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UNL suspends Fiji through 2026 for repeated alcohol violations
  • Updated

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday suspended Phi Gamma Delta through 2026 for violating the university’s rules on alcohol use, stripping the fraternity of its status as a recognized student organization.

The lengthy suspension was handed down by the University Conduct Board, a committee of students and faculty responsible for holding hearings on alleged violations of UNL’s Code of Conduct and recommending sanctions.

In a statement, UNL said the board determined Phi Gamma Delta — better known as Fiji —  had broken university rules governing alcohol use at its chapter house at 1425 R St. while on probationary status for the same infraction.

A spokeswoman for UNL said Fiji was placed on probation earlier this year for an alcohol-related violation.

The conduct board’s recommended penalty was determined so to outlast any current member of the fraternity, forcing Fiji to potentially start over in five years.

Fiji is no longer recognized as a fraternity or a student organization at UNL. As such, it cannot hold meetings or host functions on campus, nor can freshman members live in the chapter house, which though directly across from the Nebraska Union is private property not controlled by UNL.

Furthermore, the international Phi Gamma Delta fraternity said it was closing the UNL chapter immediately following its own investigation, according to executive director Rob Caudill.

“Phi Gamma Delta suspended the charter of its Lambda Nu chapter at the University of Nebraska, closing the chapter, following a trial where it was found guilty of violations of the fraternity’s risk-management policy related to alcohol use and social events,” Caudill said in an email.

The fraternity expects its chapters to abide by its laws and policies, "and holds them accountable if they are not upheld," Caudill said.

"We hold all of our members to high standards of ethical behavior, and will continue to do everything in our power to have a positive impact on college and community," he added.

The moves made Tuesday did not specifically address an alleged sexual assault at the Fiji house on the first day of fall classes.

According to university police, a 17-year-old student said she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old member of the fraternity during the early morning hours of Aug. 24.

Later that day, thousands of students and others gathered outside the fraternity house for the first of four nights of demonstrations that included chants, marches and calls for Fiji to be banned from campus permanently.

The next day, UNL temporarily suspended the fraternity, citing the previous violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The 19-year-old accused in the sexual assault left campus, but has not been charged with any crime in Lancaster County.

The campus police investigation into the alleged assault is still "open and ongoing," the university said.

After the first two nights of protests were marked by hours of intense, vulgar call-and-response chants that directly targeted both the accused and his fraternity, the third night of protests saw a shift in tone that placed an emphasis on survivors and continued calls for a broader cultural reckoning.

In all, protesters gathered five times over the course of seven days, prompting scrutiny of the UNL Police Department's investigatory track record and a wave of activism that stretched to college campuses across the country. 

The demonstrations also prompted action from UNL administrators. 

Eight days after protesters first descended on the Fiji house, Chancellor Ronnie Green announced sweeping changes that included altering the university's sexual assault prevention training and furthering investment into support programs for survivors. 

The efforts, which Green referred to as "first steps" when he introduced them at a student government meeting Sept. 1, were largely applauded by student leaders and survivors of sexual assault. 

"It's always gonna feel like it's not enough," said Patrick Baker, the external vice president of student government at UNL and a member of Greek life. 

"But we were really quite impressed with what (Green has) done," he said. "We recognize within ASUN that the chancellor is not able to just abolish Fiji essentially with one strike of a gavel, or something. But we do recognize that he can provide more funding to CARE and other organizations on campus."

The promised changes seemed to quell demonstrators, who had vowed to continue protesting "every night until they move the letters — letter for letter — off this house," said Dominique Liu-Sang, who led several of the demonstrations.

Hours before the chancellor introduced the changes, protesters canceled a scheduled sit-in and announced a two-week hiatus from in-person demonstrations that was set to end Sept. 15.

No further large-scale gatherings took place that day or any days since, however.

Deb Fiddelke, UNL's chief of communications, said Fiji could be penalized further if the University Conduct Board determines that more violations of the Student Code of Conduct occurred.

But the stiff penalty announced Tuesday dwarfs previous sanctions dealt by the university.

In 2017, UNL and Phi Kappa Psi suspended the charter of the local chapter for two years after an investigation uncovered problematic alcohol use and other behaviors.

That suspension included having the chapter vacate the house at 1548 S St. until it was allowed to "recolonize" in 2019.

