- The Most Frequently Asked Questions Concerning New IRS Guidelines on Fraternity Foundation Funding of Educational Areas In Fraternity Chapter Houses
- IN KANSAS - NO SOCIAL HOST LIABILITY
- ALFRED BANS FRATERNITIES
- WHEN IS A FRATERNITY A NUISANCE?
Newsletter > September 2002 > "ALFRED BANS FRATERNITIES"
ALFRED BANS FRATERNITIES
Timothy M. Burke, Manley & Burke
Benjamin Klein, an Alfred University junior, was found dead in a creek behind the Zeta Beta Tau House on February 12, 2002. Three and a half months later, Alfred University’s Board of Trustees had voted to eliminate fraternities and sororities.
In the days immediately preceding his death, Klein had been beaten up by a couple of his fraternity brothers for allegedly revealing fraternity secrets. The local District Attorney concluded, however, that “his death cannot be directly attributed to the assault.” Within days of Klein’s death, the University Trustees established a Trustee Task Force on Greek Life. The Task Force included four trustees, two faculty members, representatives of both the Alumni Association and the Parents Association and the Vice President for enrollment management. There were no students on the Task Force.
The Task Force’s report was exceptionally critical of Greek life at Alfred University. As of the past spring semester, there were 12 Greek chapters on campus – eight fraternities and four sororities. Six of them were under sanction for violating University alcohol and hazing regulations. Membership in Greek organizations had fallen from the high of 50% of the student body in the late 30s, to slightly more than 10% in 2002. The size of chapters ranged from the largest of 24 members to the smallest of nine. Of the ten chapter houses, seven had ten or fewer residents and many of those houses were not well maintained.
Both men’s and women’s groups were consistently below the campus-wide academic averages for their respective genders.
The Task Force reviewed statistics showing that Greek members on campus drink to excess more than any other group on the campus. The percentage of binge drinkers was also significantly higher than nationwide numbers for fraternity members.
[On both public and private campuses, there is no doubt that campus officials have the legal right to enact and enforce regulations that deal with conduct violations, such as hazing, illegal alcohol or drug use, that regulate the condition of houses, and that deal with students who engage in physical intimidation or punishment.]
While acknowledging the strong support that Alfred University had received from its Greek Alumni, the Task Force was very critical of the lack of support, both financial and time commitment, that alumni gave to their chapters.
Compounding the lack of alumni support was the fact that Alfred University had an unusually high percentage of local Greek groups with no national affiliation, building structure, training, leadership or continued alumni involvement.
Perhaps most disturbing, particularly in the wake of Benjamin Klein’s death, was the concern of physical abuse, not just hazing, but actual physical intimidation. The Task Force reported that: “Though the original intention was to include one or two students [as members], reports of potential intimidation and harassment of those students led us reluctantly to elect not to include students on the Task Force.” The Task Force stated that:
“Some students who freely chose to pledge a Greek house and then freely chose to depledge for whatever reason are harassed and intimidated to the point of transferring out of the University. We were astonished to learn that students may even have to be moved – relocated to safer, undisclosed accommodations for fear of harm. This was one of the most shocking and abhorrent findings we made during our review of Greek life. One can only imagine the psychological and emotional harm when ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ tum against each other it is especially appalling at an institution that prides itself on a safe and nurturing environment.”
In spite of the parade of horribles, the Task Force did acknowledge that there were some Greek organizations on campus that were maintaining high standards:
“The most difficult element in all this is eliminating those chapters that have maintained high standards and original ideals, as well as others that have recognized the plight of their system and initiated reforms . . . We regret very much that some fine Greek chapters will be penalized, while the same fate will befall a few who seem already to have grasped the gravity of the problem and undertaken reforms.”
Clearly, no university should put up with any student organization which engages in the overall conduct described by the Task Force. On both public and private campuses, there is no doubt that campus officials have the legal right to enact and enforce regulations that deal with conduct violations, such as hazing, illegal alcohol or drug use, that regulate the condition of houses, and that deal with students who engage in physical intimidation or punishment.
Yet, several questions remain about the legality of Alfred’s decision. Alfred is a private university. Therefore, it has a broader ability to regulate student conduct than does a public university. Or is it a private university? Alfred University also has as one of its components the New York State College of Ceramics, a state-supported school. The question is where does the private Alfred begin and the public Alfred end. Public institutions which deprive students of the right to freely associate may be depriving students of their civil rights in violation of both the United States Constitution and the Federal Civil Rights Law, 42 U.S.C. §1983.
As discussed in prior issues of Fraternal Law, even purely private universities which deprive students of their constitutional rights may find that they lose their right to federal support of their educational programs. In 1998, the United States Congress adopted amendments to the Education Act which expressed the sense of Congress that such actions by even private institutions were improper (20 USC 1011, Public Law 105-242). However, to date, there has been no litigation which has interpreted that section or sought to enforce it.
Whatever the legal arguments that might be marshaled against the decision, the sad fact is that the repeated instances of misconduct by some Greek groups may very well have sounded the death knell for all Greek groups at Alfred.
[BREAKING NEWS: On August 9, 2002, the Klan Alpine Fraternity and Sigma Chi Nu Sorority filed suit against Alfred University and six of its administrators. The suit grows out of the university disciplinary action taken last spring against the two Greek groups. According to the University, “Both groups were suspended following disciplinary hearings in which they were determined to have hazed pledges.” The lawsuit seeks reinstatement of University recognition for the two groups.
In challenging the University’s disciplinary action, the lawsuit claims that Alfred failed to afford the groups due process or to comply with the University’s own published procedures. While the suit does not appear to directly challenge the upcoming ban on Greek groups, it alleges that University officials conducted the disciplinary investigations in bad faith in order to create “a desired outcome, the University … would decide to abolish the ‘Greek System’ on campus.”
An Alfred University statement released after the filing of the suit says the suit does not challenge the University’s decision to ban Greek organizations from campus and that even a victory in the suit by the plaintiffs “would not affect the Trustees’ decision to ban Greek organizations.”]
[DANGEROUS TIME” The reopening of school each Fall invariably brings reports of needless injuries and too frequently deaths from incidents of illegal hazing and/or alcohol abuse. That sad fact should be kept in mind in planning and running parties and pledge or new member activity this fall.]