Ohio University is suspending the organizational activities of all 15 OU fraternity chapters in the Interfraternity Council (IFC), OU announced Thursday afternoon, after receiving allegations that seven of those fraternities had engaged in hazing activities.
The IFC fraternities are the traditional male greek organizations on campus, and according to the OU website (Campus Involvement), include nearly 1,000 members.
The cease-and-desist directive means that the 15 IFC chapters must stop all organizational activities and can no longer meet in any capacity – officially or unofficially – while the university investigates them. It does not mean they have to move out of any fraternity housing.
This news follows OU's announcement earlier this week that it had issued a a cease-and-desist order to the university's Acacia Fraternity chapter for allegedly putting the "health and safety" of the fraternity's members at risk.
OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood confirmed Thursday afternoon that the university is in the process of, or has already sent, similar cease-and-desist orders (also framed as notices of investigation) to seven total fraternities on the IFC, including Acacia and Alpha Epsilon Pi. However, the temporary suspension covers all 15 fraternities in the IFC.
This fact triggered a statement late Thursday afternoon from Judson Horras, president and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, who criticized the punishment of eight IFC chapters for whom no hazing allegations had been leveled.
"Hazing is a serious societal issue, and we strongly believe in holding individuals accountable," Horras said in the emailed statement. "However, Ohio University’s suspension that impacts students not accused of misconduct is not the right approach to address this critical issue. It disincentivizes students who are following the rules."
OU spokesperson Leatherwood suggested that identifying the other five accused of hazing will happen after they receive the cease-and-desist orders from the university, which “are pending.”
Asked about details of the alleged hazing, she said, “What I can tell you for now is that we cannot release the details during an active investigation.”
She responded to criticism about the way the university is handling the matter by stating, “This decision was not entered lightly.
“This does impact students who have not participated in hazing or other negative behaviors, but it is important to understand that student safety is our top priority. Due to the escalation of these reported allegations within a short 48-hour timeframe, we needed to collectively take an opportunity to make sure we all are on the same page with our values and behaviors.”
Ohio University issued a cease-and-desist order last year to the OU chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity after an 18-year-old OU student – who was allegedly a pledge of that chapter – died of asphyxiation due to nitrous-oxide ingestion at a party at 45 Mill St., which allegedly was an unofficial annex of that fraternity chapter.
That chapter was expelled from OU last April for multiple violations of OU’s alcohol and hazing policies, The NEWS previously reported.
A letter was sent to all 15 of the IFC fraternities Thursday (Oct. 3) from OU Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones notifying them of the suspension.
"Last spring, Sigma Pi was expelled from our community as a result of hazing. Earlier this week, we received allegations that two IFC chapters were hazing new members and those chapters were placed on a cease and desist from Community Standards and Student Responsibility (CSSR)," Hall-Jones wrote. "Yesterday, we received reports of hazing that encompassed five more chapters. Those chapters will be receiving their notice of investigation and cease and desist letters from CSSR within the next few days. It is deeply troubling that seven of our Interfraternity Council (IFC) chapters have been or will be under investigation this semester for possible violations of the University’s Student Code of Conduct.
"These troubling allegations, which will be thoroughly investigated, indicate a potentially escalating systemic culture within our IFC organizations, and Ohio University will not put at risk the health and safety of our students," Hall-Jones concluded.
Hall-Jones directly connected those allegations of hazing with the decision to suspend the fraternities' activities. Other than IFC, the suspension does not involve any of the other councils representing OU fraternity or sorority chapters. Those include the Multicultural Greek Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (traditionally black letter organizations), the Women's Panhellenic Association (sororities), and various honor societies and committees.
"This proactive step is being taken so that the IFC community can pause to reflect and create actionable strategies for the future," Hall-Jones wrote. "To ensure the future of fraternity life on our campus, innovative practices will need to redefine our Greek community so that it positively contributes to the full well-being of students."
On various Ohio University alumni forums Thursday evening and Friday, many alums were calling foul on the university punishing all 15 IFC chapters for the alleged actions of fewer than half of them.
This was a typical reaction on the Facebook "You Know You Went to OU if..." group from an alum:
"Hold those that have offended responsible but NOT those that haven't done anything wrong. My husband and I were both Greek at OU. BOTH in houses that didn't haze. With the state of everything lately... It seems like we are now living in a culture where based on an 'allegation' whether true or not... Convict the innocent."
In another post in the same group, Scott Haag, a ’94 OU graduate, condemned the suspension of all 15 traditional fraternities, saying he’s “ashamed to be an Ohio University Bobcat thanks to the heavy-handed ineptitude of the current Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones…”
Haag added that he won’t contribute any more money to the university or attend Homecoming next weekend (Oct. 11-13) unless President Duane Nellis or the OU Board of Trustees “reign in” Hall-Jones.
He called upon other alums, especially those in the greek system, to follow suit.
OU President Duane Nellis said in an email to students and staff on Friday that he supports the suspension of the IFC fraternities.
"Yesterday, Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones announced an immediate and indefinite suspension of all Interfraternity Council Activities at Ohio University," he said "I support this decision and this action, given the escalating nature of the type of hazing allegations that have been coming forward.
"We are proud of the individuals who came forward with their concerns. We will continue to support all of our students and encourage them to act responsibly in all that we do."