohol policy. Fraternity leaders voted to reject the proposal based on the fact that the proposal unnecessarily grouped the two issues of alcohol policy and membership recruitment. In other words, the IFC had been debating rush dates heatedly for five months when all of a sudden, a clause mandating a system-wide alcohol policy was included as an ultimatum in the proposal.

In a counter-proposal, the IFC made the motion to separate the two issues by first dealing with the issue at hand, the start date of fraternity rush, and then separately dealing with alcohol policy. The will of the students was ignored as the dean of students refused this counter-proposal. On April 3, 1998, fraternity rush was officially deferred to the spring.

The consequences of deferred rush have had concrete damaging effects on fraternities' finances, housing issues, and overall pledge numbers. According to Dean Canevari's letter rejecting the IFC's proposal to move rush back to the fall, "The deferral of rush has enhanced the ability of the University to fulfill its primary mission." This so-called "primary mission" has been successful in taking important learning decisions and experiences out of the hands of responsible and knowledgeable students. This "primary mission" also has served to greatly weaken student organizations that have made countless contributions to the University for nearly 150 years. Yet the question remains whether the deferral of rush has helped to foster a more "intellectual community," as was its original intention.

Despite all of this, fraternity men continue to achieve higher grade point averages than non-fraternity men, while also making tremendous contributions to the greater University. Currently, fraternity men hold the positions of Honor Committee chairman, University Judiciary Committee chairman, Student Council president, student member of the Board of Visitors, co-chair of Madison House and co-captain of the National Championship Lacrosse team.

It is important for everyone to realize that the decision to rush and pledge a fraternity is a lesson in decision-making. One must remember that the decision to rush and pledge a fraternity is a choice. I firmly believe that this choice, as well as the choice to join any organization, should be available to first-year students during their first semester. This, in itself, is part of an educational experience at college: learning to evaluate a potential opportunity, and making an educated decision as to whether or not it is the proper course of action at that particular time. By removing this choice from a first-year student in the fall semester, the faculty and administration are only defeating their own cause. They are making a tough decision for a student who would otherwise be challenged to consider time constraints, interests and priorities among other things in coming to a mature decision on their own.

There is no question that we should work together to set the rush dates. As students, we are part of a larger community, which includes faculty, administration, alumni, and residents of Charlottesville. Therefore, it is important that we incorporate the interests and concerns of these parties into our decisions. But the ultimate authority on fraternity-related issues is the elected governing body of the fraternities, the IFC. This group of officers is given the authority to make decisions pertaining to fraternities by the Constitution and Bylaws of the IFC. Hence, it is their job and responsibility to accurately incorporate the interests of the larger University into all decisions they make, including the start dates of rush. Once decisions are made by the IFC, they should be respected and upheld by others in the University community, including the faculty and administration.

It is my hope and belief that the University should reconsider the rush issue immediately. A grave mistake has been made, and they can rectify the situation by working with the Inter-Fraternity Council in revisiting the issue. More importantly, the administration needs to send the message to the larger student population that they trust and respect students to govern themselves. I issue this challenge to the administration, and hope they will respond accordingly by working with the Inter-Fraternity Council to make this decision. It is not until then that the administration can truthfully defend its claim that "The University of Virginia maintains a strong tradition of student self-government."

(Wes Kaupinen is the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council.)

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