Parents Think Bargain Is No Bargain: Austin American-Statesman — see below
Settlement comes in response to hazing incident in fall 2006.
By Molly Bloom
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A year and a half after an 18-year-old University of Texas fraternity pledge fell to his death from a fifth-floor balcony, the university and the local chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon announced Tuesday that they’ve reached an agreement that will allow the fraternity to keep operating if it changes its pledging process and social activities.
But the parents of Tyler Cross say they are disappointed by the agreement. Cross was a freshman from Marietta, Ga., when he died. He had followed in his older brother’s footsteps in attending UT and pledging Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
“We are definitely surprised by this agreement and disappointed that we were not contacted or consulted regarding this agreement by either the university or the SAE fraternity advisors and alumni given that our precious son, Tyler, was the victim of the hazing incident that prompted this action,” Debbie and Don Cross said in a written statement Tuesday.
UT officials said the agreement is intended to eliminate hazing and “the silence that surrounds such conduct” and encourage Sigma Alpha Epsilon to lead other UT fraternities in making similar changes. It’s the first such agreement between the university and a fraternity, said Juan C. Gonzalez, UT’s vice president for student affairs.
The fraternity, which was already on probation for hazing incidents in 2004, could have faced suspension and disassociation from the university for the 2006 hazing and alcohol use, Gonzalez said.
Under the agreement, the group must give advance notice of large parties, limit the attendance of guests at large parties to those named on a pre-party guest list, hire off-duty police officers to provide security and limit parties or events to Fridays and Saturdays with an ending time of 2 a.m., among other provisions.
“While we are happy to hear of some of the proposed improvements … quite frankly, many of the actions are not much different than those already imposed upon the SAE fraternity, which was already on probation at the time of Tyler’s untimely and tragic death,” the Crosses wrote. “Tyler was such an awesome young man, a terrific role model to all that met him, and his death has been trivialized by this settlement.”
Several pledges told investigators that fraternity members gave them large amounts of alcohol, forced them to do calisthenics and gave them “disgusting food” to eat the night before Cross died, according to a search warrant affidavit. An autopsy report said Cross had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas, when his body was discovered on a sidewalk west of campus early Nov. 17, 2006.
A Travis County criminal investigation into Cross’ death is ongoing, County Attorney David Escamilla said. Last year, three officers of UT’s Lambda Phi Epsilon received probation after a criminal investigation into the death of Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath, a freshman honors student from Houston who was found dead after an off-campus fraternity party Dec. 9, 2005.
The agreement with Sigma Alpha Epsilon:
Requires all members to attend an annual educational program on hazing and alcohol awareness and abuse issues and permanently bars any member who engages in hazing.
Provides for unannounced visits to the fraternity house and its common areas by UT police, Austin police and officials with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission or the dean of students office.
Requires the fraternity to assure that alcohol served at any party or event is dispensed by a third-party licensed by the beverage commission.
In a written statement, Charlie Nettles, president of UT’s chapter, said, “The Sigma Alpha Epsilon officers, members and alumni are extremely happy with the agreement. It is a great step in the right direction for all Greek organizations, and we look forward to the benefits it will reap for the fraternity and sorority community and its relations with the university.”