Belmont Phi Kappa Tau, Alpha Tau Omega chapter presidents release social media petition
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Belmont Phi Kappa Tau, Alpha Tau Omega chapter presidents release social media petition

Phi Kappa Tau President Austin Coleman and Alpha Tau Omega President Patrick Williamson released aletter and petition Thursday, challenging a Belmont University policy requiring both organizations to accept 100 percent of students who attend recruitment, meet academic standards and are not in violation of the Community Code of Conduct.

Both fraternities feel the policy would allow men who do not live up to the fraternities’ standards of character to be welcomed in.

“With this policy, the administration is forcing fraternities to choose between selecting men of character and our fraternal existence at Belmont,” the letter stated. “This is our home, but we believe that we should contribute to it by being organizations aligned with our Creeds, that practice what we espouse.”

Criticism of the policy, which has been a longstanding university practice, is nothing new.

In January,Phi Tau was forced to cancel spring recruitment after refusing to accept the policy.

In December, Phi Tau member Kirk Bado published a similarly policy-critical blog post, titled“Why unilateral action at Belmont is dangerous.”

However, Thursday’s petition comes less than a week before Phi Tau and ATO leaders have to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, a list of policies Belmont requires both fraternities to agree to in order to be recognized on campus.

The acceptance policy is included on the memorandum, which Phi Tau’s national leadership has instructed campus leaders not to sign, Phi Tau CEO Tim Hudson said.

“It does not allow members to deny a bid even to students who exhibit destructive or abusive behavior, and therefore is out of line with Phi Kappa Tau’s statutes and national collegiate norms,” he said.

This places Phi Tau leaders in a difficult spot. If they do not sign the document, they risk losing university recognition. If they sign, they risk losing national recognition.

Hudson felt Belmont’s administration has refused to hold “constructive dialogue with student leaders regarding their intent for this policy,” a position with which Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said he strongly disagrees.

Coleman and Williamson spoke many times with Assistant Director of Student Engagement and Leadership Development Sarah Rigsby and Associate Dean of Students Dr. Jeffery Burgin, but have not reached out to Burns himself for a meeting, Burns said.

“In addition, we have been engaged in conversations with the national organizations that sponsor the local chapters, as well as representatives of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, Inc.,” Burns said. “To suggest that the university hasn’t provided ample opportunity to engage in conversation is simply disingenuous.”

After being unable to meet with Belmont University President Bob Fisher, Coleman and Williamson hope their joint petition and letter will get their case heard by the Board of Trustees, Coleman said.

Burns specified Fisher makes himself available to meet with almost any student on any issue, but did not agree to meet with national representatives of the fraternities.

“They need to meet with Dr. Burgin and I before they would meet with the president,” Burns said. “The national officers did not want to follow the appropriate chain of command and, as such, have resorted to a social media campaign rather than engaging appropriately with the university leadership.”

This approach to the issue is one-sided, Burns said.

“I also want to be clear that this isn’t a ‘unilateral’ decision but a longstanding university practice meant to protect students from discriminatory behaviors – something that you would think that the fraternities, and those that signed the petitions, would agree with,” Burns said.

Coleman thinks the decision extends beyond fraternity policy and into the realm of student rights.

“Please know, we respect the university administration, yet we question how decisions that limit basic student rights can be made by a few without the input of many students and stakeholders,” Coleman said. “We’re not just fighting for fraternities, we’re fighting for the rights of student’s voices to be heard.”

Burns disagrees — the 100 percent acceptance policy doesn’t infringe on student rights and doesn’t guarantee permanent membership once accepted into a fraternity, he said.

“We have not suggested that students who are not meeting university standards and expectations would be able to continue as members, nor are we acting in a way that infringes on anything that I can see that could remotely be considered a ‘student right,’ unless that ‘right’ is the right to discriminate,” Burns wrote in an email.

This article was written by Jessica King, Zach Gilchriest, Melissa Kriz and Rebecca Arnold.

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