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Another black eye for LSU under Alexander

The old college expression, “if you can’t go Greek, go Deke” has taken on a much more sinister connotation at Louisiana State University with horrific revelations potentially untimely for the academic career of the system’s leader.

The early part of 2019 has seen the Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter at the state’s flagship university in Baton Rouge first voluntarily disband, then have several of its members arrested for crimes related to treatment of pledges. What some on campus saw as a real-life “Animal House” instead seems likely, if the charges stick, to more accurately carry the label “Felony House.”

Accusations sensational and sickening accuse members of physical and mental of abuse of pledges, allegedly going on for years, until a few recent DKE pledges blew the whistle, emboldened by LSU’s well-publicized reforms concerning pledge treatment after the death by hazing of one at another fraternity. What law enforcement investigators have claimed happened makes the chapter look little more than a conveyor belt for sadism.

This black eye LSU can ill afford after the previous incident, which brought intervention by state lawmakers and unwelcome national attention, particularly about the checkered recent history of the campus’ greek system. It banked restoration of its reputation as an institution more interested in academics supplemented with a greek system that builds character than as one that looked away from craven social activities taking precedence over ensuring such incidents didn’t recur.

That these did sets back the institution. But that these did recur while the institution allegedly neglected to address knowledge of them proactively makes LSU’s leadership look either indifferent or incompetent, despite the supposed commitment it had to prevent this behavior as a result of the recent tragedy.

In the weeks leading up to the arrests, LSU quietly purged from active duty a number of officials related to greek life, with the top official leaving campus a month previous to publicizing of the accusations. A statement released by school and system Pres. F. King Alexander hinted that they faced investigation about receiving adverse information about DKE and failing to act adequately upon it.

This puts Alexander in a bad spot, who took the job in 2013 known as a bit of a higher education reformer. That reputation largely has been hijacked by controversies principally regarding out-of-control hazing, but also by acts committed by Alexander, including a 2017 decision to relax admission standards without Board of Regents approval.

When revealed publicly a year later, his action triggered legislation mandating a Regents report. Alexander asserted that this change, dubbed “holistic admissions,” better captured applicant quality and wouldn’t create a cohort any less capable than students admitted under regular policy. However, the report found evidence contradicting that, with data showing, excluding athletes who had access to special assistance, students admitted under the new policy who would have faced rejection under the old had lower grades, were more likely to leave early and didn’t graduate at the same rate as those who met the criteria.

Alexander had claimed that elite institutions acted as vanguard of the move to holistic admissions, a tactic LSU should emulate. That desire to copy the big boys may have indicated that Alexander was positioning himself to aspire to leadership of one of those institutions or systems.

If so, the latest hazing revelations and fallout clearly put a damper on that. A formal Regents rebuke after they vet fully all state institutions’ compliance with limits on admittances by exception would cause his tenure to lose more luster.

Regardless of Alexander’s ambitions, the LSU system keeping closer track of adhering to rules both in academic and social realms would prevent controversies like these from flaring.

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