President Bottoms Discusses Decision to End Relationship with Delta Zeta's National Organization
March 12, 2007
March 12, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - [Download Video: "Incompatible Approaches" - 472kb] "The approach that the national sorority had toward addressing what they consider to be their problem is incompatible with the approach that the University has in dealing with our students," DePauw President Robert G. Bottoms says. This afternoon, the president addressed reporters at a news conference in Watson Forum of the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media. Just a few hours before, a letter from Dr. Bottoms was delivered to the national leadership of Delta Zeta sorority, advising them that DePauw has severed ties with DZ's national organization, effective immediately.
In December, in the wake of a "membership review" and just prior to final exams, Delta Zeta's national leadership decided to ask 23 women to take "alumna status" and leave the DePauw chapter house. Another six members of the sorority who were invited to stay instead moved out in protest. The former members of DZ say national leaders removed them from the chapter house because of their appearance, and that they had been active and supportive members of the sorority.
In his letter to DZ's national president, Deborah Raziano, Dr. Bottoms notes that "Over the past weeks, I have interviewed many DePauw students, including several who were asked to take alumnae status in the sorority. I have also interviewed the women who were chosen to remain active members in your organization. I have talked with faculty, including the faculty Ms. Menges met on campus, and needless to say I have heard from many loyal DePauw Delta Zetas."
Bottoms told reporters, [Download Audio: "Increasing Concern" - 576kb] "In the past few days, my concern has continued to grow, that postings on the Web site of the national sorority seem to blame our students. I have been proud of our students for the way they have handled this situation. What the national sorority has placed on their Web site is a totally different story than I have heard from our students," the president declared, and scoffed at DZ's call for a "media freeze" when national media outlets began a deluge of stories on what People magazine described as "explulsions" carried out by the Oxford, Ohio-based sorority.
"The very nature of DePauw University and a university is public discourse," Bottoms said. (photo at left: Alex Turco/The DePauw)
Five women remain in the Delta Zeta chapter house, with a sixth member spending the semester studying off campus.
While acknowledging that the actions of Delta Zeta national have, by association, brought some negative attention to DePauw, President Bottoms told reporters, [Download Video: "Positive Conversations" - 912kb] "I have been somewhat pleased with the discussions on campus; the reflections students and faculty have on the way we live our lives together here. Some students are working to start a local sorority, some students are working to start a co-op. And so, in some ways I think the discussions are turning into a very positive thing."
The president asserted that he "talked with no student who felt race was an issue" in DZ national's decisions as to who stayed and had to leave the DePauw chapter house. And he described new "living standards" that will be adopted which will mandate that Greek living units agree to house students for an entire year and avoid similar situations in the future. DZ's move was unprecedented on a campus with a more than 160-year history of Greek life.
In April, Bottoms will present recommendations to DePauw's Board of Trustees that stem from the work begun last summer by the Greek Fact-Finding Commission. The process of reviewing fraternity and sorority life at DePauw began long before the DZ "membership review" was launched.
[Download Audio: "Support" - 471kb] "I've had many, many, many e-mails today, the majority of which have said, you know, 'Thank you for doing this, we think the University has handled things properly and we're proud of the University.' And as I indictated, it has given us a forum to talk about some of the improvements we're making in the system at DePauw."
Today's announcement has received coverage from virtually every major news organization, including CNN the Chronicle of Higher Education and an Associated Press piece that has appeared internationally, including at the UK's Guardian. There has also been television coverage on Indianapolis NBC outlet WTHR, in which President Bottoms states, "We can't control the policies of the national sororities or fraternities, but we can impact what's best for our campus, and I think that's what has happened here." [Download Video: "WTHR Clip" - 2044kb]. The station offers video of Dr. Bottoms' news conference in its entirety at its Web site (look under "featured videos").
CBS station WISH interviewed a DePauw student, [Download Video: "Student on WISH" - 857kb]who says, "I'm glad that our president is actually supporting our students and expressing concerns against the sorority national as an organization as a whole for their actions against our students." The report by Leslie Olsen also includes comments from DePauw Professors Robert Newton and David Gellman: [Download Video: "Professors Comment" - 684kb].
ABC affiliate WRTV [Download Video: "Clip of WRTV Report" - 2517kb], which included comments from DePauw students.
Nationally syndicated TV show Inside Edition, which reported on the removal of the 23 women from the DZ chapter house last week, followed up tonight by noting, [Download Video: "Segment of Inside Edition Report" - 773kb] "Now their school is taking action. DePauw University, a top-tier liberal arts college in Indiana, has announced it is cutting ties with the national chapter of sorority Delta Zeta," and quoting from Dr. Bottoms' letter.
The New York Times' Sam Dillon, who first reported the story, notes in an article posted at the newspaper's Web site today that a message on Delta Zeta national's Internet site "apologizes to any of our women at DePauw who felt personally hurt by our actions." He writes, "That apology, however, did not bring reconciliation at DePauw. 'It's like a thief who's sorry that he got caught, rather than for what he did,' said Rachel Pappas, a junior who left the sorority before the evictions and organized a campus event about it last month."
Dillon continues, "In addition to the apology, the sorority also posted on its Web site statements critical of the women who were forced out of the DePauw chapter, and of faculty members who supported them. In the letter the university sent to Delta Zeta today, Dr. Bottoms said the sorority's decision to publicize that criticism of the women and faculty members contributed to his decision. 'The arrangement we have with Greek organizations is that they're guests of ours, and we expect them to live up to university standards, and in this case Delta Zeta did not,' Dr. Bottoms said in the interview. 'This means that sorority can't exist on our campus as an organization, beginning in the fall.'"
Robert Hershberger, professor and chair of modern languages at DePauw, tells the Times, "This was the right thing to do." Dr. Hershberger launched a petition drive criticizing the actions of DZ's national leaders. The document was signed by 55 DePauw faculty members.
Access the new letter to DZ national, as well as a message from President Bottoms to DePauw alumni and other communication, by clicking here.