“The Record Is Clear”: Judge Condemns Syracuse University For Actions Against Fraternity In Racial Slur Case

Syracuse University has been repeatedly criticized for a failure to guarantee due process and free speech rights for students. Now, a state judge has slammed the university over its treatment of a fraternity which the court found “did nothing wrong” in a racial slur incident on campus. The University continues however to defend a process that was replete with due process concerns.  I have long been a critic of the lack of due process on our campuses. This became particularly acute when the Obama Administration pressured universities to reduce such protections — a policy that the Biden Administration now appears to moving to reinstate.

Here is part of the factual background found by Justice Scott DelConte of Onondaga County Supreme Court:

In the afternoon of Saturday, November 16, 2019, four Syracuse University students who were members of Alpha Chi Rho and around 10 to 15 of their friends – who were not affiliated with the fraternity or the University – hung out and drank for several hours at the fraternity house located at 131 College Place. At around 7 p.m. The group left the fraternity house, on foot, and headed to a nearby apartment and watch a basketball game. While they were walking together, one of the individuals in the group – identified only as K.F. – briefly ran towards a woman standing outside of a parked car (Id.). According to the woman – who immediately reported the incident to the University Department of Public Safety – K.F. and others in the group shouted racial slurs at her.

An investigation was launched but the next morning University Chancellor Kent Syverud declared that he was “deeply angered” and that “the individuals involved have been identified and will be held appropriately accountable to the Code of Student Conduct and to the full extent of the law.” He promised to work with the Syracuse Police Department to bring charges against those responsible. The court called Syverud’s comments a “seemingly predisposed public announcement” of guilt.

Two hearings were held but, in the critical second hearing, the university barred the lawyer for the fraternity from being present — a denial of due process that has been used by other universities to hamper the defense of students or groups in such proceedings.

Then something remarkable happened.  After being declared guilty, Alpha Chi Rho appealed the Conduct Board’s decision to the Appeals Board, which overruled the Conduct Board on February 21, 2020. The Appeals Board ruled that “University policy does not provide a basis on which to find the respondent [fraternity] responsible for the conduct that the lower Board found to have occurred” and further found that K.F. “was not a guest of the fraternity and is not a Syracuse University student.” Thus, “[he] could not serve as a representative of the fraternity and [there is] no other basis on which [the fraternity] could be held responsible for his alleged actions”

However, the university had already effectively declared guilt the day after the incident.  So, in a unilateral decision, Senior Vice President for Enrollment Dolan Evanovich overruled the university’s appeals board.  While Evanovich admitted that “it is true the Code [of Student Conduct] does not expressly cover guests of organizations, such an expectation is present throughout the University’s Fraternity and Sorority Affairs policies.”

Evanovich’s claim is roundly rejected by the court:

There is no provision in the Fraternity and Sorority Affairs policy, or the Code of Student Conduct, that allows the University to punish fraternities or the independent, off-campus actions of former guests (NYSCEF Docs. 9, 23, 26). Fraternities cannot police the statements of their former guests who leave campus, and it would be unreasonable to have, or apply, a policy that punishes fraternities, or other student social organizations, for conduct they cannot control. While the Courts will generally defer to a university’s interpretation of its own policies, such deference does not extend to “unreasonable or irrational” interpretations, such as Evanovich advances here.

The court held:

The record is clear: Alpha Chi Rho did nothing wrong. As the Conduct Board found, none of its fraternity members uttered any derogatory or racially offensive statements. Evanovich’s determination that the fraternity is nonetheless responsible for K.F.’s alleged harassment – which occurred off-campus and was not witnessed by any fraternity members – has no rational basis. As such, his rejection of the Appeals Board decision must be annulled as arbitrary (Pell v Board of Education of Union Free School District No.l, 34 NY2d 222,231 [ 974]), and the Appeals Board decision reinstated.AXP, as the fraternity is known, speculated that Syracuse wanted to act tough in response to ongoing protests against alleged racial graffiti in a dorm, so it made an example of AXP.

Sites like College Fix have alleged that the original account of the complainant were contradicted by other witnesses and video evidence.  However, it is hard to judge such evidence either way given the utter lack of due process afforded by the university.  From the very start of the controversy, Syracuse University seemed to abandon even the pretense of neutrality or responsibility in the adjudication of the dispute.  This was a very serious allegation that deserves intensive investigation. Yet, the university went beyond stating a commitment to finding the truth and acted in ways to prejudice the outcome of the proceedings.

The university remains unapologetic and seemingly undeterred. Much like the recent incident at Smith College, there is no indication that it will alter its practices or afford greater due process protections in the future. That is a chilling prospect for students and parents who rely on Syracuse University to protect the rights of all students.

