Student group Excomm cases rise

Last year, the Yale College Executive Committee saw a greater number of cases involving students’ actions during group initiation or bonding activities, according to the annual ExComm report released Thursday.

Overall, the committee held four formal hearings and investigated 79 other cases in 2010-’11, according to the report. Of the 146 students the committee saw this year, 44 came before the committee as a result of their actions in group initiation activities. Other cases involved unruly behavior, sexual misconduct and a high number of incidents of cheating. For the first time, the committee met past the end of the spring semester to resolve cases that arose at the end of the year in a timely manner, committee chair Margaret Clark said.

“We had more cases of problems of groups than before,” Clark said. “I want to really emphasize that it’s not a particular group, this group or that group, it was many groups.”

Initiation activities by members of groups that violated regulations involved “trespassing, destruction of property, theft, breaking and entering, serving alcohol to minors, requiring alcohol consumption by others, minors procuring alcohol, harassment (including sexual harassment), coercion and intimidation of others, and hazing,” the report said.

In May, the committee strayed from standard protocol when it publicly announced its decision in a case against the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity in response to offensive chants DKE pledges shouted on Old Campus last October. Yale College Dean Mary Miller wrote in a campus-wide email in May that since the DKE incident affected a wide range of the community, the committee decided to publicly share the result of its deliberations.

Thursday’s report explains that under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), victims of certain crimes or violations must be informed of the ruling against the perpetrators. Without explicitly identifying the DKE incident, the report adds that in one case last year “all victims of a group’s actions could not be identified and sanctions relating to the group were publicly announced.”

The DKE chapter was forbidden to conduct fraternity activities on campus for five years, according to Miller’s email last May. But Clark said she did not think the rise in group cases could be attributed to the DKE incident.

“I’m pretty sure that the cases we saw involving many groups would have come forward anyway,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the case that [DKE] brought attention to groups. I think more groups found themselves in trouble this year, and because of that happening, I highlighted it in the report.”

After the DKE incident, a committee on hazing and initiations was formed in December 2010 to examine initiation policies within student organizations. The committee released a report in April that recommended increased student accountability for initiation practices.

Clark and Miller said the decision to meet after the end of the semester was also a significant change from previous years. The 2009-’10 report had recommended this change so that students facing the possibility of suspension would not have to wait until the fall to learn of a verdict.

Miller said she asked the Executive Committee last fall to make sure all cases of the 2010-’11 year were resolved by the summer. New federal Title IX guidelines released in spring 2011, which raised concerns about how quickly sexual misconduct cases were resolved, provided a further reason to ensure cases were closed expeditiously, she wrote in an email to the News.

“I feel that it is incumbent upon us to take care, consistently, of all cases, in the year in which they transpire, to the degree possible,” she said.

Even though the number of cases involving groups increased, the majority of cases heard by the committee in 2010-’11 involved cheating, as in the past few years. Fifty-three students were charged with cheating, and 24 of those cases involved plagiarism, said Pamela George, assistant dean of academic affairs and secretary of ExComm.

Clark called the plagiarism and cheating cases “concerning.” Many accused students claim to misunderstand what constitutes plagiarism, the report said, with many offenders cutting and pasting material found on the internet or failing to properly cite material.

Miller said it is difficult to tell if cheating is increasing or if the rise in cheating cases is due to more cases being reported. Nevertheless, the Executive Committee has seen a steady increase in cheating cases since 2005. The number of students accused of cheating has risen from 23 in 2006-’07 to 53 in 2010-’11.

The 2009-’10 Executive Committee report recommended better communication to both students and residential college deans and faculty about how to prevent cheating. Clark said that residential college deans are well aware of the issue and that efforts to prevent it are “renewed every year.”

“I could have made the same recommendation [this year],” she said. “One of the reasons we put it in the report last year was to urge people to actually read the Undergraduate Regulations.”

Alfred Guy, director of the writing center, said he could not speculate about Executive Committee cases but that academic integrity is heavily emphasized in introductory English courses. Plagiarism and how to properly write with sources is “an explicit subject of at least one class and more than one homework assignment” in English 114 and 120, he said, adding that roughly 700 students — half of each incoming class — enroll in those courses each year.

The Executive Committee finished its meetings for the 2010-’11 academic year on June 15.

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