Editorial: KU needs to get tougher on fraternities, but it likely won’t

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

You can’t spell Kumbaya without KU. The recently released report by the University of Kansas’ Sorority and Fraternity Life Task Force serves as a reminder of that sentiment. The report hopes to convince you that all we need to do to make KU’s fraternity system safer and more responsible is to hold hands and sing a song.

One of the task force’s major recommendations is essentially to create another group and conduct more study. OK, creating a new group of fraternity, sorority, university and community leaders is fine. Good may come out of it. But the task force’s report, which took 14 months to complete, fails to make a key finding: Sometimes you don’t need to hold a hand; you need to slap one.

KU needs to become firmer in the penalties it hands down to greek organizations that don’t act responsibly. But before KU can do that it must first admit that it has severely mishandled fraternity discipline cases in the past.

That, however, is not a verse KU sings well. It has a hard time admitting its errors.

How KU has dealt with hazing and other incidents at the Delta Upsilon fraternity is a fine example of KU’s recent errors. This is the fraternity that somehow avoided suspension after KU officials found that in May of 2017 the fraternity had a wild spring break party that involved so much cocaine that the fraternity’s letters were drawn in the illegal drug. This was just 13 months after the fraternity had received a warning for hazing new members.

Then, just 10 months after the cocaine incident, the fraternity again avoided suspension after the university found it had tied a highly intoxicated member to the neighboring Delta Gamma sorority house’s decorative anchor. KU simply extended the fraternity’s probation, which obviously had done little to change the fraternity’s behavior.

It wasn’t until April 2018 that the university launched an investigation that ultimately led to the fraternity’s suspension from the university. It appears that investigation only happened because a parent of a pledge lodged a complaint. Never underestimate the power of parents. They apparently draw more attention from administrators than a kid tied to an anchor.

When the Journal-World in October asked KU why the list of Delta Upsilon violations hadn’t led to a suspension earlier, a spokeswoman said KU didn’t have a formal policy of “strikes” or “chances” when deciding to discipline a campus organization. Instead, “there is an ongoing conversation with Student Affairs leadership and with an organization’s national headquarters” about patterns of misconduct.

Kumbaya, kumbaya.

It was hoped that a disciplinary system of strikes and chances would be one of the recommendations of the task force. It was not.

Come to find out, it was even too much to hope that the task force would recommend that the university adopt hard standards related to illegal drugs and greek organizations. The university should have a policy that whenever KU authorities find evidence of illegal drugs as part of a sanctioned greek event the organization will receive an automatic suspension from the university community. While the issue of marijuana probably would be a lightning rod for activists, is it really too much to ask the university to adopt a zero tolerance policy for drugs such as cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy and others?

The task force produced nothing close to such a recommendation. Thus, the odd question still hangs over KU: How much cocaine is too much to have at a frat house? A couple of grams? An ounce? A half-brick?

Maybe it can be one of the early agenda items for KU’s new group. In the meantime, please join hands.

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