Government pressure got frat kicked off campus?

May 24, 2011

Last week colleges were abuzz with news that Yale University had decided to kick the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity off campus for sexist hazing antics which occurred in October of 2010. The decision has its supporters and its critics, yet both sides speculate that political pressure from the federal government led the Ivy to give DKE the boot.

The federal government has put more focus on the problems of sexual harassment and violence on campus in recent months, specifically: Vice President Joe Biden’s anti-sexual violence on campus push, “Dear Colleague” letters from the Education Department lowering the standard of proof for sexual assault on campus, and Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s introduction of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act).

Likely most effective in getting Yale to hop to action was the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) decision to launch an investigation into sexual harassment policies at Yale, a direct response to a Title IX complaint filed against the University for the October DKE debacle.

Doug Lanpher executive director of DKE told The Daily Caller that the timing was a bit suspicious, given that most thought the books had been closed on the incident – until the government started putting pressure on the school this year.

“Obviously I was not in the decision making halls at Yale when they decided this punishment against us,” he said. “We kind of thought the issue had been taken care of within Yale and then they decided to review and bring the sanctions up this many months later, so its curious.”

President and co-founder of the women’s advocacy group The New Agenda said that federal pressure was likely the reason for Yale’s action, and that is was high time they did so.

“This has been going on at that university -it is well documented in what those students filed- its been going on for years. When you read about what is going on at that school they are clearly one of the worst campuses for this kind of activity,” Siskind said, adding that even now she would never send her own daughter to Yale, until they actually take steps to change what she says has turned into a crisis.

The student speech advocacy group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been one of the decision’s loudest opponents. According to FIRE the decision was all about stifling speech to cater to the desires of a politically correct administration.

“The incident happened in October, the fraternity apologized, the Women’s Center wanted to educate people, Yale stuck by its commitment to free speech, and the fraternity had been operating as usual since the month long suspension of pledge activities,” wrote Robert L. Shibley, FIRE’s Senior Vice President. “What is the point of punishing people six months later? What happened? Politics happened. More specifically, national politics happened.”

Yale spokesman, Tom Conroy, explained that the length of time between the incident and punishment was less about pressure from the federal government and more about the thorough process Yale’s Executive Committee, composed of faculty and students, needed to take to reach a final conclusion.

“[T]he process calls for fact-finding and a hearing, etc., which takes time,” Conroy wrote in an email to TheDC. “The members of the committee made their determination that undergraduate regulations had been violated after reviewing the facts…Nothing else [other than the Dean’s explanation letter to the student body] was unusual about the disciplinary process the Executive Committee followed or the timing. I know the shorthand is that ‘Yale’ took action, but it was the faculty and the students who serve on the Committee and applied the regulations as they deemed appropriate.”

Despite Yale’s official position, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Counsel for Special Projects Hans Bader, speculates that Yale’s decision to ban DKE was a direct response to the OCR investigation because the schools do not want to lose any federal funding, which OCR can decide to cut off.

“Colleges probably care more about what OCR says than what the law says, because they don’t want to lose their federal funds, it’s OCR that will effectively decide if federal funds get cut off, and if the federal government cuts off their funds, it will take a long time and lots of legal bills to get the federal funds reinstated even if courts later rule that the federal government was wrong to cut off the funds.

According to Bader the prospect of the federal government asserting its influence over a private institution to stifle speech could raise some problematic legal issues.

“Yale is not a state college, and is not part of the government, so the First Amendment does not directly (emphasis his) apply to it. But the First Amendment does prohibit the Education Department from pressuring it to punish students for speech that the government itself could not punish,” Wrote in an email to The Daily Caller. “Yale is a private college, and it could have disciplined these obnoxious frat boys voluntarily (assuming no contractual obligation in its handbooks – like a provision promising extremely broad free speech rights — precluded it from doing so). But its doing so under compulsion raises thorny legal issues.”

Schools: Yale University