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University alerts fraternities before searching for alcohol

Updated:
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Fadi Balla never knows when officials may come to search the Pi Kappa Alpha for alcohol. It could be a Tuesday afternoon or 10 p.m. Friday night.

But the searches are never completely a surprise. Whatever day it is, officials at the University of Oklahoma are required to call before they arrive.

They enter through the front door and walk through all the common areas of the house, including hallways in the dorm wings and recreation rooms, scouting for any signs of alcohol, a stray beer can or an empty liquor bottle. They do not search members' rooms.

``The searches have been relatively painless,'' said Balla, president of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at the university. ``They don't invade people's privacy, they don't go in people's rooms or people's fridges. If you don't have anything to hide, then you're OK.''

One semester after the university banned alcohol in student housing in the wake of a freshman's alcohol-induced death, officials have searched all fraternity houses at least once and haven't found one single bottle of alcohol.

Critics say the ban is toothless because of the warning period that allows time for possible offenders to clean up any evidence of alcohol. But supporters say the policy is working because it targets and eliminates flagrant offenses.

Along with making student housing dry, the policy also outlines a ``three strikes'' rule that holds students accountable for alcohol violations both on and off campus. Each alcohol violation merits a strike, and a third strike automatically results in a one-semester suspension for a student. Strikes also apply to student organizations.

The policy was instituted following the Sept. 30 death of Medford freshman Blake Hammontree, who died from alcohol poisoning after a night of drinking at the Sigma Chi fraternity house.

The university has issued 86 individual strikes and one organizational strike since the policy went into effect Jan. 18.

Hammontree's father, Jack Hammontree, an associate district judge in Grant County, said he doesn't think his son's death has made a significant dent on the campus' drinking culture.

``It was really frustrating to hear that days after Blake's death, you've got kids doing it again,'' Hammontree said. ``I know all the sympathy and sadness was really heartfelt, but I'm not sure it had much of an impact overall. I didn't think it would.''

When Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall learned about the university's search policy, he chuckled.

``That's just common sense that if you call someone and tell them you're coming, anything that they don't want someone to find is going to be put up,'' said Kuykendall, who also is chapter adviser for the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Oklahoma.

He said the university's search method ``really defeats their whole purpose,'' and is more lenient than searches he performs in his chapter's fraternity.

Kuykendall said he has drug dogs brought in at unannounced times during the year to search the public premises of the Phi Delta Theta house. Although individual rooms and cars are not searched, if a dog alerts on one, Kuykendall said he either gets a member's permission or a search warrant to investigate further.

OU's Dean of Students Clarke Stroud defended the policy, saying the intent of the university's searches is not to be overly intrusive but to catch ``egregious violations.'' He said if a fraternity or sorority is violating the alcohol policy by having a party at their house, they would not have enough time to clean up before officials arrived.

Stroud said it is not fair to focus on the searches because the policy is comprehensive and farther-reaching than any other Big 12 school.

Oklahoma State University also has a dry campus, except for a few residence halls where students 21 and older can drink, but fraternity house searches at the school are unannounced and no areas are off limits, said Ival Gregory, manager of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.

Searchers have found alcohol in unlikely places like laundry baskets and underwear drawers, Gregory said. Two chapters have received alcohol violations in the past year, he said.

``I believe our policy is stronger (than Oklahoma's) because the alcohol inspections are completely random,'' Gregory said.

The University of Colorado _ where freshman Lynn Gordon Bailey Jr. died of alcohol poisoning last year _ started with a three-strikes policy, but now allows only two violations. The school has handed out 1,600 strikes and between 70 and 80 suspensions in the past year, said Bob Moss, chairman of the university's Committee on Substance Abuse.

Colorado's policy does not make the campus dry and does not involve searches. It instead bases its strikes on arrests and citations by police.

Searches at Colorado State University _ where sophomore Samantha Spady died last year of alcohol poisoning _ are conducted by an Interfraternity Council and are scheduled at the beginning of each semester. All student housing at the university is dry.

The school also punishes students for alcohol offenses both on and off campus, but does not have a ``strike'' policy, CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said. Instead, students are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Back at Pi Kappa Alpha, Balla said he considers the inspections ineffective because he knows men in other fraternities who still drink ``all the time.''

``No one has slowed down,'' Balla said. ``If anything, it's accelerated.''
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