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Purdue trustees face a #MeToo moment
Students accuse Purdue of tolerating, even silencing a culture of sexual assault in its fraternity system. They demand: What is Purdue going to do about it?
With a crowd marching up the steps of the Stewart Center to a call-and-response of, “What do we want?/Consent!,” Purdue trustees found themselves Friday morning trying to get ahead of a growing #MeToo moment on campus, with students challenging the university to do something about what they called a culture of sexual assault in Purdue’s Greek system.
Stoked by a series of reports of sexual assault tied to Purdue fraternities this semester, students with a recently created #MeToo Purdue Greek Life Movement slowly and systematically filled seats surrounding the nine trustees, President Mitch Daniels and a conference table of administrators there for a regular business meeting on the third floor of the Stewart Center.
Dozens more stood outside, holding signs calling out victim blaming, making pleas for no-tolerance policies on rape and demanding a change in leadership in the university’s Fraternity, Sorority and Cooperative Life organization.
“We’re all about pledges here at Purdue,” Samantha Szanti, a freshman, said, referring the Protect Purdue Pledge, meant to hold students, faculty and staff accountable to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep the campus open.
“If you can have a pledge to protect the campus against a virus,” Szanti said, “the university can have a pledge to protect students against what’s happening here.”
Szanti carried a sign that read: “We’re not ovaryacting.” It blended with others that gradually found their way in trustees meeting, held above protesters heads: “I begged you to stop, yet it’s still my fault?” “Was this too revealing?” “My clothes are not my consent.” “You’ll never have the comfort of my silence, again.” “We deserve a rape-free Purdue.”
The protest came at the end of a week when Purdue’s Greek system put an indefinite moratorium on “four-way functions,” a term for mixers between fraternities and sororities. The Purdue Exponent reported from a letter circulated by the Interfraternity Council to Greek Life members: “Although canceling four-way functions is merely a temporary fix, we need to make an active and permanent change in our Greek community. … We encourage the community to stay united and uphold the RESPECT (resilience, education, sexuality, purpose, equity, culture and truth) initiative; the fundamental values linked to a woman’s experience on campus.” The Panhellenic Association at Purdue also instituted a pause on events with fraternities until at least Oct. 17 to make time for anti-sexual assault programming, according to a letter, also reported by The Exponent.
The same week, organizers of Friday’s protest set up an account on Instagram to collect personal experiences of sexual assault and how it was handled on campus. Sarah Whitaker, a senior studying veterinary nursing, said the account -- @metoopurduegreeklife – came after too many women on campus felt they’d been silenced or were made to feel responsible for sexual assaults, whether from perpetrators or from the university.
Among the demands, beyond a no-tolerance approach, Whitaker said the group wanted:
An amnesty policy for a student reporting sexual violence, including when someone is drinking underage and witnesses a sexual assault.
A new look at the Greek Life’s “BYOB” policy, in place since 2015. Whitaker said the policy – requiring visiting sororities to bring their own alcohol to frat parties in an attempt to cut down on binge drinking – often encourages excessive “pre-gaming,” particularly among underage Greek members who know they aren’t supposed to be able to drink at the party. The policy also requires fraternity bartenders to serve the drinks, Whitaker said, meaning women lose some control over what actually winds up in a cup handed back to them. Both situations, she said, leave women more vulnerable to sexual assault.
And the termination of Brandon Cutler, who is the university’s head of Fraternity, Sorority and Cooperative Life. Cutler’s name was invoked several times, in chants and on signs, Friday. Attempts to reach Cutler or others from Purdue’s Student Life were not immediately answered Friday.
Trustees on the board’s academic affairs committee met privately with members of the #MeToo group and Greek members before joining the full board.
During a pause in the full board meeting, Trustee JoAnn Brouillette stood in a doorway so people in the room and the hallway could hear her recap of how that went: “We’re all aligned in the interest of eliminating to the extent that we can any kind of sexual assault, across the board. So, we listened very carefully. We hear you. We’re grateful for you being here. We support your efforts in terms of trying to eradicate all sexual assaults.”
Brouillette’s comments brought calls from the hallway: “What’s your plan?” “You should be ashamed.” Along with assorted calls to fire people.
At one point, during a rare moment when trustees solicited questions from the audience, a student said she and others weren’t asking for Purdue “to fix rape everywhere,” but wanted to know what trustees were going to do to make students feel safe on campus.
“We hear you, we understand,” Trustee Chairman Mike Berghoff said. “It’s an issue being raise across the country. And there’s a lot of awareness to it, and we want to solve the problem, too. We just can’t solve it in this room.”
Trustee Don Thompson stood and asked students to trust that the board was listening and would look for solutions with them.
“But you won’t resolve something that’s gone on for many, many years in a one-hour meeting, sitting here,” Thompson said. “But what we’ve got to do is make sure you are at the table with the appropriate people from the university – get as broad a group as possible. … What you are doing in bringing it forward is professional. It is heard. Do not believe it isn’t heard.”
When students later pressed Thompson about why Daniels hadn’t chimed in, Thompson said that Daniels works for the trustees and that Friday was their meeting – but that Daniels had been part of several “long conversations” on the topic leading up to Friday’s public meeting.
Was it enough?
Whitaker said she wasn’t sure – though she thought Thompson’s promise to continue work on the #MeToo concerns and demands was something to hold onto.
She said the group is planning a march around campus, passing by fraternity houses. And Whitaker said the group will continue to collect personal stories of those who have been sexually assaulted and those around them.
“I just hope they really were listening,” Whitaker said. “We hope Purdue is listening.”
DANIELS’ SALARY HITS NEW HIGH AT PURDUE
Purdue trustees gave President Mitch Daniels high marks, giving him the full amount of the “at-risk” portion of his salary – and then some – Friday.
The result: Daniels made $962,970 during the 2020-21 school year, more than any other since he arrived on the West Lafayette campus in January 2013.
Daniels’ contract is structured so he’s guarantee two-thirds of his base salary – or $430,500 – with the other $215,250 available only if he hits a series of metrics based on student affordability, student success, fundraising and operations.
This year, trustees said Daniels overshot the goals laid out for him. On Friday, they gave him 108% of his at-risk pay, or $232,470.
Daniels’ contract, a year-to-year deal that has not set end date, also includes a $300,000 annual retention bonus.
His total pay is up 4.4% over the previous year.
Trustee Malcolm DeKryger said the board sets goals that are tougher to reach each year. He said Daniels met or exceeded goals in 13 of 15 categories. According to a chart released by the university, Daniels exceeded expectations on student affordability – including a drop in the average debt of undergraduates – and net production in fundraising.
“This isn’t a slam dunk or some little layup,” DeKryger said.
Here’s how Daniels’ salary through the years, including the portion of the at-risk pay he received:
2014: $530,880, with 88 percent of the at-risk pay.
2015: $533,400, with 90 percent of the at-risk pay.
2016: $721,600, with 96 percent of the at-risk pay and a $100,000 retention bonus.
2017: $769,500, with 95 percent of the at-risk pay and a $150,000 retention bonus.
2018: $830,000, with 100 percent of the at-risk pay, plus a $200,000 retention bonus.
2019: $902,207, with 103 percent of the at-risk pay, plus a $250,000 retention bonus.
2020: $922,073, with 89% of the at-risk pay, plus a $300,000 retention bonus.