Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Response to "Update: Delta Phi fraternity's sanction appeal rejected"

Response to "Update: Delta Phi fraternity's sanction appeal rejected"
Brown &White Article Dated March 23, 2015

The Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations does not often comment publicly on conduct cases. Because this was an organizational case and not an individual student’s case, and because of the content of the recent Brown & White article, I believe that a response is justified and necessary. The charges and sanctions imposed in the most recent Delta Phi cases are available on the Lehigh Greeks blog (see here and here) . With the related documentation being easily accessible on the Greek Blog, this seemed like the appropriate place to respond.

Upperclass members of Delta Phi hazed the chapter’s new members and lied about it to university officials.   Information was discovered that the hazing had gone on recently and in the past few years, and the members of the organization continued to lie about the actions of the organization. A fundamentally fair hearing was held to determine if the organization was responsible for the charges levied against it. The chapter pled responsible for nearly all of the charges at the hearing and were sanctioned accordingly.

Lehigh University has a nationally recognized Greek System. Our chapters rank among the best in the country, and our Greek men and women represent some of the finest fraternity men and sorority women in the world.  Delta Phi Fraternity failed to live up to the standards of our institution the institution severed its relationship with that organization. Delta Phi Fraternity had more resources available to it at Lehigh to strengthen its organization than it would at any other college or university. Did they take advantage of it? No. They continued to haze, and lie, and failed to move forward with the rest of the Lehigh University Greek Community. The actions taken by the Lehigh University Community were fair and appropriate for Delta Phi's history of violating the Lehigh University Code of Conduct.
While the information above covers the essence of the Delta Phi case, there were several particular issues in the Brown and White article that I would like to address for those who would like additional information on this matter.

Delta Phi, through the anonymous members quoted in this article raise questions concerning the University's Disciplinary Process. The most important thing to remember about Lehigh University's Conduct Process is that it is not a court of law. The conduct process is an administrative process that holds students and student organizations responsible for their actions as they pertain to the context of the Lehigh University  Student Code of Conduct. One of the Delta Phi member said, “They couldn’t prove that things had happened 100 percent”. The burden of proof required in our conduct system is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that when you look at all the information available, the panel asks, "is it more likely than not that the organization violated this part of the Code of Conduct?". Preponderance of evidence is the burden of proof used on most colleges and university campuses across the nation, and it is the same standard used in civil court proceedings rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  The evidence in this case was certainly enough to meet the threshold of preponderance of evidence .  Lehigh University obtained a Delta Phi chapter notebook from 2011 that was signed by chapter officers, and testimony from members at the hearing indicated that many of the same activities occurred during Delta Phi's spring 2014.   Also many members lied about the chapter’s actions during the investigation.

Another statement in the article was allegedly from a member of Delta Phi's leadership team, who said that he thinks it was unfair for Lehigh to dissolve the fraternity over a notebook that was from 2011. This statement is disingenuous at best. The activities in the notebook did occur in 2011. Testimony from current members of the chapter stated that the same activities occurred in the spring of 2014 and had been on-going since at least 2011. So this is not a case of dissolving a chapter for the past actions of members. Delta Phi was dissolved because the organization lied to the University and University officials on multiple occasions, hazed its new members, and falsified University documents related to new member education for at least 5 years.  The assertions made that the appeals process is unfair, and that the code of conduct is unclear, are again not based in reality. Lehigh University's Code of Conduct is based on national best practices in the area of student conduct and is regularly reviewed.   Members of the LU Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations have been asked to consult at other universities as they review their own conduct codes.

The Notebook. In August of 2014, a notebook was found in building 86 (formerly the Delta Phi Fraternity house). This notebook contained a detailed account of the Delta Phi spring 2011 new member education program. It was 50 pages in length and handwritten. It was not found over Thanksgiving break as stated by the anonymous members of Delta Phi Fraternity in the Brown & White article. The chapter members have repeated this allegation in several public forums now including the Brown & White and it is simply false. The notebook was received in the Office of Student Conduct on or about August 25, 2014 and entered into our database where it was dated and time stamped August 25, 2014 3:58 pm. If, as stated in the article, members saw a notebook during the fall 2014 semester, perhaps it was a different notebook with records of hazing in it. Some of the allegations that we received stated that members were required to keep notebooks during new member education and to ensure that they were all exactly the same, so it is possible that multiple notebooks exist.

