For months, Dixie State University administrators have repeatedly told student Indigo Klabanoff that her student group, Phi Beta Pi, could not be officially recognized by the school because its name includes Greek letters. Since FIRE issued a press release about the situation last week, Dixie State administrators have been scrambling to justify their actions—one making impossible demands of Phi Beta Pi and the other backpedaling with respect to what exactly Phi Beta Pi needs to do to be recognized.
Dean of Students Del Beatty has said publicly that members of Phi Beta Pi should simply go to a school with Greek life instead of Dixie State. There are two problems with this request. First, until July 2013, Dixie State had no written policy forbidding the use of Greek letters in club names. That policy was created specifically in response to Klabanoff’s request for recognition, as Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Jordon Sharp plainly stated in an email to Klabanoff. But apparently, upon receiving this news, Klabanoff and 18 other women were supposed to transfer to a different college a month before the school year started—senior year, in Klabanoff’s case.
Second, because the dispute is over only the name of the club and not the creation of a full Greek system on campus, Dixie State’s treatment of Phi Beta Pi constitutes a restriction of constitutionally protected expression. A public university administrator may not simply tell students to go somewhere else if they wish to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Also, as a side note, it’s pretty revealing that Beatty’s answer to the problem is to tell a group of intelligent, passionate, and responsible female students that they can simply leave the school if they don’t like the situation. The fact that the dean of students would prefer to tell these women to get lost rather than let them use three Greek letters in the name of their club should worry all present and future Dixie State students, not to mention the Utah taxpayers who are helping pay Beatty’s salary.
That said, there seems to be some disagreement among administrators over whether Phi Beta Pi should even abandon the use of Greek letters. Last Thursday, Dean Beatty said that the group would be recognized if it would “simply change [its] name and charter under non-Greek letters.” Yet on that same day, fellow administrator Jordon Sharp, in an email to a student who expressed her concern about Dixie State’s refusal to recognize Phi Beta Pi, suggested that Phi Beta Pi could be recognized if it simply chosedifferent Greek letters:
We understand you[r] concerns and welcome your feedback. Unfortunately however, the media does not always cover all the facts surrounding an issue. This has nothing to do with women's rights to meet and associate; the Greek letters these girls have chosen are actually that of a current male fraternity. We are not opposed to any letters but we do not have sororities and fraternities and don't want to get into lawsuits with organizations because we are pretending we do but not paying the dues and fees associated with these organizations. We would love these girls to create a club under a name that is not going to cause confusion and to realize whatever great plans they have in mind. Hope that helps but pleas[e] know within a school there are many small factors that need to be considered that aren't always known but we hope we can work things out in the best possible way moving forward. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, this is not at all what Sharp said in an email to Klabanoff on October 21, after she asked why her application for recognition was still being denied:
Hope all is well. The request was denied because since the last time this club was presented to the council the Club bylaws have not changed, nor has the position of the university president and dean of students concerning fraternities, sororities, and by extension Greek Letters. I understand you have been recruiting and have a great bunch of girls for your club and I honestly don’t want you to miss out on the benefits that come from being a club at DSU. If you would like to charter a club within the club and institution parameters we would love to get things going. Thanks Indigo and take care. [Emphasis added.]
It’s not clear how the women of Phi Beta Pi are supposed to figure out what’s required of them if Dixie State administrators can’t even agree on it.
Image: Dixie State Phi Beta Pi group on “Pledge Night”