President Ruscio's Punishment of Phi Psi: The Community Responds
On Tuesday, March 10, the Interfraternity Council determined that Phi Kappa Psi violated the rules of New Member Education in that one member used a stun gun on a pledge. As a result, the IFC decided to suspend Phi Psi from campus for eighteen months. On Wednesday, March 11, President Ruscio unilaterally decided to extend the suspension to three years. You may read his address to the W&L community here. It should be noted that Ruscio originally characterized the stun gun as a Taser in his email to the Washington and Lee community informing it of his decision. His message on the university website has been corrected to more accurately reflect that this was in fact a "stun gun" and not a Taser. He did not send a follow-up email to the community for clarification. Following this action, The Spectator sent out a Facebook post inviting anonymous responses about this matter from members of the community. All of the responses we received are included below, unedited:
Did Phi Psi screw up....yes. Do they deserved to vet kicked off...yes. For three years? No. The punishment does not fit the crime.
The Greek system is in greater danger than it has ever been it. The Greek system needs to be more united. The question is: How?
If President Ruscio was trying to send a message, he sure did. He not only doubled the recommended punishment by the IFC but he sent a message to all the fraternities that hazing is not to be allowed, if it is reported of course. Sure the message may be taken to heart by other fraternities, and it may help stomp out hazing on W&L's campus. But President Ruscio's actions went beyond stomping out hazing. It follows along on a pattern of the administration going after fraternities on our campus. Yes, Phi Psi deserved sanctions and suspension for their actions- but why go beyond the IFC recommended punishment. The IFC stated that they did not believe these charges indicate a pervasive flaw within fraternity culture. I sure hope that President Ruscio would not act against this part of their judgement and start a witch hunt amongst all fraternities on W&Ls campus.
One of the great things about W & L is the fact that we have student elected bodies of government like the IFC, EC, and SJC which oversea controversies within the community. When President Ruscio takes a decision by the IFC and doubles the punishment it shows that the EC, IFC, and SJC are nothing but a front for the administration to make it seem like W & L is a student run campus, when in fact the administration can overstep any decision made by a governing body whenever they deem it is fit.
I'm a phi psi. my only comment is that dean Evans showed up an hour and 15 minutes late to a meeting at our house at a meeting she said was very important (yet didn't apologize), preceded to tell us about how much the university cares about us and other nonsense. All they care about is the optics of the whole matter. Ruscios email was defamatory to say the least and I know for a fact the IFC had no idea about ruscios extra unilateral action. The way the university conducted there investigation was ironic to say the least. The "culture of intimidation" created by public safety officers included flashing tazors in their faces and threating them with expulsion for honor violations. the character assassination in ruscio's email was unnecessary. If the student body thinks they have any say in disciplinary matters, they are surely mistaken. when I came to this university as a freshmanI thought W&L was a "city upon a hill." It is a sham.
This is such a joke and just an excuse to push their third year housing agenda
Washington and Lee's student body has, for the most part, been governed by the student body, through the Executive Committee and similar committees, since the days of Robert E. Lee. Why, then, does the current administration believe the students are no longer capable of self governance?
What was done by a student or students at Phi Kappa Psi is inexcusable, but the IFC saw fit to impose a 1.5 year suspension, only to see President Ruscio usurp their authority and double the penalty.
The current student body is comprised of some of the brightest minds ever to walk the colonnade, so can someone please explain why Ruscio deems them incapable of dealing with problem students and fraternities?
You are undermining student leadership by increasing suspension. Why have the IFC if the president will decide anyway?
I believe that President Ruscio's decision to extend the Phi Psi suspension from the original 1 and a half years that the IFC decided upon to 3 years directly undermines the power of student governance at W&L. Our school prides itself on the ability for student groups to control such punishments and Rusio's disregard for the IFC's decision draws all of these values into question. His reasoning for the more severe punishment was clearly impacted by the numerous fraternity related incidents that have occurred around the country recently. The negative media surrounding these events caused him to enforce a harsher punishment in attempt to save face for W&L; it was in many ways a PR move. Also Ruscio used extreme rhetoric in order to paint the event as far worse than it was. In addition the crime does not match the punishment. The use of a weak taser in an altercation between to students does not warrant a 3 year suspension; essentially a "Death Penalty" as all active members will be gone by the time Phi Psi returns to campus. There is a precedent of a 1998 KA hazing incident involving cattle prods and the students involved only received a 1 year suspension. Thus, President Ruscio has over stepped his boundaries in order to make an example of Phi Psi and help lesson the damage to W&L's national image.
In the almost four years my son has been at W & L there have been essentially the same number of students. There are now 3 less fraternities. There are now three more Deans of Students. Sydney Evans has a new title, a growing empire/budget and has re-discovered her middle or maiden name and facilitated a growing number of lawsuits. President Ruscio gained national attention for being bullied by 7 law students. Ms. Evans compares W & L to Oberlin, home of Lena Dunham and her fabrications. Pre. Ruscio should listen to the tape of his address to the parents of the Class of '15 where he compared W &L to the Blue Ridge. It was eloquent. He is a disappointment. W & L is indeed a place like no other and has prospered as such. It should not be anything else.
As a student at W&L I can honestly say there have been few times when I have lost faith in my community. Our school prides itself on the honor of students and administration. That being said, I am beginning to lose my faith in the administration. The fact that a university official saw it was fit to completely overrule the decision made by the IFC regarding a fraternity suspension discredits all aspects of student self governance that has been a cornerstone of W&L's community and principles. The official is changing the culture of the school that Robert E. Lee set forth.
The student community recently showed administration that we are capable of doing the right and just thing through an open trial. If the administration does not have faith in the student community and its governing bodies, such as the EC and IFC, then how can the student body have faith in the administration?
"In cases where the University has reason to believe that a student or student organization represents a threat to the well-being of the University community, the President or Provost, or their designee, may suspend or dismiss the student, suspend a student organization, or take other appropriate action." (W&L Student Handbook, pg. 20).
This is the only section in the entire student handbook that specifies the authority of the President to act unilaterally. As stated in the quoted section, there needs to be a reasonable belief that there is an existing threat to the well-being of the University in order for the President to take action unilaterally.
The IFC, under its lawful jurisdiction, suspended the fraternity for one and a half years. By unilaterally overturning the IFC's decision and imposing an additional 18 months to their initial sanction, Ruscio is arguing that this extension is necessary to protect the well-being of the University -- Otherwise, his actions are unlawful and outside the bounds of his authority.
I do not believe that extending the suspension of Phi Psi for an additional 18 months is necessary to protect the well-being of the University. Therefore, I believe that President Ruscio has acted well beyond his jurisdiction as our President, and has disrespected and disregarded any notion of student governance in the process.
President Ruscio deciding to overrule the IFC decision and order his own punishment of Phi Kappa Psi tears down the culture and establishment of the entire greek organization. What is the point of priding ourselves on self governance when he chooses to do whatever he likes?
We are always looking for more feedback from our readers. What do you think of the decision by President Ruscio to extend the IFC's suspension of Phi Psi? You may send anonymous responses to our General Opinion section here. Or better yet, shoot President Ruscio an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.