Cornell Rescinds University Recognition of SAE After Death of Brother

The Cornell chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is no more. The University withdrew its recognition of the fraternity today — quite coincidentally the Friday before Spring Break; almost like they were trying to bury the story, huh? — and demanded that all brothers vacate the house by the end of the month, according to the Cornell Sun.  The University had previously put the frat on temporary suspension, pending the results of an internal investigation into the death of SAE brother George Desdunes on February 25. The house will be barred from operation for at least five years.

Desdunes’ death is a subject that’s dominated campus scuttlebutt this past month, though few officially confirmed details have yet come to light. Up until now, we knew that alcohol was involved, and that George’s body was found in the frat house. But, neither the university, nor investigators, nor (especially) SAE were forthcoming with regards to specifics. Now, however, Cornell is releasing a little more information:

The University found that Desdunes was provided alcohol “while in the care of certain members and associate members” of SAE and became incapacitated, [Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan] Murphy stated.

“Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died,” she said.

We still don’t have any official confirmation about what exactly was going on that night — though rumors are aplenty. Parsing through Cornell’s statement, a few more interesting bits of information pop out. “Members and associate members” presumably means brothers and pledges, respectively; although we don’t know for certain whether there were pledging activities involved. The part about Desdunes being provided alcohol while “in the care” of others is peculiar, to say the least. And the bit about no one calling for help is incredibly sad, though unfortunately not all that remarkable. (For what it’s worth, Cornell’s Interfraternity Council passed a new “medical amnesty” resolution this week, with the hopes of avoiding that sort of inaction in the future.)

The Ithaca Police Department has been investigating the circumstances of the death in consultation with the Tompkins County District Attorney, which seems to indicate that investigators are looking into the possibility of some manner of malfeasance. However, we can’t prove that. The IPD declined to confirm the specifics of the investigation — or even that the investigation is still ongoing — and the Tompkins County DA’s office hasn’t yet responded to our inquiry for more information.

Whatever the case may be, this all still seems very opaque and suspicious. We’ll keep you posted. And if you have any information that can help us confirm what actually happened that night, hit is up at

UPDATE: After the jump, read the University’s entire statement, per Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy:

Cornell University has decided to withdraw, effective immediately, its recognition of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, pursuant to its University Recognition Policy for Fraternities and Sororities. The revocation is for a period of no less than five years, and the chapter house must be vacated by March 31, 2011.

This decision was taken as sufficient facts became available that warranted action by the university. At this time, the information provided to the university indicates that George Desdunes, 19, was provided alcohol while in the care of certain members and associate members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and became incapacitated. Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died.

A comprehensive investigation regarding all the circumstances surrounding this loss of life continues under the direction of the Ithaca Police Department, with the support of the New York State Police and Cornell Police. As we are able, we will continue to inform the community and share decisions regarding any further action. The university will invite a campus conversation, after spring break, about the implications of this tragedy, in keeping with Cornell’s aspirations as a caring community where the struggles of one of us are a concern for all of us.

The university will assist members who need to find alternative housing by making campus housing available. Additional instructions will be provided to facilitate this.

The loss of University recognition is the loss of any and all privileges and benefits bestowed upon a recognized fraternity or sorority, including but not limited to those listed below. Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity must:

1. Vacate the house located at 122 McGraw Place.

2. Stop identifying the chapter with Cornell, and stop the use of the university’s name in any fashion;

3. Withdraw from the university’s organizations related to self-governance of the fraternity and sorority system at Cornell (e.g., the Interfraternity Council);

4. Withdraw from all University membership solicitation programs or separate membership solicitation programs, as articulated and monitored by the self-governance organizations of the fraternity and sorority system within the terms of University policies (i.e., any form of recruitment activities are not permitted);

5. Withdraw from all educational, social, philanthropic/service and athletic programs and activities of the university, which are provided for fraternal organizations; and,

6. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is denied access to and use of University facilities for official functions as approved by the university offices under whose jurisdiction utilization of a particular University facility is regulated.

If recognition is requested and approved at any point following the five-year period, the chapter would remain on probationary recognition for an additional period of no less than three calendar years.


10 Responses to “Cornell Rescinds University Recognition of SAE After Death of Brother”

  1. Anon Says:

    Can you please remove his picture. It would be nice if it was used for something like a tribute to Desdunes instead of the possibility of his name being associated with the end of a major fraternity at Cornell.

  2. Anon Says:

    Can you shut up? His photo is clearly related to the story for his tragic death is the ENTIRE REASON why the fraternity lost its recognition.

  3. Anonsquared Says:

    No why don’t you shut up pal. His death is not the reason for the frat getting shut down. Their practices were the reason and his death was a result of that. When people think SAE forced to shut down and brothers evicted they don’t need to think that its his fault.

  4. Cornell '10 Says:

    It’s NOT Desdunes’ fault. It’s his Brothers’ fault for creating a situation that got him killed. His death, however, is still the proximate cause for SAE being shut down. If he had not died (or conceivably been seriously injured), SAE would still be on campus. Probably doing the same sorts of things that got him killed. It’s that simple.

  5. Purpleandgold Says:

    I think its embarrassing that people will not use their real names when commenting on this situation. This is a sad time for greek life in general, and the death of a student in any situation is deeply saddening. But the simple truth is that all greek life should be seriously looked at at Cornell, and not just SAE. SAE is a fraternity with a rich history and over 300,000 brothers all time, the largest of any fraternity. These are isolated incidents, many college students die everywhere, whether or not it becomes a big deal, and written about in every major newspaper is when it can be pegged to an organization that can be exposed. People no very little information about what actually goes on and are quick to point fingers. There are two sides to every story. As a proud brother of SAE, I think that people need to take a look at the way in which greek organizations are handled at their university that is where these isolated incidents occur, all previously mentioned campuses have had histories of greek problems on campus, and administrations who step in at the very last moment to “save the day”. Greek organizations may reflect the name of the national organization but they do not reflect the many people involved in the organization, there are a lot of good people at the helm and involved in different greek organizations. So, cornell may need to take a look at the way in which they govern and control greek activity on their campus.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Their practices were the reason and his death was a result of that. When people think SAE forced to close down and brothers evicted they need not think that its his fault.

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  7. GUEST Says:

    I think the fraternity should be banned FOREVER…

  8. Jkesfhsorij Says:

    They essentially are. SAE as an organization should not be held responsible to the extent that the current undergraduate students are. Cornell banned the current undergrads from securing an SAE chartered organization for at least 5 years – well after all of them have graduated. If SAE comes back a half decade from now they will be an entirely different chapter.

  9. Unpoetaloco Says:

    There is an alarming pattern of deaths and cover-ups in SAE houses across the country, SMU, UT, Cal Poly, Kansas, now Cornell… and the same guy from nationals goes from campus to campus doing damage control, insisting that each death is an “isolated incident.” Someone needs to do an expose on the fraternity nationwide.

  10. Cornell '10 Says:

    I noticed the trend and completely agree. How likely is it that the young men who keep dying from alcohol poisoning across the country are all in the same Fraternity? Once is bad, twice is coincidence, five times… they’re doing something wrong.

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