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Urgent PBE parental concerns

To President Hockfield, Chancellor Clay, and Dean Colombo:

As the parents of Matthew Barron, MIT Class of 2013 and a Phi Beta Epsilon brother initiated in January 2010, we are sick with worry and outraged about the events concerning the fraternity’s four-year suspension. We are writing to plead for an independent investigation of the IFC’s Judicial Committee process and appeal as well as a reconsideration of the decision itself.

Written more than two full weeks after we heard the initial shocking news from our son, Dean Colombo’s parent letter cites “a deliberative judicial process, following established procedures, conducted by our student leadership.” In fact, JudComm’s proceedings regarding Phi Beta Epsilon contradict these claims. Our request for review and reconsideration rests on the following grave concerns:

The judicial process itself flagrantly violated many of “the rights of all parties to a fair process . . . guaranteed” in Article I of MIT’s IFC Judicial Committee bylaws by:

1) Using as evidence a stolen document unsubstantiated by any actual victims and thereby denying PBE “the right to a decision based solely on the facts presented and supported by a preponderance of evidence.”

2) Permitting the full participation in the hearing by a student biased after being denied a PBE bid as a freshman and now finding his former girlfriend dating a Phi Beta Epsilon brother; thereby depriving PBE of a “hearing before an impartial peer tribunal.”

3) Initiating the charges months beyond the 60-day policy and thereby denying PBE “the right to a timely hearing.”

4) Holding the hearing without an administrator present and thereby denying PBE “the right to have an advisor present.”

5) Refusing to allow the PBE Corporation representative to speak and thereby denying PBE “the right to present oral statements.”

The charge of hazing in the form of “mental discomfort” during the January 2010 Phi Beta Epsilon initiation is groundless and unsubstantiated by any of the pledges involved. Like the other members of his pledge class, our son Matthew found PBE’s 2010 initiation to be a positive bonding experience consistent with the supportive nature of the fraternity that has become his family away from home. In essence, there were no injured parties, and it is a victimless charge.

Ironically, the “mental discomfort” Matthew and his brothers have been subjected to directly results from MIT’s blind support of an unjust process and unfounded decision. To further the irony, the Class of 2013 Phi Beta Epsilon brothers, the very students the hazing policy was intended to protect, suffer the greatest punishment under the proposed four-year suspension.

From the fall 2009 Rush through the January 2010 initiation to the response to the current crisis, Phi Beta Epsilon has served as a sanctuary against the rigors and isolation of the college experience for our son and his classmates. To allow an unjust judicial process to destroy this sanctuary in name and in fact threatens the welfare of our children and is a betrayal of the fundamental trust we as parents and our children place in the leaders of the Institute.

We understand MIT’s commitment “to the concept of self-governance for the Fraternity community” as stated in JudComm’s bylaws; however, in practice, for the brothers of Phi Beta Epsilon, the IFC Judicial Committee abused its authority, ignored its charge to be “non-adversarial,” and certainly did not make “the discipline of students . . . a part of the educational process.” Sadly, in this case, JudComm’s proceedings echo the witch hunt depicted in Arthur Miller’s landmark play, The Crucible, with “. . . children jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” For a decision formulated so improperly to be affirmed and validated on appeal by MIT is unconscionable.

For the members of Phi Beta Epsilon and their families, the consequences of the initial decision and appeal are exceedingly painful and unsettling. MIT has an urgent obligation to protect our children from further harm by scrutinizing the process, the evidence, the decision, and the appeal judgment. To do otherwise is to put the welfare of every active PBE member at risk and to deny our children full rights to the Institute’s mission. We appreciate your swift and serious consideration of our concerns, and we eagerly await your response.

— Elaine and Gerry Barron
Parents of Matthew S. Barron ‘13

Look into expulsion of 100 year old fraternity

Dear President Hockfield:

I would like to ask for your help to look into an important issue at MIT.

I am an MIT alum, class of 1984, and past President of MIT’s Pi Lambda Phi fraternity.

When I arrived at MIT in 1980 and pledged Pi Lam, I learned that they had just been put on probation by the Dean. In fact, I found out that “probation” had just been invented at MIT to handle the situation at Pi Lam.

It has come to my attention that the Phi Beta Epsilon fraternity has recently been suspended for four years — which is effectively a death sentence for a fraternity. And a tragic loss for one with such a long and rich history at MIT.

I do not know what the infractions were for PBE, but I know that when I was at MIT, Pi Lam could have been cited for any number of violations under the broadly written, current MIT and Massachusetts Hazing Policies.

I have no doubt that the hazing policy and its enforcement have the best of intentions but I would ask you to look into this matter and be sure that this is a fair and reasonable enforcement of the rules.

If Pi Lam had been held to these broad standards, we too would have certainly been suspended and many brothers who were later to start and run companies, win an Olympic gold medal, and eventually even become professors and department heads at MIT would have been deprived of the important lessons of living responsibly on their own — that can only come through fraternity life.

Please use your position as MIT’s President to ensure fairness to PBE and the MIT students.

—Stephen Smith ‘84
Former president of Pi Lambda Phi