The news came as a shock to Dave Steen on Monday. That morning, the University of Kansas announced that KU’s Interfraternity Council would impose a freeze on social activities for the 24 fraternities it governs.
The university's news release announcing the freeze gave no reason for it beyond "systemic problems," although at a private meeting Monday night reportedly attended by top university leaders, hazing was a big topic of discussion.
Steen, who serves as president of the Kansas Fraternities Landlords’ League, told the Journal-World on Tuesday that apparently a plan to strengthen KU IFC’s anti-hazing policies had been in the works long before Monday’s surprise announcement. That’s partly why he and others close to KU’s fraternity community are “scratching their heads,” Steen said, after the meeting Monday night with university leaders, fraternity chapter presidents, alumni and advisers.
“I think everyone understands or understood that it’s a topic that’s on people’s minds,” Steen, a Kappa Sigma alumnus, said of hazing in fraternities. “But I think everyone was very perplexed at the way that it was handled, especially since the IFC had already been deliberating on what they could do to bolster their policy anyway.”
Keegun Gose, president of KU’s Phi Delta Gamma fraternity, believes “there are problems that need to be addressed” within the greek community. But he also said all 24 IFC chapters have been working together over the last semester to improve the overall climate of fraternities at KU, even bringing in consultants to meet with chapters together and individually.
“We had been working together toward a solution, and then this came out of nowhere,” Gose said of Monday’s announcement.
That news arrived on the heels of several fraternities being investigated and/or suspended by the university for various violations, including hazing. There have been three suspensions of fraternities since the beginning of the spring semester, with KU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter notably receiving an order to fully shut down operations for four years or until all current members have left the university.
KU and its Interfraternity Council have so far refused to disclose any details regarding the SAE shutdown and other incidents that may have led to IFC’s decision to freeze all social activity.
Gose, whose fraternity is not currently sanctioned, called the ban “misdirected.” Social activities, he said, “aren’t causing our major issues,” and have nothing to do with hazing problems, in his opinion. He said the decision to impose the freeze was made by a four-member IFC executive board without consulting or even informing fraternities beforehand.
There are usually nine members on that board, Gose said, but several have left those positions recently after their fraternities were sanctioned or put under investigation. Two other seats had been vacated for unrelated reasons, Gose said.
He also said his chapter would be discussing potential solutions during a meeting Tuesday evening with IFC representatives. Gose wishes he had been consulted in the first place, however.
“IFC is supposed to be a representation of the undergraduates, and collaboration is key with making any changes that will be effective,” Gose said.
Representatives from the Interfraternity Council have yet to respond to the Journal-World’s requests for information on the freeze. Daniel Lee, IFC president, hung up on a reporter Tuesday during one of the Journal-World's several unsuccessful attempts at contacting the organization. Emails to Lee and other IFC representatives have also gone unanswered.
University officials have also not been forthcoming, referring most of the Journal-World’s questions to the IFC. KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson refused Tuesday to confirm whether or not Monday’s meeting between Chancellor Douglas Girod, KU IFC members and other officials had even taken place.
Zach Cleaver, vice president of KU’s Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, said he wasn’t aware of any invitation for his chapter to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Tau Kappa Epsilon is small — Cleaver said there were only about a dozen members — and doesn’t have its own house, so the chapter tends to “operate within our own little circle,” Cleaver said.
Monday’s news, with its references to “systemic” behavioral problems within the fraternity community, came as a complete surprise to him.
“We try to do what’s right at Tau Kappa Epsilon without worrying about what other people are doing wrong,” Cleaver said.
He’s not devastated by the ban on social activity, which also includes a broad ban on alcohol, he said, because the freeze still allows fraternities to hold chapter meetings and philanthropic events.
Still, he’s not sure the strategy will solve the reportedly widespread issues that his tiny chapter seems insulated against.
“It’s almost like they’re punishing everyone for the action of those three bad fraternities,” Cleaver said, referring to the suspended chapters.
Steen generally agrees with that assessment. After attending Monday’s meeting, the existence of which KU officials have so far refused to confirm, Steen said the main issue to emerge from the talks was hazing. But not once in that meeting, Steen said, did officials ever provide any specific examples of hazing, other than stating that KU had seen an uptick in fraternity investigations this year.
“To say we’ve had an uptick in investigations is a little puzzling. I think it was puzzling for all of us because it kind of lacked the context you’d expect to have,” Steen said.
Though it was “heavy-handed” and lacking collaboration, Steen said, he’s glad the meeting took place. And he credits the chancellor for having it.
“I think his goals and aspirations are laudable,” Steen said. “I just think for whatever reason the approach that was taken here was not really a productive one.”
IFC has said it hopes to lift the freeze on social events by the end of the spring semester. Gose, the Phi Delta Gamma president at KU, said he expects more information to be released after Tuesday’s meeting.
Coverage: KU fraternities halt social activities amid 'systemic problems'March 19 — KU chancellor says he respects decision to reverse freeze on social activity at fraternities
March 16 — KU’s Interfraternity Council votes to nullify freeze on social activity, saying ban violated its constitution
March 15 — KU’s Interfraternity Council calls private meeting amid talk of reversing freeze on social activities
March 14 — In wake of freeze on social activity, KU fraternities elect interim leaders as IFC officers undergo ‘judicial review’
March 14 — KU sorority women support suspension of fraternities, say men must create ‘a significantly safer environment at KU’
March 13 — KU, Interfraternity Council still refuse to provide details on fraternity freeze; chancellor allegedly met with frat members, alumni
March 12 — As KU remains mum on details, documents show some fraternities have repeatedly been disciplined for hazing, other violations
March 12, 2018 — Social activity of 24 fraternities at KU to be halted; university cites ‘systemic problems’ but won’t provide details