University officials spared few details way back in October when they announced the disturbing reports of hazing they had received. They described a degrading scene inside a fraternity house, where sorority members supposedly had their clothes torn off and entered a cramped room for an orgy with drunken fraternity pledges. They told of a pledge who needed medical treatment after his brothers left him in a room stripped to his underwear with a cold wind blowing in through the windows. They said cars carrying pledges in their trunks drove in circles until the unfortunate passengers threw up.

Ken Srdjak

The trouble is, none of these incidents happened. Or at least, the University’s investigation didn’t find any eyewitnesses. “We couldn’t substantiate every aspect of the scuttlebutt,” Dean of Students Sue Eklund told me.

Four long months after describing the scuttlebutt about the Greek system in lurid detail, the University administration released its final hazing report on Friday. For those four months, administrators refused to comment on whether they had found any truth to the allegations. By not refuting claims they knew were bogus or at least impossible to prove, they implicitly stood by those claims.

Maybe it’s too much to expect an apology for letting the rumors spread for four months. But we should expect new information: Details about the hazing violations that the University confirmed. Details about how that behavior harmed pledges. Details explaining why the most serious charges evaporated.

Here’s what the report uncovered: “smoking marijuana, inducing consumption of food, blindfolding, dressing in arguably humiliating costumes, theft of property and trespassing.” These crimes were accompanied by pledges’ “heavy alcohol consumption and underage drinking,” leading some to vomit.

Sounds like a typical college Halloween, albeit a couple weeks early.

It also sounds like hazing, which of course deserves to be punished — yet I can hardly imagine a cleaner laundry list of hazing crimes. The report gives no indication that the trespassing and theft amounted to any more than a panty raid (or its modern-day, less exciting equivalent, the composite photo raid). Perhaps these were more serious than they sound, but if so, why did the police investigate and find no criminal wrongdoing? And why would the new report leave out the details?

“We felt like this was the best kind of information we could give to the public in keeping with our notion that we don’t go into details about disciplinary hearings,” Eklund said.

I’m all for privacy rights. But the University had no problem giving nearly every detail of the rumors, then it refused to get specific when reporting the truth. That’s probably because further details would reveal just how embarrassingly minor these incidents proved to be, in comparison to the tales from October.

If the incidents reported in fall actually took place, then University investigators have proven themselves incapable of breaking through the loyalty of Greek brothers and sisters to get at the truth — or they’ve chosen to ignore the most serious infractions with some kind of plea bargain.

On the other hand, if the incidents never happened, then the University acted irresponsibly by casting a shadow over the Greek system and not exonerating it as soon as the truth was known.

Then there’s another possibility, to which I would hardly give credence if not for the eager publicizing of these accusations and the plodding pace of the actual investigation. Perhaps the University wanted to portray Greek houses as dens of deviants, Rush as a violent free-for-all and pledges as victims.

The University began its push to revamp the Greek system last winter, hoping to end fall Rush and to make every house ban alcohol and hire a live-in advisor. Was the hazing scandal a component of this campaign? Did the University publicize what it knew might be little more than rumors, in order to promote the idea that the Greek system requires reform?

We may never know exactly what was reported to the University last fall and why administrators couldn’t confirm it. What matters now is that Greeks do not let the University use those four months of bad faith to pressure them into compliance.

 

Schrader can be reached at jtschrad@umich.edu

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