Here is the opinion: Alpha Chi Rho v. Syracuse University

 

53 thoughts on ““The Record Is Clear”: Judge Condemns Syracuse University For Actions Against Fraternity In Racial Slur Case”

  1. As much as I abhor these kinds of actions being taken by universities I almost feel as if the students and faculty deserve such treatment. Please let me explain. When enough INNOCENT students and faculty get railroaded maybe there will be the long awaited backlash against these little fascist regimes. When enough alumna see the corruption and the hatred of one class or one race (ironically the race and class of about 90% of contributors) we will witness the enrollments and endowments start to decrease. See Evergreen State College. See Oberlin College.

  2. Victimhood is fantastically lucrative; exponentially so in the case of “abusers” who are terminally naive, gullible and malleable. Thus, the following lesson is never taught and never learned in African, Mexican et al. culture. Righteous indignation is a lethal weapon.
    _______________________________________

    “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words shall never hurt me.”

    – Alexander William Kinglake

  3. One of you skillful and eloquent counselors please direct America to the Constitution wherein Americans are mandated to accept, reject, love or hate any person(s) of any description.

    All Americans stipulate to the power of elected officials to codify statutes prohibiting property damage and bodily injury.

    All Americans, simultaneously, enjoy the freedom of assembly and, by extension, segregation, along with the freedom of speech.

    Americans may be as racist in their opinions and speech as they choose to be.

    An American is racist you say?

    So the —- what?
    _____________

    If you don’t like it where you are, as the old adage goes,

    “Get up on Old Paint and get the —- where you ain’t!”
    __________________________________________

    People must adapt to the outcomes of freedom.

    Freedom does not adapt to people, dictatorship does.

  4. Here’s the message that needs to go out to all these average-white-man-hating institutions like these massively rich universities, which are cat’s paw of the billionaire tyrants that endow them

    If you don’t have to follow the law when dealing with us, then we’re not going to follow the law when dealing with you

    Ultimately it will come down to that

    Sal Sar

  5. Those university “investigations” are just like show trials under a dictatorship. The outcome is predetermined. Everything else — the proceedings, the processes, the testimony, the setting — are merely window dressing, to convey to the public that the defendant received a “fair” hearing.

    The university operates on the premise that the ends justifies the means. The end or desire is to defend and promote the ideology of race/gender/class. The means is: whatever it takes. The individual’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant, as are evidence, proof, objective procedures. The defendant is regarded as a sacrificial lamb.

    If you are the target of such a patently unjust “investigation,” you are, in a word, screwed. You’re playing against a stacked deck. And you really only have two choices: Bend a knee, issue false mea culpas, suffer an undeserved punishment. Or: Scream bloody murder and hire the best pit-bull attorney you can find.

    The safest option is to completely avoid such a risky environment, by not attending those universities — in the same way and for the same reason that one should avoid dark alleys at night, in crime-infested neighborhoods.

    (Over some 25 years, I was personally involved with and witnessed countless university “investigations.” They are truly a horror show. The long-term emotional and reputational harms to the defendant are incalculable.)

    1. Exactly Sam

      they are as valid as a Red Guard kangaroo court held in the streets of some Chinese village in the mid sixties before they lynched the local landlord

      All justice meted out according to group belonging and neither facts nor law

      In the end the only thing that can stop these bullies is superior force presenting an ultimatum

      That’s how the Red Army in China ended the Red Guard episode. They gave Mao an offer he could not refuse, and to save his own skin, he told the nutjob Red Guards to stand down

      Sal Sar

    2. “The safest option is to completely avoid such a risky environment, by not attending those universities”

      Perhaps this is the end the means justify? It’s a way to get men (especially white men) not to attend college. Then the categories of people (gender, race, victim status) that universities prefer will be the only ones matriculating and graduating, shaping the future of the nation’s professional class and ruling elite.

  6. Dear Prof. Turley:

    Syracuse University has a law school. I wonder what their law students are taught about “due process”. And do they teach evidence? If so, why? In this atmosphere what is the purpose of evidence? Evidence seems so passe…why bother with it at all?

      1. Did he get a degree from Syracuse? or just claim to have such a degree? (I wonder if Slo Jo uses “mater” since it is such a sexist word?)

    1. Having earned my JD in 1969, I cringe when I read about the kind and content of courses in law schools today and about some of the faculty members and about the interests/activities of some of the students. We had a year-long course in Evidence; I’ll bet it’s no longer taught the way Professor Rafalko at Duquesne University taught it.

    2. Blaise, I am a graduate of the Syracuse University College of Law. The importance of “due process” was an integral part of the curriculum. And most students took the course in evidence. I’m not liking what I am seeing at SU, except for the basket ball program. It’s appalling! I will be writing to Chancellor Syverud who is originally from Rochester, NY.

  7. (music)
    Born on a mountain top in Tennessee.
    Raised on gin… and vitamin C.
    Killed his chickens …when he was only three.
    Now he’s serving time…
    In the pen a ten chury!
    Donald! Donald Trump!
    King of the wild frontier!

