IFC works to improve judicial transparency

For fraternity and sorority chapters, there are three main channels of regulation.

by Nickalas Tabbert

A little more than a month since the start of the new party self-policing system, University of Minnesota fraternities are working to foster more accountability among members.

With at least two chapters facing sanctions since Arkeo launched, the Interfraternity Council is taking steps to increase transparency in its judicial processes, including reporting the sanctions to the community.

But much of the greek judicial process is internal, with no oversight from the University. Major violations are often kept private between individual chapters and the IFC judicial board.

There are no special accountability requirements for fraternities and sororities on campus. A partnership statement between the greek organizations and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life is all that exists, said Amelious Whyte, chief of staff to the vice provost of student affairs.

“We only require accurate rosters,” Whyte said. “But chapters are still held accountable through the [Student] Conduct Code.”

There are no problems with how IFC is conducting itself currently, Whyte said. But transparency would be beneficial if problems arise.

“There is an expectation to hold chapters accountable,” he said. “It doesn’t do us any good if the system is to
self-govern, and no one is holding them accountable.”

University’s oversight

There are multiple levels of governance within the greek community. A chapter first has its own set of bylaws, which adhere to its national organization’s rules. From there, the IFC has bylaws for its member chapters. Finally, all chapters, as registered student groups, have to follow the University’s Student Code of Conduct.

But in order for a greek chapter to undergo the University’s judicial process, someone must file a formal complaint through Student Unions and Activities. The complaint has to identify individuals involved and the violated code of conduct policy.

After reviewing the complaint, SUA can decide to dismiss the complaint altogether, refer it to another University office or enforce a punishment, which can include probation or suspension.

SUA may also restrict access to benefits like the ability to reserve space or conduct fundraising on campus, said Debra Anderson, SUA’s program director.

“It’s all situational,” she said. “There really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach.”

OFSL lists organizations found guilty of major violations within the past three years on its website, said Matt Levine, the office’s program director.

There are currently three groups listed.

SUA also rarely sees reports on individual violations from the greek community, which they forward to the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said Sharon Dzik, the office’s director.

“I’ve been here eight years and if you were to average the eight years, I have probably gotten like one a year,” Dzik said.

The office only can see one half of the cases, though.

“If it doesn’t have anything to do with the conduct code, we won’t see it. And I couldn’t do anything about it if I did see it,” Dzik said.

Encouraging transparency

The IFC judicial board oversees most individual and chapter violations within the community and determines a punishment after hearing each case. But in order to be heard by the board, a case must be referred by IFC’s executive vice president –– a position currently held by Tim Bohl.

Once the case is heard, a verdict and punishment is decided through a secret ballot. Bohl, who does not get a vote unless there is a tie, is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of punishments.

The verdicts are secretive because witnesses are sometimes unlikely to come forward, Bohl said.

“We wanted to encourage people to speak up if they saw something wrong in an environment in which their name isn’t going to come out and what they said isn’t going to come out … so we can get a better idea of what happened.”

But in an attempt to become more transparent, the IFC decided to announce sanctions at its legislation meetings, Bohl said.

“We will announce what happened, what rules they violated and what their sanctions were, but not which chapters are involved, who said what –– nothing of that nature,” Bohl said. “We don’t want to publicly humiliate a chapter for a minor offense.”

Other consequences

Chapters can also face disciplinary actions through outside sources, Levine said.

Chapter alumni, who sometimes own the house, can decide to take matters into their own hands.

“If the alumni wanted to come in and get rid of members, they could do that,” Levine said. “There is nothing that can stop them because they own the house.”

An ongoing problem that IFC has experienced is record keeping, Bohl said. Previously, Bohl said, houses have come to him when he doesn’t have documentation. Improvements have been made to correct that problem.

“The current executive has started a hard file of everything that has happened so we know if there is a punishment that lasts more than one year the next executive comes in having an idea of what’s going on.”