February 21, 2015
Dear Members of the Brown Community,
At the beginning of this semester we wrote to the community about a student organization hearing held regarding incidents which took place at an unauthorized party at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on October 17, 2014. As noted in that communication, a student conduct board consisting of a faculty member, a student and an administrator found the organization responsible for numerous violations of the code of student conduct and sanctioned the organization with loss of University recognition for four years, including loss of housing. This decision had been upheld following an appeal.
After the appeal was concluded, additional information surfaced that raised questions regarding the validity of one element of the evidence – a laboratory test that indicated a student who attended the unauthorized party tested positive for GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), a date rape drug. In response to those questions, the University engaged an independent expert to review the laboratory tests and results. The appeals officer was asked to consider the conclusions of the independent expert and determine whether the additional information would have been sufficient to change the findings or alter the penalty.
It is important to understand that in reaching its original finding the student conduct board considered the totality of the evidence presented during the hearing, including direct testimony from student participants and witnesses as well as other evidence gathered by the University during its investigation. This evidence, taken as a whole, indicated that two students who attended the unauthorized party imbibed a substance that caused them to experience a rapid and dramatic diminishment of motor and cognitive functioning, which placed them at risk of harm and injury. The finding of responsibility and sanctioning decision were made in accordance with all of the information considered, including the credibility of the testimony of the students. An objective review of the facts of this case concluded that the two students who brought forth the complaint were served alcohol and/or some other drug which diminished their normal functions to a degree that placed them at risk of harm. That is a serious violation of the code of student conduct and the level of respect and care we expect Brown students to demonstrate for one another, especially when they have been granted the privileges associated with student organization status and housing.
As we previously reported, after the initial appeal was concluded information was brought forth that called into question the reliability of a laboratory test that had been conducted on one of the students in the fall. That test was conducted by a reputable external medical laboratory whose representatives had assured the University on three separate occasions that the test results Federal financial assistance.” —Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Higher Education Act of 1965 provided conclusive evidence that one student had ingested the date rape drug GHB. In February 2015, upon further review by an independent medical expert, the laboratory reversed its confirmation of this test result and acknowledged that the test results could neither confirm nor rule out the ingestion of a date rape drug. That evidence was, accordingly, excluded from further consideration in the case and the appeals officer was asked to review the findings and sanctions again.
That final review has now been concluded and the finding by the student conduct board that Phi Kappa Psi was responsible for the manner in which the party was held and also for placing other students at risk of harm has again been upheld. Due to the inconclusive nature of the laboratory test described above, the sanction has been modified slightly to permit Phi Kappa Psi to petition the University for recognition in May 2017, two and one-half years from the December 2014 date of notice of the decision. The decision on whether to grant a petition for recognition, if made, will be at the sole discretion of the University.
The laboratory test was only one piece of evidence in the set of facts in this case, and not particularly determinative. The student conduct board found a very strong likelihood that two students were administered alcohol and/or some other drug diminishing their normal functions to a degree that placed them at risk of harm. The gravity of this offense was considered along with the fraternity’s substantial prior record of rules violations, serving alcohol to minors, and poor conduct of members in party situations. The single unreliable laboratory test does not alter the overall disciplinary record of this organization, and the sanctions which have been imposed, and upheld on appeal, are fair and appropriate.
This has been a difficult and challenging matter for all directly involved and for the campus as a whole. It has raised issues and concerns regarding use and abuse of alcohol on campus, the role and responsibility of student organizations who are given privileges in a variety of forms, and the responsibility of the community as a whole to care for each other with respect and understanding. Differences of opinion regarding what may or may not have occurred as well as the appropriate response to what took place have caused distress and dissension among students and other community members. We understand all of those challenges and dynamics, but also acknowledge that our primary responsibility is to foster and sustain a campus environment that is safe for all students.
As we wrote in the Brown Daily Herald last fall, we believe firmly that “Every student at Brown should be treated with dignity and respect, and every student at Brown is fully capable of conduct that demonstrates respect for the rights and safety of others.” We strongly encourage all members of the community to embrace and model that value in our individual and collective behavior as we continue to change – and improve for all – the culture of the Brown campus.
Russell Carey, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy
Margaret Klawunn, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services