For Banning Off-Campus Fraternities & Sororities, The Muzzle Award Goes To Amherst College

To college administrators, undergraduate fraternities and sororities constitute a major annoyance. They will tell us that the reason is that these independent student organizations are a breeding ground for drinking, sexual assault, and general rowdiness. But there is another interpretation – Greek organizations dilute the control that the increasingly powerful (and over-staffed) student life administrators exercise over students’ lives.

Alpha Delta Phi House at Amherst College, circa 1908. Library of Congress

This thirst for power and control would appear to explain Amherst College’s latest assault against independent Greek organizations. Somewhat ironically, it was in 1984 that the college originally banned frats on campus, and now the administration has extended the ban to cover even off-campus Greeks. Students and alumni are crying foul, with a Delta Kappa Epsilon member saying in The Boston Globe, “It’s triggered the biggest conversation about social life at Amherst I’ve seen in my four years here.”

Amherst’s Board of Trustees issued a statement that claimed the ban was necessary in order to relieve “the condition of seeming to have some measure of responsibility without possessing any measure of authority.” It was not made clear why the administration requires such all-encompassing control over how students lawfully spend their time off-campus.

Few at Amherst apparently recognize that membership in private associations is a long-protected aspect of liberty. On public university campuses, such groups are protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of association (“the right of the people peacefully to assemble”). On most private campuses, private clubs have long been, by tradition, an aspect of independent student life immune from undue administrative interference, as long as students obey the law.

Not at Amherst. On July 1st, this particular private campus will begin to enforce the off-campus frat ban – just in time for the July 4th celebrations of liberty. Amherst appears unwilling to give its students the right to associate outside of the watchful eyes of student-life administrators. The infantilization of undergraduates continues apace, as does the shrinking of their rights to freedom of association.

For this exercise in excessive control over student life, the Amherst administration wins a campus Muzzle.