Delta Phi's disciplinary history:  Delta Phi’s disciplinary history and time line of cases must also be addressed. Delta Phi Fraternity's conduct history is available online at (http://studentaffairs.lehigh.edu/node/498). 

Disciplinary Probation: As you can see in March of 2014, Delta Phi Fraternity was on Disciplinary Probation for two incidents that occurred during the fall 2013 semester:
·         In March of 2014 the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs received a report that Delta Phi was hazing. An investigation was held, but there was not sufficient evidence to charge the organization, and the leadership of the organization denied any of the allegations were true, after being reminded of their obligation to provide truthful information. The alumni and national office were notified of the investigation and the outcome.

·         In August of 2014, the notebook was found. Its contents, from spring 2011, had details that were remarkably similar to the contents of the March 2014 report. The Dean of Students Office, The Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations, and The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs met regularly to discuss this case and develop an investigation plan. It became clear during these meetings that the members of Delta Phi repeatedly lied and withheld information during the March 2014 investigation and it appeared that Delta Phi Fraternity had possibly been falsifying new member education documents since at least spring 2011. It also became clear that members of the alumni corporation of Delta Phi participated in the hazing activities as undergraduates, and were still involved in the new member education process as alumni.

Disciplinary deferred dissolution: The chapter was placed on deferred dissolution in January 2015 due to an incident in November 2014:
·         On November 17, 2014, Delta Phi Fraternity sent a text message to their potential new members (over 35 students) that constituted harassment. The text message made sexually explicit and derogatory statements about a sorority and contained an invitation for the first year students to consume large quantities of alcohol. The case was investigated and a hearing was scheduled to resolve this matter. Please note that in the summer of 2014 it was decided that cases involving harassment would be heard by one administrator as opposed to a panel. Therefore this case was sent to a hearing with Dean Basso. (Note that the article includes a statement from a member of Delta Phi that Tim Wilkinson allowed Dean Basso to remain as the hearing officer after a concern of bias was raised. This is inaccurate. That decision is made by the Office of Student Conduct.) Because of the time needed to investigate this case, Thanksgiving Break, Finals, and Winter Break the hearing was scheduled early in the spring 2015 semester – January 27.  The chapter was found responsible. The sanctions imposed are listed in the above link to Delta Phi's disciplinary record. Delta Phi appealed this decision. One of the reasons that they appealed was that they believed that there was bias on the part of the hearing officer. An independent panel made up of faculty and students reviewed the appeal and Dean Basso's response and found no bias on Dean Basso's part and no reason to grant an appeal. Please note that Delta Phi had sent nearly the exact same text to its potential new members in the fall of 2013 and were allowed to resolve this informally as opposed to through the formal conduct process, promising that they would change the culture of the chapter. It was apparent that they had done nothing to change the culture.

·         In December, OSC&CE began the interview portion of the hazing investigation related to the notebook. Chapter officers, new members from spring 2014, and other chapter members including former leaders were interviewed by a team of 8 investigators. Students were told that they were required to be honest with investigators and were questioned. Again, many Delta Phi members and officers chose to lie or to withhold information when asked questions, some were honest and forthcoming. After the interview portion of the investigation, the OSC&CE reviewed all of the information gathered and developed charges against Delta Phi. The charges and other details are listed on the Greek Blog.

·         A hearing before the University Committee on Discipline to resolve the hazing related charges was scheduled after the appeal on the harassment case was heard. During the pre-hearing phase, Delta Phi challenged one of the panel members because that panel member had served on a hearing for a case involving one of the organization's members in December of 2012 (the case in question was not at all related to the organization, hazing, or any other Greek matter).  As stated in Article V, Section IV, part H of the Lehigh University Code of Conduct, the majority of the remaining members of the hearing panel did not find there to be bias and the hearing panel was not changed.

·         The hearing was held and Delta Phi was dissolved. Please see the Greek Blog for the rationale for the decisions made at that hearing.

·         Delta Phi Fraternity appealed this decision to the Disciplinary Appeals Committee and the appeal was denied.  The appeals committee considered all of the information presented to them including Delta Phi's re-organization plan and did not find that or any of the other arguments that Delta Phi made to be sufficient reason to grant an appeal.  The sanction of dissolution went into effect.

The Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations provides a fundamentally fair forum for issues involving student conduct to be resolved. In this case the process worked and the matters that came before the system were resolved in fair and manner.  I appreciate your time in reading this document and invite you to provide feedback at your convenience.

Chris Mulvihill
Assistant Dean of Students
The Office of Student Conduct & Community Expectations