It’s not clear how far back the “systemic conduct problems” spurring the sweeping crackdown of University of Kansas fraternities have been happening or exactly what kind of problems they are.
Neither KU’s Interfraternity Council — which ordered the suspension of all its member chapters — nor KU officials, who said they support the action — will cite specific incidents or behaviors, including whether any resulted in significant physical harm to KU students.
However, stories published and documents obtained by the Journal-World in recent years shed light on some of the problems at KU IFC fraternities that have risen to the level of university discipline or, in a few cases, legal action.
Hazing, in particular, has been a repeat problem. One house was disciplined for alleged sexual assaults and another for violating KU's alcohol and drug policy.
In some cases, KU has sanctioned the same chapters multiple times in recent years despite previous university discipline and corrective efforts by the fraternities.
KU’s list of disciplinary actions taken against university organizations does not include any sanctions that may have been imposed on fraternities by their respective national associations or the KU IFC.
KU routinely sanctions registered university organizations for violating the school’s rules, and lists online all organizations sanctioned since 2010. (The listed groups are overwhelmingly IFC fraternities but also include club sports teams, scholarship halls and multicultural Greek organizations.)
The list includes each organization’s name, how long the sanctions are effective and the category of code the group violated — such as the university’s policy on “organizational responsibility” or “hazing” — but no more.
The Journal-World, over the past several years, has filed multiple open records requests and paid hundreds of dollars to obtain documents that would reveal the nature and severity of what actually occurred to trigger those sanctions.
Timeline: KU redactions of fraternity hazing penalties● Jan. 27, 2016 — Town Talk: KU and the problem of the fraternity secrets it keeps
● Jan. 27, 2016 — KU response to newspaper’s records appeal reveals little more about fraternity hazing
● Dec. 23, 2015 — KU stands behind redaction of fraternity hazing records; legal expert says KU not applying law correctly
● Dec. 20, 2015 — Two KU fraternities are on probation for hazing; university won’t say why
KU has provided those documents to the newspaper heavily redacted — with all description of actual behaviors blacked out. That was the case with records requests made following the 2015-16 and 2014-15 school years.
However, the documents and other sources have revealed some of the steps fraternities have taken to deal with problem behaviors.
In some cases, they have been drastic.
At least three of KU’s longstanding fraternities have undertaken member reviews in recent years, a process where active members’ memberships are re-evaluated.
• One of those is the newly defunct KU chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, 1301 West Campus Road, whose national headquarters announced Friday that it was shutting down its 115-year-old KU chapter because of multiple health and safety violations and a failure to meet its national organization’s guidelines.
In fall 2015, less than a week after a new member at SAE reported hazing, SAE conducted an in-house investigation and “identified a core group of men that had been the lead instigators of the night and were under review for removal from the chapter in addition to approximately 34 men undergoing membership review,” a chapter adviser told KU investigators, who included the recap in a letter to the fraternity at that time.
Just over a week later, the fraternity had suspended four members, charged 32 members with violating fraternity policy and was continuing its “trials,” according to the letter.
KU disciplined SAE for that incident in fall 2015, putting the chapter on a yearlong warning. KU also put SAE on probation in January of this year following a new investigation that found the house, again, responsible for hazing, according to KU’s conduct status report.
• Delta Upsilon, 1025 Emery Road, kicked out roughly a fourth of its KU chapter members and suspended another fourth of them after a member review in fall 2015.
Delta Upsilon’s national headquarters conducted the member review, according to a spring 2016 letter in which KU formally notified the house of its yearlong warning for violating the university's policies against hazing and endangering others.
The action was part of a 12- to 18-month reorganization of the chapter, according to a letter to alumni at the time.
After interviewing each member, 25 DU members were expelled and another 20 were placed on academic or behavioral suspension by the chapter, according to the letter. Fifty-two men remained members.
“This response is not due to any one singular incident, but rather, in just a few semesters, we have been battling a troubling culture developing within the chapter that is performing far below our expectations,” the letter said. “Multiple efforts to stem this behavior were led by local alumni, but the growing mistreatment of other members, the housemother, and guests of the chapter, as well as the disrespect shown the chapter property, rules, and regulations necessitated this action.”
In a quest to improve, the fraternity beefed up its alumni adviser team for the chapter’s student officers and had members participate in national and chapter retreats, according to a chapter newsletter.
In May 2017, KU sanctioned DU again, this time for “disruption” and violating KU’s alcohol and drug policy. DU’s current probation remains in effect until May 2019, according to KU’s conduct status report.
In its first of three times being disciplined by KU in the past decade, DU was put on a yearlong warning for hazing in fall 2013.
• While most fraternity sanctions involve hazing, Kappa Sigma, 1045 Emery Road, became the first KU fraternity sanctioned for violating KU’s sexual misconduct policy after reports of multiple sexual assaults during an informal party at the house on homecoming weekend in 2014.
