Op-Ed

Carl Hiaasen: Kudos to OU chief for moving quickly to punish racists

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of Oklahoma on Monday, March. 9, 2015 in Norman, Okla. The SAE fraternity has been banned from campus after a video surfaced of members shouting and singing racial slurs. President David Boren of the University of Oklahoma severed the school's ties with a national fraternity on Monday and ordered that its on-campus house be shuttered after several members took part in a racist chant caught in an online video.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of Oklahoma on Monday, March. 9, 2015 in Norman, Okla. The SAE fraternity has been banned from campus after a video surfaced of members shouting and singing racial slurs. President David Boren of the University of Oklahoma severed the school's ties with a national fraternity on Monday and ordered that its on-campus house be shuttered after several members took part in a racist chant caught in an online video. AP

It’s strange but also refreshing to hear someone in high authority say and do the right thing.

David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, took about a millisecond to shut down the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on campus after learning of a video that showed a few members singing a “reprehensible” racist chant on a party bus.

The now-infamous ditty was performed by tuxedoed white frat rats who repeatedly used the n-word, referred whimsically to lynching and proclaimed that no African American would ever be allowed to join SAE.

Boren said it made him sick to his stomach. Of the jerks who participated, he added, “I’d be glad if they left. I might even pay the bus fare for them.”

Had it been me in Boren’s job, I might have assembled the tuneful SAE members in the stadium locker room so they could sing their clever little song for the Oklahoma football team, which has many African-American players.

Boren played it straight. The frat house was vacated, and two “brothers” were expelled from school for their actions on the bus.

Naturally, SAE has hired a lawyer. Experts are debating whether the SAE sing-along was protected by the First Amendment, since the University of Oklahoma is a publicly financed institution.

Whatever might happen next, Boren did his job by speaking bluntly and acting fast. He is white, as is 95 percent of the school he leads. His previous gig was 16 years in the U.S. Senate, also a very white workplace.

Boren understood that, regardless of race, almost every parent trying to prepare a teenager for college was closely watching what happened at Oklahoma.

Boren’s strong reaction to the SAE lyrics was the same disgust felt by millions of mothers and fathers of students, past, present and future.

You work hard to send your son or daughter off to a good university, an opportunity not accessible to every family. You’re excited for your kids, but also worried about the decisions ahead — drinking, drugs, relationships.

You know they’ll meet all kinds of people, and you know creeps are out there. Still, it’s jarring to realize that, in the year 2015, hate is partying hard on campus, virtually out in the open.

SAE was founded pre-Civil War at the University of Alabama. Today, there are about 240 chapters nationwide, and 97 percent of the membership is white. While many SAE brothers don’t have a bigoted bone in their body, the song scandal at Oklahoma was no isolated case.

The University of Washington in Seattle is investigating a February incident when African-American marchers heard racial slurs and shouts of “apes” as they passed the SAE house during a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration.

In November, at the University of Arizona, a large group of SAE brothers began punching four members of a Jewish fraternity and yelling anti-Semitic names, according to newspaper accounts.

Party-wise, SAE makes the Animal House of movie fame look like a Tibetan monastery. Nine people died at SAE events between 2006 and 2013, more than any other fraternity, according to Bloomberg Business.

In Florida , SAE has been in trouble at almost every major campus. For six years it was banished from the University of Central Florida after a hazing incident put three students in the hospital. They were found dangerously drunk, wearing pink fairy wings and diapers.

That’s what passes for wit on fraternity row, and SAE isn’t alone.

Penn State recently suspended Kappa Delta Rho because of a secret Facebook page displaying photos of partially nude women sleeping or passed out.

Other pictures featured hazing rites and illegal drugs.

Which only proves that high SATs do not guarantee that your freshman son won’t behave like a drooling troglodyte, if that’s what he surrounds himself with.

To improve its image, Sigma Alpha Epsilon claims to have banned hazing in favor of “holistic education known as the True Gentleman Experience.”

Seriously, that’s what they call it.

Last week, SAE’s national organization announced the opening of a hotline for reporting acts of racism committed by fraternity members — guys who’ve somehow made the cut as True Gentlemen, yet cannot master the concept.

While the rowdy white boys in Animal House were guilty of drunken mischief, none of it was vicious or racist. They could afford to shrug when mean Dean Wormer placed their fraternity on “double secret probation.”

There was nothing secret or laughable about David Boren’s lightning-swift eviction of SAE from the Oklahoma campus. Even the dimmest of hardcore bigots got the message.

Hate already has its own deeply rooted fraternity in this country. It’s the one that begins and ends with the letter K.

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