3 Reasons Why UVA's New Safety Requirements for Fraternities Are Ridiculous


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The University of Virginia will allow its Greek community to resume social activities on campus—provided that fraternities and sororities accept the terms of a new "safety agreement" that limits their ability to serve alcohol and requires hall monitors to guard the stairs to the bedrooms during parties.

The terms can be found here. Among the most significant requirements is a new policy demanding that a certain number of fraternity brothers remain sober and on guard at alcohol distribution points and bedroom entrances:

A minimum of 3 brothers must be sober and lucid at each fraternity function.

i. "Sober and lucid" is defined as a brother acting without influence of any substance.

ii. At least one each of the above sober brothers must be present at each point of alcohol distribution and another at the stairs leading to residential rooms.

iii. In addition to the required monitors outlined above, fraternities must provide an additional sober brother monitor for every 30 members of the chapter, as derived by adding the number of active brothers and new members.

iv. At least three of the sober monitors must be non-first year brothers.

v. All monitors must wear a designated identifier, which will remain consistent across all IFC chapters.

The agreement also places limits on what types of alcohol may be served: beer must be served in cans, wine must be poured by a sober brother, and pre-mixed punches are banned outright. If fraternities want to serve mixed drinks, they have to hire a bartender.

These impositions are unwise, for three reasons.

First, lest anyone forget, the UVA Greek community has been forced to accept new limits on its activities because of the fallout from a magazine story —a largely discredited magazine story. UVA President Teresa Sullivan made the decision to suspended fraternities and sororities only after activists perceived her as insufficiently outraged by Rolling Stone's groundbreaking report on a horrific gang rape at a UVA's Phi Psi chapter. We now know that the shocking incident described in the story never took place, and while it's still remotely possible something similar happened to the woman known as "Jackie" under different circumstances, all evidence supporting that contention has collapsed.

Incidentally, those in the media who have essentially said what difference does it make if Jackie's story is true? should feel embarrassed. The story has clearly made a difference in the lives of everyone at UVA, particularly members of the Greek community who must now accept significant sanctions, even though the explicit reason for those sanctions never actually applied. I'm sure some will contend that UVA's Greek community is dangerous and in need of reform anyway, but the administration took these steps for a specific reason: a (now debunked) magazine story.

Second, it's not crystal clear to me that UVA has the right—either legally or ethically—to punish all Greek organizations for the sins of some. Hans Bader and Glenn Harlan Reynolds have argued that these actions "smacked of collective punishment." Now, it's true that fraternities are often governed by national organizations that require them to submit to university dictates, so the members' general First Amendment rights might not apply—the groups essentially have internal rules requiring them to comply with university rules in some cases. And UVA could go after them for serving alcohol to minors—to the extent that they do—since that's a violation of the law. But I'm not sure UVA has presented a credible argument for requiring that all student clubs of a certain type accept limits on their activities. And in fact, UVA guarantees its students the rights of free expression, assembly, and due process under its code of conduct.

Third, there is good reason to doubt that the alcohol-related requirements will work. Students already routinely flout a much more serious alcohol-related requirement: the drinking age of 21. Breaking the law carries more serious risk than breaking some university dictate, but that hardly seems to deter teenagers. Perhaps instead of jettisoning the bowl of mystery punch, fraternity brothers will instead move the bowl to some dark basement corner and only allow first-year female students access to it.

A better solution would be to let the state of Virginia, or the university itself, experiment with different alcohol laws. It would not surprise me if UVA found that the best way to keep vulnerable 18-year-olds away from frat parties was to let them drink at bars. But that would require Congress to repeal the National Mandatory Drinking Age Act.

UVA administrators should work to reduce campus rape wherever possible. But they should do that with respect to students' rights, with an eye toward alcohol realism, and in light of facts, not debunked magazine stories.