DSU caught in whirlwind of free speech debate

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In addition to bringing national attention to administration at Dixie State University, Phi Beta Pi is continuing to stir the pot. 

In an article written by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, DSU is among the 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2013. DSU is described as an institution that bans Greek letters from the campus completely. The article also states that since Phi Beta Pi cannot operate as a sanctioned sorority at DSU, it is forced to operate as an unofficial student club. 

Dean of Students Del Beatty said it’s not about the Greek letters.

“Of course we allow Greek letters,” Beatty said. “Sigma Tau Delta (International English Honor Society) has Greek letters. Phi Beta Lambda (Professional Business Leaders) has Greek letters. They’re making the argument because I feel like they are grasping at straws to keep [the controversy] alive.”

According to the article, administration has “ridiculous defenses of its unconstitutional denial of student group recognition to the Phi Beta Pi Society, a local campus sorority.”

Beatty said approving Phi Beta Pi’s most recent request to simply charter as a club rather than a sorority is difficult because while it is attempting to charter as a club, Phi Beta Pi advertises that it is a sorority online, on T-shirts and through other outlets off campus.

“We have proof of it,” Beatty said. “Now, it puts us in a hard spot. When they’re not on campus, they say they’re a sorority.”

Administrators are reluctant to approve the request for a club charter because they don’t want to advertise the possibility of Greek life to prospective students, Beatty said. They have explained that the university and the community are not ready for Greek life at this time, and the party stereotype has a lot to do with it.

Communication professor Randal Chase said it’s the community’s values that determine what’s broadcast on campus and what’s prohibited. The issue of free speech on campus is bound because the university attempts to reflect the values of the community, which are not welcoming of new ideas, lifestyles and behaviors, Chase said.

“I taught at the University of Utah — you want to talk about a party school?” Chase said. “This is not a party school by any stretch of the imagination, but yet there is a paranoia about it.”

Paranoia against the party image stems from deep-rooted historical contexts, Chase said. The hierarchy of DSU places an importance on keeping things under control and silencing outsiders. Chase also said there are a handful of families in the community that have political power, and members of administration are anxious not to displease them.

Chase said when he first got hired in the communication department, he came from another town and was viewed as an outsider. Others didn’t welcome him with open arms.

“I have experienced it, and I believe students have experienced it,” Chase said. “I think over time the college will outgrow that. It’s inevitable that when it gets bigger and when more students come in from the outside, they are going to have to adjust.”

Eric Young, assistant professor of communication, said DSU goes against the parameters of the constitution because it is not open to the concept of free speech.

“I understand the institution’s wishes to remain free from the auspices of having a fraternity or sorority on campus,” Young said. “However, just by the nature of their policy, it still interdicts what free speech is all about.”

Chase said since there was no attempt to find out if the student body wanted the sorority, there was also no attempt to explore the constitutionality of that choice. 

Young also stated that the decision to not allow the sorority stems from the administration’s assumption that the sorority will affirm the party stereotype. 

“I think it’s too bad,” Young said. “This institution does not give its students the benefit of the doubt.”

Beatty said while current members of administration have ruled that the sorority would be more detrimental to the university rather than beneficial at this time, it’s likely to be subject to change in the future with different members of administration.