By Michaek Graczyk
HOUSTON — University of Houston officials are promising swift punishment, including expulsion and criminal charges, if allegations of hazing at a fraternity are supported by the outcome of a police investigation.
School President Renu Khator announced Tuesday that the Sigma Chi chapter and five of its student members have been suspended and that an investigation into pledge activity is ongoing.
“I am shocked, dismayed and deeply disappointed that allegations of this nature have arisen on our campus,” she said.
The nature of the hazing was not disclosed, although Khator described the allegations as “disturbing” and that the “health and safety of our students have come into question.”
If true, such behavior would result in “immediate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion,” she said.
“The university has a zero-tolerance policy for hazing,” Khator said. “Let me be clear, hazing is a criminal act, and consent is not a defense.”
School officials Wednesday declined to comment beyond Khator’s statement.
University police on Tuesday took a “more than inch-thick” case folder to the Harris County District Attorney’s office, according to Jeff McShan, the prosecutor’s office spokesman.
“We asked them to gather more information,” he said. “We gave them no timetable. We made some recommendations on what they can do to further their investigation and things we need. We just wait for them to return.”
Under Texas law, hazing is a class B misdemeanor and conviction carries a six-month jail sentence. The sentence can be doubled if the hazing causes serious bodily injury. A death resulting from hazing would elevate the charge to a felony, carrying a longer jail term.
The Evanston, Illinois-based headquarters of Sigma Chi said it learned Jan. 20 of allegations “of inappropriate pledging activities” at its Houston chapter, indefinitely suspended the chapter the next day pending the outcome of its own investigation and informed university officials.
Sigma Chi said it became aware a month later that the school’s police department also was investigating hazing at the chapter.
“We suspended our investigation before we were able to formally substantiate the allegations,” Michael Church, executive director of Sigma Chi, said in an email Wednesday.
Fraternity headquarters was awaiting a report from the university police, he said.
“Hazing is so far removed from the principles we believe in that we cannot, and will not, allow it to continue,” the fraternity’s international president, Michael Greenberg, said. “Those who engage in this vile tactic will be held accountable.”