Another One Bites the Dust: Greek Life at W&L in Crisis?
Letter from the Editor “President Ruscio’s letter was irresponsible and unbecoming of a man who preaches about ‘moral authority.’ While maybe unintentional, the letter was crafted in a defaming manner. Ruscio’s words were a betrayal of the duty of fairness that he, as the University’s president, owes to every student enrolled at Washington and Lee. Ruscio showed a revealing willingness to throw over 90 of his students to the wolves in order to avoid bad publicity and to ‘send a message.’ Not only was his unilateral decision overbearing and made under false pretext, it destroyed any remaining illusion that the student body can make decisions contrary to the will of school administrators. Unfortunately, these actions have reinforced my growing cynicism about the administration. I fell in love with the University four years ago in part because I thought the University encouraged doing what is right regardless of expediency. I guess I was naive to believe the administration would practice what it preaches and demands of its students.”
On Monday, March 16th, Andrew Clements, a member of the now-suspended Virginia Beta chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, delivered these remarks, and others, to the Executive Committee of the Student Body. As a member of the EC, as the Editor of The Spectator, but most importantly, as a member of the student body, I found myself growing increasingly disturbed by what I heard at that meeting. Members of Phi Psi, including freshmen pledges, recounted how Public Safety, as part of its supposed fact-finding process for the IFC, pointed live stun guns at these freshmen while they interviewed them, asking them if they were "scared" of the stun gun. Ironic considering this "culture of intimidation" was one of the very things Phi Psi was suspended for. Even more disturbing was the assertion that Public Safety threatened the freshmen they interviewed with Honor Violations in order to compel them to talk.
The Honor System is not a sword. It is not meant to be coercive; it is meant to be freeing. When we enter into Washington and Lee, we hear about how everyone is civil and respectful of one another, about how we do not have to worry about locking our doors or leaving our belongings unattended in public places, about how we can take our exams on our own time in the comfort of our own room. In short, we hear about how this community is one of trust. So we are told.
Did Phi Psi screw up? Absolutely. Did they deserve to be suspended? Absolutely. Was a suspension of three years warranted? Perhaps. Does the President of the University have the vested authority to unilaterally overrule student government? Absolutely not.
It should be noted that under the current student handbook, there is a process for the University to appeal an IFC decision it does not agree with. A "University Official," usually the head of Public Safety, can submit an appeal to the University Board of Appeals detailing why the University wishes to change the decision or punishment. If the administration had so desired, they could have appealed for a longer suspension this way, and based on the UBA's track record, they likely would have won. For reasons unknown, President Ruscio felt the need to skirt due process here. This sets a dangerous precedent. If a member of the University administration can unilaterally change any decision he does not agree with, what is to stop him from overstepping the SJC, Panhellenic, or even the EC in the future? What is to stop him from undermining our system of student self-governance instituted by Robert E. Lee?
I do not support Phi Psi's actions. What I do support is due process, from investigation to hearing to appeal. If the IFC has no real authority, then the University should change its policy to reflect that. If the SJC has no real authority, then the University should change its policy to reflect that. If the EC has no real authority, then the University should change its policy to reflect that. But please President Ruscio, let's not play your game of "student autonomy, but only when I agree with it."