The State of (Judicial) Affairs

The infamous Kate Burke

The infamous Kate Burke

So, it sounds like your fraternal organization screwed up. Perhaps you stand accused of breaking a few rules, of this or that type. The Administration is breaking down your door over the behavior of a few sick, twisted individuals. What now?

The road ahead is neither clear-cut nor well marked. An exploration of the website of the Office of Judicial Affairs reveals tortuous, twisty paths of legalese that are difficult to decipher, and which raise a number of questions regarding the state of judicial affairs at the College. How exactly do judicial proceedings (under the Organizational Adjudication Committee) function for organizations versus individuals? How are allegations filed, and how does the accused find out about their charges? How do hearings function, and are they comparable to COS hearings? What is the timing for the judicial process? The Office of Judicial Affairs was not available for comment regarding these issues, and instead pointed towards resources available (with some digging) on their website. The state of the Office of Judicial Affairs in recent times has been subject to much controversy, such as the infamous lack of an annual report from COS since 2010 (the latest one was only recently released and comprised of a compilation of records from 2010-2013). Leigh Remy, the relatively new director of the office, was quoted by The Dartmouth as purposed to “increase transparency in judicial affairs.” A worthy goal, as the lack of clear answers to these valid inquiries raises serious questions regarding due process and student and organizational freedoms on the College’s campus.

Some semblance of answers to these questions can be found through the exploration of judicial precedent of organizational proceedings, specifically in the cases of three fraternity derecognitions in the past two decades. The derecognition of Zeta Psi fraternity in May 2001 came as a result of the internal circulation of sexually explicit newsletters which, according to the College’s official press release at the time, “purported to describe exploits, many of them of a sexual nature, of various members of the fraternity and other students” in addition to including “use of the names and photographs of specific Dartmouth undergraduate women in descriptions of these purported exploits, and a promise of “patented date-rape techniques” in a future issue.” Though the fraternity defended the papers as satire, a lengthy hearing determined that Zeta Psi had violated three standards of conduct. The May 21, 2001 issue of The Dartmouth Review criticized the decision as a violation of free speech, citing the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). While a Daily Dartmouth piece from the time mentioned former Dean of Residential Life Martin W. Redman’s role in charge of the judicial proceedings, neither that piece nor College press releases mention the makeup of the Judicial Affairs committee. An agreement reached in 2007 with the administration resulted in Zete’s return to campus in 2009.

Phi Delta Alpha fraternity was derecognized after the infamous fire of 1999, in which several brothers broke into neighboring fraternity Chi Gamma Epsilon and set curtains ablaze, ultimately causing thousands in damages. Less well known are the charges that the fraternity also was discovered “allowing members of the Class of 2000 to rush during their first year at the College, serving alcohol to underage students, tolerating drug use, providing false information to the College and using techniques of peer pressure and coercion during pledge period” several months before the arson. Phi Delt’s proceedings were handled by the now-defunct Judicial Committee, and Dean Redman again held jurisdiction over the final decision. Phi Delt officially returned as an active fraternity in 2004.

Beta Theta Pi, the original incarnation of today’s Beta Alpha Omega fraternity, was derecognized in November of 1996 after several social probations and a series of incidents involving a sexually explicit, sexist, and racist poem, alcohol violations, and a physical altercation on the lawn of the Tabard. Beta had previously endured a year-long period of derecognition beginning in 1994 after incidents of hazing, and earned their permanent derecognition at the end of 1996. Dean of Residential Life Mary Turco handed down the ruling after a hearing under the Coed Fraternity Sorority Judiciary committee which found the fraternity guilty of six violations. Beta was reincarnated in 2011 as Beta Alpha Omega, a local fraternity independent from the national organization (while also displacing Alpha Xi Delta sorority, which had rented the Beta-owned physical plant).

