Mission Failure: Students Become Scapegoat for Irresponsible Administration
by Brent Kent ‘09
and Jay Horrey ‘09
On October 28, 2007, Wabash College freshman Patrick Woehnker, 19, fell to his death after gaining access to the roof of an academic building. Woehnker and four other students entered the building via an underground maintenance tunnel.
The five underage students had consumed alcohol, but it was ruled out as a factor in the accident.
College officials claimed the students had entered the tunnel through a man hole and that the building was secure. However, following an unrelated investigation the following year, an incident report surfaced that showed the college found earlier the same week that students were entering the building through the tunnel. The incident report completed by campus security for the Associate Dean’s office, just six days before Woehnker’s death, stated that there were “footprints coming from the tunnels in goodrich [the academic
building]” and that it “lokks [sic] like someone has been in tunnels.”
It is not clear what, if any, action the college took to keep students out of the building following the October 22nd report of the student entry.
However, even more devastating is a Crawfordsville police report requested by The Phoenix staff that revealed the group specifically went to Goodrich Hall because, as one student stated, “Patrick said he wanted to go to Goodrich hall [sic] because he did the other night.”
Though it was possible that Woehnker was the same student who accessed the building six days before his death, the October 22nd incident report in which the college acknowledged
the entry was not made public during the investigation or ensuing media inquires. College officials denied the opportunity to immediately comment on this investigation.
Even more unanswered questions surround the college’s recent disbandment of the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. On November 6, 2008, President White sent an e-mail informing the campus community of their decision to withdraw recognition of the fraternity and declared the house a residence hall “effective immediately.”
In a statement released by the college explaining the decision, President White cited “a culture and practice of ungentlemanly behavior and irresponsible citizenship, which are inconsistent with Wabash’s Gentleman’s Rule, mission, and core values.”
Delta Tau Delta students informed The Phoenix staff that they were told by the college that a decision on the fate of their house would be made at the end of the joint investigation being conducted by Wabash College and Delta Tau Delta International.
However, at 10:00 on the evening of November 5, the men of Delta Tau Delta were informed that their attendance was required at a meeting with college administrators at 7:15 the following morning. At this meeting, Dean of Students Michael Raters informed the men that the college was disbanding Delta Tau Delta, terminating its lease, and requiring students over the age of 21 to move out within 72 hours.
Though the college claimed to have reached this decision in conjunction with Delta Tau Delta International, a division president called the decision “unilateral” and “disappointing,”
and the Executive Vice President of Delta Tau Delta Jim Russell said, as quoted in The Paper of Montgomery County, “we were hopeful, upon the investigation’s completion, in partnering with the college on an appropriate joint course of action.”
A Practice of Irresponsible Citizenship
“Woehnker fell Sunday from the top of Goodrich Hall, an academic building that was closed at the time.” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, October 30, 2007
Little else came from the investigation. It was a simple but sad story in which a young made a foolish mistake, like most of us have done on any number of occasions. Unfortunately, this one cost him his life. The campus grieved for the loss of a brother, sent sympathies and prayers to his family, and eventually recovered. The only other news received was a quiet and almost unnoticed coroner’s report a few weeks after the tragedy that stated the nineteen-year-old’s blood alcohol content of .04%.
Roughly three months after his death, The Phoenix staff was investigating campus security issues and made a formal request for a copy of the college’s daily crime log, a public log which is federally mandated by the Jeanne Clery Act. The law gives the college 48 hours to comply with public requests, but the college did not meet the deadline. No explanation was given other than ignorance of the specific stipulation requiring the crime log.
The consequences of non-compliance are very grave. The Secretary of the Department of Education (DoE) is required to report non-compliant institutions to appropriate congressional committees and fine said institutions up to $27,700 per infraction. As a result of the January request, The Phoenix staff sent the administration a copy of the federal law and a DoE compliance handbook, but a story on the log was not published.
Eight months later at the end of September, and at the end of National Campus Safety Awareness Month (named so by Congress July 2008), another request was made for the daily crime log for a Bachelor investigation. By the 48th hour, it was evident that the college would not only miss the deadline but that Wabash still did not have a log.
After a meeting with Dean Raters on October 2, 2008, it was obvious that the college had not made any effort to solve the problem which was brought to its attention nine months earlier. Dean Raters admitted the school did not have a log. “The point of debate where I would agree with your point is that, do we have a daily log? Well, apparently we don’t. I didn’t keep a daily log. You’ve asked for one a couple times and not gotten it,” said Dean Raters, “but I don’t think that is from the DoE perspective—The paper work that they send is what they look at to see if we’re in compliance—in my mind—and therefore we are in compliance.”
The interview indicated that the college did not understand the law and had yet to carefully read the compliance guide sent nine months earlier.
