The Colgate Scene
November 2003

Alumni affairs

A Colgate solution

In July, Colgate's Board of Trustees announced a new set of principles for residential life. I've spoken with many alumni during the past few months, and there is both support and disagreement with respect to the plan.

The differences of opinion are to be expected, and respected, even if complete harmony would be easier. The Board of Trustees spent more than two years thinking about the issues and considered several options before reaching a decision. It's only been three months since the plan was announced, and it will take some time for 28,000 alumni to accept this change and understand the reasons for it.

My hope is that three things will happen over the next year. First, I hope that alumni will give President Rebecca Chopp their trust. Never mind what you thought of "the administration" five or 15 or 50 years ago. There's a new team in charge, and the president is a person of real integrity. She appreciates what is special about Colgate -- she gets it. I'll bet my 30 years of association with Colgate on her, and on Dean of the College Adam Weinberg.

Second, it is important that alumni keep bringing their questions to the table. Colgate taught us to ask tough questions, and there is no expectation for the alumni body simply to agree. If we don't understand the plan, Colgate is trying hard to explain. If we need more information, Colgate remains a small enough place that there is someone who will listen and respond. Having those exchanges take place with trust and with a willingness to hear the other point of view will make a big difference as this project moves from announcement to implementation.

Everything was not fine
The impact of the new plan on fraternities and sororities is where most alumni objections have been expressed. Change is tough, and there is a lot of pushback on the ownership issue in particular. However, everyone connected with Colgate should acknowledge that doing nothing was not an option. That's my third hope -- that whatever one's opinion of the new plan, 100 percent of the alumni will accept that some change was necessary. There are legal, behavioral, administrative, and other factors in the decline of life on Broad Street, and it's difficult to grasp just how different it is from when most of us graduated. The drinking age changed from 18 to 21. Hazing is illegal in New York, the Buckley amendment is a fact of life, and there are dram shop laws. Some chapters run well, but other chapters have disappeared. The houses that remain can't carry the social burden; these and other factors set the stage for problems that have proven difficult for students, alumni advisors, and administrators to address. The difficulties have often been serious and have widened the gap between Colgate and the Row. The days when the Row was fairly cohesive and had some identity attached to Colgate are gone.

In whatever manner one assigns responsibility regarding what is past, it is a fact today that at no other time in Colgate's history have there been so many empty beds on the Row. It has not been going well, and no responsible Board of Trustees could raise the bar for residential life at Colgate without a strategy for progress in the houses.

Still, I've been amazed how many times the argument has been made: "Everything was fine -- why did Colgate do this?" Everything was not fine. What would the future have brought to Broad Street? Opinions will vary, but it's not crazy to think that we would have seen the closing of more houses, and the disappearance of Greek life in less than five years. In order for Greek life [at Colgate] to survive in any form, it had to find a new form.

The new plan is a Colgate solution, respecting Colgate traditions. It offers great choices to all students. The prospect of a Broad Street that is structurally different but socially as healthy and united and lively as many of us remember is much better than the status quo. Ending an era of benign neglect with respect to the Row is positive.

Keep bringing the questions. Lend some trust. Understand that some change was necessary. I count on seeing many of you, and hearing your views on these and other Colgate matters, in the months ahead.

Scott Meiklejohn '77
President, Alumni Corporation Board of Directors

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