USC’s limits on Greek life recruiting provoke rush to court

Lawyers claim new rule that halts signing up fall freshman is unconstitutional

Update Nov. 5: Today,  Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Nieto dismissed the lawsuit. To claim a private institution like USC violated a First Amendment right, the plaintiffs must prove there was a punishment based only on communication. (Ed. Code 94367(a))

The court's reasoning for denying the motion is that the five USC Greek life organizations failed to show that the university's recruitment policy is a disciplinary sanction against any students or organizations.

Both USC and the plaintiff's attorney didn't provide further comments to Annenberg Media. According to the City News Service, attorney Alexander Pilmer, for the plaintiffs, said he will appeal.

Five USC Greek life organizations sued USC last week, claiming the university's new policy that bans recruiting new students until they've finished a semester violates the First Amendment.

The four USC fraternities-Sigma Chi, Beta Theta Pi, Theta Xi, and Tau Kappa Epsilon- and one sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on June 22.

Starting this fall, new USC students must complete 12 units of classes before rushing a fraternity or a sorority. The new rule effectively keeps incoming freshman from rushing until the spring semester. Students also need a GPA of 2.5 or higher. In a memo announcing the new policy to the USC community in September 2017, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry said the first year of enrollment is "the toughest year of the transition to college life as students experience the most social and academic challenges." Carry said like other universities, USC wants to give new students "time to acclimate to the university's academic and social climate before participating in Greek-letter organizations."

The lawsuit, filed by Kirkland & Ellis law firm, dismisses USC's claim that new students need "one semester to acclimate to USC academics and social life." "Students in sororities and fraternities perform just as well academically, if not better, than the student body population in general," the lawsuit states with a copy of Fall 2017 Greek Life Community Academic Report attached.

The lawsuit argues that the new policy is "illogical" and violates students' freedom of association. "If an organization were to be denied the ability to exercise its constitutional rights if the average GPA of their members was below that of the population at large, then only half of the student body could exercise their Constitutional rights," it says.

Carry, in an email on Tuesday, said he had not seen the lawsuit and would have no comment at this time.

The lawsuit also claims USC's new policy discriminates against students interested in Greek life organizations. "USC proposes no restrictions on incoming students from joining any other organization," it says.

The plaintiffs argue fraternities and sororities offer support systems for new students, who should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to join the organizations

"While incoming students do undergo a transition during their first year, and many students express feelings of loneliness and isolation during this transition from high school, it makes no sense to deny them one potential outlet and support system for acclimating to this new environment," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit demands that the university retract the new policy and  "allow incoming first-year students to join a sorority or fraternity if they choose during their semester." It also seeks a finding that USC's new policy on Greek organizations' recruitment violates students' First Amendment rights. The lawsuit also asks the court to order the university to pay attorneys' fees and cost of this lawsuit.

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This story will be updated.