UM bars fraternity, suspends sorority for resort damage

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan announced Friday it will no longer recognize Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and has placed Sigma Delta Tau sorority on disciplinary suspension following the groups' involvement in vandalizing the Treetops ski resort in Gaylord in January.

Members of six fraternities and sororities inflicted $125,000 in damage on rooms at Treetops Resort in Gaylord and Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs.

The sanctions against Sigma Alpha Mu — the most severe step the university can take — mean the fraternity will not be part of university life for at least four years, with no participation in any Greek Life activities and no recruitment of new members.

Sigma Delta Tau will be suspended for two years — a sanction the sorority's national organization balked at, saying its investigation showed that sorority members did not participate in the destruction and tried to intervene.

The university also issued lesser sanctions against Pi Kappa Alpha and Chi Psi fraternities and Alpha Phi and Delta Gamma sororities — which were involved in damage the same weekend at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. But officials said those incidents were determined not to be malicious.

Members of the six fraternities and sororities inflicted an estimated $125,000 in damage on scores of rooms rented Jan. 16-17 at the two resorts, and garnered national attention.

"The behavior of members of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members … was reprehensible and has caused extensive harm to the community of Gaylord, to the University of Michigan and to the Greek Life community as a whole," Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones wrote in a letter to the fraternity.

In a letter to Sigma Delta Tau, Jones wrote that sorority members contributed to the behavior by failing to report or stop acts of vandalism.

"This egregious behavior and failure to act are inconsistent with the University of Michigan's standards of conduct for student organizations and for members of the student body," she wrote. "Similarly, failure to take group accountability for chapter members' behavior is not acceptable."

Debbie Snyder, executive director of Sigma Delta Tau's national office, objected to UM's punishment.

"We strongly believe that the university's additional sanctions are unreasonable due to the lack of specific evidence linking our chapter members to the allegations," Snyder said. "It is Sigma Delta Tau's opinion, based on our membership review, that our women did not play a part in the destruction and vandalism on site. Additionally, we feel that the women attempted to intervene as they saw fit. No further punishment is planned unless further findings should be brought to our attention regarding individual members, in which they will be held accountable."

Connor Rubin, president of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at UM, said the actions of individuals have reflected poorly on Greek organizations.

"Some of the members acted atrociously ... grossly inappropriately," Rubin said. "This has been a rough year for Greek Life. My chapter and the Michigan Greek community is looking forward to moving past this and focusing on some of the great things we do for the community."

The worst of the vandalism was at Treetops Resort, where Sigma Alpha Mu members broke windows, damaged furniture and light fixtures, and littered 45 rooms with food, beer and wine bottles. Hallway floors and ceilings also were damaged in an unprecedented weekend of damage.

Shortly afterward, Sigma Alpha Mu president Joshua Kaplan apologized, a gesture rejected by the executive director of the resort, Barry Owens. Owens said he planned to press charges, and state police are investigating.

"I think it's great the university has done something," Owens said.

Kaplan could not be reached Friday.

At Boyne Highlands Resort, damage of varying degrees was inflicted on 12 condo units, including broken furniture, fixtures and doors; holes in drywall; and soiled carpeting and upholstery that needed deep cleaning or replacement.

"The individuals and organizations accountable for the damages have taken full responsibility for their actions, and we received full reimbursement for damages and loss of revenue for the time the units were out of our rental management program," Mike Chumbler, president and general manager of Boyne Highlands, said in a statement.

The resort is not pursuing legal action, and police aren't investigating.

The university has asked the Sigma Alpha Mu national office to revoke the UM chapter's charter and place more sanctions on the fraternity before it could return to campus Greek Life.

Leeland Manders, executive director of Sigma Alpha Mu, would not discuss UM's action. "We are studying the university decision letter and do not have a comment at this time," he said.

During Sigma Delta Tau's suspension, the Panhellenic Association delegate from the sorority will be a nonvoting member of the Panhellenic Council. The university may approve service, educational and philanthropic activities on a case-by-case basis.

Both will be asked to take full responsibility, pay full restitution to Treetops and participate in restorative measures in Gaylord, as well as education programs on alcohol and drug abuse, bystander intervention, sexual misconduct and risk management.

The other two fraternities and two sororities will be on social probation through the current semester, perform community service, participate in educational programs and be banned from overnight activities indefinitely.

University of Michigan Mark Schlissel

"I want to reiterate how profoundly disappointed I am in the action of these students," UM President Mark Schlissel said in a statement. "I hope the broader Greek community can learn from this experience so they can continue to participate in the many positive aspects of Greek Life while avoiding extreme, risky, and inappropriate behaviors. It's important that we allow this process to move forward."

Associated Press contributed.