FIRE Still Waiting on Wesleyan to Do Right on Student Rights

By March 10, 2011

As Robert wrote here a couple of weeks ago, Wesleyan University has started to back down from its earlier intention to institute a new policy (effective this fall) thatin an effort to force the Beta Theta Pi fraternity to seek official recognition from Wesleyanwould have prohibited students from engaging in any social activities on the property of any unrecognized off-campus organization.

After a groundswell of student protest and a swarm of national media, spearheaded by FIRE’s efforts, Wesleyan President Michael Roth promised to reconsider the policy and admitted its overbreadth. As he wrote in his official university blog on February 24:

I made two mistakes in this. First, the language (as many students have pointed out) is just too broad. Many students appear to see this as a threat to their freedom, and I want to be sensitive to that. The university has no interest in regulating the social lives of our students when they are away from campus, and the language we used suggests otherwise. We will change the language. My second mistake was not consulting enough with students …

And since then … well, nothing. The March 9 deadline by which FIRE asked for a response to our letter has now come and gone. While we have hope, from what we’ve read in the press, that Wesleyan is making a good-faith effort to bring the policy back to Earth, both FIRE and the Wesleyan community have yet to see the fruits of the past couple of weeks of deliberations. The Wesleyan Argus did report recently that Beta is now considering rejoining the campus as a recognized fraternity, which would seem to preempt much of the rationale for the tough talk behind Wesleyan’s policy change. The same article also suggests Roth is working more closely with the students this time around:

Roth said that he appreciated the student activism forraising the issue of the broad language in the policy, and that the administration would work to reword the policy and then present it to student committees. "The language was too general, and we learned that thanks to the student feedback," Roth said. "We’ll figure out how to say make the policy more narrow. I wish I could say that this was some smart plan, but as I said in my blog post, I made a mistake."

This is a start, but so far it is not good enough for the Wesleyan Student Assembly, which passed a resolution (in a meeting held at Beta House). The resolution, in the words of one WSA senior officer, notes that "our rights are still being restricted" and calls for a complete repeal of the policy.

We will, of course, keep Torch readers updated. 

Schools: Wesleyan University Cases: Wesleyan University: Violation of Freedom of Association