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- UCF Suspends Greek Life Activities
Newsletter > March 2013 > "UCF Suspends Greek Life Activities"
UCF Suspends Greek Life Activities
Dan McCarthy, Manley Burke
In February, the University of Central Florida (“UCF”) unilaterally suspended all Greek Life social, new member education and initiation activities “in order to work with fraternity and sorority chapters on comprehensively addressing alcohol and hazing activities.” This blanket, campus-wide suspension applied to all fraternities and sororities whether or not they had violated any university rules. The action is very similar to the action recently taken at Chico State, as reported in the January issue of Fraternal Like Chico State, UCF is a public institution. With Law.
over 60,000 students, UCF is one of the largest colleges in the nation.
Since the suspension was announced, UCF has explained that the suspension was because “student leaders were becoming more and more concerned with the welfare of the community.” In a presentation by three members of the UCF administration, UCF stated that 25 out of 47 Greek chapters on campus had disciplinary issues within the past three years, a lack of peer-to-peer accountability and continuous alcohol and hazing incidents. Further, according to UCF, at a campus leadership program, the participants did not address the “issues head on.”
The suspension does not prohibit all activities. Chapters are still permitted to hold organizational business meetings and to participate in philanthropic activities. The Greek chapters are prohibited from participating in any social events, intramural sports, new member education, and new member recruitment.
UCF has created a Fraternity and Sorority Reinstatement Committee that will review each chapter and determine whether reinstatement with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life is appropriate. In order to be considered for reinstatement, each chapter must submit a detailed presentation to the Reinstatement Committee, with written answers to a host of questions as well as an oral presentation. According to UCF, the questions the chapters must respond to are based on the UCF Creed. The presentation outline includes sections on integrity, scholarship, community, creativity and excellence.
Some of the questions are concerning. For example, one questions asks, “Does your organization follow its national risk management policy? What is the most challenging aspect of adhering to the policy? Why?” There are 30 questions total on the presentation outline, some with multiple parts. Each chapter has to submit detailed answers to each question, then be ready for a 30 minute presentation, followed by a 10 minute case study, with 15 additional minutes for follow up questions by the Reinstatement Committee.
UCF’s actions here, especially following Chico State, are very concerning. The unilateral suspension of all Greek chapters, without a shred of due process, is establishing dangerous precedent. Other public institutions may see what is being done at Chico State and now UCF and take similar action. Not to mention the possibility that a private college, where students typically do not have constitutional protections, may likewise follow in UCF’s footsteps.
But the fraternity and sorority chapters, as well as their individual members, are not without constitutional protections. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived “of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” A long line of Supreme Court cases have discussed in great detail the procedural due process afforded to students in college disciplinary cases.
The leading case is Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975). In that case, the Court held in a disciplinary case involving short suspensions that an accused must be “given oral or written notice of charges against him and, if he denies them, an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and an opportunity to present his side of the story.” The Court noted that protected interests are generally created by and defined by sources “such as state statutes or rules entitling the citizen to certain benefits.”
Here, UCF, like most schools, publishes a student handbook every year. UCF’s student handbook, called the Golden Rule Student Handbook, contains detailed procedures that must be followed before students or student organizations can be disciplined. Students and groups are assured that UCF will provide a fair and impartial hearing. The procedural safeguards include, among other things, notice of the charges, notice of a hearing, and the opportunity to be heard. Rather than follow the procedures set forth in its own Golden Rule Handbook, UCF simply decreed that the above-listed Greek activities were suspended.
In addition to the due process concerns, UCF’s actions also raise serious freedom of association claims under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long protected student groups on college campuses. In Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972), the Court held that there can be “no doubt that an unjustified denial of official recognition to college organizations burdens or abridges that associational right.” Once a student group applies for college recognition, the “heavy burden” shifts to the college administration to justify its actions if the application is denied.
UCF has stated that it only acted as a last resort and as a “pro-active initiative to ensure safety and well-being of our students.” However well intentioned their goals may be, UCF cannot simply ignore the constitutional due process and associational rights that protect its students. Even if the suspension is short-lived, as maintained by UCF, it must be remembered that, “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976).
If left unchallenged the actions taken by UCF and Chico State may spread to other campuses. But before litigation, chapters, alumni leaders and national representatives should immediately and forcefully announce their concerns and objections. We will update this story as it develops.