Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NIU Suspension Reduced to Two Years

Sig Eps receive reduced suspension
By JOHN RANALLO

The NIU chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon’s five-year suspension has been reduced to two years. Sigma Phi Epsilon was found guilty of racial harassment at a hearing Nov. 16, 2007, before a Judicial Board that did not include Judicial director Larry Bolles, who was removed from all judicial proceedings for the case by Brian Hemphill, vice president of Student Affairs.

As cited in a Nov. 5 Northern Star article, Sigma Phi Epsilon (“Sig Eps”) faced several infractions, including underage alcohol consumption, racial harassment and additional incidents.

Sig Eps were suspended for five years and fined $500 for violations of the University Code of Conduct at the hearing, at which the fraternity was not present. Sig Eps appealed the decision, leading to the suspension being reduced to a four-year term, which was ultimately reduced to a final two-year term.

SUSPENSION REDUCED

The five-year suspension was initially reduced to four years after the appeal process, but then was reduced to a retroactive two-year sentence deemed to have begun Sept. 12, 2007. The suspension is now being served by the fraternity.

The sentence was reduced by Hemphill, who said the decision to reduce the suspension to two years involved several factors. “The Sigma Phi Epsilon appeal decision was based on a review of the facts surrounding the case, action by the national headquarters, and past precedent with regard to sanctions surrounding incidents of this nature,” Hemphill said in an e-mail. He refused interviews in person or over the telephone.

“I found the four-year suspension to be unwarranted,” Hemphill said. “The Sigma Phi Epsilon national headquarters worked with alumni members of the organization and conducted a review of the chapter members, based on this incident, prior to the appeal.”

BOLLES REMOVED FROM CASE

Bolles was removed from the case and was not allowed to comment on any matters pertaining to the Sigma Phi Epsilon proceedings. “Dr. Bolles was removed from the case based on an appeal letter submitted by Sigma Phi Epsilon which alleged he was biased based on comments he made in the Northern Star on April 25, 2007, regarding the Greek community,” Hemphill said.

“In order to ensure that there was no perception of an unfair process, Dr. Bolles was not involved in the Judicial Board hearing or the two appeals.”

In the April 25, 2007 article, Bolles cited a downward trend in Greek Row behavior.“It’s like trying to change a culture, and that’s what you have on Greek Row - drinking, partying; they’re doing what Greeks do,” Bolles said in the article. Bolles said in the article if Greek Row behavior continued to decline, “a campus without Greek organizations could be a realistic future.”

SIG EPS’ NO-SHOW HEARING

According to documents acquired through Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Frank Woodin, the alumni president of the Illinois Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, claims Sig Eps corresponded with John Jones, associate vice president for Student Affairs. Woodin claims Jones met with representative alumni members Ryan Anderson and Tim Hogan with hopes of avoiding a hearing.

The FOIA request shows Woodin wrote to Jones, “You agreed to meet with our representatives on Nov. 9, and at that meeting, you said if [Sig Eps] took responsibility for the alleged violations, a hearing would not be necessary.” Sig Eps worked to comply but no agreement was reached, according to the correspondence.

Woodin claims Anderson met with Jones a second time to discuss terms.

In a letter, Woodin wrote to Jones: “You assured Mr. Anderson that we had reached an agreement on the sanctions and that, provided the amendments were made to the letter, a hearing could be avoided.”

Jones did not respond to phone calls and an e-mail requesting comment on the matter. Woodin claims that 10 minutes before the trial was set to begin, Jones called Anderson and apologized for not being able to reach an agreement.

Sig Eps, however, was under the assumption that an agreement had been reached, and the fraternity did not show for the hearing. Sig Eps was found in violation of the University Code of Conduct and was issued the initial five-year suspension with a $500 fine at the hearing.


Terms of Sigma Phi Epsilon's suspension
Spring 2008:

-Fraternity will not be a registered student organization and, therefore, will not enjoy any of the rights or privileges included in such a designation (e.g., access to campus resources, ability to recruit, no involvement with the Interfraternity Council, no community service, no social events, etc.)

-Sigma Phi Epsilon National Board of Directors may continue to recognize the fraternity if it chooses, but it is required to remain under alumni advisory council guidance throughout the suspension period.

