Editorial: A cocaine party and loose discipline should create worry at KU

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

This little detail will wake you up if you are the parent of a fraternity member at the University of Kansas. The Delta Upsilon fraternity in 2017 had enough cocaine at its spring break house that it was drawing the Greek letters of the fraternity in the illegal drug.

The next part probably won’t help those parents get back to sleep: The fraternity simply was given probation by KU, even though a year earlier the university already had cited Delta Upsilon for hazing and harming new members.

Those details were revealed in a highly redacted university disciplinary document that the Journal-World received through the Kansas Open Records Act and reported on last week. All the details of the cocaine incident aren’t publicly known, so perhaps some judgment should be withheld.

However, it is probably safe to judge KU a bit, given what comes next. In March 2018 — just 10 months after the fraternity was placed on probation — Delta Upsilon was found to have violated university rules by tying a “highly intoxicated member to the neighboring Delta Gamma sorority house’s decorative anchor.”

That too did not cause the university to suspend the fraternity from operating at KU. Instead, it just had a year added on to its probation. Such a suspension wouldn’t come until a few months later when the parent of a pledge complained about the fraternity. In finally handing down a suspension for five years, the university noted several acts of violence, forced alcohol consumption and members of the fraternity urinating on new members.

Upon questioning by the Journal-World, a university spokeswoman acknowledged that KU doesn’t use a formal system of “strikes” or “chances” when deciding whether to discipline campus organizations. Rather “there is an ongoing conversation with Student Affairs leadership and with an organization’s national headquarters” about patterns of misconduct.

Evidently, monogrammed cocaine isn’t as much of a conversation starter as it used to be.

The spokeswoman went on to say that disciplinary matters become a “case-by-case evaluation of the severity of the current incident and the severity of an ongoing pattern of behavior.” It sure seems like this incident would cause KU to rethink its policy. Was it ever a good idea to have such a loosely defined system regarding a matter that involves student safety? KU sure seems like it is playing with fire.

The university should rethink how it deals with such issues in the future, but it is unclear that it will. Much is unclear about KU and how it deals with fraternities. The disciplinary documents released by KU through the open records act included several entire pages cloaked by black and gray boxes. KU officials redacted descriptions of abusive behavior for specious privacy reasons. Rather than simply redacting basic identifying information such as names and addresses, KU produced paragraph after paragraph of blank, black space.

There’s probably an analogy in there somewhere. KU’s stance on fraternity problems creates a pretty big void itself. In March 2018 — near the time the drunk student ended up tied to the anchor — KU sent out a press release announcing a broad fraternity “freeze” on social activities that included alcohol. In the release, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said the freeze was required because of “systemic problems” in KU’s fraternity system that “we must address.”

Then, just a few days later the student-run University of Kansas Interfraternity Council decided the freeze wasn’t approved in a proper manner. It was nullified, to never return again, while Girod and his underlings largely avoided questions.

In an interview on April 5, 2018, Girod did tell the Journal-World that he was “encouraged” by the progress being made on fraternity matters. Coincidentally — presumably — April 5, 2018, is the same day the provost’s office received the complaint from a parent that started a new round of investigations at Delta Upsilon.

Maybe things weren’t as encouraging as Girod thought. Maybe they still aren’t.


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