One of our many campus sources, operating under the purple blanket of anonymity, sent in a copy of the Schapiro/Roseman letter.

January 26, 2004

Dear Students,

We write to clarify issues raised by a letter from College Council, distributed to all students, regarding allegations of fraternity activity among current students. Here’s what we know. Almost all of it has been reported in recent articles in the Record that we encouraged the newspaper to research and publish.

In recent months we received vague reports of fraternity activity involving current students. They included no names. The number reported to be involved was small, perhaps 25. One of those reports came from a current student. Another came from a small group of alumni who had been involved with St. Anthony Hall fraternity while students and who asked the College to grant them possession of the former goat room in what is now the Center for Development Economics. We refused that request. The group said that its activities involving current students were educational and that the College could be proud of them. We said that, if it were true that the group had nothing to hide, it should come forward and become a regular College group. We added that, for a time, there would be no consequence for the group coming forward to become a College entity. So far it has not done
so.

Some students have suggested that the College hire a private detective to investigate possible fraternity activity among students, others that we consider all 2,000 of you suspects and investigate you all. Neither is consistent with the College’s culture.

Williams has long placed great value on its ban against secret, exclusive societies supported by outside funding. The original decision was
embraced at all levels of the governance structure, including the Board of Trustees, which has subsequently twice re-affirmed that decision. It still stands. The authority for how that decision, like all others, is carried out on campus lies wholly with the administration. No Board member has tried to influence how this issue has been handled, nor has any alumnus outside that small group.

If the Dean’s Office had reason to believe that any individual student was participating in a fraternity, we would certainly investigate, and, if the allegation proved true, that student would be subject to serious disciplinary action. We would be happy to know the name of any such student. Without any, we will not engage in some wild goose chase.

In the end, the most effective deterrent to student involvement with a fraternity is the public opprobrium of fellow students. The Record articles and editorials have rightly raised that. If other student organizations were to publicly reinforce the message that fraternity involvement is outside our community’s standards, so much the better. That certainly is the deeply held conviction of this administration.

Sincerely,

Morton Owen Schapiro and Nancy A. Roseman
President Dean of the College

Comments:

1) Say what you will about the contents of this letter, it is marvelously well-written. Note the use of strong short sentences. Note the lack of passive voice.

2) Note the claim that “We would be happy to know the name of any such student.” I guess that this is a good first step. But this is different, presumably for a reason, from saying, “We implore members of the community with knowledge of these on-going violations to report them to us immediately. Indeed, it is the duty of every student to do so.”

3) The next step for those in the anti-St. Anthony Hall camp is, obviously, to come up with a list of members. How hard can this be? Perhaps a full listing of the entire membership is hard to come by, but certainly a handful of names could be produced. Over to you, Aidan.

4) I am not sure if I like the “wild goose chase” lingo. I wonder if this is Schapiro or Roseman writing. The College has a policy on fraternities. It is the job of the Dean’s Office to implement that policy. You can change the policy (perhaps it is unworkable, perhaps times have changed). You can change the office that implements it. But it seems a bit hypocritical to describe efforts to implement the policy as a “wild goose chase.” Does St. Anthony Hall have to hold a poetry reading on Chapin Beach before the College does anything? At the very least, I worry that the College isn’t trying too hard.

5) This is not the sort of letter that Peter Murphy and Frank Oakley sent out when they crushed the incipient fraternization of some athletic teams in the mid 1990’s. I can’t recall the details (and it might not have been Murphy and/or Oakley), but there certainly was a time when the Dean’s Office came down like the proverbial ton of bricks on students who thought that secret initiation ceremonies were a good way to enhance the Williams experience. Are there any readers out there who remember those events better than I?

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