Evanescent evidence — where’s the beef?

The IFC fails to understand what constitutes hazing

In a self-righteous screed published in The Tech on October 1st, the Executive Board of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) purported to clear up the “facts” concerning the expulsion of Phi Beta Epsilon (PBE) due to alleged hazing. The Executive Board of the IFC apparently wants the MIT community to believe that Review Boards of the IFC Judicial Committee know hazing when they see it, based on the definition in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 269, Section 17. That would be a more compelling argument if the MIT IFC Policy for Risk Management properly quoted the definition of hazing, shown below with annotations for correcting the Policy’s version to the actual statement of the law from the web site of The 186th General Court of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts (i.e., the Massachusetts state legislature):

“any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which [willfully] wilfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person.”

If the IFC can’t even properly quote a paltry thirty-two word definition of hazing, how can the community trust IFC Review Boards to determine when hazing does or does not occur? And how can the community trust those IFC Review Boards with the truly momentous decision regarding whether to administer the “death penalty” to a fraternity?

My son, Timmy, was a PBE pledge last year and, theoretically, would have been a victim of the alleged hazing during PBE’s initiation. To the best of my knowledge, neither he nor anyone else — including two individuals interviewed by The Tech that did not get into PBE — has claimed that they were hazed. As a result, any evidence appears — at best — to be evanescent in nature, raising the question styled in a famous 1984 television commercial as “Where’s the beef?” And this isn’t a consent issue, as the IFC President has tried to spin it, there simply appears to have been no hazing. Small wonder PBE claimed at their hearing that no hazing occurred.

Because no hazing appears to have occurred, individual members of the Executive Board and the Executive Board collectively seem to have been misinformed or irresponsible in publicly alleging that “[s]everal of the activities described in the evidence are explicitly enumerated in Massachusetts State Law as examples of hazing” (emphases added) and other similar public statements. Hopefully, before making such statements, each member the Executive Board read or re-read Section 17, which explicitly enumerates the following seven examples: (1) whipping; (2) beating; (3) branding; (4) forced calisthenics; (5) exposure to the weather; (6) forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug, or other substance; or (7) any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.

Accusing individuals or a group of multiple violations of state law is an extremely serious charge, particularly in any public forum. The individual members of the Executive Board and the Executive Board collectively appear oblivious to the potential legal and other ramifications of such statements, if unfounded or untrue. If any of those statements proves to be groundless or a misrepresentation, I want assurance that the MIT administration will hold each and every member of the Executive Board individually accountable for their own actions and for at least those actions of the Executive Board in which they directly or indirectly participated.

Having graduated from one of our nation’s Service Academies during the 1970s, I was hazed on multiple occasions. As a result, hazing isn’t a mere academic abstraction to me, as it appears to be to the IFC Review Board in this case and the Executive Board. Forced calisthenics? Been there. Exposure to the weather? Done that. Extreme mental stress? In spades. In stark contrast to the Executive Board’s allegations, nothing I’ve heard or read about PBE’s initiation sounds like hazing to me and, as an attorney for the last twelve years, I have extensive experience in reading and interpreting laws.

The bottom line is that the MIT community remains gravely concerned about the supposedly “transparent and thorough” IFC judicial process. PBE says that no hazing occurred during their initiation, and many if not most of the community seem to believe PBE rather than the Review Board, Executive Board, or Appeals Board. The stunning lack of credibility of the Review Board, Executive Board, and Appeals Board in this case appears to stem from violations of the IFC’s own Bylaws (in letter and spirit), evanescent evidence, a rush to judgment, wildly disproportionate sanctions, and a rubber-stamping of the hazing determination on appeal. Deep down, almost every one of the other fraternities seems to realize that they could be the next victim of a similar IFC-driven travesty — and there’s the beef.

Larry Galvin is a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a 1991 graduate of the MIT/Woods Hole Joint Program, and a 1998 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center.