Editorial: Get it together

Monday, February 23, 2015

Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, and Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, sent a Feb. 21 campus-wide email detailing amended sanctions against the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, an organization previously found responsible for facilitating an environment in which a student was served a drink laced with the date-rape drug GHB. Carey and Klawunn previously announced in a Jan. 19 community-wide email that following a formal appeals process and an independent laboratory test that confirmed the drug’s presence in a student’s system, Phi Psi would be stripped of recognition and housing in Sears House for four years. In the Feb. 21 email, the administration walked back its previous absolute statements, finding, based on other evidence, “a very strong likelihood” the students were given alcohol “and/or” a drug. Phi Psi will be allowed to petition for recognition in May 2017.

Despite the merits of a transparent administration, the University’s handling of the Phi Psi case exposes its relative incompetence in properly addressing the ever-pressing issue of sexual assault and alcohol consumption on campus. While the implementation of the Sexual Assault Task Force’s interim recommendations and review of alcohol policy do indeed mark great strides toward a safer campus environment, President Christina Paxson’s P’19 administration does not appear to have gained a solid footing as of yet. It remains a reactive entity rather than a proactive one. The recent developments in the Phi Psi case bolster this claim.

Within a media landscape that has grown increasingly focused on the issue of sexual assault, the University was misguided in publicly releasing findings that were apparently not properly confirmed. Indeed, in the Jan. 19 email, Carey noted that there were new questions about the tests and that sanctions could be altered “after a thorough and final review of the physical evidence.” Why not wait four weeks, keeping the organization on strict suspension, until all tests had been completed and confirmed?

While it is incredibly important for the University to set a strict standard on the matter, these policies and punishments must be rooted in tangible evidence in order for them to be sustainable in practice. In Saturday’s email, Carey and Klawunn noted that “the laboratory test was only one piece of evidence,” but they have not yet provided other sources or testimony. Privacy is important in sensitive cases, but so is trust in the judicial process. Without conclusive evidence presented to the public, many are likely to see the amended punishment as admission of a wrongful conviction. Either Phi Psi administered drugs, in which case it should be suspended for four years, or it did not, in which case it should be punished only for the unregistered party. There is no middle ground.

We cannot keep reacting to issues of sexual assault and alcohol consumption as though they are new to college campuses. The review process should not appear as though administrators and the Student Conduct Board are fumbling through circumstantial evidence and then formulating arbitrary punishments. Why do we not have clear sentencing and transparency guidelines for these crimes that regularly occur on college campuses, including Brown? If we continue issuing punishments this way, trust in the University’s disciplinary process will evaporate.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Baxter DiFabrizio ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

  • Roman Green

    There is no trust in Brown University administrators, period. They do not care about the accused. They do not care about the victims. They do not even care about themselves in any thoughtful, enlightened way. They are just crass, dumb, and selfish.

  • Fact Sharing Guest

    Good editorial but wrong on one point — the deans have not been transparent at all. See the first post in the main article regarding the facts of this case. To repeat the main ones:

    1. The second woman who shared the same drink tested negative for GHB — this is not anywhere in Klawunn and Carey’s notice from the weekend, so they are not being “transparent”. And they have known about this test result since before the initial hearing in December.

    2. The two female accusers shared only one drink at Phi Psi based on their own testimony and that of all eyewitnesses.

    3. The first woman whose test is now deemed “inconclusive” only had GHB in her system based on that test’s result… but we all have GHB in our systems as it is a hormone, and the test did not go so far as to say it was an elevated level of this hormone which would have meant she was drugged.

    4. Since the two women shared one drink only, and one of them was clearly negative, then neither were drugged. It is physically impossible for one to have been drugged and the other not.

    To reference the editorial — “Either Phi Psi administered drugs, in which case it
    should be suspended for four years, or it did not, in which case it
    should be punished only for the unregistered party. ” It is physically impossible for Phi Psi to be guilty of administering drugs based on the test results. There was no drugging at all. Therefore Phi Psi should be punished only for the unregistered party. I agree with the editorial.

    What we all now need to challenge is why the university and these two deans:

    1. handled this case so poorly from the start, choosing to believe one side’s accusations rather than the full plate of actual evidence
    2. ignored scientific evidence completely, which had it been followed would have made the charge only about alcohol and not “and/or drugs” (which is major CYA on their part based on the false accusation that it does not want to throw out for some reason)
    3. continues to make Phi Psi – and by nature all fraternities – appear guilty in some way for accusations that simply and clearly are not true.

    Klawunn and Carey are not heroes. They are not even competent in this matter. And they have not been transparent, honest, or (I hate this word) fair at all. They overshot the original sanction when they knew that the second woman had tested negative for GHB which on its own was enough to prove that no drugging had occurred at Phi Psi — they KNEW this before that sanction was confirmed in the appeals process but did nothing.

    And now instead of starting the process from scratch, which is what should be done only with those charges of serving alcohol to minors at an unregistered party, which Phi Psi properly already admitted guilt to doing, the deans are trying to massage the previous charges and sanctions to keep themselves out of the media spotlight for blowing this whole case and being incompetent. They will fail as eventually, all facts will come to the public.

    • Release It

      Please read Phi Psi’s letter to the Brown Community: http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20150223/News/150229705

      • Guest

        Phi Psi was being diplomatic in that letter. There are even more facts that what they have stated and what is posted above that basically throw out the entire premise for which the administration has attempted to sanction the fraternity. In the coming days or weeks, it will be qbsolutely clear that the administration knowingly sanctioned Phi Psi when actual proof contradicted the accusations, and the alleged sexual assault was just that… Alleged.

  • Brown ’15

    Whatever happened to the community notice about the sexual assault? The university has been rather silent on that issue.

  • GBSwhat?

    Please god, lift the burden from Brown and give sexual assault cases to the professionals. Clearly every case is all about politics, oftentimes fuelled by the readers and columnist of the BDH that DEMAND swift and clear punishment for every allegation made. Brown justice equals a constant battle of special interest, be it crazy feminists or university officials trying to cover up a scandal. We’ve had enough of this!

  • releaseIt

    please read Phi Psi’s letter to the Brown Community: http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20150223/News/150229705

  • Uncle NEd

    Phi Psi’s letter to the U: http://pastebin.com/L4bfCLsQ

  • ’15

    I have absolutely no faith that a bunch of administrators and students with no legal qualifications whatsoever are able to carry out ad-hoc extra-judicial “hearings” in order to determine anyone’s guilt or innocent. Their incompetence is obvious to everyone. They’re embarrassing us, the students, our families, the community, and perhaps worst of all, the school itself.

    • Greek Alum

      And ironically it was very easy for them to find guilt with Phi Psi but they seem to be struggling to find anyone guilty of actually assaulting the victim.

  • Contributing Alumnus

    I wonder if President Paxton is going to step up and review the clear mistakes that her administration has made or just sit in her office hoping that the donations will continue to come in despite her lack of candor to the community.