George Mason University Wins Ruling in Frat Spat
By ANNIE YOUDERIAN
(CN) - Officials at George Mason University did not violate the constitutional rights of Sigma Chi fraternity members by sanctioning the fraternity for hazing, providing alcohol to minors and sponsoring parties where female students were sexually assaulted.
The university in Fairfax County, Va., conducted a hearing in May 2006 to address four charges against Sigma Chi. Witnesses from both sides testified, including the two victims of sexual assault. University officials determined that the Iota Xi chapter had violated three of the four charges, and dismissed an underage drinking charge on the basis of insufficient proof.
George Mason University revoked the chapter's official recognition for at least 10 years and published the results of the hearing in the university paper.
The chapter lost its appeal with Sandy Hubler, vice president for student life, who said the chapter "failed to provide new evidence, identify a defect in the proceedings or specify a standard of fairness that was abridged."
Several weeks after the hearing, two chapter members, Ryan Duckwitz and Justin Pietro, attended a Greek recruitment fair wearing Sigma Chi shirts. Duckwitz also took part in an off-campus golf tournament and "Brotherhood Day" organized by chapter members.
The university charged Pietro, Duckwitz and four other members with failing to comply with official orders and unauthorized use of the university name.
Pietro and Duckwitz were given formal warnings, placed on probation for one year and banned from extracurricular activities for a year. Pietro also had to write a 10-page paper on student ethics.
The chapter, Pietro and Duckwitz sued the university and its administrators in August 2007, claiming the defendants violated their rights to due process and free speech.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the university's memo in support of the motion ran two pages too long. Rejecting the plaintiffs' request to strike the memo in its entirety, the district court ordered the last two pages deleted.
It then ruled for the defendants on all counts.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the lower court erred in rejecting their constitutional claims and in failing to strike the defendants' memo.
The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., held that the university did not deprive the plaintiffs of their right to free association, nor did it unfairly portray the chapter as "a sexual predator" by publishing the hearing results in the student paper.
Judge King similarly rejected the free-speech claim, saying that even if those rights were infringed, the university had other valid grounds for sanctioning the fraternity, including the two incidents of sexual assault.
Finally, the court upheld the decision to strike the last two pages of the defendants' memo.