Cornell will revoke its recognition of Tau Kappa Epsilon for at least three years following reports of an alcohol-related hospitalization of a freshman, according to Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for sorority and fraternity affairs. Apgar said the University rejected the fraternity’s appeal of the decision.
In a memo obtained by The Sun on Jan. 5, University administrators faulted TKE for reportedly failing to ensure the safety of a highly intoxicated individual — the same oversight that officials say led to the death of George Desdunes ’13 last spring. Sixteen former pledges of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity in which Desdunes died, joined TKE a few months later.
Cornell’s Fraternity and Sorority Review Board was troubled by the hospitalization and by other reported violations of Greek and University policy, according to the report, which was sent on Dec. 20 from Apgar to Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services.
The freshman, who had been consuming alcohol before attending TKE’s event, arrived at a recruitment dinner hosted by TKE at the China Buffet on Nov. 11. While it “remains unclear if he continued to consume alcohol at the dinner,” TKE did provide both beer and hard alcohol at the event, the report states.
A member of TKE then “transported the freshman student to his residence hall, assisted him inside, and left him in his room, where he was found by hall mate(s) and subsequently transported to the hospital by ambulance … [with] a dangerous blood alcohol level,” according to the review board’s findings, which it said were “based on the preponderance of the evidence.”
“The board believes the members of TKE had an obligation to seek medical assistance for the freshman student, and while [the TKE brothers] claim he was ‘handed off’ to his roommate, it was insufficient action considering the risk to his health at that time,” the memo states.
However, Tom McAninch, TKE’s national spokesperson, said that the TKE brothers were not to blame for the hospitalization. McAninch said the freshman arrived at the event intoxicated and “was immediately escorted away from the function when [the TKE brothers] noticed he was intoxicated.”
“If anything, they should be commended for their actions,” McAninch said. “There’s no connection between [TKE] and the individual going to the hospital. Aside from him showing up at a recruitment event, there’s no connection there.”
But, in addition to the hospitalization, administrators had other concerns about TKE, according to the memo.
After discovering that TKE had become the “landing place” for the former SAE pledges, University officials met with TKE leaders last spring to discuss the transition. Administrators were “assured these new members had no interest in continuing the SAE culture,” the report states. SAE lost its University recognition and had to leave campus last spring.
But as early as September, the University had reason to believe “rumors that SAE has been operating through TKE,” according to the report, when administrators learned of plans for the “White Party” — an event “historically hosted by SAE [as a] social activity attracting hundreds of community members.”
“Out of great concern for the safety of attendees, considering that TKE would not be prepared to host a large event such as this, due to their inexperience, we placed the chapter on interim suspension,” the report states.
The memo then notes that, in a meeting with administrators, fraternity leadership agreed to cancel the event, terminate plans they had to “induct ‘little sisters’” and work with the TKE national organization toward building TKE “traditions that the community could support, as opposed to adopting SAE traditions.”
Despite these promises, “it became clear in that meeting that SAE’s former members, those who were fully initiated and have no affiliation with TKE, have significant influence on TKE as an organization,” the report states.
Apgar also confirmed that there were multiple reports that a freshman with a “high level of alcohol intoxication” was hospitalized in connection with TKE. He noted that, while TKE has been accused of violating other parts of Greek and University policy, the hospitalization “was critical in our decision to pursue the review process.”
Apgar said that Cornell could not have prohibited the former SAE pledges from joining TKE because they never became fully recognized members of that fraternity.
“The associate members of SAE ... were never initiated,” Apgar said. “They were able to accept the bids from another fraternity and join; it wasn’t a University decision to allow them or not allow them to do so."
Apgar added that he was troubled to be “reviewing these kinds of allegations” after Desdunes’ death last spring.
“My hope when [the former SAE pledges] decided to join another fraternity was that they would have an excellent fraternity experience,” Apgar said. “[I hoped] they would still be truly able to bond as brothers and have this other experience with guys at a fraternity that would take them in — especially after what they experienced with the death of George Desdunes.”
Michael Linhorst contributed reporting to this article.