First-semester students at the University of Maryland can play for the Terrapins athletic teams, work full-time jobs, and lead any of the hundreds of UMD student groups — but they can’t join fraternities and sororities. This “deferred recruitment” policy, which prevents UMD students who have earned less than 12 credit hours from joining Greek life organizations, serves no purpose but to violate students’ First Amendment rights. It must be repealed.
Even the most draconian campus policies usually come with an explanation — albeit sometimes flimsy — for why they exist. But not this one. UMD fails to provide any reason why fraternities and sororities must exclude thousands of first-semester students from membership in their organizations — and threatens the groups with derecognition if they don’t comply.
As a public university, UMD is legally bound to protect students’ First Amendment freedom of association — a right which “has, for centuries, been at the heart of the American system of government and individual rights,” and protects the freedom “to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends.”
While UMD stands out as one the few institutions in the country whose policies regulating student expression earn a “green light” rating from FIRE, its deferred recruitment policy burdens the freedom of association. Under the First Amendment, burdens on this fundamental right are justified only when narrowly tailored to support an important government interest.
Given that UMD fails to provide a rationale for its policy, it is unclear whether the policy serves any interest — let alone one compelling enough to justify limits on students’ constitutional rights. Assuming the policy is intended to afford new students an opportunity to adjust to the academic demands of the university before rushing a sorority or fraternity, the wide array of other activities already open to these students renders the policy hopelessly untethered to furthering this goal.
First, the policy ignores a host of activities open to first-semester students that are far more time-consuming than joining fraternities or sororities. As FIRE states in our letter sent to UMD today:
While barred from Greek life, new students may maintain rigorous schedules as Division I student-athletes, part-time or full-time employees for UMD or outside entities, or leaders of the more than 800 other social, political, and academic groups at UMD—regardless of the required time commitment. UMD affords first-semester students the First Amendment freedom to associate with these various groups, yet bans them from making the oftentimes smaller commitment of joining a Greek organization.
Burdens on students’ First Amendment rights cannot be implemented in such an arbitrary manner.
Second, the policy restricts the rights of an entire class of students regardless of each individual’s unique capacity to excel academically and join Greek life. The 12-credit-hour requirement fails to take into account a student’s age, maturity level, course load, employment status, relevant experience associating with similar organizations, or any of the many other factors affecting the student’s capacity to successfully manage their time. It also disregards the varying level of commitment required by the more-than-50 different fraternity and sorority chapters at UMD. Rather, the blanket ban is not narrowly tailored, preventing all first-semester students from joining all Greek organizations, with no exceptions for any individual student or group.
FIRE calls on UMD to allow all students to associate with the full array of campus group.
UMD is not without recourse when it comes to helping first-semester students acclimate to college. The university can, for example, provide resources such as academic advising, guidance counseling, or educational seminars to every student struggling to balance academics with their other obligations without needlessly violating their rights with this blanket ban.
FIRE calls on UMD to allow all students to associate with the full array of campus groups — and afford them the full extent of their First Amendment rights — by rescinding its ban on first-semester students joining Greek organizations.
FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).
We're joined by First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza and British journalist Brendan O'Neill to discuss the state of free speech in the United States and Europe. Randazza is a First Amendment attorney and the managing partner at Randazza...