I am responding to this email question from a former student of mine: Are the
charges justified against the two staffers? Thanks, Doug. It is a hard question but fair. First, both are innocent until found guilty.
Here is what I think will happen legally.
1) They should never have been prosecuted if they had done everything in their power to stop hazing and were sincerely as surprised as everyone that a “Big Little” unauthorized party was a bottle exchange. In that case the charges won’t stick.
2) I think the law will find the administrators should be prosecuted if gross indifference is found or if one knew the hazing would take place and did nothing. (Legal experts will look at a racist hazing at another chapter in 1993 at Rider and ask whether there was an exceptional hazing culture present at this school that demanded extra care. Other experts will say schools should distance themselves from fraternities and sororities to protect administrators even if that puts students at greater risks — a sorry state that many caring advisers and deans can’t bear to risk).
The legal question will come down to this. Did either administrator know, or should they reasonably have been expected to know that the Phi Tau traditional “Big [Brother] – Little [Brother] party had degenerated into a bottle exchange? There have been enough bottle exchange deaths and close calls for all to know the dangers of such a tradition. (Gary’s death also jeopardized (and likely devastated) the international Phi Tau reputation and let down its many alumni and officers who say they are committed to having a hazing-free organization).
On the other hand there ARE many Big Brother-Little Brother celebrations that don’t call for booze swilling–but Mr. DeVercelly’s death puts all of them under a microscope, and deservedly so. My recommendation is that the national fraternities closely monitor all revered traditions that could get out of hand (or HAVE gotten out of hand).
The Rider president also needs to speak to the parents of Mr. DeVercelly as a fellow parent. The president’s position is awful, but so is the position of the parents. He needs to establish good communication with a very hurting family.
Once again, we see a hazing incident dividing a school community instead of uniting it. A young man is gone, a campus is in turmoil, and no one–not anyone–wins here. The deaths have piled up since 1970, and for some reason a handful of chapters simply flout the very few (but crucial) rules and regulations given them by their nationals and their school.
ARTICLE FOLLOWS on student protest.
Students, alum express outrage at charges against Rider administration
Mon Aug 6, 2007 8:23 am (PST)
The Times of Trenton
August 6, 2007
Support builds at Rider
Students, alum express outrage at charges against administrators
BY DARRYL R. ISHERWOOD
LAWRENCE — More than 500 current and former
students have banded together on an Internet social networking site in
support of two Rider University administrators indicted Friday in the
alcohol poisoning death of freshman Gary DeVercelly.
Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley
were among five people indicted by a Mercer County grand jury. Charged with
aggravated hazing, the five could face up to 18 months in prison and a
The Facebook Web site was started by Rider University graduate Cathleen
Ziegler who received her degree last year. The site, called “Support Dean
Campbell/Ada at Rider” asks members to write a letter in support of the two
faculty members and also mentions a possible protest in front of the Mercer
County Prosecutor’s Office on Friday.
Reached yesterday, Ziegler said she formed the Internet group to show the
two administrators that they were not alone and that they have the support
of their students, both past and present.
“I felt so bad because of the relationship I have with Dean Campbell,” she
said. “He is such a caring and sincere person, so I wanted to show my
support for him because I don’t know what the ramifications will be on his
personal or professional life.”
In a letter posted to the site from “The Rider University Student Body,
Both Past and Present,” students state their support for the two
administrators, saying both have touched the lives of hundreds of students.
“We, the students and alumni of Rider University, express our support for
Dean Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley in the wake of their recent
indictments,” the letter said. “As a result of their careers and personal
attributes, both Dean Campbell and Ada have touched the world of so many
students, many of whom would not be who they are today without their advice
By 7 p.m. yesterday the group had 514 members, up nearly 100 from the start
of the day.
Campbell is a popular member of the administration and legal experts have
said he and Badgley may be the only university administrators in the
country ever charged in a hazing case. It is not clear what evidence the
grand jury found to indict Campbell and Badgley, but both university and
Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office officials have said neither was present
when DeVercelly, 18, was hazed.
DeVercelly died March 30 after a night of drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau
fraternity house. The Long Beach, Calif., native had been taking part in a
fraternity ceremony called “Big Little Night” and reportedly drank more
than half of a bottle of vodka before losing consciousness. He was later
rushed to a Trenton hospital, where he died the following day.
In addition to the five indictments for aggravated hazing, 15 students were
charged with providing alcohol to an underage person and 23 were cited for
underage drinking. Three students were charged with drug offenses after
police found marijuana and drug paraphernalia during a search of the
The messages posted on the Facebook page range from sympathetic to angry in
their expressions of student and alumni support of the two administrators.
“Dean Campbell is an amazing person and mentor, always helpful and
understanding, and he and Ada have my full support, and I’m sure, the
support of the entire Rider student body!” one posting read.
Other postings compared Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini to Mike
Nifong, the disgraced North Carolina prosecutor who was disbarred over his
handling of an alleged rape by members of the Duke University lacrosse team.
Nifong has been accused of overzealousness in his prosecution in an effort
to gain publicity. Charges were dropped against all three Duke students.
But in an interview Friday after the Rider indictments were announced,
Bocchini stressed that the grand jury was independent and members had made
their own decision on who to charge.
“The grand jury is an independent body,” Bocchini said Friday. “They hear
testimony, they are given the law and they make their own determination.”
A spokeswoman for Bocchini called comparisons to Nifong an “uninformed
Our office is not the charging body in this case and the police department
is not the charging body in this case,” said spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio.
“The grand jury has chosen to charge and we are now tasked with following
through with that.”
Some members of the Facebook site also were planning a protest outside
Bocchini’s office Friday, asking other students to stop by to express their
“Charging two people that had nothing to do with this tragedy is absurd and
simply wrong, and there’s no way I’m sitting idly,” the posting read.
Ziegler said yesterday she doesn’t think at this point the protest is the
way to go, but added that she would not tell people how to express their
“I think having students step in is a little rash at this point,” she said.
“I personally don’t want to do anything that will interfere with what Dean
Campbell and Ada are going through.”
DeBlasio said she had no comment on the possible protest.
Campbell and Badgley along with the three students indicted are expected to
be arraigned this week.
Â© 2007 The Times of Trenton