SPJ Louisiana calls for greater transparency in fraternity hazing violations

For Immediate Release
11/28/2017

Media Contact:
Robert Buckman, Vice-President, (337)-280-9053, jprof47@aol.com

Louisiana-​The Louisiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has called upon the heads of the higher education systems in Louisiana to exercise greater transparency involving the investigation of fraternity hazing violations.

​The letter, sent last Saturday, said SPJ “wishes to express its profound concern regarding a lack of transparency and timely reporting regarding the incidents of fraternity hazing over the past several years at LSU and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.”

​The letter recalls the hazing-related deaths of two students, one at UL Lafayette in November 2016 and one at LSU in September and criticizes the schools for “stonewalling from university administrators. These cases might never have been brought to the public’s attention if it were not for public records requests and, in one instance, a whistleblower.”

​The letter was sent to Joseph C. Rallo, commissioner of higher education; F. King Alexander, LSU System president and chancellor; Jim Henderson, University of Louisiana System president; Ray Belton, Southern University System president; and E. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president. A copy was sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards. It was co-signed by Sergy Odiduro of Arcadia, SPJ chapter president, and Robert Buckman of Lafayette, chapter vice president.

The letter cites news reports that some unreported investigations of fraternity hazing violations at LSU date back five years.

​“No organization likes negative publicity,” the letter states. “But when universities sweep disciplinary actions against fraternities under the rug, when they throw up roadblocks to keep journalists from reporting them, they are sending a tacit message to those fraternities that they are willing to help shield them from public scrutiny and disgrace. The first loyalty of Louisiana universities and the systems that govern them should be to their students and their parents, and to the taxpayers, not to non-governmental, out-of-state fraternal organizations whose actions have been shown to be reprehensible and even deadly.”

​Rustam Nizamutdinov, an international student at UL Lafayette from Uzbekistan, was struck and killed by a vehicle in Lafayette on Nov. 6, 2016. It wasn’t until the following summer that local media discovered that the driver of the car, Michael Gallagher Jr., was sleep-deprived as part of a Kappa Sigma initiation ritual and that the fraternity had been suspended following an investigation the university had completed in April.​“Why this secrecy?” the letter asked.

Maxwell Gruver died from binge drinking as part of a Phi Delta Theta initiation ritual at LSU on Sept. 14. “It wasn’t until a month later that The Advocate learned through a public records request that a concerned mother had complained to LSU more than a year earlier about such excessive drinking at Phi Delta Theta rituals,” the letter states.

“The tragic deaths at Penn State, Florida State and Texas State show that this is a national phenomenon of public interest,” the letter continued. “It is the duty of professional journalists to inform the public of them.

“We urge you to cooperate with the media, including student newspapers, instead of stonewalling them. We hope you agree that the public has the right to information about fraternity hazing abuses. It shouldn’t take another tragic, senseless death for that information to become public.”

SPJ was founded in Greencastle, Indiana, in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi and is the country’s largest association of professional journalists. Established in 2015, SPJ Louisiana Pro works to foster education and networking opportunities for the state’s media professionals while encouraging free speech and a free press.

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