UNL also closed the FarmHouse fraternity and placed the organization under indefinite suspension after an 18-year-old member was found dead following an off-campus party in 2014.

Five members pleaded guilty to procuring alcohol for a minor, and were sentenced to probation.

FarmHouse was reinstated less than a year later after completing a series of requirements outlined by the university.

Fiji previously came under scrutiny in January 2017 after participants in the Women’s March said members were shouting sexually harassing comments at them.

UNL opened a Title IX investigation into the incident, as well as a parallel investigation into potential violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The fraternity was later suspended for three years for multiple violations of university rules, including “reckless alcohol use, hazing and inappropriate sexually based behavior.”

The suspension was lifted in 2020.

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Up in the air — Dannebrog's sand green golf course faces uncertain future
  • Updated

The $30 entry fee for the Dannebrog Golf Course’s annual tournament includes two mulligans — and you might need them on your approach to the Bull Pen.

The green for the course’s signature hole, No. 2 — 200 yards, par-3 — is enclosed by the tin rings of a grain bin, more than waist-high.

“And you’ve got to shoot across the creek,” said Paul Janulewicz, a 30-year member of the Dannebrog Country Club. “It takes a pretty good shot to put it in the Bull Pen. I’ve got three times as many out as I’ve got in.”

The course’s eight other greens — mostly par-3s, but a few 4s and a 5 — are fenced in, but you get a pass if you’re unlucky enough to bounce a ball off the barbed wire.

Jeremy Buss, For the Journal Star 

The Dannebrog Golf Course is one of a handful of remaining sand green golf courses.

The grain bin, and the barbed wire, were placed decades ago to keep cows from crushing the course’s sand greens, now an endangered species in Nebraska. Just a handful of sand green courses have survived, said Nick Schweitzer, president of the Dannebrog Golf Course.

Lawrence, he said. Central City. Scotia, though that’s an eight-hole course, so you play one hole twice.

“For a while, we were the only ones who had cattle. So we had to play with the cattle out there,” Schweitzer said. “Then the owner took them off and just hayed the rough.”

Jeremy Buss, For the Journal Star 

Golfers used to share the course with cattle, but the last landowner started haying the rough instead.

But now the 34 members of the Dannebrog Country Club are worried they’ll disappear from the century-old course, too. The former farmer owner went bankrupt, and the bank auctioned off the 132-acre tract late last month.

The new owner — who paid more than twice the land’s assessed value — took a couple of weeks to determine what to charge the golf course for rent.

That left Schweitzer and others to wonder, and worry, whether they’ll be able to afford the new terms.

“Dannebrog would be very disappointed if we lost it,” Janulewicz said. “It’s just been great fun out there.”

The course was started sometime in the 1920s by families of the Danish immigrants who settled the area.

“They built one hole and said, ‘We can build another hole to come back,’” Schweitzer said. “Then they built another and said, ‘We can build another hole to come back.’”

By the early 1950s, it was a full-fledged nine-hole course. The Bull Pen showed up at No. 2 a half-century ago. The annual tournament — the Bull Pen Open — used to draw nearly 150 golfers and stretch past sunset.

Jeremy Buss, For the Journal Star 

The Dannebrog Country Club held its annual Bull Pen Open -- named for hole No. 2 -- in August.

“They’d get all of the headlights on, and get everyone to park their cars by the last green,” Schweitzer said.

This year, it attracted about 40, with golfers returning from around the state, and as far away as Texas and Colorado, he said.

During the rest of the season, the course operates on the honor system: Slip an envelope with $4 in the steel lockbox and play all day. They usually collect at least a few envelopes each week.

Members pay $35 annually for a key to the clubhouse and another honor system — a refrigerator stocked with drinks and candy bars.

They usually break even on concessions. “For the most part, members are pretty honorable,” Schweitzer said.

Jeremy Buss, For the Journal Star 

The Dannebrog Country Club will have to raise its dues and fees to meet the new owner's higher rent.

The sand greens are a draw. Once every golfer gets on the green, the farthest putter uses a mop rake to smooth a line to the hole. And once everyone’s in, they dump any sand from the cup and use a rake to drag circles outward from the hole, reestablishing ridges in the sand.

But the sand greens — and the grain bin rings — aren’t the only challenge. Especially after the cows left and the grass grew. Hit there, and you’ve all but lost your ball.

