Even though Yale’s undergraduate disciplinary body has issued sanctions against Delta Kappa Epsilon resulting from an inflammatory public pledge chant in October, it is still unclear whether the University will have any sway over the future of the fraternity.
Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced the outcome of the Executive Committee’s disciplinary proceedings against DKE in a May 17 email to students and faculty. ExComm has prohibited DKE — which, like most Greek organizations on campus, is not registered under the Yale College Dean’s Office — from recruiting new members or holding any events on campus for five years. Miller said in her email that DKE has been asked to register as a student group, and that Yale requests that the fraternity’s national organization suspend the Yale chapter for five years.
But higher education law experts said DKE’s status as an off-campus, unregistered student organization could make it difficult for the University to sanction the fraternity as a group.
“It’s a big challenge for modern universities to deal with the gray space between on and off campus,” said Peter Lake, director for the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.
Miller revealed in her May 17 email that ExComm issued individual penalties to fraternity members after finding that the fraternity — whose pledges were instructed by DKE brothers to chant phrases such as “No means yes, yes means anal” and “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac, I f— dead women” on Old Campus on Oct. 13 — violated the Undergraduate Regulations. Though DKE is an off-campus organization with no formal ties to the University, Undergraduate Regulations state that the ExComm may discipline actions by undergraduates that “imperil the integrity and values of the academic community or the safety of its members.”
Miller declined to comment multiple times on further details of the ExComm measures.
According to a message posted May 18 on DKE International’s website, the national organization “firmly disputes” that the pledge chanting constituted sexual harassment. The international organization’s note also claimed that the DKE Yale chapter is currently under probation.
“Equating this behavior to illegal harassment is an unjust overreaching by an administration looking to shift campus anger away from real issues of harassment and place it on the shoulders of a group largely disdained by the administration and a vocal minority of students,” the message said.
Executive Director of DKE International Douglas Lanpher told the News last week that he was surprised by Miller’s decision to disclose the disciplinary measures taken against DKE.
In an article published in Minding the Campus on May 23, two members of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education claimed that the chants were protected by the First Amendment and should not have merited punishment.
Though the appropriateness of the sanctions remains up for debate, two privacy law professors interviewed said Miller’s announcement did not appear to violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which prohibits the disclosure of personally distinguishable student records without the student’s consent.
Associate Professor of Law at New York Law School James Grimmelmann LAW ’05 said in an email that Miller appeared to be making unspecific statements in her announcement that did not allow readers to “identify [a] student with reasonable certainty.” She also did not reveal the names of the specific DKE brothers disciplined, he added, and while there may be a limited number of DKE members, Miller was speaking generally enough to avoid violating FERPA.
While it is still uncertain how Yale can sanction DKE as a group, Miller has expressed interest in registering Greek organizations: In April, she told the News that such a project would allow the University to better regulate fraternities and sororities.
Lake said the University might have better luck registering Greek organizations than public universities.
“Private schools have had more success in forcing organizations to join,” he said. “They have more power to do that if they want to.”
Registration comes with benefits for Greek organizations, Lake said, including access to financial resources provided by the school and improved coordination with other campus groups.
Yale’s Panhellenic Council President Stephanie Cuevas ’12 echoed this idea, saying that registration could allow fraternities and sororities to unify and work together within the Greek system.
Cuevas agreed that the University has the authority to ask a Greek organization to register or threaten it with a request for suspension. The measures taken against DKE, she said, suggest that Miller and other administrators have realized how prominent and influential Greek life has become on campus.
“The way to control that is by bringing Greek organizations under University regulations,” she said.
Efforts to exert greater authority over Greek life at Yale would signal a departure from past administrative stances. In a March interview, Associate Dean for Student Organizations and Physical Resources John Meeske told the News that fraternities and sororities “are on their own” since Yale does not officially recognize them.
Despite Meeske’s statement, there are four registered Greek-letter organizations as of March, according to the official list of registered undergraduate organizations on the Yale College website.