Social activity of 24 fraternities at KU to be halted; university cites ‘systemic problems’ but won’t provide details

Some of the fraternity houses at University of Kansas are pictured April 2017. Top row, from left: Beta Theta Pi, Delta Chi, Delta Tau Delta, Kappa Sigma, Phi Delta Theta. Bottom row, from left: Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Kappa Psi, Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu, Sigma Phi Epsilon.

The Interfraternity Council at the University of Kansas has announced a self-imposed temporary freeze on activities for the 24 fraternities it governs, according to a news release Monday from KU. Despite that news release’s repeated references to “systemic” problems within IFC fraternities, neither KU nor IFC representatives have provided any details on what specifically led to the freeze, which comes in the wake of several fraternities being investigated and/or suspended for various violations.

As part of the freeze, the news release said, the IFC will work with university officials to strengthen oversight and address “systemic behavioral issues.”

Under the freeze, all social activities will be paused, the news release said; only chapter meetings, philanthropic events and service events will be allowed. Fraternity members who live in fraternity houses may continue to live in those houses.

Although KU declined to say that the freeze was related to alcohol issues, a document with the news release specifically mentions that alcohol will be forbidden at social events as part of the freeze.

“The University of Kansas has a proud tradition of greek life, and IFC chapters are integral to the KU community and the development of the men involved in them,” said Daniel Lee, IFC president. “But it has become clear there are significant and systemic conduct problems in the IFC community that we must address, and we must address them now.”

The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization announced Thursday that the longtime KU chapter at 1301 West Campus Road would close its doors after 115 years at the university for various “health and safety violations.”

The university, the fraternity’s national organization and the IFC all have refused to disclose any details about the violations.

The SAE chapter’s closure followed the suspension of two other KU fraternities since the start of the spring semester, Delta Upsilon and Sigma Phi Epsilon. It was reported recently that a fourth KU fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, is facing possible suspension, though the reasons for that status change remain unclear.

Monday’s announcement affects only IFC chapters, not sorority chapters.

As of fall 2017, there were 1,722 students involved in IFC fraternities, accounting for the vast majority of fraternity members on campus. In comparison, membership between the university’s National Panhellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council fraternities and sororities totaled only 65 students in fall 2017. The NPHC represents historically African-American greek-letter organizations, while the MGC oversees KU’s Asian-American fraternity (Lambda Phi Epsilon), Latino fraternity (Phi Iota Alpha) and a “multicultural progressive sorority” known as Sigma Psi Zeta. These non-IFC organizations are not included in the activity freeze.

“The greek community makes important and valued contributions to our university,” said Chancellor Douglas Girod in Monday’s news release. “Many students have a great experience in fraternity life, do the right things and engage in meaningful philanthropy, service and leadership. Even so, there are systemic problems related to student conduct within our IFC community that we must address.”

KU’s Office of Public Affairs declined on Monday to provide any detail on the “systemic problems” Girod mentioned.

KU’s organizational conduct status report keeps a running list of sanctions imposed on campus organizations found to have violated the KU Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. According to the report, nine fraternities have been sanctioned by the university since the 2014-2015 school year. Two of those fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Upsilon, show up in the report twice.

In October 2015, KU sanctioned Sigma Alpha Epsilon for “organizational responsibility” and “hazing” violations, later sanctioning the fraternity for the same violations, plus charges of “harm to persons,” in January 2018. The first violations, in fall 2015, put SAE on a “warning” until May 2016.

The other repeat offender, Delta Upsilon, found itself in trouble two years in a row. KU sanctioned the chapter in March 2016 for organizational responsibility, endangering others and hazing, then again in May 2017 for organizational responsibility, disruption, and alcohol and drug violations.

Other KU fraternities that have appeared in the report since 2014 include Delta Chi, Beta Theta Pi, Sigma Chi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Kappa Sigma, Delta Tau Delta and Phi Beta Sigma.

The Kansas Fraternities Landlords’ League oversees 10 of the university’s 24 IFC fraternities, representing some of KU’s biggest, wealthiest and most established fraternity chapters. David Steen, who serves as president of the nonprofit business league, said the announcement of the freeze came as a “complete surprise” to him Monday. Steen said he’s not aware of any specific incidents that led to the freeze, and he isn’t sure what kinds of “systemic” problems the freeze will address.

“To me, that would mean the vast majority,” Steen, a Kappa Sigma alumnus, said of the “systemic” descriptor used in KU’s news release. “I’m not aware of a vast majority, particularly the vast majority where it’s an institutional, organizational issue.”

Part of the KFLL’s mission is to promote best practices among the nearly 1,000 students living in KFLL houses. Because of this, Steen said, his organization regularly disciplines — and sometimes evicts — what he refers to as “bad apples.” The KFLL has evicted four fraternity members since the start of the 2017-2018 school year, mostly for “undesirable behavior” that made the offenders difficult to live with, essentially, Steen said. None of these evictions were alcohol-related, Steen said.

Although many of the restrictions included in the freeze align with KFLL’s policies on recruitment particularly, Steen said, he’s not sure the ban on social activities is completely fair to those in the fraternity system who “have done nothing wrong.” Steen also said the national Beta Theta Pi organization’s recent decision to flag the KU chapter as “subject to suspension” was based on one anonymous allegation that he said has been unsubstantiated by the national organization’s investigation into the matter.

In the meantime, Steen said the chancellor’s office had invited KFLL to attend a private meeting regarding the freeze Monday night at KU.

More details on suspension of social activities

A frequently asked questions document provided Monday by the IFC includes more information about the kinds of events that will be prohibited under the temporary freeze.

The FAQ says:

• All social events with alcohol are suspended for the remainder of the spring 2018 semester effective immediately. This includes events at third-party locations or anywhere where alcohol is supplied, brought in, or served.

• IFC chapters cannot co-sponsor events with alcohol with other organizations events.

• IFC chapter events hosted on behalf of their Alumni, and Parent’s club must be alcohol free for the remainder of the Spring 2018 semester.

• Chapters who have planned events involving alcohol must cancel them including contracted events at a third-party vendors (overnight accommodations, bars, restaurants, etc).

• Individual members shall not take on chapter events under their name, or they will assume the liability to their personal insurance and violate the terms of this Self-Imposed Temporary Freeze that could effect of the return of a chapter’s full privileges.

• IFC Chapters are allowed to continue to host brotherhood events without alcohol and individuals participating shall not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or intoxicated. All such events must be registered with and approved by the IFC.

• IFC Chapters are allowed to continue host philanthropic events and engage in community Service. All Philanthropic events are to be alcohol free and all attendees shall not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or intoxicated, and must be approved in advance through the IFC Philanthropy Event Notification Form.

• All IFC chapters are expected to fully abide by the IFC Hard Alcohol Policy.