Kappa Sigma’s national headquarters conducted a member review at that time, and while nobody was expelled from the house, a dozen men chose to leave on their own, a chapter adviser previously told the Journal-World. He said some other members were put on grade watch.
KU Student Affairs investigated and put the fraternity on probation for two years.
Though Lawrence police investigated the criminal report and forwarded their case to the district attorney, criminal charges were never filed against any member.
In the above cases and others, documents show that fraternities disciplined by KU were ordered to cease certain activities during their warning or probation periods and to participate in alcohol, sexual assault or other training.
Fraternities’ national headquarters also often disciplined the chapters and ordered corrective actions of their own.
KU put Beta Theta Pi, 1425 Tennessee St., on a yearlong warning in fall 2015 after finding the fraternity responsible for hazing.
After the university received at least four anonymous complaints of hazing at the house in the early weeks of the semester, the local chapter and its national parent organization also conducted investigations and began corrective measures.
“The chapter has begun redeveloping its pledge process for the following year,” KU noted in a letter notifying Beta of its sanctions. “... the chapter took responsibility for the incidents and held men accountable as needed for not meeting the expectations of active members aiding in the pledge process.”
That was the second time Beta had been on KU’s disciplinary list, after being found responsible for hazing and put on probation in 2011, as well.
• At least one other KU fraternity has been sanctioned by the university multiple times since 2010.
Sigma Chi, 1439 Tennessee St., currently is on a yearlong warning for hazing, set to expire in May of this year.
Also, in fall 2013, KU put the Sigma Chi chapter on a two-year probation for hazing and “providing false information.”
Two publicly known incidents in the past decade have involved major injury or death of KU fraternity pledges.
• In September 2010, a freshman pledge was injured when diving into a makeshift pool set up for the annual FIJI Island party at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, 1540 Louisiana St. A friend told the Journal-World at the time that Matt Fritzie was initially paralyzed from the chest down and moved to a rehabilitation center upon release from the hospital.
While KU officials never substantiated that hazing was to blame for Fritzie’s injury, the university’s investigation found FIJI was responsible for hazing and put the fraternity on a two-year probation beginning that fall.
The university did release documents outlining allegations and their findings in the FIJI case, including the following specific hazing behaviors: extreme embarrassment or ridicule for forcing members to wear costumes to the party; personal servitude for members being forced to clean apartments of active members and fetch items at their will; and endangering physical health by providing a culture where underage drinking was permitted, encouraged or possibly forced.
• In March of 2009, freshman SAE member Jason Wren was found dead inside the fraternity house after a night of heavy drinking out at a restaurant and then later at the house, the Journal-World previously reported.
Alcohol poisoning was the cause, and Wren had a blood alcohol concentration of .362 percent — more than four times the state’s legal limit to drive — at the time of his death, an autopsy showed.
Wren’s father, Jay Wren, sued the fraternity, its housing corporation and its national organization. The parties resolved the lawsuit in April 2011, though the terms were not publicly disclosed.
The plaintiffs had previously argued in court in 2010 that the chapter had not changed its practices enough regarding underage drinking since Wren’s death. However, attorneys for the fraternity said the chapter had taken proper steps, including expelling nearly two dozen active members after an April 2010 alcohol violation.
KU’s conduct status report lists organizational sanctions beginning in fall 2010.
A 2013 incident of animal cruelty at the Beta fraternity house sparked a police investigation. Though the fraternity does not appear on KU’s list of organizations sanctioned that year, Beta’s national association temporarily suspended its KU chapter while the incident was investigated.
During the fraternity’s annual holiday formal in December 2012, witnesses reported that a live turkey was chased and seriously injured, and that someone then shot and killed it “to end its suffering.”
District Attorney Charles Branson said in 2013 that while there was evidence the turkey was mistreated, it was difficult to tell who was responsible for it. No individuals were criminally charged in the incident, but a settlement with Branson’s office ordered fraternity members to pay $5,000 toward the cost of the police investigation and complete 1,000 hours of community service, on top of any hours they normally would during the academic year.
KU’s fraternity system also came under fire by a Sexual Assault Task Force ordered by then-Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to meet throughout the 2014-15 school year and suggest universitywide reforms.
The task force recommended two major changes to how KU fraternities operate now — neither of which the university adopted. One was requiring all freshmen to live in residence halls, which would bar fraternity pledges from living in their chapter houses. The other was requiring fraternities, which begin informally recruiting men in high school, and sororities, which hold formal recruitment the week before fall classes begin, to defer recruitment until spring.
In supporting those recommendations, the task force cited national statistics suggesting that sexual assault was more prevalent in the greek system than the general student population, but didn’t cite any incidents or studies specific to KU.
Around the same time, in late spring 2015, the KU IFC announced it had voted to ban hard alcohol in all its member fraternity houses.
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