Falling from grace

Franklin & Marshall College is my alma mater. I was a proud and notable member of the student body during my four years in school, running the school newspaper and, as an intern, producing a 200-page book on F&M student life that showcased the diverse and wonderful aspects of the college and local communities.

I was a basically happy student as I earned my Bachelor of Arts in English. I also immersed myself in extracurricular activities: the newspaper and internship mentioned above, as well as radio station DJ, keyboardist in a cover band, professional music writer and, rather significantly, member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. My experiences and growth in each deeply affected my maturation and postcollegiate paths—including, among other things, playing in a cover band with classmates in business school. Some things never change.

I graduated just about ten years ago from a school consistently in the second tier of American liberal arts colleges (that nebulous “25-to-40” group behind big guns like Johns Hopkins), one with comparatively brutal courseloads and a vibrant Greek system, an obvious foil to long nights of studying. Tired of its secondary role and work-hard-rebel-hard student body, F&M went outside its universe in selecting its current president, John Fry, who had spent several years at the University of Pennsylvania.

Upon his installation, President Fry spoke at length about improving the quality and stature of the F&M education. He talked of increasing alumni donations, particularly the percentage-of-participating-donors statistic that the college surveys cherish. He advocated re-recognizing fraternities and sororities to improve student-faculty and alumni-administration relations. The school maintained an oral commitment to excellent scholastics and students.

What I have seen in recent years seems like the opposite of this commitment. Most crucially, F&M re-recognized fraternities and promptly took action against mine. Six months after its 150th anniversary, the Phi Kappa Sigma chapter house is now alcohol-free (fine) and in danger of expulsion from the community (pretty damn far from fine). I am curious how such a strategy—regardless of the actions that caused the College’s sanctions—is going to improve relations with Phi Kap alumni.

This isn’t just about my fraternity, though. As an emeritus editor in chief of the newspaper, I receive The College Reporter in the mail weekly, and its quality is atrocious. The paper has gone from 16 pages in an average week to 8, and there is little semblance to journalism in any given issue. The paper has gotten visually sloppy and the writing is worse than what I would expect from a good suburban high school. If the paper reflects the caliber of the current F&M student, I am unimpressed.

Campus life doesn’t seem to be what I remember, either, and not in a “those were the days” kind of way. The College Center has lost its focal point as a campus center; student mailboxes have moved and the dining option there greatly altered. Weis Hall, once the nicest dorm on campus, endured issues regarding mold that led to disenchantment and calls for room-and-board refunds (and, if memory serves, some temporary evacuations). Most recently I learned that the traditional outdoor barbecue during F&M’s festive Spring Arts Weekend was canceled—the current dining services contractor would neither honor meal plan credits for a main cookout nor waive its “exclusive catering rights” to allow student organizations to hold their own.

In addition, the College has proven fairly inept at alumni communications. I regularly receive emails sent to “David 38221,” belying the concept that I attended a small, people-first institution. The first reunion email I received welcomed me to my fifth anniversary homecoming instead of the tenth. And alumni staff have inexplicably taken to calling me “Dave,” which while not offensive is more than a little confusing.

This is not the school I remember attending.

I write this piece out of disappointment, not anger. I was a proud F&M alumnus when I graduated, and I used to state my alma mater with pride, not caring that nearly half the people I met hadn’t heard of it. Now, however, I no longer feel that pride. I don’t like mentioning Franklin & Marshall, I don’t enjoy reading the student newspaper, I find the alumni magazine impertinent, and I have no inclination whatsoever to donate my time or money to the school. My current feelings are a long way to fall for someone who had to accept going in that his school was tough on students and relatively unknown—barriers I proudly overcame but no longer appreciate.

I will be at my ten-year reunion this fall, to see the campus, rediscover old friends, and introduce my wife to the happiness I found there. But I won’t be giving to the fundraising drive or going to any events. F&M has lost me for now. I truly hope they can win me back.