Sadly, two nights later on October 4, 2008, Johnny Smith, age 18, died of acute alcohol poisoning. Due to the sensitivity of the events and the inevitable media coverage the campus would be receiving, a report on the crime log investigation did not run in The Bachelor that week.
After the campus climate started to return to some sort of normalcy, another crime log request was made so that the investigation could continue. However, this time the administration responded immediately and made available a “daily crime log” of sorts that had supposedly existed all along unbeknownst to the administration.
The log was an internal document maintained by Campus Security which listed summaries of incident reports made to the Associate Dean. Most of the incidents were not of the type required to be maintained in the federally mandated log. Some entries named students or discussed sensitive but non-criminal incidents which some could argue were not in the college’s best interest to make public. It certainly did not appear to be maintained
for public viewing.
The entry for October 22, 2007, just six days before Patrick Woehnker’s death, is pictured below.
In the very next entry dated October 28, 2007, the comment section reads, “It was found that the subject entered tunnel by man hole by hays hall. Entered goodrich where he gained acsess to the roof. [sic]” The rest of the details need not be shared here.
Despite the existence of an incident report, initial news articles reported that the college had no idea how the students gained access to a secured building. Spokesperson Jim Amidon told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “They’re [roofs] extremely dangerous places to be…The building itself was secure.” Though details about the students gaining entry through the maintenance tunnels were publicly acknowledged, the log entry made six days earlier was not.
It is unclear what actions the college took to mitigate the problem brought to their attention in the October 22, 2007 incident report. Recent events have raised similar concerns about the college administration’s decisions.
A Culture of Ungentlemanly Behavior
On November 6, 2008, the college decided to withdraw recognition of the Beta Psi chapter of Delta Tau Delta due to a “culture and practice of ungentlemanly behavior and irresponsible citizenship, which are inconsistent with Wabash’s Gentleman’s Rule, mission, and core values.” The decision was met with surprise from students, alumni, and international fraternity leadership.
After all, the college initially offered support to the men of Delta Tau Delta. In a letter dated October 15, 2008, President White informed college alumni that “Our first concern in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was the welfare of the young men in Delta Tau Delta and Johnny’s friends in the Class of 2012.”
However, later in the process of the investigation, the college failed to keep students, alumni, and the international fraternity informed. “We received more information from the police than the college administration,” said Delta Tau Delta senior Matthew Lee, “it’s the same thing that’s been going on for the last five or six weeks. He [Dean Raters] comes in and talks for a long time and doesn’t really say anything.”
Though the students and alumni were told the conclusion of an official investigation would determine the future of their house, the college acted swiftly and—literally—overnight to disband the fraternity. The campus community, as well the alumni, and international fraternity were shocked by the surprise decision. Eastern Division President of Delta Tau Delta International, Larry Altenburg, said, “I expect the college is doing what they need to do to cover their own interests.”
Details on the culture and practice of ungentlemanly behavior and irresponsible citizenship were not given, and many have disagreed with the administration’s characterization of the men in the house.
The men of Delta Tau Delta have had a very difficult semester. They’ve endured three investigations. All of the members have gone through counseling, and some are receiving medical treatment related to the emotional trauma.
Wabash College President Patrick White was away from campus and unavailable for immediate comment. The Dean of Students, Michael Raters, abruptly cancelled a scheduled interview and declined to answer the questions until the following week.
It is important not to confuse these new findings. Patrick Woehnker broke the Gentleman’s Rule in entering the tunnels and Goodrich Hall. Let that not be forgotten. However, it is our belief that the above facts suggest that the college administration has also promoted and practiced a culture of ungentlemanly behavior and irresponsible citizenship, which are inconsistent with Wabash’s Gentleman’s Rule, mission, and core values.
Did the administration submit the October 22, 2007 incident report to police? If not, did they believe it was irrelevant to the investigation?
The administration was also unresponsive to investigations into possible violation of federal law.
Seemingly to protect their interests, the college manipulated and misled the brothers of Delta Tau Delta, and, under questionable circumstances before an investigation was even completed, the administration issued a verdict condemning the brothers and casting them out on their own.
The administration will defend students in so far as it does not threaten the administration’s own interests. It is ironic that the administration should cite the Gentleman’s Rule against the brothers of Delta Tau Delta when the administration itself has threatened the integrity of the same rule.
Certainly some questions will be raised in to the appropriateness of this investigation. When the facts came to our attention, we discussed at length those very questions. Is writing this story the right thing to do? Are the consequences it will have on the college worth it? Is it morally just not to publish this story?
Ultimately, we decided that by not making the results of our investigation public, we would be aiding in covering it up. Though there are considerable consequences to this article, we are doing what we think is right because the college did not.
If we, as a college, are to gain anything from these tragedies, all parties involved must share the responsibility. This administration, however, has placed the burden solely on students. It is time that the college takes an objective look inside its own house, because the trust between the students and the current administration is broken. After all, in the very least the Gentleman’s Rule means following the law and taking care of each other.