Six University Greek life chapters who reportedly caused damage at two Michigan ski resorts have already been suspended by their national chapters. Now, they will face a number of processes that could yield further punishment beyond the suspension of their chapter events, philanthropy, recruitment and social activities.
One of the main issues at play is vandalism and property damage. The Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity has been the focus of attention after causing damages at Treetops Resort, which according to manager Barry Owens, could cost between $85,000 and $100,000 to repair. Owens said the resort plans to press charges in the incident.
Officials with the Boyne Highlands Resort have estimated damages there will total about $25,000.
The damages could qualify as “willful and malicious destruction of property” under Michigan state penal code.
Farmington Hills, Mich. attorney Joseph Lavigne said the individuals involved in exacting damages will likely be treated as “co-principals” — anyone giving aid or assistance in the same crime. Hence, all individuals would be treated under “joint and several liability.”
Because the damages at Treetops Resort, for example, cost approximately $100,000, each student involved would face felony charges, up to 10 years in prison and a fine of “not more than $15,000 or three times the amount of the destruction or injury, whichever is greater” or both.
Lavigne said as a practical matter, “court(s) almost never impose those kinds of fines.” Instead, they are more interested in restitution, or compensation for whatever damages were caused. In the case of SAM, the group would likely collectively pay back the $100,000 in damages and perhaps a small fine. Additionally, he added, the individuals involved likely would not face a great deal of jail time — though this would be contingent upon their past criminal records.
At this point, no individuals have yet been identified, at least publicly, as culpable for the damages.
Beyond state law, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said in an interview last week with The Michigan Daily the students will also face University-centric procedures to address their actions.
Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities
The Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities is a set of rules to which all students who attend the University are bound. In its introduction, the document states that the University’s standards of conduct extend beyond the University and Ann Arbor “only if the behavior poses an obvious and serious threat or harm to any member(s) of the University community.”
Harper said individuals involved in damages to resorts exacted not only physical damage, but also reputational damage to the school — as there has been national attention surrounding the issue.
“How do we as an institution do what’s right?” she asked. “Lots of people were harmed by the irresponsible behavior. So then the question becomes, ‘How do you repair that harm?’ And that’s what we’re trying to think about.”
Student violations to the Statement of Student Rights include “stealing, vandalizing, damaging, destroying or defacing University property or the property of others” — which the resorts have accused all six Greek organizations of doing.
The process under the Statement of Student Rights would likely deal with individual students, and subsequently these students would have three options for resolution of the issue. However, because individuals have not yet been identified, the proceedings are as of now undetermined.
If the students came to a “general agreement” with the involved resorts about how to resolve the conflict, they could discuss potential sanctions before entering into a formal agreement whereby they accept “responsibility for the alleged violations of the Statement.”
Informal conflict resolution processes “such as mediation, facilitated dialogue and restorative justice circles” are available. However, these are highly unlikely to be employed given the large monetary damages inflicted in this situation.
The students could have a University-affiliated hearing arbitrated by either a Resolution Officer or a Student Resolution Panel. These hearings could take place in a group or on an individual basis. They would ultimately “result in findings of fact” and subsequent recommendations for punishment, which would then be reported to Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones. Jones has the final say on either accepting or modifying the recommendations.
Potential punishments, referred to in the Statement of Student Rights as “sanctions/interventions,” include a “formal reprimand,” which is essentially a warning; “restitution” which is “reasonable compensation for loss” through community service, money or material replacement; suspension from coursework and University activities; and most severely, expulsion from the University.
Student Organization Advancement and Recognition
SOAR, a University body housed in the Center for Campus Involvement, is meant to create a formal relationship between the University and its student organizations. Its accountability procedure outlines how the University responds to student organizations that violate the Standards of Conduct for Recognized Student Organizations.
University students, faculty and staff can bring complaints against student organizations through the SOAR accountability process.
Any enrolled student, faculty member or staff member at the University can file an official complaint form at the Center for Campus Involvement within six months of the incident. These complaints must include background facts showing which Standards of Conduct have been breached and a request for relief.
Complaints can be referred to the student governing body that has jurisdiction over that organization if the body has a written procedure for investigations, though some cases may be referred to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, which can conduct their process currently with the SOAR process. The director of the CCI can also refer the complaint to a specific academic unit for an informal resolution.
In this case, the “student governing body” that the complaint would be referred to is the Greek Activities Review Panel, the judicial branch for the University’s Greek Councils — the Panhellenic Association, the Interfraternity Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council.
GARP, which includes up to eight justices and one chief justice from each Greek council, is in charge of investigating and resolving misconduct allegations against any chapter or individual members affiliated with the Greek Councils.
Complaints submitted to GARP can be filed by any individual or organization and must provide written details of the violation.
Within seven days of receiving the complaint, the chief justices must review the complaint and determine one of the following outcomes: to dismiss the case, call for a mediation or call for a hearing.
Mediation requires the complainant and the defendant to reach a mutual agreement, facilitated by the chief justices. If the mediation succeeds, the agreement will be put in writing and enforced by GARP.
If not, the complaint proceeds to a GARP hearing. In the event of a hearing, the complainant carries the burden of the proof and the involved parties are expected to present relevant evidence and testimony.
After all testimony and evidence is presented, the justices deliberate until a decision is reached, requiring two-thirds of the justices to agree.
The final agreement is put into writing, provided to all involved parties and filed as a public record.
Similar to the Student Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, GARP’s imposed sanctions vary depending upon the case, but can include: a letter of reprimand, restitution charges, monetary fines, community service requirements, educational programming, or more severely, probation, suspension or expulsion from member’s respective Greek Council.
The final decision can be appealed by submitting a written notice of appeal within seven days of receiving the GARP decision to the Greek Appellate Board, which comprises two chapter presidents from each of the Greek councils, randomly selected by the chief justices, and a ninth member who is selected from the list of GARP members uninvolved in the original case.
A two-thirds vote is necessary to overturn GARP’s decision.
Jones, the dean of students, is charged with imposing sanctions based on the student governing body’s decision, which in this case is GARP. Though the dean of students will focus the recommendation in most cases, she can deviate from the recommended sanctions.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated how individuals would be punished under state law by dividing the cost of overall damages caused. The updated version clarifies policy for treating a group’s collective criminal act and includes an interview with Farmington Hills attorney Joseph Lavigne.