Fiji Ruling Delayed By Licensing Board
Wan Yusof Wan Morshidi -- The Tech
Daniel F. Pokaski, Ellen E. Rooney, and Joseph I. Mulligan, members of the Licensing Board for the City of Boston, met with MIT officials to discuss the fate of Phi Gamma Delta's dormitory license yesterday morning at Boston City Hall.
ByDouglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor
After a contentious two-hour hearing, the Boston Licensing Board decided yesterday to ban all alcohol at Phi Gamma Delta, while delaying any additional actions until Nov. 26.
"I'm quite pleased,"said Dean for Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams after the hearing, noting that the delay will give the students some assurance that they will not have to move out soon.
The licensing hearing was attended by the police involved in the case, lawyers from the alumni group owning the house, and MIT officials and lawyers. The residents of Fiji decided not to attend nor testify at the hearing, said Ellen E. Rooney, chairman of the board, because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
The three-member board chastised MITadministrators for failing to take action against the fraternity earlier, despite a history of problems at Fiji.
"What's troublingŠ is that since this has been a fraternity, for sixty or seventy years in this locationŠ MITshould have been accountable for putting restrictions"on the underage use of alcohol, Rooney said.
"It seems out of control in many ways," especially following two prior hearings in the past two years dealing with alcohol at Phi Gamma Delta, Rooney added.
In 1996, officers responded to a report of underage drinking and found"the largest drinking party this officer has ever seen" according to police reports.
In February, officers responded to a noise complaint at Fiji. The complaint was made by a dormitory near the fraternity house at 28 The Fenway.
Neal H. Dorow, assistant dean and adviser for fraternities, sororities and independent living groups, testified that the Interfraternity Council had taken steps to discipline Fiji after the prior two incidents.
Alcohol was banned following the 1996 incident for nine months, and a dozen residents received training on how to serve alcohol responsibly, Dorow said. "They've made a commitment to avoid similar occurrences."
The February incident was caused by members ofSigma Alpha Epsilon yelling at Fiji members, Dorow added.
Commissioner Joseph I. Mulligan then asked why the 1996 punishment was not more harsh, given the police responses.
"That's why our response was as strong as it is,"Dorow said. "The perception was that they were doing a much stronger job" following the suspension period.
Few details come out of meeting
Very few details of what happened at the fraternity the night Scott S.Kruger '01 died were revealed at the meeting because of the continuing criminal investigation into the death.
Boston Police Detective Thomas Conolay testified that he and Detective Andrew Gambon visited Fiji at around 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, one day after Krueger went into a coma. Before visiting Fiji, they talked to Krueger's parents at Beth Israel Hospital, he added.
When they visited, "The house was in immaculate condition," Gambon said. However, "some of those bags which were blocking the hallway contained beer cans."
"The fraternity that Scott Krueger was at was having its freshman initiation night," Conolay testified that Krueger's parents said.
Krueger's parents also relayed the contents of a conversation they had with Kevin E. McDonald '00, who was Krueger's big brother at Fiji. However, Conolay and Gambon refused to detail what McDonald said, because of the criminal investigation.
Members of the Licensing Board seemed exasperated at times by the lack of information. "You want to get some legal advice,"Commissioner JosephI. Mulligan said at one point, disagreeing that the contents of the conversation were private.
"As soon as the grand jury is completed," more details will be made available as to what happened that night, Gambon said.
Once Krueger died, the investigation was transferred to the Boston Police homicide unit. While Sgt. Thomas Collins of the unit was present at the hearing, he declined to testify.
Alumni group testifies on alcohol
Following Conolay's and Gambon's testimony, lawyers representing Malcolm Cotton Brown Corp., the group of Fiji alumni that owns the house and the house's dormitory license, pleaded with the Licensing Board not to make a judgement in the case and not to close Fiji immediately.
"We have been at a tremendous disadvantage to discover the facts,"said Anthony M. Campo, an attorney with Boyle and Morrisey, who is representing the group. Neither the district attorney's office nor the Boston Police's homicide department would help the attorneys in their search for what happened.
"The local fraternity brothers have all indicated that they likely won't talk to us," Campo said.
Campo asked "that if the board were to decide to suspend the license that the board let the students be allowed to take their exams" before being evicted. In addition, the group requested that the house be allowed to "come up in its present shape or in a different shape"in Fall 1998, or the alumni group would run out of funds.
The Commissioners questioned why the alumni group had not taken steps to quell alcohol usage. "Why didn't the landlord act here when they knew it was a powder keg?" Mulligan said.
"There really are few things [to be done], because the corporation is only around to assure the financial well-being" of the house, and not to run the day-to-day operation of the house, Campo said. He added that the Corporation was unaware of this year's previous incident.
Deans discuss oversight of houses
Williams then testified about MIT's role in the fraternity system.
Reading from a prepared speech, Williams said, "We are interested only in seeing that the individual studentsŠ are able to continue their education uninterrupted, until the completion of the criminal investigation and of MIT's own inquiry into events connected with the death of Scott Krueger."
Williams offered to work with the board to develop a system of oversight and conditions to allow the residents to live in the house through the investigation period.
Williams later said in an interview that MIT would accept "basically any conditions that they want to impose to keep the studentsŠ from being evicted,"including having adults in the house and making the fraternity substance-free.
Members of the board admonished Williams for not acting before Krueger's death. "I think MITwas remiss in not stepping in"when the incident occurred last year, said Commissioner Daniel F. Pokaski.
"Perhaps MITshould have stepped in and said, Œno alcohol' and, ŒWe're going to have an adult there,'" he said.
Williams said that there is no trend of underage drinking that has gone on for years, and that all alcohol policies are being reviewed.
However, members of the board thought alcohol use was more common, especially at Fiji. "It's clear to me that all their social events were based on alcohol,"Pokaski said.
"I have never personally seen underage drinking,"Dorow said. "Idon't make it my business to be there when underage drinking could be occurring."
MIT's retained attorney, Jay Swope of the law firm Palmer and Dodge, explained the policy of not investigating any incidents until after the criminal investigation has finished, both to protect individual students' rights and to avoid interfering with the investigation.
As a result, MIT has no further details of what happened the night Krueger went into a coma, Swope said.
Board decides to wait three weeks
Following the hearing, the board held a brief open meeting where the Commissioners agreed to postpone most judgement for three weeks after discussing the case.
"Our concern is that we license this fraternity,"Rooney said. "After listening to today's hearingŠthe concern is where are they going to live."
"Whatever happensŠ we have to send a message to MITand to the fraternity that we will not tolerate flagrant abuse of the laws of the Commonwealth,"Pokaski said.
"I don't think we should take the beds away from these kids,"Mulligan said. Even the smartest students can have poor decision-making skills, and MITmakes an oversight in not supervising them better.
The board decided to postpone its decision untilNov. 26, when it will decide whether or not to take further action.
The commissioners are "being hard but not harsh,"Williams said. "They absolutely have the right to ask their licensed dormitories to keep under control."