-The organization may not represent itself in any way at campus-sponsored or campus-related events. For example, members may not have an intramural team and wear letters, or a group of members cannot attend other chapters’ philanthropy events en masse with letters on apparel.

-Sig Eps may conduct business meetings at the fraternity house, and the national office may conduct leadership trainings with current members.-Only members in good standing may reside in the fraternity house.

-The letters on the fraternity house must be removed from the structure.Summer/Fall 2008:-Sig Eps may conduct business meetings at the fraternity house, and members may become actively involved with The Balanced Man program under the strict guidance of its national office.

Spring 2009/Summer 2009:

-Sig Eps will not be a registered student organization but may request campus resources via the staff of Student Involvement and Leadership Development for the purposes of organizing its recruitment plans for Fall 2009 and for leadership development.

Fall 2009:

-Sig Eps will be eligible for recognized student organization status and all of the rights and privileges involved with that particular designation.

SOURCE: Letter from Brian Hemphill, vice president of Student Affairs, to Sigma Phi Epsilon President Daniel Leonard, obtained via Freedom of Information Act request

NATIONAL FRATERNITY INTERVENES

Sigma Phi Epsilon was notified of the five-year suspension Nov. 19, 2007. Sig Eps then appealed the decision Nov. 21 on the grounds that the fraternity’s right to due process was violated on several occasions. The appeal states that being led to believe the hearing would not occur was a violation of the fraternity’s due process. In addition, the appeal stated that the Judicial Hearing Board’s ruling was too severe.

On Nov. 27, 2007, the Sigma Phi Epsilon national fraternity intervened. In a letter acquired through a FOIA request, Craig D. Templeton, executive director of Sigma Phi Epsilon, stated that the NIU chapter had been suspended by the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Board of Directors.

In addition, the FOIA-requested letter stated the national board of directors “has already suspended and taken temporary authority of the charter at our Illinois Epsilon chapter at Northern Illinois University.” According to Templeton’s letter, dated Nov. 27, 2007: “The National Board of Directors has placed the chapter’s charter under the control of a specially appointed Alumni Advisory Council, made up of fraternity officials, staff, volunteers and alumni from other chapters.”

FRATERNITY OVERHAUL

The change of power suspended all undergraduate members, and the chapter will not be recognized as a registered student organization.

Eight members of the Illinois Epsilon Advisory Council are recognized, five of which are NIU alumni. The alumni advisory council eliminated two members for not meeting academic requirements, and another 28 of the 57 original members would “not be invited back,” according to correspondence between Templeton and the Office of Judicial Affairs. Hemphill, however, did not state in his e-mail that the members had been dismissed outright, but that the members were “suspended indefinitely from the fraternity.”

Dan Leonard, who became president of NIU’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter toward the end of the fall semester, feels the council’s decision was strict enough and is not worried about additional incidents.

“The chapter now includes only members who were invited back after a thorough membership review,” Leonard said in an e-mail interview. “I do not worry about any of them breaking the rules.”

Neither former Sig Eps president Mike Orescanin nor any other executive fraternity members were permitted to return by rule of the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Board of Directors. Leonard believes the appeal could have been treated more professionally.

“The active and alumni chapter do not feel that the process was handled properly, and are very disappointed,” he said. Leonard was selected by the alumni advisory council to serve as president. Previous executive officers were not asked to return.

FINAL RULING

At Sig Eps’ appeal trial Dec. 7, the Judicial Appeals Board reduced the sentence to a four-year suspension of the chapter, two years disciplinary probation and the requirement that the fraternity’s members attend a civility class. On Dec. 19, Sig Eps were informed by Hemphill that the suspension was reduced to two years.

Hemphill does not believe Sig Eps will violate the code of conduct again. “Sigma Phi Epsilon is suspended from all operations as an organization for two years,” he said. “I am confident that the remaining members will not violate the terms of their sanction, as it would have a direct impact on the time line to return to NIU.”

The Sigma Phi Epsilon house, 924 Greenbrier Road, appeared occupied as of Monday night. Sig Eps may conduct business meetings at the fraternity house, according to correspondence between Leonard and Hemphill. The correspondence also stated that the fraternity’s letters must be removed. The letters remained on the house as of Monday night