Two KU fraternities are on probation for hazing; university won’t say why

Two Kansas University fraternities are on probation for hazing, and will remain that way until 2017.

Delta Tau Delta, with a house located at 1111 W. 11th St., and Phi Beta Sigma, a small African-American greek letter fraternity, were placed on probation by the university this spring, according to KU’s Organizational Conduct Status Report.

Hazing at Delta Tau Delta occurred in fall 2014, and hazing by Phi Beta Sigma occurred in spring 2015.

KU won’t share any information about what happened or whether any students were hurt.

Documents from KU’s investigations of both fraternities, obtained through a Kansas Open Records Act request by the Journal-World, are heavily redacted to hide that information.

Through KU’s Office of Public Affairs, representatives from KU’s Office of Student Affairs declined to answer any questions about either case — including about the nature of the hazing, whether any fraternity members were injured or whether the fraternities have complied with the terms of their probations so far.

KU’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities prohibits hazing another for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization operating under the sanction of the university. Hazing can include any action from “extreme embarrassment” to intentionally endangering someone’s physical health or safety, according to the code.

Delta Tau Delta

KU’s investigation of Delta Tau Delta confirmed multiple hazing behaviors, according to a letter from KU to the fraternity. That list has 10 points, but KU redacted all the words following those points before providing the letter to the newspaper.

Jim Russell, executive vice president at the fraternity’s national headquarters in Fishers, Ind., declined to elaborate, saying only that the KU chapter’s sanctions followed “hazing activity” in the chapter’s new member program during the fall 2014 semester.

“That activity violated the risk management policy of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and was not in alignment with our stated values,” Russell said. “Subsequently, a formal review of the chapter’s membership was conducted during the spring 2015 semester which resulted in disciplinary action for some individual members.”

The KU chapter is currently under the operation of an alumni supervisory committee, with the goal of ensuring the chapter recovers and has a plan for sustainability, Russell said. In particular, they’re redeveloping the chapter’s new member education program.

Russell said nationals is monitoring progress of the KU chapter.

“Delta Tau Delta remains committed to providing a values-based fraternity experience to its members at the University of Kansas, and to benefit the larger campus community,” he said.

As terms of its probation, KU mandated that Delta Tau Delta work with KU Greek Life staff to revise its new member education program, send members to all KU Interfraternity Council and Greek Life education programs, not participate in Rock Chalk Revue and forfeit participation in either intramural sports or homecoming, according to KU’s letter.

Delta Tau Delta was placed on probation for two years in the fall of 1996, the Journal-World reported at the time, saying that the fraternity deprived new members of sleep but that no injuries were reported.

Delta Tau Delta’s undergraduate membership is 75 men, Russell said. He said the chapter was founded at KU in 1914, existed continuously until 2001 and was rechartered in 2008.

Phi Beta Sigma

Phi Beta Sigma engaged “in a variety of hazing activities” from January 2015 until spring break, according to a letter to the fraternity from KU. Again, a summary of those activities was redacted by KU before providing the letter to the Journal-World.

As terms of its KU probation, Phi Beta Sigma was banned from candidate intake until at least fall 2016, according to the letter. The chapter is not allowed to participate in KU’s annual Step Show or stroll competitions, must send members to all National Pan-Hellenic Council and KU Greek Life educational programs and must prepare a program to participate in National Hazing Prevention Week.

“I strongly caution the newly initiated men to be mindful of allowing former members of the chapter to continue their involvement,” KU student conduct officer Lance Watson wrote. “It is imperative that this chapter embrace this ‘fresh start’ to move forward away from behaviors that could place candidates and members in danger.”

In addition to being placed on probation by KU, the KU chapter of Phi Beta Sigma was placed on probation by its national headquarters until August 2017, according to its national disciplinary action list. Four individual members of the KU chapter are suspended through 2019, according to nationals’ website.

The KU chapter president did not respond to a message last week, nor did leaders at the fraternity’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The KU chapter of Phi Beta Sigma currently has five members, according to the KU organization directory. It was chartered at KU in 1979, according to the chapter’s Facebook page.

Records redacted

The Journal-World obtained letters from KU to both fraternities as well as a written summary of KU’s investigations into Delta Tau Delta through its records request. The newspaper paid $99 and received 23 pages of documents.

The documents KU provided to the newspaper were redacted of names and much more, in some places nearly entire pages of text.

The records were redacted “to account for the privacy interests of the individual students who are members of these organizations,” KU said in its written response. The university cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which applies to student education records, and a Kansas statute allowing public agencies to withhold documents that if shared publicly would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

KU applying FERPA to organizational conduct records — beyond redacting names or titles — appears to be a misuse of the law, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which advocates for open government on campuses nationwide.

“FERPA is a very narrow statute, it governs only individually identifiable student education records,” he said. “A penalty that’s imposed on a club or an organization will almost never qualify as a FERPA record, just by definition. If the penalty is imposed on an organization and not an individual, it is not any particular student’s education record.”

Other groups on probation

There is currently one other KU organization on probation through the university, the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

KU placed Kappa Sigma on a two-year probation in December 2014 for sexual harassment and endangering others, according to KU’s Organizational Conduct Status Report.

Kappa Sigma’s probation follows allegations of sexual assault at the house during an unsanctioned party thrown by the freshmen over homecoming weekend in 2014.

KU announced, through press releases, that it had placed Kappa Sigma on interim suspension that October and, later, that it had placed the fraternity on probation. In a statement, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said only that the disciplinary action stemmed from “disturbing and serious allegations of sexual assault.” KU has not confirmed whether any individual students were found responsible for sexual assault.

This fall, two other organizations completed two-year probations for hazing, according to KU’s Organizational Conduct Status Report. KU’s probations of Sigma Chi fraternity and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity were scheduled to end in October and November, respectively.

KU began posting the organizations it has sanctioned for violating university policy online in 2010. Kappa Sigma is the first group to be sanctioned for sexual harassment. Nearly all the others — including men’s and women’s club sports teams and scholarship halls, as well — are for hazing and alcohol violations.