May 28, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Psi Upsilon Has Been Punished Enough

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To the Editor:

On May 25, The Sun reported that Cornell University has expelled the Psi Upsilon fraternity for three years effective immediately, as a result of two recent incidents. I believe this action represents the culmination of an abusive campaign the University has conducted against the fraternity following the alleged sexual assault at the fraternity this past January.

This summary executive action follows shortly on the heels of a Review Board’s determination that Psi Upsilon should be permitted to remain at Cornell and exonerating Psi Upsilon from any responsibility for the alleged assault. This arbitrary action imperils the independence and undermines the autonomy of every student group at Cornell. On a more personal note, it unfairly punishes the members of Psi U and their families.

While the difficulty of the position the University found itself in dealing with alleged assault is not to be underestimated, enough is enough of this matter as far as the fraternity itself is concerned. The University should rescind the May 25 letter, adopt the findings of the Review Board and close the book on this matter.

Immediately following the Jan. 31 alleged sexual assault, Travis Apgar, Senior Associate Dean of Students, on behalf of the University, placed the chapter under interim suspension, notwithstanding the fact that there was never any allegation that the fraternity was involved in any way. This unfairness was compounded by several months of foot-dragging after which the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs dredged up a laundry list of years-old social complaints — totally unrelated to the alleged assault — apparently searching for a reason to keep the fraternity on lock-down through the entire semester.  When “hearings” were finally held, Psi Upsilon was unsurprisingly cleared of any responsibility for the Jan. 31 incident. And nothing came of the laundry list — except for the Review Board’s endorsement of the Chapter’s commitment to continue monitoring compliance with applicable rules and regulations and to introduce meaningful reforms meant to make fraternity membership healthier and more sustainable.

On May 5, Dean Apgar notified representatives of the fraternity that Psi Upsilon “will continue to operate in the Fall” and that “these representatives should be sure to communicate this to the membership because there were family members anxiously waiting to know if they need to find other living arrangements.” The fraternity understood the prohibition against scheduled parties remained in effect, though one might ask why the interim suspension was being continued at that time. It is hard to ignore the likelihood that this was simply a further stalling tactic to continue to run the clock on the semester for the boys.

Not that the fraternity hadn’t been punished already. No social events had been permitted all second semester, and no new pledges were permitted for the following year.

Three weeks after effectively dropping the inquisition, Dean Apgar and Kent Hubbell, Dean of Students, totally and summarily reversed the University’s position in a May 25 letter on the basis of two incidents that are clearly not deserving of the harsh discipline being imposed.

First is the circulation of a “social media image” of a shirt with the words “too big to fail” with the text “WGBA” superimposed in the image, factors that The Sun did not report. Perhaps even the editors at The Sun could not take the proposition seriously that the University would kick a fraternity off campus on the basis of an unsourced social media image? Where are we living? North Korea?

Who posted the picture, and whose shirt was it? Dean Apgar and Dean Hubbell have no idea nor does it appear to matter to them. What does “WGBA” mean? The letter leaps to “Wolfgang Ballinger,” but doesn’t consider that it may have meant “we gonna be alright” from the rap song by Kendrick Lamar, a song most of the students on campus would be familiar with. The letter also asserts that the WGBA text was “likely intended to create a hostile atmosphere on campus for the complainant and other female students.” Where does that come from?

The Review Board came to a wholly different conclusion. They found that there was no information that suggested that the chapter promoted or facilitated any sexual misconduct on Jan. 31, that Psi Upsilon’s members responded to the complainant appropriately when the complainant approached the members, and that the Chapter cooperated with the authorities to the best of their ability.

Apparently Dean Apgar and Dean Hubbell don’t need to be burdened by the facts or the real impact of the shirt, and they certainly don’t have any use for free speech even if the worst were to be assumed. What has become of our college campuses?

And the second offense? On Slope Day, a day of universal and chaotic celebration for the entire Cornell campus, students spontaneously gathered at the fraternity after other scheduled parties surrounding the fraternity broke up, the biggest of which was University-sponsored and located only yards from the fraternity’s front door. University Police were called to disperse the attendees.

OMG. Students gathered at the fraternity on Slope Day — after the fraternity had been notified that the inquiries were over, the kangaroo court was dismissed and business would go on as usual. Notwithstanding whether the gathering should have mattered regardless of how it came about, Dean Apgar and Dean Hubbell have not bothered to inquire into whether the fraternity had actually “scheduled” an event or any of the other circumstances, and have eliminated the role of the Review Board.

Instead, they label this a “flagrant” violation of the order of a university official. The University’s methods are now clear — punishment first, trial (if ever) later. Kick the fraternity off, compelling the members to make very costly and impetuous alternate housing arrangements, after the semester has concluded and after the brotherhood has left Ithaca for the term. Not to mention the chapter’s staff who now have to scramble to find alternate employment. The 15 days offered to the fraternity to appeal the decision will likely be of little value.

The real issue here is, and has always been, how can Cornell deal with drinking on campus and keeping its students safe. That is a serious issue, and deserves continuous serious attention. But the University’s scapegoating of Psi Upsilon will not really address that problem and appears to be simply a mean-spirited attack on a small group of perfectly normal college students who have behaved the way that college students have for decades.

And if this is about the alleged sexual assault, then the action is even more misguided. Both the Review Board and an independent investigation the fraternity’s alumni leadership commissioned determined that Psi Upsilon’s members handled the unfortunate situation responsibly and bore no culpability for the alleged incident. The University’s failure to publish these facts has been a disservice to the members and permits the continued speculation that the Chapter is somehow responsible for or complicit in this incident. 

The expulsion leaves that unwarranted conclusion inevitable as the recent comments on the Sun’s webpage confirm. This compounds the unfairness to the boys and their reputations, and is unworthy of an esteemed institution.

Andrew Quartner

Father of Jeremy Quartner ’17, Melissa Quartner ’12 and William Quartner ’10