LATELY it seems that the only way a student can get the Board of Visitor's attention is to threaten a lawsuit. Hire a two-bit lawyer, file a frivolous complaint, and the Board is all ears. But if you want to talk about issues that affect thousands of students, don't bother calling. As such, University Rector John P. Ackerly III's refusal to meet with Inter-Fraternity Council representatives to discuss fall rush was irresponsible.
Since his appointment in 1995, Ackerly has been consistent in his stated view of the role the Board should play in University affairs. In 1997 he told The Cavalier Daily, "The Board's role is to determine policies. The administration implements them" ("Critics ask BOV to reevaluate philosophy," March 18, 1997). He also said that administrative matters are the "day-to-day things" that are better left to the administration. It is informative to examine which issues Ackerly has considered policy matters worthy of the Board's attention.
In 1998 the Board considered in detail the alcohol policy for the Scott Stadium parking lot and sky boxes. Evidently not merely a day-to-day matter, whether or not rich alumni could drink in the new stadium was of keen concern to the Board. After all, the amount of bourbon alumni consume at football games is directly proportional to the success of the Capital Campaign. Then there was the matter of Clinch Valley College, now known as the University of Virginia's College at Wise. What CVC was to be called was of such grave policy importance that mere University administrators could not be trusted with the task of changing the name. Heaven knows that the future of the University rested on picking an appropriate name for CVC.
Yet when it comes to moving rush, Ackerly believes that it, "is an administrative matter, not a policy matter." It is hard to see how the fate of the Greek system falls on the "day-to-day" side of the line, while alumni tailgating qualifies as a policy issue. Perhaps Ackerly would rather spend his time complaining about Richmond's funding decisions. Perhaps he would rather gripe about the governor to whom he owes his rectorship. Regardless, his time would be better spent meeting with the IFC and talking about the fate of the institution that has served as the backbone of this community for well over 150 years.
Many of us chose to attend the University because of the work hard/play hard atmosphere. The Greek system is the key to that atmosphere. One does not have to be in a fraternity or sorority to benefit from their existence. Besides the parties and the student section at Foxfield, the Greek system is the source of the laid-back social attitude the University is known for and which makes it so attractive to high school students all over the country. It often has been said that while University students may not be the most intellectual, they are the happiest, most socially well-adjusted students around. While we may not be rocket scientists, we can get along with just about anyone in any situation. As George W. Bush proves, the friendly frat-guy attitude counts for something. And one thing is for sure, you don't become a well-adjusted, happy individual by hiding in Brown College or Hereford.
Students pick the University because of this attitude and atmosphere, not because of Mosaic House or Culturefest. Perhaps it shouldn't be that way. Perhaps in a perfect, intellectual world, people would pick a college based upon the professors and the multicultural experience the institution has to offer. But this isn't a perfect world, and for the most part, people pick colleges based on whether or not they are going to have a good time while getting an education. Football games, frat parties and the Lawn. These are the University's great selling points. They should be embraced, not attacked.
Ackerly should be integrally involved in ensuring the continued health of the Greek system. When he was elected Rector, he said that he was most interested in "matters affecting students" ("Board elects Ackerly new Rector in unanimous vote," The Cavalier Daily, March 30, 1998). When fraternities are allowed to recruit their new members -- perhaps the most important thing an organization can do -- is certainly a matter affecting students. Whether the University will continue to have a vibrant Greek system is undeniably a policy issue worth talking about. Ackerly should not hide behind his evidently fuzzy distinction between administrative and policy matters. He should not direct concerned and proactive students leaders to talk to obviously biased and immovable administrators. As crazy as it sounds, the IFC should not have to file a $10 million civil rights lawsuit against the University to get a meeting with the Rector.
(Sam Waxman's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily.)