March 17, 2011

Cornell Withdraws Recognition of SAE Following Death of Desdunes ’13

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The University has withdrawn its recognition of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for at least the next five years, following the Feb. 25 death of George Desdunes ’13, according to a statement released Friday from Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73. All SAE members must vacate their fraternity house by March 31.

The University found that Desdunes, who was a brother at SAE, was provided alcohol “while in the care of certain members and associate members” of SAE and became incapacitated, Murphy stated.

“Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died,” she said.

The Ithaca Police Department, along with Cornell Police, New York State Police and the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, are continuing an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Desdunes’ death.

“The loss of University recognition is the loss of any and all privileges and benefits bestowed upon a recognized fraternity or sorority,” Murphy said.

Such privileges include the ability to “use the University’s name in any fashion,” participate in “educational, social, philanthropic/service and athletic programs,” or use any University facilities for fraternity functions, she said.

According to Murphy, the University will offer SAE members who were living in the fraternity house access to campus housing.

Neither SAE President Eric Barnum ’12 nor Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

On March 1, the University temporarily suspended SAE after an investigation revealed that alcohol involved in Desdunes’ death likely constituted a violation of Cornell’s recognition policy for fraternities.

Desdunes was found unresponsive in the SAE house on the morning of Feb. 25, and he later died at Cayuga Medical Center. Ithaca Police continue to investigate the death, and the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office is participating in the investigation.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst