New Policy at Wesleyan University Makes a Mockery of Freedom of Association

By on February 16, 2011

Today, FIRE sent a letter to Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth, along with several senior faculty members and administrators at Wesleyan, after the college imposed a breathtakingly broad policy (to take effect in August 2011) restricting students’ freedom of association rights.

Here is the campus-wide e-mail sent by Vice President for Student Affairs Michael J. Whaley on or around February 14:

Dear Students:

I write to notify you of a revision to Wesleyan’s residency requirement designed to clarify the University’s rules concerning off-campus housing. In brief: beginning Fall 2011, Wesleyan students will be prohibited from residing in – or using for social activities – houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University. You can find the revised policy online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/studenthandbook/residency.html

Students found to be in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary measures by the University, including suspension.

President Roth asked for this policy revision to address the problematic issue of having residential organizations that appear to function as Wesleyan entities yet have no Wesleyan oversight. DKE, Psi U, and Alpha Delt are recognized as part of program housing and are thus not affected by this change. This revised policy would, however, have major consequences for Beta which has chosen to not participate in program housing and is therefore not recognized by the University.

We are continuing our discussions with the members of Beta and their alumni about joining program housing, and remain hopeful that they will choose to do so. Such a choice would result in University recognition and avoid the scenario of students being prohibited from residing in Beta or using it for social activities.

This revised policy won’t affect the great majority of you as you consider your housing options for the 2011-2012 academic year, but President Roth and I agreed that it was important to call your attention to the revision – and its potential ramifications.

Sincerely,

Dean Mike Whaley

Vice President for Student Affairs

[Emphases added.]

Note that Whaley’s letter to the campus clearly states that this new policy will disproportionately affect the members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, which is not recognized by Wesleyan.

Indeed, the new policy is entirely aimed at forcing Beta’s hand. As reported by The Wesleyan Argus, Whaley states that "[w]hat we’re doing is we’re setting up Beta to make an intentional decision." Specifically, the choice facing Beta would be: Become a recognized program house, or have your members face suspension from Wesleyan.

Remarkably, Whaley’s new policy goes far beyond this stated goal, with profound consequences for the entire campus of roughly 2,900 students. Whaley closes his statement by telling the campus that it was "important" to notify students of the "potential ramifications" of the rule change. Here are some of those "ramifications," as we wrote in our letter to President Roth:

The new policy in fact prevents social interactions on the property of all private entities that are not officially recognized by Wesleyan. This includes a vast amount of off-campus property including houses of worship, the Middletown Elks Lodge, the Italian Society of Middletown, and a wide variety of private societies throughout Connecticut.

Not only that, the new policy violates Wesleyan’s "Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedoms of Students," which has been in effect since 1969 and promises not to "inhibit" the "exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus."

How Wesleyan arrived at this trainwreck of a solution to whatever problem it has with Beta is a mystery. In our letter, FIRE urged Wesleyan to revoke this unjust and nonsensical policy, and we’ve asked President Roth to respond by March 9. Hopefully, however, Wesleyan will come to its senses much sooner than that. We will keep Torch readers posted.

You can join the fight for freedom of association at Wesleyan by writing to President Roth here.

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