Students, Administration Clash Over Delt Closing
by Gary James, News Editor
November 13, 2008
With a student dead, an on-going investigation, a fraternity house disbanded, and the perception of a new hardline against underage drinking, tension between the students and the administration saturates the campus.
The Senior Council organized an open forum Tuesday night in Pioneer Chapel for students to air their concerns and frustrations. Dean of Students Michael Raters and Associate Dean of Students Rick Warner attended the forum, and they tried to set the record straight on some of the rumors that have spread around campus. But for all the questions they did answer, there were other central question they did not, and according to them, could not answer
Almost five weeks after the death of Delta Tau Delta pledge Johnny Smith and the following investigations by the college, the national fraternity office, and local police, the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta is no longer recognized by Wabash College, and the lease on its recently-renovated house at 603 W. Wabash Ave has been terminated.
In a 225-word email sent by President Patrick White, he notified the student body of the decision to disband Delta Tau Delta after “considerable investigation and conversation” that found “a culture and practice of ungentlemanly behavior and irresponsible citizenship, which are inconsistent with Wabash's Gentleman's Rule, mission, and core values.”
Dean Raters could not speak about the specifics of what has been found during his investigation. “The college withdrew recognition of the chapter, and the lease is terminated,” he said. “That decision was finalized [last] Wednesday night, and presented [last] Thursday morning” to the Delts at 7:15 a.m.
Raters said Delts 21 and older were told they had to leave the house by Sunday, November 9. Those who are under 21 were given the choice to remain in the house if they wanted. Those under 21 were instructed not to go to the on-campus residences of those over 21, and those over 21 are not to return to the former Delt house. “The reason for that is to limit the possibility of a reoccurrence of the culture that we found to exist and that would not be in the students best interest or college,” Raters said.
When pressed about the details of the culture to which he was referring, Raters said he could not comment beyond what was written in President White's email. “I'm not in a position right now where I can share details,” Raters said, “but I would look very carefully at the president's message to the community about the 'culture, recruitment, pledgeship, ritual, and tradition,' elements of that that are unacceptable.”
Raters he could not give a reason why he could not talk about the findings of the investigation, but he respond to rumors that he requested excise police to monitor the campus and that he suspended rhyineship for the semester. He said he did not call excise, but they did call him to ask how could he “guarantee” that underage drinking does not occur. He also said he did not end Rhyineship, but the Spinx Club decided it on their own. Sphinx Club President Travis Janeway said Raters did not force them to make the decision. Janeway also announced Tuesday night that identification will be checked at future TGIFs and tailgates organized by the Sphinx Club.
President White reiterated the administration's inability to communicate all the specifics to the student-body. However, he did shed some light on the situation by comparing the administration's silence to their response to other individual or group disciplinary actions.
“This is our policy regarding student discipline in anyway,” White said. “If there were some widespread infraction of the Gentleman's Rule or some other kind of issue, we wouldn't be talking to other people about what that was. If all of a sudden a student is expelled from campus, and others want to know what did he do, we don't talk about that. We don't really acknowledge what has happened. That's not so much legal, except in the sense of the law protecting student records.”
Senior Delt and Sphinx Club member Matt Lee would like more information, not just for Delts but also for others on campus. “I think the big issue for others around campus is how to we protect ourselves,” he said. “What is this ungentlemanly behavior that we can try to put a stop to so we can protect ourselves? I think that's the general problem with everyone outside our house.”
Delts now eat their meals in the Sparks Center. Although they are still transitioning, Associate Dean of Students Rick Warner said the vast majority of the students who were under 21 chose to remain at 603 W. Wabash Ave. Of those over 21, some live in independent housing while others chose to rent their own apartments. While the administration does not plan on moving Independent students into the former Delt house this semester, both President White and Dean Warner signaled Independents would be living there in the near future.
Students' reactions have been mixed, but many of them are upset, confused, and saddened by the Delt house closing. Matt Lee said the situation has been tough for him because he's spent three-and-a-half years in the house, and he has memories and close friendships that were created there.
