Wesleyan Pretends There’s Nothing to See Here

By on February 18, 2011

A national news organization just spoke with me about Wesleyan’s very recent policy banning students from engaging in social activities on the property of any private association that is not officially recognized by Wesleyan. Apparently, Wesleyan is saying that the policy isn’t really newthat only the enforcement with disciplinary consequences is newand that it really is only about university housing. (Perhaps this is not what Wesleyan is saying, but the journalist repeated Wesleyan’s statement to me a few times.)

If that’s what Wesleyan is saying, Wesleyan is lying. Here’s verbatim what the policy actually says:

Policy addition to take effect August, 2011:

[Wesleyan continues to recognize the right of private societies to organize and function at the University provided that they are formally recognized by the University and comply with applicable University rules and regulations.  Private societies formally recognized by Wesleyan may receive the privileges accorded to student organizations.

If a private society limits its membership to students of a single-sex, then in order to be recognized by the University it must satisfy the requirements for social fraternities and sororities established by Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. These requirements, as now in effect, exempt the membership practices of single-sex fraternal organizations from Title IX's anti-discrimination requirements provided that they are tax exempt organizations under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Private societies and their members must comply with all applicable University rules and regulations and also with all applicable local, state and federal law. The rules and regulations of Wesleyan take primacy over the rules and procedures of fraternity, sorority and other private society chapters, alumni corporations and their national organizations.

Wesleyan students are prohibited from using houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University.  This prohibition includes using such houses or property as residences, taking meals at such houses or property and participating in social activities at such houses or property.]

Please note:

1. It is a new policya policy "addition." It is not a clarification. If Wesleyan were just enforcing an existing rule, four entirely new paragraphs would not be necessary.

2. It’s not a policy just about where people live. It includes "using" the property of private associations that are not formally recognized by the university. To be clear, Wesleyan adds that this includes living, eating, and even "participating in social activities" on that taboo property.

A couple of additional notes:

1. Here’s Eugene Volokh’s view on The Volokh Conspiracy:

Pretty stunning; sounds like a return to the days when universities were seen as acting "in loco parentis" to students (who were at the time treated as underage, since the age of majority throughout the country was mostly 21). And of course the policy is remarkably broad: Eating dinner at a local Italian-American society, going to a party at a church, going to social/political events put on by political or ideological groups, and so on would all qualify. Yow.

[...]

[T]he rule still strikes me as silly, and sure to be discriminatorily enforced; Wesleyan deserves to be criticized for it.

2. Here’s the student petition being circulated at Wesleyan. You don’t have to accept FIRE’s or Volokh’s interpretation of the new policy in order to see that the students themselves, the people actually subject to the policy, see it the same way we do:

This policy is a sweeping, massive overreach that heavily infringes on the personal freedoms and responsibilities of all students. The implication of this policy is that it dismisses the agency of all students, making decisions for us on where we can and cannot freely associate.

We will keep you updated on the situation at Wesleyan.

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