KU disciplines two fraternities for ‘selfish, irresponsible’ approach to COVID-19

Gov. Laura Kelly renews call for Kansans to take threat of virus seriously

By: - August 24, 2020 10:03 am
University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod says two fraternities have been issued cease-and-desist orders to cease noncompliance with county health regulations and university policy designed to inhibit spread of COVID-19. Here students wait for food orders at the Kansas Union ahead of Monday's start of fall semester classes. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

University of Kansas chancellor Doug Girod says two fraternities have been issued cease-and-desist orders to cease noncompliance with county health regulations and university policy designed to inhibit spread of COVID-19. Here students wait for food orders at the Kansas Union ahead of Monday’s start of fall semester classes. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas issued cease-and-desist orders to two fraternities and imposed 14-day public health bans for members of both student organizations for weekend behavior that disregarded policy and regulations aimed at moderating spread of COVID-19.

KU chancellor Doug Girod said action against Kappa Sigma and Phi Kappa Psi was necessary to protect the health of students, faculty and staff as in-person instruction resumed Monday. The university hasn’t hosted classes on the Lawrence campus since the pandemic mushroomed in March. A surge in coronavirus infection could compel KU to again pivot to online courses.

“We will not tolerate selfish and irresponsible behavior that puts the health and safety of our community at risk, that disrespects staff, faculty and students who have worked to prepare our campuses for reopening, that jeopardizes the long-term viability of the university and that recklessly disregards the authorities of the university, city and county,” the chancellor said.

Gov. Laura Kelly announces Monday during a briefing at the Statehouse that she is again appointing federal public defender Carl Folsom to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Court of Appeals. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly says Monday during a briefing at the Statehouse that as people get desensitized to COVID-19 numbers, it is important to remain vigilant (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

On Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly said during a news conference in Topeka that coronavirus testing revealed infection clusters at six of the state’s colleges or universities, including 13 positive cases at the Pi Delta Theta fraternity at Kansas State University. KU is to release new statistics Tuesday on testing among faculty, students and staff, but last week reported 87 students and two employees with COVID-19.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 38,401 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state with at least one in each of the 105 counties. There have been 426 fatalities and more than 2,100 hospitalizations in association with the coronavirus.

“In these moments,” the governor said, “it can become easy to be desensitized by the numbers as they continue to grow. But our positive infection rate from this weekend continues an alarming trend in the wrong direction for Kansas. Everybody needs to be vigilant.”

Girod said that both KU fraternities issued cease-and-desist directives were part of off-campus social activities hosted by students who violated county regulations and university policies. On Saturday, a motorist took video of Kappa Sigma members at a gathering outside the fraternity house without masks and without social distancing. The university’s statement didn’t outline the transgressions at Phi Kappa Psi.

“Going to be either a very long or very short year for the Greeks,” said Rich McDonald, a Phi Kappa Psi alum said on Facebook. “Everyone is on double not-at-all-secret probation.”

Girod said reopening of the university wouldn’t be successful without a commitment from employees and students to consider not only of themselves but well-being of the entire university community.

“Though this pandemic is impossibly complicated, the expectations of you are not,” the chancellor said in the campuswide memorandum. “These actions don’t take great effort. They are only a matter of will.”

His request of anyone venturing onto campus: Wear a mask at all times. Maintain six feet of distance from others. Wash hands thoroughly. Stay home if not feeling well. If positive for COVID-19 or potentially exposed to the virus, follow instructions of health officials.

Girod, a physician, also said any student who didn’t follow university regulations regarding the coronavirus may face sanctions that include removal of privileges to come to campus and possible suspension. Disregard for state or county guidelines can lead to civil or criminal penalties that follow a person throughout college, impact applications to graduate school and prospects of employment after graduation.

“I know most of our students are doing the right thing, but we will not accept noncompliance with health and safety protocols on campus related to masks, physical distancing and large gatherings,” the chancellor said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.