GUEST COLUMN JudComm is broken
IFC risk management policies are unfair and dangerous
As a senior who has been in a fraternity at MIT for almost four years now, I have had the chance to meet many responsible and competent people who make up the Greek community here. A group composed of such people definitely has the potential to effectively self-govern. In several areas the Interfraternity Council is doing just that. Development and enforcement of risk management policies, however, is not one of those areas. The means through which IFC enforces its risk management standards are not only unfair, but actually dangerous.
The Judicial Committee of the IFC received a lot of attention last semester due to rarer, high-profile cases, but the common proceedings related to enforcing standards on fraternity parties are unknown by most. In this area, the IFC has a classic case of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Actions by the IFC suggest that their goal is to have written policy maintaining very strict standards for alcoholic events, while limiting the effort to actually enforce these strict policies.
Some of the IFC’s rules for alcoholic events would probably surprise many people who have attended an MIT fraternity party. For example, any alcoholic party must be either BYOB or operated through a third party vendor — i.e., unless the event is catered, the fraternity can’t actually purchase any alcohol for the event. Also, drinking games of any kind (including beer pong or even taking shots) are expressly prohibited. Proactive enforcement of these rules would require effort that the IFC does not want to put in, and it would also require obeying their unusually strict standards, which I suspect they also would rather avoid.
The alternative to proactive enforcement that JudComm has adopted over the last several years is disturbing. They seem to acknowledge that most of their strictest rules will simply be ignored, and they choose to act on the only external indicator that their policies may have been violated: police reports. The most common of these reports is for the medical transport of an intoxicated person.
This is an awful policy. First, it is judicially unsound. Having rules that are understood to be generally ignored simply opens the door for bias and inequality when they are actually enforced. The effect of this is that when JudComm — a panel of five members of other fraternities — decides it wants to punish a particular fraternity, it just throws at them a list of charges that everyone is assumed to be guilty of and checks to see which ones stick. I know of several cases from my fraternity and others in which the fraternity was charged with violating the “BYOB or third party vendor” rule along with other risk management guidelines on no evidence other than a report of an intoxicated student being transported from the house.
Basically, having rules that are broadly ignored and only selectively enforced means that JudComm could deal out punishment to just about anyone. This could be a fraternity that called for help for a sick student. It could also be one that had gotten on bad terms with IFC leadership. It could even be a fraternity with a brother who decided to criticize JudComm’s policies (my words are my own, not my house’s, if anyone from IFC is reading).
Furthermore, the practice of using these police reports as the launching point and primary evidence in JudComm hearings compromises the expectation of privacy that most students have. The answers to frequently asked questions on the website for MIT’s Community Development and Substance Abuse Center state that the names of students who receive medical transport will only be known to EMTs and attending medical officials. The website also explicitly states that patient information will not be provided to residence life staff unless the situation is life-threatening. For students that receive alcohol transport from a fraternity, these statements are patently false. JudComm receives police reports with the names of students that get an alcohol transport from fraternities. These reports are made available to everyone on JudComm, the brothers representing the defending fraternity, and members of the FSILG office who oversee the proceedings of JudComm.
The most important issue, however, is that the incentives created by this policy are dangerous. A fraternity that calls an MIT ambulance for an alcohol transport, regardless of the house’s responsibility in the student’s excessive intoxication, risks a JudComm hearing. The prospect of harsh sanctions by JudComm and compromised privacy for the student discourages fraternities from making the call to get help. In many cases, the fraternity may be better off transporting the student somewhere on campus for someone else to call for help or just trying to deal with the situation on their own to keep it quiet. This is not the kind of decision that students should have to make. Calling for help is not an admission of guilt.
If the IFC wants to keep its strict risk management standards and self-governance, JudComm’s policies must be drastically reformed. As it stands, the system fails to provide for even the basic safety and privacy of students — much less a fair judiciary.
Peter McKee is a senior in Course VI and a member of Theta Chi.