“It’s really tough,” said Janulewicz, the longtime member. “The roughs, we leave them go so the owners can hay them. Sometimes, it gets a little like the British Open.”

Still, it draws a steady mix of farmers, old-timers and younger players, he said.

“We golf out there until it freezes and gets too cold. There’s been quite a crew that’s golfed there over the years.”

It was never profitable, but they could at least pay their bills. Janulewicz’s brother, John, volunteers weekly on an old Farmall, mowing the fairways. They made enough for their insurance. And the former owner charged just $600 a year for rent, less than a third of Howard County’s $2,000 tax bill for the parcel.

The county last valued the land at about $160,000. Its new owner, Harvey Thiessen, paid $2,750 per acre — or more than $360,000, according to Waldo Realty of O’Neill.

“And I want the golf course to continue. It’s been there for 100 years,” Thiessen said. “But it has to be on new terms, so that it works for the landowner and the golf course.”

After the auction, Thiessen met with members, and this week proposed a new figure — several times higher than the old rent. No matter what happens, he also plans to put some of his longhorn cattle on the land.

“They’re not aggressive cattle. They’re very docile.”

Schweitzer understood the new owner’s position, he said last week, even before he knew what Thiessen would propose. “He’s going to have to make a price point to make him happy and pay his taxes.”

And the country club members will have to see if they can raise dues and fees enough — without losing too many members and public players — to pay it.

“If we can’t, I guess it will get turned into a pasture,” he said. “I’d hate to see that happen, because it’s kind of a historical deal.”

Advice on aspirin use could shift
  • Updated

Older adults without heart disease shouldn't take daily low-dose aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke, an influential health guidelines group said in preliminary updated advice released Tuesday.

Bleeding risks for adults in their 60s and up who haven't had a heart attack or stroke outweigh potential benefits from aspirin, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in its draft guidance.

For the first time, the panel said there may be a small benefit for adults in their 40s who have no bleeding risks. For those in their 50s, the panel softened advice and said evidence of benefit is less clear.

The recommendations are meant for people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or other conditions that increase their chances for a heart attack or stroke. Regardless of age, adults should talk with their doctors about stopping or starting aspirin to make sure it's the right choice for them, said task force member Dr. John Wong, a primary-care expert at Tufts Medical Center.

"Aspirin use can cause serious harms, and risk increases with age,'' he said.

If finalized, the advice for older adults would backtrack on recommendations the panel issued in 2016 for helping prevent a first heart attack and stroke, but it would be in line with more recent guidelines from other medical groups.

The task force previously said certain people in their 50s and 60s may want to consider a daily aspirin to prevent a first heart attack and stroke, and that they might get protection against colorectal cancer, too. The updated guidance says more evidence of any benefit for colorectal cancer is needed.

Doctors have long recommended daily low-dose aspirin for many patients who already had a heart attack or stroke. The task force guidance does not change that advice.

The guidance was posted online to allow for public comments until Nov. 8. The group will evaluate that input and then make a final decision.

The independent panel of disease-prevention experts analyzes medical research and literature and issues periodic advice on measures to help keep Americans healthy. Newer studies and a re-analysis of older research prompted the updated advice, Wong said.

Aspirin is best known as a pain reliever but it is also a blood thinner that can reduce chances for blood clots. But aspirin also has risks, even at low doses — mainly bleeding in the digestive tract or ulcers, both of which can be life-threatening.

Dr. Lauren Block, an internist-researcher at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, said the guidance is important because so many adults take aspirin even though they have never had a heart attack or stroke.

Block, who is not on the task force, recently switched one of her patients from aspirin to a cholesterol-lowering statin drug because of the potential harms.

The patient, 70-year-old Richard Schrafel, has high blood pressure and knows about his heart attack risks. Schrafel, president of a paperboard-distribution business, said he never had any ill effects from aspirin, but he is taking the new guidance seriously.

Rita Seefeldt, 63, also has high blood pressure and took a daily aspirin for about a decade until her doctor told her two years ago to stop.

"He said they changed their minds on that," recalled the retired elementary school teacher from Milwaukee. She said she understands that science evolves.

Wong acknowledged that the backtracking might leave some patients frustrated and wondering why scientists can't make up their minds.

"It's a fair question," he said. "What's really important to know is that evidence changes over time."