Greek life at Hopkins, already reeling from the fall semester's bad publicity, may soon take another blow. Residents of the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood just north of the University, and allies like City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, are attempting to force the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi (commonly known as Phi Psi) from their home of more than 30 years on the basis of a zoning technicality.
While we are not able to comment on the legal circumstances, there is little question that the eviction is an unethical, discriminatory and gutless act that reeks of the most repugnant political opportunism.
Most pressing is the issue of property rights. Phi Psi owns the property at 3906 Canterbury. Of that there is no question and, given that the house is in fine condition, one would hope that the matter would rest there. Yet the city has decided that it is within its rights to deny the Phi Psi brothers access to their property -- property that the brothers have committed to renovating and beautifying.
Why is this so? Why has the City of Baltimore concluded that private property is no longer relevant within its domain? Well, of course, it has not -- except in this case. Enter discrimination. Phi Psi's neighbors have decided that students are simply the wrong kind of people for their street. Not in my backyard, they cry. Bring down the hammer of government to evict the undesirables.
But we ought not get carried away. The neighbors have some legitimate grievances. Urinating on the lawn, for example, is really a very bad idea. But none of their complaints constitute reasonable grounds for eviction in a society that values liberty and private ownership. The noise can be turned down and loitering on private property is no concern of the community's, only the homeowner's. But, rather than discussing their concerns with the brothers in the hope of attaining harmony, the neighbors have sought officialdom to do their dirty work.
Sadly, as often occurs in the arena of local government, politicians are only too ready to take advantage of an opportunity to curry favor at the expense of fairness and reason. That Clarke is championing the anti-Phi Psi cause should come as little surprise. In support of her particularly noxious brand of populism, Clarke has showered her disdain upon the Hopkins student body with the regularity of a finely made timepiece. Our local councilwoman is so opposed to the promotion of student social life, so spiteful of the trappings of the collegiate experience that we cannot help but wonder what we have done to offend her so.
What is unexpected is that Rawlings-Blake has descended from Baltimore St. to back the anti-property-rights crowd. Apparently, it is more important to the Council President to badger students than to concentrate on the city's disastrous education and crime situation. The city's poor continue to suffer while she shakes hands with the wealthy residents of Canterbury in the hope of lining her campaign treasury. Typical, and typically grotesque.
But beware, Baltimoreans: Rawlings-Blake will not be satisfied by the ouster of the Phi Psi brothers. She is using this situation to promote a pet issue -- noise reduction. She wants to expand the city's public nuisance law to incorporate loud noises. If she has her way, two loud parties in a two-year period will carry the same weight as drug offenses when it comes to eviction. Clearly Rawlings-Blake has the best interests of the city at heart. All we need is another excuse to throw residents out of their homes. Perhaps we can generate a few more ghost towns in a city that already has 16,000 abandoned domiciles and nearly 3,000 homeless, according to a 2007 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
However, if the Phi Psis are driven from their home, the fault will not lie exclusively with the city and its agents of foolishness. The University has been conspicuously absent from this affair. The administration declared that it would not participate in a dispute among neighbors --- fair enough. But now the city's second-ranking official is victimizing law-abiding students for blatant political gain. To continue to ignore the issue would be tantamount to ethical bankruptcy. The University cannot be allowed to abdicate its responsibility to students. Rawlings-Blake is writing a letter to the zoning board in favor of the neighbors. Where is President Brody's letter in support of Phi Psi?
We are not in the business of making predictions, but we will hardly be shocked if Clarke, Rawlings-Blake and the opposed Canterbury area residents win the day. The fact is that city officials have little incentive to treat Hopkins students fairly. Never mind that each of us infuses thousands of dollars into the local economy each year. We don't vote. We don't donate. As far as the politicians are concerned, we don't exist. Until we start to make an impact on the political process, use our voices and numbers to affect the outcome of an election and relegate Mary Pat Clarke's career to the political graveyard in which it so deservedly belongs, we will not see any respect coming our way.
For now, we ask that the Council President devote her attention to matters of civic import rather than thinly veiled fundraising attempts. And, we hope that the Canterbury residents who oppose Phi Psi's homecoming engage in a solution-oriented discussion with the University and the Phi Psis. We know that this is exactly what the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi would like to see happen. More important, it is the only way to achieve a workable scenario for all concerned.