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A Look At the IFC JudComm

By Beckett W. Sterner

NEWS EDITOR

The decision last month to suspend Delta Kappa Epsilon from its house for a year marks the most severe punishment imposed by students on a fraternity in years.

Putting into practice a relatively new tiered system of punishments -- warning, probation, and then suspension -- the Interfraternity Council’s Judiciary Committee decided to increase the punishment level from probation to suspension following DKE’s most recent infraction during Orientation.

The new system was added this year in a revision of the JudComm Bylaws. For the first time since at least 1997, the laws listed suspension and expulsion explicitly as punishments available to the committee.

DKE’s suspension, which requires DKE to leave their house until next fall and not rush or hold social events, affects not only the fraternity community but all of MIT’s undergraduates, especially those living in any dormitories into which the DKE brothers may move.

A hands-off administration

The MIT administration has chosen a relatively hands-off approach to the JudComm’s decisions, not requiring any decision to be approved by administrators, but instead having Associate Dean of Student Discipline Steven J. Tyrell present at hearings to ensure proper procedure.

This marks a high degree of trust on MIT’s part in the ability of students to responsibly govern their own lives.

“We’re committed to the process,” said David N. Rogers, dean for fraternities, sororities and independent living groups. “We may not always agree with the outcome,” but as long as procedures were followed correctly, “we’re satisfied.”

The general procedure for an IFC hearing requires a panel of five members of JudComm to hear the case within 120 days of the complaint being filed and decide whether to dismiss the charges or impose a sanction. If the defendants appeal, JudComm forms an appeal panel of three new members that makes a final decision within 48 hours.

IFC revises JudComm rules

The ultimate fairness of any judicial decision, however, is tied to both the quality of the procedures used and also the arbitrator’s ability to carry them out.

The IFC has revised its JudComm bylaws three times since 1997, in part to update Rush rules following Rush’s transformation and in part to improve the procedure of hearings and the decision process.

JudComm Chair David B. Gottlieb G said that the changes made in the 2003 revision included legal requirements such as changing the word “trial” to “hearing.” Aside from the levels of punishment, the bylaws also “got rid of multiple appeals” if new evidence came to light following the first appeal, he said. “[The] levels are really there so the fraternities weren’t getting the same thing [punishment] over again,” he said.

With the addition of the levels system, however, JudComm also obtained the explicit ability to suspend or expel a fraternity from the IFC and added specific minimum length requirements for such punishments.

Prior to 2003, the hearing board’s sanctions could “include but [not be] limited to” reprimanding the group, demanding restitution to the affected group, levying a fine of less than $500, requiring community service, and requiring educational seminars related to the complaint, according to the 2001 revision.

The most recent revision includes similar punishments as the 2001 version, but adds four meta categories: warning, probation, suspension and expulsion. There are constraints on minimum and maximum length of sanctions for these categories.

For example, the length of a suspension is a minimum of one year and maximum of four. If the JudComm chooses to expel a fraternity from the IFC, it may not be reinstated for a minimum of ten years.

Gottlieb said that any revision of the bylaws must be approved by vote in an IFC general meeting with representatives from each fraternity.

There was “plenty of opportunity for fraternities to give their comment” during the revision process in January, Gottlieb said.

He said that the “people who understand the process [of hearings] are happy with it,” and in addition, said the current version is a “good foundation,” although “there’s always some room for improvement.”

The main method for ensuring proper use of the procedures, Rogers said, was by “training through the JudComm training” that new JudComm members go through.

Associate Dean for Student Discipline Tyrell is also present at each hearing as a procedural officer who can comment on the procedures but not the content of the hearing, according to the Bylaws.

IFC powers vary at other colleges

The power of IFCs or similar fraternal governing bodies at other universities varies. According to Rogers, some JudComms may only be able to recommend suspensions to the university, while others may have a dean’s panel of administrators to hear complaints.

Minus the new suspension policy, the system in place at the University of Virginia has many similarities to MIT. UVA Inter-Fraternity Council President Ryan M. Ewault said that the body has the university’s automatic backing for any decision.

“The university doesn’t really want the liability,” he said, so “when it comes to adjudicating, that’s up to us.”

The UVA IFC oversees 30 fraternities in total, while the Inter-Sorority Council, Black Fraternal Council, and Multicultural Greek Council govern a smaller number of groups.

Ewault said that UVA is “very strong on student self-governance,” and that the administrators function more as a “kind of a resource” than supervisor.

However, UVA’s IFC does not have any policy giving them jurisdiction to suspend a house. Ewault mentioned that most sanctions tend to be rush-related or community service.

If a fraternity were to consistently break the rules, Ewault said the sanctions would get “more and more serious,” with the maximum punishment “to recommend the removal of the contract that really holds the fraternity in relationship to the university.” In consultation with the university, then, he said that the national fraternity would revoke the local chapter’s charter.

CLC not bound by MIT decisions

The Cambridge License Commission, which is a part of the City of Cambridge and has the power to revoke housing licenses, is not bound by any decisions made by MIT or the IFC, however. The CLC has a separate decision process for considering punishments for infractions of city ordinances.

In most incidents, the MIT Police rather than Cambridge (or Boston) police will respond to a call on campus or regarding MIT FSILGs. The decision to inform the CLC about the event is then made by Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and MIT Chief of Police John DiFava.

Benedict said that in order to decide, they “basically look and see if a city code or ordinance has been violated.” For example, an unregistered party would not be reported to the CLC because it only violated internal IFC regulations.

CLC Executive Officer Richard Scali said that the “commissioners look at” punishments imposed by the IFC or MIT, but they “make their own decisions as to what would be appropriate.”

“Our role is a public safety issue,” he said.

Scali said that the commissioners of the CLC would be meeting soon concerning the incident at DKE, but that “I think they’ve taken a more active step this time; a more positive step,” referring to the IFC sanction.

In general, he said that fraternities have done “a pretty good job of cleaning up their activities” in recent years, but “there are other fraternities now who may not have been as active in our CAAB [Campus Alcohol Advisory Board] meetings” who are now having problems.

CAAB is a committee of students, faculty, staff, and Cambridge officials that makes alcohol-related recommendations to MIT.

Sanctions enforced via alumni

In order to enforce any decision made by the IFC, Benedict said that the primary method would be to work with the fraternity’s alumni organization, who own the fraternity’s house and have the power to expel members from the premises.

If the fraternity or alumni corporation did not cooperate, Benedict said that the “students wouldn’t be allowed to be involved in organizations on campus,” or host public activities.

In the case of DKE, then, it would be the “alumni corporation” of the chapter that would force the brothers to leave the house in compliance with the IFC’s decision.

Rogers said that one of the reasons for the JudComm Bylaws is to unify the national fraternities’ policies into one document governing all the MIT fraternities.

“The strictest policy always prevails,” he said, in terms of regulations banning kegs from parties, for example.

The 2003 revision is “more consistent” and “in line with national policies,” he said.