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Column: SAE chapter disbanded because...

I read with deep regret two articles last week about the dissolution of Kappa Sigma fraternity, which has been at Duke since 1873--about 50 years before Duke became Duke! The article spoke of a possible trend at Duke for national fraternities to become local fraternities and addressed the situation with Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Despite a number of newspaper articles earlier this year about the dissolution of SAE, I have refrained from addressing the SAE situation publicly, but now feel compelled to do so in light of the precedent it seems to have established. I wish to correct the factual background belying this "precedent," which, judging from the news reports, the Duke community has misapprehended.

The unfortunate situation leading to the demise of SAE had been developing for some time. In May 2001, Deans Jim Clack and Kacie Wallace sent a letter to all SAE alumni of Duke University describing severe behavioral problems involving undergraduate members of the chapter. Despite the extreme sanction of a membership review in August 2001, the undergraduate members of the chapter, by January 2002, were wholly unable to engage in any meaningful behavioral modification or self-policing. In early January 2002, I was informed of the following by either students who were eyewitnesses or University officials:

One undergraduate had attempted to break into the home of a professor and was subdued by the Durham police only with the use of a canine unit and then kicked out the window of the police cruiser transporting him to a magistrate's office.

Within 24 hours, another undergraduate member of SAE ignited himself after pouring kerosene on his arm in the presence of his "brothers" who did nothing to stop him.

An undergraduate member informed me that he was arrested for possession of five different controlled substances.

A former undergraduate member of the chapter struck a female undergraduate in the head and knocked the woman to the floor at an SAE function. At the time the disclosure was made to me, the undergraduate in question had already been suspended by the Alumni Commission on other grounds.

The Alumni Commission responded by placing the chapter under a cease and desist order prohibiting all fraternity operations and suspending certain undergraduate members who had been involved in other misconduct. Duke expelled none of the students involved in the misconduct and only took limited disciplinary measures against the perpetrators of even the most egregious misconduct. Duke took action against the chapter independent of the Alumni Commission and without consulting us in advance. By letter, dated Jan. 18, 2002, Duke imposed severe restrictions on SAE's upcoming rush activities. After the situation at SAE appeared to stabilize, the cease and desist order was lifted. On Jan. 24, 2002, the undergraduate members violated the terms of the University's rush regulations as well as the rules and regulations of the Duke Interfraternity Council and the chapter's own resolutions. On Jan. 25, 2002, a complaint was filed by another Duke organization at the IFC office against the Duke chapter of SAE. On Jan. 26, 2002, the SAE national organization recommended to the Duke SAE Alumni Commission that the chapter be closed. We agreed. We immediately issued a second cease and desist order, which signaled to the undergraduate members of SAE that closure was imminent given the egregiousness of the behavioral problems and our repeated warnings to close the chapter. We met with a University official the next day to discuss the mechanics of closing the chapter. The undergraduate members then met to attempt to "deactivate."

Those young men involved in the attempted deactivation were later expelled. We had already decided to close the chapter due to deplorable behavioral problems far beyond what is acceptable behavior for an SAE chapter.

To the extent that the former members of Kappa Sigma have relied on SAE as a model, their reliance has been grossly misplaced and their resulting actions are a tragedy. The dissolution of a 130-year-old Kappa Sigma fraternity at Duke University is a very serious matter. The former members of Kappa Sigma know that they were responsible for the demise of a 130-year-old institution at an outstanding university.

I urge the University administration to use this tragedy to reconsider its policy of extensive regulation of student life at Duke. Increased regulation in the 1990s and 2000s has led to an increase in the level of egregiousness of behavioral problems and, I suspect, the sheer number of behavioral problems. Treating students as adults rather than children is more consistent with the educational mission at hand and may induce them to rise to the occasion and act in a more responsible fashion. I also urge the University to reconsider its policy of taking action against living groups rather than the individual involved in misconduct.

By failing to take meaningful action against the individuals committing the misconduct, the University dooms all greek organizations and other living groups to a future of uncertainty, thereby jeopardizing some of the oldest institutions at Duke University and permanently altering the heritage, traditions and fabric of this University.

David Buckingham, Trinity '80 and Law '83, chairs the Duke SAE Alumni Commission Board.


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