“You want to be angry. You want to be frustrated,” said Lee, who now lives in a campus-owned house. “But it's also a sadness that you're feeling. And kind of a nostalgia for the things that you had but you're not going to have again on campus. No senior really thinks that things are going to go down like this. Your last year is supposed to be the best year of your life. I want to think that it's fair. I think everyone wants to trust the administration but I think things will be different and more clear once the school is able to make a statement about why they took the action.”
Stevan Stankovich said the administration's actions disrupted his process of dealing with Johnny Smith's death.
“I was already dealing with a lot of at the time,” said Stankovich, who still lives at 603 W. Wabash, the former Delt house. “And that just added another dimension to it, and just pissed me off. When the guys were there, the ones over 21, it felt more like a brotherhood. And when they took that away it stopped us from healing over Johnny's death in my opinion, and making us face something entirely new and horrible. Instead of losing one brother, it feels like I've now lost 20 brothers. And I want to do anything in my power to fight it to prevent it from happening.”
Inter-Fraternity Council President Jim Leuck is concerned about the way the administration has chosen to deal with the situation and the implications it has for the Gentleman's Rule.
“The termination of the Delt's lease was, in my mind, a very sad and tragic event in Wabash history,” Leuck said. “I think that it was necessary the administration evoke a strong response to the recent tragedy. But I call into question the direction behind it - so many students, faculty, coaches, and alumni seem completely perplexed by the college's decision. It is difficult to accept the college's decision unquestioningly when it was so poorly delivered. I only hope that the Wabash Community understands the graveness of the situation but can still come together as a band of brothers to make sure that the Wabash we all know and love can continue to thrive.”
Adverting Consultant and 1972 Delt Alumnus Rick Fobes expected the college to close the house but still has a lot of questions about the events that led up the decision to close Delta Tau Delta.
“I do hope we will learn what happened, and hopefully, why, and importantly what the College and community is doing to help ensure that this will not happen again,” Fobes said. “I felt that President White's letter to alumni on October 15th was very well done, and offered a number of productive initial next steps for the College and all of us to consider in the future. I have also heard that the closing is for a number of years. This is unfortunate to hear, and I hope all of us, Delt alums as well as the greater Wabash community, will learn the facts about the closing and the thinking behind the multi-year timing. I'm sure this a very difficult time for the College, and I'm confident the Administration is doing their best to do the right thing for the future.”
Former Sphinx Club President and 2007 Delt Alumus Robert Van Kirk was shocked by house closing and concerned about the lack of substance and context of the discourse between the administration and everyone else.
“I firmly believe that this administration executed its decision swiftly and poorly,” he said. “Since Johnny's death, a lack of communication between the administration and the students (as well as parents and alumni) placed a tremendous level of unnecessary stress upon each Delt. Not one gentleman in that Fraternity ever expected to avoid accountability. They did not, however, deserve to be placed in 'purgatory'--as they called it--'waiting for judgment day.' This stress greatly impeded their ability to mourn their loss and conduct their daily responsibilities (academics, athletics, etc.).
Dean Raters and President White said they think their actions are consistent with the Gentleman's Rule.
“If students came here because they saw the Gentleman's Rule as a license to do whatever they wanted without repercussions, with an ability to ignore the law without repercussions, then they came to Wabash with a view of the Gentleman's Rule that does not focus on the responsibility therein,” Raters said. “I would hope that our students see the Gentleman's Rule as one laden with responsibility that must be taken very seriously so that other freedoms or licenses can continue to exist. And I hope that we all can work together to create a better understanding of that despite it's complexities.”
White said the Wabash Community should rise up to the challenge of showing everyone outside of Wabash what the Gentleman's Rule is all about.
“If the Gentleman's Rule is the hard rule, we think it is it should be asking us to think about what is at the center,” White said. “If at the center of the Gentleman's Rule is free and open access to alcohol and no one should ever question me about that at any time thank you, then I would say that I disagree with that interpretation of the Gentleman's Rule. We want to keep the spirit of the Gentleman's Rule and to do that we have to be honest with one another and recognize that we're all human. ”