Education

University of Iowa rejects fraternity appeals of alcohol-related sanctions

Alumnus: 'The university has demonstrated flat-footed behavior'

The Delta Chi fraternity house in Iowa City, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. The fraternity is appealing its de-registration from the University of Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The Delta Chi fraternity house in Iowa City, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. The fraternity is appealing its de-registration from the University of Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa is upholding decisions against all six fraternities that appealed recent alcohol-related sanctions — rejecting arguments the punishments were inconsistent, based on hearsay and much too harsh.

Of 11 UI fraternities sanctioned in December following an investigation into alcohol and hazing violations — from those placed on probation to those stripped of campus affiliation — six appealed by trying to poke holes in the evidence and highlight faulty investigative tactics, according to documents newly provided to The Gazette.

IOWA CITY - Tucked inside the Kinnick Stadium neighborhood that transforms into a beer-soaked bacchanal during Hawkeye home football games sit three adjoining houses that combined last fall to host "the largest tailgate in Iowa City."

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“The university has failed to adequately provide alternative options for students for many of the issues which are being encountered,” wrote Jonathan Larson, the local Delta Chi alumni board of trustees president, in a letter supporting the chapter’s appeal. “The university has demonstrated flat-footed behavior and has fallen back on punitive measures to try and save face with the local community and still fails to provide effective alternatives to curb the culture problems among the greater student body.”

Although the university Monday did not provide any documents it produced in response to the appeals, UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce said Interim Associate Vice President Dean of Students Angie Reams had informed the fraternities that the UI findings “were upheld.”

DEATH LED TO BAN

In 2017, fraternity and sorority leadership at the UI enacted an alcohol moratorium for its own chapters in the wake of a student’s alcohol-related death at an out-of-town fraternity event.

But within months, the university received five reports of raucous fraternity tailgates, according to documents.

In a letter the UI sent sanctioning the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, university administrators reported their inquiry into potential violations started more than a year ago.

At the conclusion, seven fraternities including Pi Kappa Phi were put on probation and another three were deregistered for alcohol violations. Another was kicked off campus for hazing.

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In the investigation, Iowa City police reportedly learned that fraternity members had contacted properties near Kinnick Stadium in hopes of using their yards for tailgates.

A fraternity, according to the UI letter, paid $5,000 at the start of the football season and $5,000 at the end and wrapped in other fraternities — even forming a committee “from each of the hosting fraternities.”

“Potential new members, or pledges, are sometimes tasked with setting up the tailgate or bringing ice to the event,” the UI letter said.

In subsequent interviews with numerous fraternity members, UI officials learned — among other things — that fraternity tailgates continued in fall 2018 and that police and paramedics several times responded to help intoxicated partygoers.

But the fraternities that appealed their punishments denied those allegations and claimed the UI couldn’t prove them.

Delta Chi Fraternity President Luke Hovey, for example, signed a sworn affidavit pledging the tailgates weren’t Delta Chi-sponsored events, that chapter funds weren’t used to rent the property or buy alcohol, and that no members served alcohol at them.

According to Delta Chi’s appeal, although the university established that hundreds attended the tailgates, “these facts alone do not establish that any member of the chapter provided alcohol to underage members of their student organization.”

Likewise, in the Pi Kappa Alpha appeal of its chapter’s probation, fraternity leadership questioned the UI thoroughness in following up on the tailgates and a separate complaint of an “alleged drugging.”

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In that case, a woman called Iowa City police after she believed she saw a female friend’s drink spiked in a gathering at Pi Kappa Alpha.

The chapter, according to its appeal, “is not contesting that a gathering occurred in a private space of the chapter house … However, the chapter is contesting its knowledge, marketing, support, financing, or attendance at the gathering that would make it a chapter event.”

OUT OF PROPORTION?

According to the appeals and letters from alumni in support of the chapters, the organizations already were taking internal actions.

Several fraternities reported recent membership reviews that, in Delta Chi’s case, resulted in the removal of more than 60 members, according to an alumni letter.

Sigma Nu, among those deregistered for alcohol violations, said that “to date, 45 members of the currently 97-member chapter have been identified for a minimum action of suspension of their membership,” according to its appeal.

Many past and present fraternity members fighting for reprieve from the sanctions highlighted community service and fundraising activities. Although some blamed themselves for not being more involved, others blamed the university for enacting out-of-proportion penalties.

“I was surprised and disappointed when I learned of the recent turn of events resulting in the suspension of Delta Chi,” wrote Mark Steffensen, who identifies himself as a UI and Delta Chi alumnus and senior executive vice president and general counsel for HSBC Bank. “Perhaps more distressing and disappointing, however, is the manner in which the university handled the investigation, review, deliberation, and ultimate levy of punishment.”

Sanction terms for those placed on probation vary by organization, depending on past behavior. Those that were deregistered lose their UI affiliation for at least four years.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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