Gone 4 good?: Delta Chi suspension period halted until fraternity 'leaves quietly'
The group does not recognize Central Michigan University’s sanctions, which calls for a cease of any and all operations as a registered student organization. Delta Chi continues to recruit, members still wear their letters, and these actions have been encouraged by their supporters and national office.
According to university officials, their actions could be preventing them from ever return to CMU's Greek community.
“The four years hasn’t started yet,” said Tom Idema, director of student conduct. “Until they’re in compliance with what they’re supposed to do, I don’t know if they’ll ever be back.”
A component of their sanction is a call to stop all recruiting efforts, holding social functions as Delta Chi, holding rush periods, or meeting under the name of the fraternity, as well as pulling the letters down from the group’s house.
These conditions were outlined in the final sanction letter sent to the fraternity by Steven Johnson, vice president of enrollment and student services. The letter was dated October 11, and was part of the notice sent to Delta Chi informing them of their final sentence.
The four-year sanction also mandates that the group cannot receive the slightest consideration of a return from CMU’s Office of Student Activities and Involvement until 2017. Even then, the group is not guaranteed a right to return.
Zachary Ernat, president of Delta Chi, said the group did receive the letter informing them of the final ruling. However, he said the group was not made aware that there were conditional restraints put on their suspension other than taking the Greek letters off of their house.
Ernat said he was made aware of the conditions and the fact that CMU had not started to mark its suspension time after a conversation with Central Michigan Life reporters in March, five months after the final ruling was issued.
According to Idema, Delta Chi has not been in compliance with any of these measures.
“They’ve pretty much ignored the sanctions (and the requirements),” he said.
In the past, other groups who have been sanctioned with two- or four-year suspensions “went away peacefully,” Idema said.
He added that there has been no official recognition of the sanctions from the national office either, which still recognizes the Delta Chi chapter at CMU.
“In Greek Life, you’ve got the university, the national office and the local chapter. You’ve got to have a working relationship to have it work right,” Idema said. “Right now, with the Delta Chi situation, we’ve got this group of guys doing whatever they want. And then we’ve got the national office that’s pretty much ignoring the university, saying ‘We support this chapter.’”
As time moves on, the officials in the Office of Student Conduct have uttered a collective sigh of relief that the decision regarding Delta Chi’s return doesn’t rest on their shoulders.
“I’ve done my part and whatever happens now is between the Greek Life office and their national office," Idema said. “It’s not my decision when they come back, but if I were the Greek Adviser, I’d be concerned.”
Why was the sanction justified?
Idema understands the responsibility placed on a Greek Life adviser because he once held the position.
“Before 2013, I had three jobs: I was student conduct, I was doing all registered Greek organizations and I was also the Student Life adviser,” he said. “If there was a Greek Life issue on campus, I was in the middle of it. I helped get the Greek Circle out here in Warriner Mall, all of those types of things. I was there supporting, but I was also there doing the conduct piece.”
It was difficult balancing his roles, Idema said. For 12 years, the conduct director saw the best and worst CMU Greek Life had to offer. His view of Greek Life from each angle gave him a singular insight when it came time for him to take on the full-time role as the head of student conduct.
He said he brought up Delta Chi's history as a small measure of support for his imposition of a higher, more severe punishment on the fraternity, as they in turn appealed the original sanctions of becoming a dry house and to suspend recruiting.
Idema went back 15 years into Delta Chi’s history to show Johnson and the appeals board that all past remedies were not effective in stopping them from making poor decisions.
That means Idema, in various roles, saw the good deeds and the misgivings of Delta Chi firsthand for at least 12 of them.
Of all the violations listed in his letter to the appeals board, one incident is particularly disturbing.
In 2002, a group of Delta Chi brothers were engaged in a hazing ritual during that year’s rush period. A group of rushes were taken to a field and told to drink a certain amount of alcohol before they returned to the house.
The incident ended with Mount Pleasant police arresting the rushes. After taking them to the police department, one man was transported to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
Ernat told CM Life reporters that he and other Delta Chi members didn’t condone the act, but, because they were practically children in 2002 – and not members of the fraternity – this hazing incident has nothing to do with them.
The charges against the 2002 group were alcohol and hazing violations, and they were sanctioned with a ban on recruiting.
