Fraternity attracts national attention for infringing on First Amendment

An attempt by members of a campus fraternity to censor The Daily Utah Chronicle by throwing stacks of papers into trash bins resulted in a criminal investigation and national media coverage.

Members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, believed to be angry about allegations against their organization insinuated in a letter to the editor, removed every copy of the Nov. 10 issue of The Chronicle from stands at several lower campus locations.

The University of Utah Police Department was contacted around 1 p.m. after Todd Clark, a junior in biochemistry, reported to Chronicle editors that he saw a college-age man remove stacks of the papers outside the physics building.

The investigation proceeded throughout the day as Chronicle editors found papers in several recycling bins adjacent to the newspaper stands.

Ryck Luthi, former associate director of the Union, found surveillance footage of a man removing stacks from the stands near the Union Patio after being contacted by Chronicle editors.

PKA officials Garrett Clark and Chase Harlin visited The Chronicle’s office around 6 p.m. to offer an oral apology on behalf of members of their fraternity.

They said the PKA members responsible removed the papers because they thought a letter to the editor written by a former member and published in the same issue was intentionally run to interfere with their initiation week. The letter referred to an alleged hazing experience.

“It was a knee-jerk reaction, and before we could stop the bleeding, it was done, and it was too late,” Clark said.

The actions of those members did not reflect the views of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, Clark said.

Thousands of papers were removed between 9 and 11:30 a.m. from the Union, Orson Spencer Hall, LNCO, Milton Bennion Hall, the Marriott Library, the HPER building, the Art and Architecture building, the Merrill Engineering building, the School of Business and the LDS Institute of Religion as well as other unconfirmed locations.

John Poelman, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said he found a 5-inch stack of Chronicles next to a recycling canister in the ASUU office.

After hearing of the report, Associate Dean of Students Annie Nebeker said she remembered seeing a young man leaving the Union carrying a large stack of The Chronicle but did not understand what he was doing.

Initially, campus police told Chronicle editors that they would need an exact count of papers missing before they could investigate.

Later that day, Sgt. Kent Curtis called news editor Tye Smith and told him an investigation was under way.

Nebeker assured The Chronicle that she and Assistant Dean of Students and Greek Row Adviser Lori McDonald were working diligently to resolve the issue.

Nebeker also said she recognized that the act was an infringement on First Amendment rights for freedom of the press.

Sgt. Don Bird told Chronicle representatives several days later that a criminal investigation would be difficult and encouraged disciplinary action to be pursued through the university.

In a meeting among representatives from the dean’s office, The Chronicle and the fraternity, all sides agreed to have an educational seminar be used as punishment for the estimated $1,000 in losses from the 8,000 stolen papers.

A mandatory 90 percent of fraternity members was expected to attend a presentation given by two faculty members from the communication department about censorship and freedom of the press.

Notes taken during the presentation were to be turned into an information pamphlet by the fraternity, which would be distributed to Greek Row to promote better understanding about the First Amendment rights of the press.

The minimum number of members did not attend the meeting and no pamphlet has yet been assembled.

On Wednesday, Chronicle Editor in Chief Steve Gehrke and Eric Hu, a Pi Kappa Alpha member appointed by the fraternity’s executive council to negotiate in the place of President Chase Harlin, reached a new agreement that requires the fraternity to submit information for a pamphlet that will then be distributed throughout Greek Row and campus. The fraternity also agreed to pay a fee that would fund production costs.

The Student Press Law Center and The Chronicle of Higher Education both printed articles about the incident, giving the dispute national exposure.

The letter to the editor that initiated the crime was written by Aaron Hornok, a senior in economics and a former member of the fraternity.

It recounted his experience during initiation in which he said new members were forced to stay in a room and urinate in a communal bucket. He also wrote that a fight broke out when harassment of the new members intensified.

After publication, administrators investigated the alleged hazing and found no grounds for disciplinary action.