  8. Whether it be Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, a frat at Syracuse, or guests of a frat I’m wondering why there is so much resistance to the need for a racial reset as far as public speech goes? Is it not clear that since the days of slavery there have been several ongoing resets? Is the resistance to them all about self righteousness, forgetfulness, or is it about total rebellion? I’m really curious. I’d really love to know the rationale behind this.

    EB

    1. EB, in the atmosphere of today Mother Teresa would be declared a racist. In Syracuse you have one person saying an incident happened and (supposedly) video and other witness recall saying it didn’t. At Smith College a student of color enacted a social media firestorm charging people that were not even involved or there with racism. There is not resistance to a racial reset as you call it, there is resistance to everything being seen with the lens of White People are all bad and are all white supremacists and all Black People et al have been systematically kept down by said bad white people. Mathematics is racist, AP classes are racist, etc, etc. Why? According to liberal school boards evidently people of color are not smart enough to ‘get’ Math or AP classes. In my opinion THAT is racist. When they start teaching critical race theory in lower grammar school, as in Buffalo, there is resistance. Just sayin’.

  9. Wasn’t this the incident that led to Syracuse suspending Fraternity Activities across the board, including historically black fraternities?

      1. Mespo,
        It’s like elementary teacher discipline moved to college. Two or three kids pass notes and whisper while the teacher is talking and the whole class then has to put their heads down on the desk instead of just the offenders.

          1. No one should be allowed into a position of power if they like power. Power should only be given to people who obviously don’t want it and should be taken away if they come to like it.

            1. That’s exactly what the founders of our Constitutonal Republic did when they listed the whole citizen as the source of all power. I don’t remember giving it away. I have witnessed having it taken away in the last few months.

  10. “This was a very serious allegation that deserves intensive investigation.” No it wasn’t and no it doesn’t, people say mean nasty comments to each other every day. It’s a part of the human condition. Although college students, we are still talking about adults here, it’s time they be treated as such and not coddled because someone said something mean to them. Toughen up and get over it. By taking these complaints seriously just serves to legitimize the delicate snowflake syndrome. When I was in college in the early 1980’s if I went crying to the administration every time someone directed a religious or other derogatory remark my way I would have spent more time making complaints than in class.

  11. “The university remains unapologetic and seemingly undeterred. Much like the recent incident at Smith College, there is no indication that it will alter its practices or afford greater due process protections in the future. That is a chilling prospect for students and parents who rely on Syracuse University to protect the rights of all rights.”
    ****************************
    As a torts lawyer this makes me smile. Repeatedly ignoring the law and thus the constitutional rights of your students to advance your own leftist agenda seems like callous indifference to me and thus worthy of punitive damages. That puts a big target squarely on Syracuse’s back especially since in addition to punies you also get attorney’s fees! Maybe I need a satellite office and, as an afterthought, how’d you like to defend that practice as university counsel?

  12. Would our honored Professor comment on the irrational statements and actions of the Dean of his Law School, Dean William Treanor, concerning the two professors who he effectively sacked. This is the time to be “A Man” and speak up. How can you even teach at a School who has such a “nut” as a Dean. You should be at the forefront of the defense of the 2 professors. Don’t worry if he will sack you, you will be able to support yourself I’m sure. But PLEASE defend academic independence. The 2 professors were trying to understand a problem. Dean Treanor is worse than any racist. He is STUPID and anti academic. How can you be a member of his faculty?

    1. I apologize You are a member of The George Washington University Law School which is a different institution. But your comment on the matter is still imperative.

        1. Allan Bloom and Harold Bloom were both great bulwarks against political correctness and revisionism in academia. I remember going to a talk presented by Harold Bloom many decades ago. At the time, I had no idea who he was, but he left such an impression on me that I never forgot him. I would later learn how significant he was to criticism and literature. Wish I had a chance to see Allan Bloom, too.

        2. See also Jonathan Haidt ( of Heterodox Academy) and Greg Lukianoff ( of FIRE) essay “ The Coddling of the American Mind”.

          For a satiric novel of life on elite campuses see “Campusland” by Scott Johnson.

  13. The organization FIRE ( foundation for individual rights in education ) has awarded the life time censorship award to Syracuse University.

    Hint- those parents who have college bound high school juniors need to check out more than US News “ best rankings” , party culture , best dorms, sports teams etc

    Alumni of colleges also need to stay abreast of their former educational institution’s record on free speech , and due process, before opening their purses, that is, if they wish to protect the first amendment .

  14. Add Syracuse to the list of schools that a normal parent doesn’t send his kids to.

    Why waste the money and incur the risks?

    Enough stupid parents that the school will survive.

    1. This is a place where well-heeled New Yawkas send their kids, whose grades are not good enough for Ivys. Sal Sar

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