Blaming Frats For Covid-19 On Campus. Unfair?

Sep 1, 2020

Party culture and its role in spreading COVID-19 on college campuses has brought up new critiques for university Greek life.
Credit Melissa O'Donohue / Flickr / CC

“Colleges may want to blame student partying for not allowing them to reopen successfully, but they have forfeited the moral authority to do so,” writes former Tar Heel Chancellor Holden Thorp in “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” Alternately decrying and advertising the party scene during his time in university leadership, Thorp confesses that fraternities and sororities play a key role in school finances. 

For many prospective students and nostalgic donors, academics fall second to the undergraduate social scene. Those dollars from student tuition and alumni donations are increasingly important with public funding for higher education increasingly limited by the North Carolina legislature. Host Frank Stasio talks with Thorp about the partying paradox and asks Praveena Somasundaram, assistant online editor of The Daily Tar Heel, how different North Carolina universities have exercised authority over unruly Greek chapters during the pandemic. Yet fraternities often resist punitive measures by wielding their economic and political influence.

Journalist John Hechinger shows how the University of North Carolina at Wilmington bowed to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, paving the way for laws favoring fraternity defendants. Hechinger wrote “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge Of America’s Fraternities” (PublicAffairs/ 2017) and is a senior editor at Bloomberg News. Thorp served as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2008 to 2013. He is currently the editor in chief of Science Magazine and a professor of medicine and chemistry at Washington University in Saint Louis.