Pi Kappa Alpha leaders say they will appeal a six-year suspension Cal Poly issued two weeks ago over allegations of a sexual assault and other violations at one of the fraternity’s San Luis Obispo houses.
Under the suspension, which Cal Poly issued on Jan. 13, the fraternity has lost its right to recruit members and hold events or meetings on campus.
PIKE also is prohibited from using the Cal Poly name or participating in university events as a Greek fraternity, receiving student government grant funding, or maintaining membership with the Interfraternity Council.
Cal Poly issued the suspension after investigating the fraternity for a reported sexual assault at a Halloween night party, as well as for violating several alcohol and party-registration policies at the same event.
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They violated “regulations the university developed in 2013 in close consultation with its Greek Life organizations,” Cal Poly’s Dean of Students Jean DeCosta wrote in a statement. “We work in good faith with our Greek Life students; in return, we expect that they will abide by the campus policies they helped develop. Cal Poly maintains a zero-tolerance policy for violations.”
DeCosta issued the Jan. 13 suspension.
Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly’s vice president of student affairs, is responsible for deciding on the fraternity’s written appeal, which has a filing deadline of Feb. 11.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office isn’t charging the assault allegation, citing “insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said spokesman Lee Cunningham.
And the fraternity is denying any wrongdoing in the alleged assault, which reportedly took place at a fraternity house at 740 W. Foothill Blvd., a facility that was formerly The Clubhouse at This Old House, a restaurant and bar.
That business shut down because of complaints about late-night music and noise.
“The chapter is disappointed in the (suspension) result and acknowledges some social registration policies were overlooked,” PIKE president Ellis Good wrote in a statement. “However, we want to state that this chapter does not tolerate sexual misconduct. … We fully cooperated with authorities, and we were notified by the police that the allegations of sexual assault did not result in any charges being filed.”
Good said the fraternity plans to participate in a county program on the county’s sexual assault prevention program to “be as helpful as we can in educating other groups and the general student body about the threat of sexual assault and how to be safe in the community.”
Good said his fraternity was invited to participate in the program by the lead detective in the sexual assault investigation.
He acknowledged that alcohol was brought to the party “in excess of the limitations” outlined in Cal Poly’s party-registration policy.
Cal Poly’s year-old party-registration policy for Greek organizations limits event times, bans drinking games, limits the type and amount of alcohol, and requires party guest lists that are submitted to the university in advance, listing birthdates for anyone 21 and older.
Good said extra alcohol was hidden in the fraternity house’s rooms and couldn’t be regulated, which he admitted was a violation.
“However, alcohol violations similar to these are unfortunately prevalent and have not been grounds for removal of a (Cal Poly fraternity) chapter in the past,” Good said.
PIKE members don’t have a main chapter house, leasing satellite houses that are privately owned; none are owned by the fraternity.
Good said the members plan to continue to live in their current houses. But he didn’t know if the fraternity will keep operating in any way if it loses its appeal.
“For now we haven’t sat down and extensively talked about how the fraternity will proceed if the appeal fails,” Good said. “It’s been tough to set aside the appropriate time to plan for that scenario while we are going through the appeal process. So I am not sure how the fraternity will function if that ends up being the case.”
Cal Poly officials say the university doesn’t have jurisdiction over the activities of a suspended fraternity, which means that party registration and other university rules intended to control behavior at Greek organizations can’t be applied.
But individual students are still subject to Cal Poly's student conduct policy, as well as to city and county laws.
“If Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities receives a report of a student committing a crime, the office can conduct its own investigation and, where appropriate, mete out disciplinary action,” said Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier in an email.
Lazier noted that the university’s standard for discipline is different than the legal system’s standard.
“There is a difference between the obligation of law enforcement and the obligation of the university to ensure that its environment is conducive to all students being able to succeed in achieving their educational goals,” Lazier said. “Because Cal Poly is concerned with that environment for the purposes of students achieving their educational objectives, our processes are administrative and educational in nature.”
Cal Poly’s executive director of communications, Chris Murphy, said Cal Poly communicated regularly with PIKE’s international headquarters, based in Memphis, Tenn., regarding the local chapter’s sanctions. PIKE has about 220 chapters in the U.S. and Canada.
“The university’s hope is that the (international) PIKE office will support our decision and implement their own disciplinary action,” Murphy said.
However, PIKE’s headquarters is supporting the local chapter in its appeal to remain active on campus and hasn’t made any determination on its affiliation beyond that, said W. Brent Phillips, the organization’s senior marketing officer.
The fraternity believes the sexual assault charges shouldn’t apply because the case wasn’t charged.
“Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity is disappointed in the university’s decision to suspend the Iota Theta Chapter (Cal Poly’s chapter) and fully supports the chapter in their appeal to remain active on the campus,” Phillips said in an email. “A six-year suspension is disproportionate for a social registration violation.”
The national headquarters isn’t providing financial backing or a lawyer for the chapter’s preparation of the appeal, though a lawyer supportive of the fraternity has agreed to help the fraternity through the process if necessary, Good said.