While the most recent list of offenses carried with them higher caliber charges than simple hazing and alcohol violations, including allegations of theft and sexual assault, Ernat said they shouldn’t have been punished for actions of past members.
Idema regrets not taking stronger action against Delta Chi in 2002, the same way he did in 2013.
“Looking back, I think we missed the ball on that one,” he said. “As you work in the Greek Life field, you can pretty much sanction a group any way, but one of the things you don't do is take away their right to recruit. That's just like the lifeline for the group.
“It was really the first time we have come across one of those sorts of things. If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it much differently. I would have come down much harder because that was a pretty bad situation.”
That sense of remorse led his judgment to suggest a more severe punishment in 2013.
While Delta Chi members felt blindsided by the move, Idema said it was needed to keep order within the campus and Greek community.
“They were saying that the sanction was wrong, and we were saying the sanction was wrong because of their past history. They have already been sanctioned for these things,” he said. "(We said during the appeal) this is why these sanctions won’t work.
“They have a pattern of that. We tried it before, and it didn’t work.”
Four years is no death sentence
Delta Chi and its various supporters have characterized the four-year ban as a death penalty.
The complaint is that the sanction effectively wipes the fraternity from Greek Life’s institutional memory. The sanction also prevents those men who recently joined Delta Chi from being able to officially affiliate themselves with the group.
In many ways, that’s what Idema said he was going for.
“We get to a point where we say, ‘Hey, guys, we need to take a break and restart, and to really move forward,'" he said.
The Delta Chi situation is an anomaly because of their unwillingness to cooperate, not in the fact that they were kicked off campus.
To the contrary, use of two-year and four-year sanctions has been a more frequent weapon employed by the Office of Student Conduct since the late 2000s.
According to the office's records, six Greek Life organizations have been sanctioned with two-year or four-year suspensions within the last 10 years. These organizations include Beta Theta Pi, Alpha Chi Rho, Lambda Chi Alpha, Pi Kappa Phi, Sigma Pi and Delta Chi.
In Idema’s opinion, suspensions are effective because they send a message and give those organizations kicked off campus an opportunity to reinvent themselves.
“There are groups that have come back and done so well and been successful. That’s what we want,” he said. “That’s the reason why we sanction in the first place.”
One fraternity that faced a suspension and is back better than ever, Idema said, is Pi Kappa Phi.
The fraternity was suspended for four years in 2008 for hazing. It was charged with making associates haul bricks around as part of a hazing ritual.
“(Pi Kappa Phi) went away quietly. They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Idema said. “They brought their national office, they trained the guys and now they have a fabulous group.”
Matt Berlin, president of Pi Kappa Phi, said they have done everything they can to reinvent the fraternity.
“It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance,” Berlin said. “It’s not something that’s easily done. It’s more than just being an average member of a fraternity.”
To come back, Berlin said the previous group had to cease all operations. When the suspension was over, the national chapter came back to recolonize. Berlin was a part of that original recruiting class. He said the institutional memory of the group had in fact been erased. This didn’t cause many problems in terms of poor perception of the group, but did handicap the group when they went out to build their membership.
“A lot of it was internal issues,” he said. “Guys in the group had doubts that we were even going to come back and keep the charter. It was hard to keep the guys together.”
When they did have a base of brothers that Berlin thought were in it for the long haul, he said they just focused on why they signed on to the fraternity in the first place.
“We had to be successful in every area you can be” he said. “Whether that’s in school, intramural sports or fundraising, everyone in the group sees that and pushes to be motivated and involved. We do it so we can make sure that everyone involved gets what they want out of it.”
Berlin added that recruiting the right kind of guys was paramount to maintaining the new reputation they have built for themselves. The Pi Kappa Phi slogan is “Men of Class.” Berlin said he believes they are living up to that ideal.
“We’ve been incredibly successful,” he said. “We’ve done that by being pretty selective about the guys we want to bring in. The one downfall is we have a lower number, but we focus on quality over quantity.”
Berlin understands why Delta Chi members have been acting out in the way they have.
“The fraternity is a cherished thing,” he said. “They see it as being unfair. They think they were wrongfully punished. The reason our guys didn’t push back was because they knew they deserved it. They might not think they deserve it.”
As the clock ticks forward, Delta Chi has not given the campus community, university officials or their Greek brothers and sisters any indication that they’ll stop acting as the "underground fraternity" any time soon.