The recently-released Committee on Standards and Organizational Adjudication Committee Report (for the 2013-2014 school year) provides some information regarding the handling of cases of organizational misconduct. The report states that “Student organizations are subject to the same conduct rules as individual students. If the alleged conduct is serious or there is a history of repeated misconduct, the matter is referred to an OAC panel consisting of three students, two faculty members, and two administrators led by a non-voting chair. Other reports are addressed in an administrative hearing with a member of the Judicial Affairs staff.” Unsurprisingly, the report goes out of its way to indirectly condemn both Greek organizations and general consumption of alcohol, even praising organizations which are “piloting new party management approaches,” irrespective of the fact that this is likely due to college sanctions requiring such action. A total of 25 OAC hearings were held during the course of the 2013-2014 school year, resulting in only four instances of probation or suspension. Details are not given regarding specific organizations’ offenses corresponding to their respective punishments, except in the cases of hazing allegations, which were handled in part by Hanover police department. Houses found guilty of hazing were required to adopt a “Fresh Start” agreement, which involves internal and external review of new member treatment.

The OAC was formed in 2000 under the philosophy that “all students and student organizations should be treated under the same set of guiding principles and rules, and that violations be adjudicated by a single judicial system embracing all student organizations.” It is composed of six members of the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, appointed for three-year terms, twelve members selected from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes (in the same manner as the COS), and eight administrators selected by the President. Ultimately, however, the Dean of the College (in addition to other positions, such as the President or the college official in charge of an organization) has authority to carry out immediate sanctions, such as temporary suspension (pending a hearing). As far as the function of hearings, the OAC carries out its duties in hosting the hearing before submitting its recommendations of penalties to the Chair of the committee, who will execute the appropriate penalty.

The derecognitions of the fraternities were made under widely varying circumstances — Beta’s followed long-standing issues, including a previous temporary derecognition, while Zete’s was caused by spreading a newsletter that was, while unsavory, within the bounds of free speech. This broad spectrum of actions qualifying a fraternity for derecognition will create anxiety for any Greek house undergoing public-relations branding problems. Compounding this worry is the College’s lack of clarity on the disciplinary process. The Judicial Affairs website, where the above information was gleaned, is filled with vague language about the ordeal. It mentions that individuals and organizations will face allegations in front of a body of students and administrators, but does not specify how much time the accused party has between allegation and tribunal, what sort of evidentiary standard the body will use, or even what different punishments mean; “suspension” and “probation” are terms bandied about frequently whenever a person or group falls short of the glory of Parkhurst, but the Judicial Affairs site fails to list what sort of ordeals these entail.

Dartmouth’s disciplinary practices are at odds with a growing national trend favoring due process and openness in college and university investigations. High-profile cases in recent years have highlighted deficiencies in this area. In 2012, Auburn University student Joshua Strange was expelled in a university sexual misconduct hearing, even though an Alabama grand jury had exonerated him Similarly, a lurid November 2014 Rolling Stone story accused members of the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity of gang-raping a female student. Eventually, this episode was conclusively proven to be fabricated, but not before UVA President Teresa Sullivan suspended the school’s entire Greek system in the immediate aftermath of the story breaking. Phi Kappa Psi is now seeking legal redress against Rolling Stone for defamation. Another recent incident in March 2015 at the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity saw several members being recorded while shouting a racist chant; University President David Boren closed the SAE plant and expelled two members without even going through the motions of disciplinary procedure. In the last two cases mentioned, the arbitrary executive action of campus administrators led to the harsh punishment of members and organizations without even the pretence of impartiality or due process.

What can the College do to improve its disciplinary hearing process? Apart from halting the machinations of bureaucrats like the nefarious Katherine Burke of the Committee on Standards (whom Joe Asch of Dartblog refers to as “Burkquemada,” alluding to the name of Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada), the Administration should seek to increase transparency in the judicial process. (Given its track record revealing what was going on with Moving Dartmouth Forward, we at The Review are not optimistic.) One example of a way to improve the judicial affairs process can be found in an Ohio University organization called “Students Defending Students.” Billed by FIRE as a group founded “specifically to assist their peers throughout the disciplinary process … [providing] free assistance to those facing campus charges, advising them with regard to their rights, and how best to navigate the stress of being accused of misconduct.” Not only would this shed some badly-needed sunlight on the plethora of issues we face regarding secrecy, but it would also create a better connection between the administration and student.

Charles C.W. Jang also contributed to this report.