The Colgate Scene
November 2004

Letters
The Colgate Scene welcomes letters from readers. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity and clarity.
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A classy report

. . . I take this means of congratulating [Colgate] for the production of the Report to Donors 2003-2004. It's a forward step to combine acknowledgements and comment in this fashion. It was also a reminder of the generosity of so many men and women.

When I recall how difficult it was to accomplish our first major capital drive in the '50s, I credit the pioneers who helped Colgate abandon the dependency on James Colgate and a band of the very rich who kept the boat afloat at the cost of perpetuating a timid sanctuary far off in the hills. Everett Case, Clarence Myers, and a few farsighted alumni put us in a position to attract Ford Foundation funding, a major breakthrough.

The report has class.

. . . Hat's off to Bob Fox '59 for getting us two-thirds of the way there for a $1.5 million endowed chair for [the late swimming, diving, and soccer coach] Mark Randall, as reported in the September Scene.

I want to gather support for a proposal to re-name Colgate's Grace R. Lineberry Natatorium as the Grace R. Lineberry-Mark S. Randall Jr. Natatorium. Ms. Lineberry never would have donated her $1 million in matching funds to build the natatorium except for the exceptional qualities that she recognized in Mark Randall. Mark designed the facility, with the Paddock Pool Co., and oversaw its maintenance and operation for decades, extending the facility's life by about 20 years as a result of his excellent caretaking. I'm sure that the Lineberry family would be glad to have Mark's name up there.

Let's get behind it!

Questioning Greek-letter house acquisition

. . . President Chopp's letter of July 20, 2004, to Colgate graduates, rekindles my mixed feelings about the proposed university ownership of the fraternity and sorority houses now being negotiated as a key part of the new residential education program.

First, my comments on some of the statements in the letter itself. If the goal is "to provide consistent and comparable residential experiences," does this rule out the virtues of some measure of diversity? This sounds too much like "one size should fit all." What are the criteria for permission for the 250 seniors to live off campus?

What is the justification for concluding that "the present Greek system is broken?" Only at Colgate? Nationwide? How successful have been such repairs to the Greek system on other campuses?

The program to upgrade and renovate the Greek-letter facilities is certainly worthy, considering the age of each, the rough treatment each has received over the years, and the usually limited budgets for maintenance. My Theta Chi brothers, in our Depression-era ('38) class, have occasionally been appalled at the physical condition of the house, then temporarily cheered by the sometime refurbishings. Is university ownership the only way to facilitate improvement? What alternatives were seriously evaluated? The $15 million to $20 million estimate to upgrade the houses seems exorbitant, in the range of current Annual Fund proceeds, and considering the appraised value of all houses at $5 million. Is the given repair cost as firm as the appraised value?

It seems to me that greater transparency is needed on the issue of leasing versus university ownership. What are the pros and cons? In what specific respects are alternatives to selling the houses to the university unacceptable?

The university's "obligation -- to do everything possible to maintain a safe, secure, healthy, and educational environment for all of our students" is unquestionably true. "Only (university) ownership will fulfill this obligation." Is this opinion really true? Now and in the future? Only three other colleges are cited as examples to justify this conclusion. Are there others which suggest different results? This leads me to a point not mentioned in this and earlier letters. I have heard that the root reason for the ownership proposal is to reduce or eliminate the university's liability for physical damage and personal injury due to misuse of alcohol. If this is true, shouldn't it be made clear? It was my observation at Theta Chi and other houses, and during my 45 years in the chemical industry, that most people learn to manage their use of alcohol very well, but there was always a small minority who could not, becoming belligerent and/or destructive to themselves or others.

I've frequently wondered if there could be some way to identify this minority, at the entry point of colleges, corporations, and other organizations. This may not be possible today, but I believe a start could be made now, with better interviewers on faculties and on corporate staffs.

The freshman and sophomore preceptor system we knew in the mid-'30s was to me, as I think back, the early beginning of such an evaluative system. I remain impressed with the quality and insight of my advisers, and more so, as I realized in corporate life, in recruiting and performance evaluation. I came to sense troublesome alcohol-sensitive types with some degree of success. Some of those went on to tragic ends. In others, counseling, warnings, or firings resulted.

In short, if the liability issue is real, how will university ownership manage the alcohol problem? Even if Hamilton were to go "dry," the surrounding area provides many sources.

With all due respect, I believe the downside consequences of the current ownership proposal need to be examined carefully and made clearer to all.

. . . The following pertains to the administration's policy requiring students to live in university housing. As advertised, the crux of this policy is the determination to terminate the independent living of fraternities and to control their living conditions in a mold as conceived by the administration. President Chopp's letter of July 20 stated that "the present Greek system is broken." What is new, again referring to President Chopp's letter, is the estimated price tag of some $15 million to $20 million which is deemed necessary to "repair the system" and implement the policy. One ponders the thought that perhaps the mindset of the administration is also fractured.

Following are "food for thought" questions: 1. Is the Greek system really broken or merely bent? 2. Where is the estimated $15 million to $20 million needed to implement this policy coming from? 3. For decades fraternities have provided a rich heritage in the non-academic life at Colgate, and to arbitrarily change this tradition raises serious questions. Have all alternative avenues been fully explored with open minds in a constructive manner to repair what is broken or bent without the expenditure of millions of dollars? 4. The administration's scenario is that the only solution is complete university ownership and control of living facilities requiring this expenditure. Is it? 5. Other institutions have solved a similar problem without such an enormous expenditure of dollars and with fraternities continuing to offer a once-in-a-lifetime living experience. Why can't we?

Editor's note: A description of the residential education plan and answers to many of the questions raised in the above letters can be found in a Q&A on the Colgate website. Go to www.colgate.edu and click Student Life, then Residential Education.

Praising residential education initiative

. . . Congratulations on your residential education program. The board's decision is smart, forward-thinking, empowering, and unifying. Colgate has only had women students for three decades. For the first time, I would send my daughters to Colgate (when the time comes -- ages seven and one).

I am active in the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. At our annual convention in July in Boston, one of the programs was on cases against colleges and fraternities for hazing, sexual assaults, and fraternity-related deaths. I am so proud that Colgate is attempting to get in front of the issue and correct a problem.

I have donated $130.13 to Colgate towards the purchase of the fraternity and sorority properties. I'd ask that every female graduate give $130.13 toward the purchase for the next 13 years, in addition to the annual fund drive. This would pay for the purchase in five years and have an equal amount for renovations, maintenance, and social spending.

. . . I offer unequivocal support of the purchase of the remaining fraternity and sorority houses at Colgate.

I have undergone a significant metamorphosis, lo, these many years, from fiery advocate of the "system" to 21st-century realism. It began in 1986 with membership on the alumni board and the advent of today's wonderful residential housing plan. The next step in my evolutionary process was participation in the closing of Phi Gamma Delta in 1988. This was a difficult and sad effort after having been a pledge to the fraternity in 1947 and enjoying 40 years of membership until the disastrous social situation and repetitive cost requirements forced it upon us.

I believe that the college's position is superior, should prevail, and will ultimately prevail.

I urge you to continue your efforts because it is best for Colgate, and that is the best unifying force. Keep up the good work.

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