Hazing docs

Documents sent from the University to the Kansan show letters from Lance Watson, director of student conduct and community standards, to four University fraternities. Before being sent to the Kansan, the letters were heavily redacted for student information and details about reported behaviors.

On Friday, the University released 15 pages of records detailing hazing investigations at four University fraternities between January 2017 and February 2018, in which the details of the nature of the hazing were heavily redacted.

Though the records do not give details on the hazing behaviors, they do highlight the steps both the University and chapters took in response to allegations, which sometimes came from several different sources.

The Kansan reached out to University spokespeople on Friday and Monday regarding the redactions but has not received comment, as of Monday afternoon.

Frank LoMonte, a professor and director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, said in light of the redacted records that “The university is committing a serious violation of the Kansas open records act by redacting the substance of documents without a good-faith legal basis.”

“FERPA certainly and beyond question does not require redactions this heavy,” LoMonte said in an email. “All of the factual narrative about what was done is a part of the public record and should be turned over without delay.

The following is a breakdown of the investigation process in the four fraternities.


Sigma Alpha Epsilon

The investigation into SAE began Jan. 22, according to a letter sent by Lance Watson, director of student conduct and community standards, to the chapter’s president. The letter, which informed the chapter of the University’s decision to put them on probation for two years, was sent on Feb. 2, 11 days later.

“When considering the totality of the information, I find it more likely than not that the chapter is responsible for the hazing of its new members and, some of those behaviors, endangered the health and safety of them,” Watson said in the letter.

However, the information provided to the University about alleged behaviors within the fraternity was not made available in the documents. More than a page of information about behaviors that the University had concluded had occurred was redacted.

After receiving these allegations, Watson had a meeting with fraternity representatives and offered them a chance to respond to the allegations. The large part of the responses are also redacted in the documents, though some unredacted parts suggest that the fraternity either wasn’t aware that some practices were hazing or had taken steps to remove individual members who had participated in the incidents.

However, Watson concluded that the organization was still responsible, at least in part, for the behaviors.

“Though the chapter was able to identify many individuals who led these events, it is clear that this was represented as a chapter led event by them and was cause for the new members to participate,” Watson said in the letter.

Watson also said that the fraternity’s history of having these problems and not doing much to change them made it clear to him that the chapter must “make changes in order to facilitate a culture change that will benefit the growth of the chapter.”

The sanctions imposed on the chapter are as follows:

  • Two years of probation, lasting until Jan. 31, 2020, which includes limits on participation on University activities and chapter-held social events.

  • Required submission of a new member education plan to the University.

  • Compliance with ongoing review processes of the fraternity’s national organization.

  • Creation of a calendar that outlines how the chapter will comply with all requirements.

Just over a month after this decision, on March 9, the national SAE headquarters made the decision to shut down the KU chapter for “health-and-safety violations.”

In a statement provided to the Kansan at the time, Tammara Durham, vice provost of student affairs, said "SAE’s response aligns with the University’s commitment to the health and safety of our students.”


Alpha Epsilon Pi

The University's investigation into AEPi began on an unspecified date in fall 2017, according to a December letter from Watson, in regards to reported hazing allegations. In a later meeting with Watson, the fraternity confirmed that the national chapter had conducted an internal investigation earlier regarding hazing.

According to the letter, AEPi complied with the investigation by the national headquarters by ceasing certain unspecified behaviors that were providing hazing education to its members.

After receiving reports of hazing allegations, the University conducted 25 surveys and interviews that revealed other hazing behaviors, also not included in the documents.

After meeting with fraternity members, Watson imposed sanctions on the chapter, listed as follows:

  • A yearlong warning from Dec. 8, 2017, to Dec. 8, 2018, which means that continuing the reported hazing behaviors would receive more serious sanctions.

  • Required review of the fraternity’s education plan for new members by the University.

  • Meetings with Sorority and Fraternity Life office, focusing on effective leadership changes.

  • Continued compliance with national organization’s expectations.


Phi Kappa Psi

According to letter marked Nov. 11, 2017, the office of student conduct and community standards received information from a University staff member on Aug. 30. The details of what was reported, however, are redacted.

On Aug. 30, a letter was sent to fraternity leadership announcing that an investigation would take place the next day. During that meeting, all new members, the chapter president, a chapter lawyer, chapter adviser and national chapter representative (by phone) were present.

The chapter agreed to do an internal investigation. That investigation was conducted in the fall and a report submitted in September alleging no misbehavior had occurred.

However, the University continued its own investigation, during which it received tips from anonymous close friends of Phi Psi pledges and one mother.

The details of these tips are redacted.

University representatives met again with Phi Psi leadership to discuss how to address the ongoing allegations, and a second internal investigation was conducted.

However, the second internal investigation “did not find any information that would indicate hazing or problematic behaviors.”

The University agreed to close the investigation without disciplinary action given that the chapter followed a plan laid out by its national headquarters, which is as follows:

  • Adhere to a six-week education plan for new members

  • Give staff online trainings on the education plan

  • Make a calendar for new member events to be given to the University and national headquarters

  • Bring in speakers

  • Hold meetings with University staff, new member educators and officer in conjunction with the education process

  • Include alumni presentations in initiation


Sigma Chi

An investigation into Sigma Chi fraternity took place in spring 2017.

In March and April, Watson met with members to discuss alleged behaviors, which are redacted in the records.

The chapter members said some of the behaviors had been addressed by the national headquarters, but were not aware of other alleged behaviors. The chapter took a week between March and April 2017 looking into those allegations and found some incidents of hazing behavior, which are redacted from the documents.

As a result, the chapter expelled two members and suspended three.

The chapter also took a number of steps to limit future incidents, including securing the doors on the chapter house to prevent individuals living outside of the house from coming in and disrupting new members.

When determining sanctions, Watson wrote he “considered the self governance and corrective actions the chapter has taken to address this incident including removing members that facilitated the hazing the plan to implement revisions within the one year plan.”

The sanctions the chapter were as follows:

  • put on warning from April 12, 2017, to May 19, 2018, which means that further conduct violations will be received more severely

  • required to submit a governance plan addressing the issues

  • expected to participate in regular meetings with the University’s Greek Life program discussing steps taken against the incidents, expectations and further steps forward

  • mandated to create and submit a one-year plan for improvements and a pledge education plan

  • Expected to continue complying with national headquarters’ plans and expectations


 

The Kansan reached out to the presidents of the four fraternities on Monday, but they were not immediately available for comment or declined to give further details about the hazing allegations.

LoMonte said the details of the allegations should be released to the public.

“The only way for the public to judge the severity of the misbehavior -- whether the fraternity was appropriately punished, and whether it is safe to join in the future -- is to disclose the nature of the offenses,” he said in an email. “By refusing to release these details, the university is disregarding student safety in the name of secrecy.”