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Rider Dean and Adviser owed an apology: New Brunswick editorial

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Hazing charges were a sham
Home News Tribune Online 08/31/07

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This page has maintained from the outset that there may have been sufficient cause to question the policies and the practices at Rider University regarding alcohol consumption by students in the wake of a frat party at which one freshman drank himself to death, but the filing of criminal charges earlier this month against the school’s dean of students and a second Rider official never made sense. Fortunately, but hardly to its credit, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has finally yielded to reason, announcing Tuesday that it is dropping plans to prosecute Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley for aggravated hazing.

The sad part is that, although the charges were never warranted by any form of logic, prosecutors plunged ahead anyway, for reasons known only to them. By pressing forward without sound legal basis for the accusations, prosecutors were willing to tarnish the reputations of two school officials, not to mention put them through the emotional wringer of defending themselves in court and the possible loss of their jobs.

Those actions were wholly unnecessary, not to mention cruel.

Student Gary DeVercelly Jr. of Long Beach, Calif., died on March 30 with a blood-alcohol level of 0.426 percent, more than five times the legal limit of alcohol in the bloodstream for driving legally in New Jersey.

Terrible and tragic. But to hold school officials culpable when they have established clearly understandable prohibitions against alcohol use and stern punishments when those rules are broken? Not a chance.

Neither Campbell nor Badgley were present at the time that DeVercelly drank himself to death. Nor were they ever aware of the fraternity bash at which the alcohol was consumed. No piece of evidence of any kind linked the pair to the student’s death. Even so, prosecutors sought to hold the school chiefs at fault for the personal actions and choices of others beyond their control — never mind that the students were adults, fully competent and answerable for their own decisions.

In the end, the dismissal of charges is no doubt of great comfort to those besieged school officials, but it hardly excuses the course and the consequences sought by Mercer County’s guardians of the law. Campbell and Badgley are owed an apology.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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