Wesleyan University Banning Students from “Participating in Social Activities” Off-Campus on Property “Operated by Private Societies That Are Not Recognized by the University”

Here’s the “[p]olicy addition to take effect August, 2011”, which was specially referenced in a campus-wide e-mail sent by the administration:

Wesleyan students are prohibited from using houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University. This prohibition includes using such houses or property as residences, taking meals at such houses or property and participating in social activities at such houses or property.

Pretty stunning; sounds like a return to the days when universities were seen as acting “in loco parentis” to students (who were at the time treated as underage, since the age of majority throughout the country was mostly 21). And of course the policy is remarkably broad: Eating dinner at a local Italian-American society, going to a party at a church, going to social/political events put on by political or ideological groups, and so on would all qualify. Yow.

The rule seems to be motivated by criminal activities at a local fraternity: underage drinking, and a reported rape. But the customary, and in my view essentially adequate, way of dealing with the risk of off-campus crime is criminal punishment for the crime, plus possibly school discipline for the accused criminals. (The discipline might even apply to people before they are convicted, or even if they aren’t convicted: A school need not feel bound, for instance, by the criminal law requirements of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and may conclude that the fact that there’s a 75% chance that a student is a rapist is reason to expel him even if it isn’t enough to imprison him.) A preventative rule of such breadth and intrusiveness is going way too far in trying to deal with the danger of crime, however real.

Wesleyan is a private university, and is not legally barred from imposing such rules; nor does this rule seem like it undermines academic freedom principles that should bind the university as a matter of professional ethics. But the rule still strikes me as silly, and sure to be discriminatorily enforced; Wesleyan deserves to be criticized for it.

Thanks to FIRE for publicizing this.