In February 2020, the University of Northern Colorado suspended most activities for Greek organizations in response to what school officials described as “serious and systemwide allegations” of misconduct against members of UNC fraternities and sororities.
University spokesman Nate Haas described the allegations to Colorado Public Radio as including “things like sexual harassment, misconduct, illegal drug use and distribution, underage drinking and coercive behavior.” Haas said that the university felt the incidents “were not isolated” and therefore required a near-total moratorium on Greek activity to ward off the “prospect of more serious consequences or student code of conduct violations.”
The moratorium included a temporary ban on all recruiting events, intramural sports, most alumni events, socials, and other parties, and tailgating.
Almost immediately after the announcement of the moratorium, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a statement calling on the public university to revoke the policy, which it claimed was unconstitutionally broad.
“We appreciate that UNC has an interest in protecting student safety. However, that interest does not grant [the university] the authority to take any and every action, and university actions intended to advance that specific interest must be consistent with UNC’s obligations as a state institution bound by the United States Constitution,” a FIRE officer wrote in a February letter to university president Andrew Feinstein.
The letter alleged that the blanket suspension of Greek activities “exceeded” the university’s lawful authority, noting that the school’s ban covered a “virtually unlimited scope of student activity bearing no reasonable relationship to maintaining a safe educational community.”
UNC, which allowed Greek activities to resume after fraternity and sorority chapters submitted a “health and safety plan” to administrators, appears to have lost the favor of some of its Greek-involved students.
According to RealClearEducation’s Survey of Greek-Letter Organizations, 40 percent of Greek-involved UNC students surveyed said that the university imposes “special regulations” or restrictions on single-sex organizations that it does not impose on other student organizations. Fifty-six percent of students did not feel the administration treated all student groups equally. Eighty-four percent said that entire student groups are “sometimes” or “very often” punished, suspended, or banned when one member of the group is accused of misconduct. While the relatively small sample size drawn from UNC gives reason for caution, FIRE program director Zach Greenberg finds the results consistent with his experience with colleges and universities across the country.
“The survey results reflect the reality that many universities treat fraternities and sororities as second-class student groups, such as by punishing them without due process and holding them responsible for misconduct they did not commit. Far too often, universities punish entire Greek Life systems over the misdeeds of a single student or group,” Greenberg said.
One Greek-involved UNC student who wanted to remain anonymous defended the administration’s Greek-activity moratorium but was disgruntled with university administrators more broadly.
“While I do think my university’s actions regarding Greek life last year were completely justified, I hold personal strong disagreements with some of the UNC administration’s other recent activity and have no interest in publicly defending them on anything,” the student told RealClearEducation.
Greenberg told RealClearEducation that administrators’ failure to treat student groups equally tends in the long run to undermine the relationship between students and their university.
“If the goal is to build trust between student conduct administrators and Greek organizations, universities must ensure that these groups are afforded their rights under the Constitution and university policies promising free speech and due process,” he said.
The University of Northern Colorado acknowledged RealClearEducation’s request for comment but did not respond in time for publication.