Rugby ousting: Leaders say Zete not worth its salt
"Thank you, sir, may I have another?"–Kevin Bacon in Animal House
Members of the University of Virginia's recently-ousted fraternity should be grateful for their punishment, according to an open letter from a house official in which he discusses the disbanding of the local chapter of Zeta Psi in the wake of a springtime hazing that seriously injured a student.
"The University has taken a very measured and thorough approach," wrote fraternity house corporation president Charlie Kollmansperger. "The Administration did not reach its conclusion lightly."
In his letter to parents, friends, and fraternity alumni posted at a UVA Alumni Association website, Kollmansperger revealed that a review of emails and other information suggested a cover-up of the March incident that hospitalized a pledge for several days.
"We were disappointed to review hard evidence indicating that the account of that evening given to us by the [fraternity members] was inaccurate and incomplete," wrote Kollmansperger.
With its chapter established at UVA in 1868, "Zete" was one of the oldest fraternities on Grounds. Members, drawn largely from East Coast prep schools, have been known to have the organization's Greek letters seared onto a forearm with a branding iron. But the Rugby Road revelry began winding down in March after police began investigating what became known as the soy sauce incident.
"This is not simply about daring pledges to drink soy sauce," wrote Kollmansperger, noting that additional incidents convinced administrators "to conclude that the level of risk to personal safety at the Zete House is unacceptable."
In the March incident, some pledges, which Zete calls "goats," imbibed a meal of dog food, matzo balls, gefilte fish, and– in what reportedly caused the hospitalization– 12 to 18 ounces of soy sauce.
According to standard product labels, a single ounce of soy sauce typically contains 2 grams of sodium, the recommended daily limit. According to a British materials safety data sheet, the fatal dose is a gram per kilogram of body weight. For a 160-pound human, 36 ounces of soy sauce will kill about half the people who drink that much.
The injured man was never publicly identified, but officials did say that he was hospitalized for three days.
Kollmansperger wrote, "No one believes that there was intent to harm anyone."
Indeed, the dangers of salt ingestion don't appear to be well known. In 1989, in a case that attracted national attention, Roanoke officials prosecuted a woman who inadvertently killed her 4-year-old daughter by forcing the child to eat salt as punishment for eating sugar.
While that woman received 12 years in jail, there will be no criminal charges for Zete, and its disbanding may be much shorter: as little as two years. According to Kollmansperger, the fraternity can petition the administration and the Inter-Fraternity Council for reinstatement in August of 2013.
In just the past five years, Zete's prominent site– beside Beta Bridge at the corner of Culbreth Road and Rugby Road– has seen a spate of construction. UVA has built a new studio art building, an architecture school addition, a new parking garage, and– currently under construction– a building to house the UVA marching band.
Might UVA simply reclaim the property which it already owns?
"The Vice President for Student Affairs and the Dean of Students have assured us repeatedly over the past five years that the University has no designs on 169 Rugby Road," wrote Kollmansperger. "They very much want a strong Zete chapter at the University and at that address."
While Kollmansperger was not immediately available for comment, his letter suggests that things might have been worse. In 2005, for instance, "Phi Kap," another powerhouse UVA fraternity chapter, closed its doors forever after running afoul of regulations.
"We are saddened by this turn of events," wrote Kollmansperger, "but we understand and support the University's decision."Read more on: zeta psi