Former Student Sues MIT After Diploma Suspended, Claims Broken Contract

November 18, 1999

By Alexis B. Offen at The Harvard Crimson

A 1998 MIT graduate who had his diploma suspended this summer for involvement with the death of a first-year fraternity pledge sued the university Tuesday for breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Charles H. Yoo was pledge leader for the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity in September 1997 when Scott Krueger, a freshman pledge, died of alcohol-poisoning at a fraternity party.

More than a year after his graduation, MIT charged Yoo with hazing and violating the school’s fraternity policy. MIT’s Committee on Discipline voted in August to revoke Yoo’s diploma for five years.

Yoo denies hazing Krueger.

“We didn’t want a tragedy to occur. We just wanted to create an event that was fun for everyone in the house,” Yoo said yesterday.

The Committee on Discipline’s rules and regulations states that MIT can withdraw academic degrees after graduation “for actions that occurred before graduation but were unknown at that time.”

Yoo’s attorney, Timothy M. Burke, charged MIT with violating its own policies by suspending Yoo after he graduated. Burke said the college was aware of the death and criminal investigation while Yoo was still a student.

“Obviously MIT was fully aware of the ongoing investigations being conducted by the District Attorney’s office because MIT was a target of the investigation,” Burke said.

Burke suggested that MIT chose to discipline Yoo almost two years after the death in order to avoid financial damages in impending litigation.

“Based on my opinion MIT is now going to be the subject of a civil suit by the estate of Scott Krueger,” Burke said.

“MIT needs to distance itself from liability in this case, and the best way to accomplish that is to scapegoat Charles Yoo as the person responsible,” he said.

MIT officials would not comment on the case.

Yoo is seeking monetary damages and reinstatement of his degree.

Yoo, who now works as a trader in Philadelphia, claims the committee denied him due process by not allowing him legal representation or the right to confront witnesses.

Without a diploma, Yoo said his career choices are restricted. His plans to apply to business school have been put on hold by the suspension.

“I have certain short term goals that I wanted to attempt, but this put things out of reach,” he said. “You sort of have to think twice about your situation if you don’t have a degree.”

MIT’s actions are an unprecedented attempt by a university to discipline a graduate for a non-academic infraction that took place while the alumnus was in college.

Gary M. Pavela, director of judicial programs and student ethical development at the University of Maryland at College Park, noted that colleges usually revoke diplomas for cases involving academic fraud. In his opinion, MIT’s actions are not that different from past cases.

“I don’t see this as some radical, new innovation,” said Pavela.

Pavela said that colleges have the right to suspend diplomas for non-academic violations that take place while the alumnus was in college. He said a diploma is as much about students’ good conduct as it is about their grades.

“It has some reflection on their values and their character,” he said.

However, Harvey A. Silverglate, a lawyer with the Boston firm Silverglate & Good, who has researched discipline procedures at over 400 schools, said MIT’s diploma suspension represents an abuse of power.

“This is a case which really demonstrates the university’s increasing hold over a student, in terms of student life, has now reached beyond graduation” Silverglate said.

“It’s a kind of tyranny over the life of a graduate,” he said. “Once you graduate, they should lose their grip.”

Schools: Massachusetts Institute of Technology