One of the oldest fraternities in the nation has closed its LSU chapter following an investigation that found students violated the organization's hazing and alcohol policies — a development that comes amid the university's ongoing quest for safer practices within its Greek system. 

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard III confirmed Friday that Delta Kappa Epsilon recently announced it would end its presence at LSU almost 100 years after the chapter was founded. He said university administrators and police are conducting their own investigation.

And the chapter has been in trouble before: several times for displaying offensive banners on its facade and once after police found a goat inside the house while responding to reports of suspicious activity. 

The national organization said in a statement Friday that its decision arose from recent findings that members had violated its hazing and alcohol policies. The result is that "all chapter activities and operations will cease, and the chapter will disband, effective immediately." 

It's unclear whether DKE members will have to move out of their house on the LSU campus now or whether the chapter might reopen in the future. Ballard said what happens to the house is up to the housing corporation — a group of alumni — that owns the building and leases it to the university for student use. 

And officials declined to elaborate on the violations in question.

The closure follows the hazing death of LSU freshman Max Gruver at a Phi Delta Theta ritual in fall 2017. That prompted increased scrutiny of LSU's Greek organizations as university officials found themselves scrambling to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Gruver was pronounced dead — his blood alcohol content more than six times the legal limit — after being forced to drink massive quantities of liquor.

Several students and former students were arrested and accused of contributing to his death, including one charged with negligent homicide. The chapter was banned from campus for the foreseeable future. A Catholic church group is now leasing the former Phi Delta Theta house. 

Gruver's death prompted swift action from state legislators: the Max Gruver Act was signed into law in March 2018, boosting state penalties for people convicted of hazing or related offenses. 

Delta Kappa Epsilon was founded in 1844 at Yale University and is "one of the oldest and most prominent fraternities" in the country "known for producing outstanding gentleman, leaders and jolly good fellows," according to its website. It has had a chapter on LSU campus since 1923

"Our number one priority is that our chapters foster safe environments, and through our investigation, we found that the student members made choices inconsistent with the policies and values of Delta Kappa Epsilon," DKE Executive Director Doug Lanpher said in a statement. "DKE does not tolerate this kind of behavior in the fraternity and holds its chapters and members accountable for the choices they make."

Lanpher said the organization has acted "in full support of the Max Gruver Act and related anti-hazing laws" by filing a report with LSU police and passing along the findings of its investigation to university administrators. 

The fraternity has boasted several prominent members over the years, both in Louisiana and across the country, including Huey Long's son Sen. Russell Long, former Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster and former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. The national organization has also gained attention in recent months due to the membership of U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose contentious confirmation process centered on allegations of sexual misconduct in both high school and college.

'In and out of trouble'

The LSU chapter's membership contract requires that "members solemnly swear to live by the mission and purpose of Delta Kappa Epsilon of being a scholar and jolly good fellow and use their time at LSU and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity as a time to improve."

But this isn't the first time members have faced allegations of bad behavior during the organization's long and storied history in Baton Rouge.

"We got our wild hairs out when we were on campus," said DKE alum Frank Foil, a retired Baton Rouge judge quoted in a 1999 Advocate article about the fraternity. "And then (we) became governors and presidents."

The DKE house on Dalrymple Drive was the first on LSU's Fraternity Row, built in the early 1930s, according to old Advocate reports. 

The chapter was closed for several months in the 1980s — the door to the house boarded up to bar students from entering — because of longstanding discipline issues, according to an Advocate report from the time. The chapter had been "in and out of trouble" for a while when the university decided to temporarily close it after members got into a disagreement with students in another fraternity.

The chapter was also removed from campus for two years in 2003 following a decision from its alumni board. The house was renovated during that time.

And it was placed under investigation in 2006 when police responded to reports of "suspicious activity" during initiation and found a goat inside the house. Members said it was their symbol and mascot but the incident raised questions about whether pledges were "forced to do anything with the goat," officials said at the time. The chapter ended up agreeing to an "introspection period" lasting two years, which included banning alcohol and animals from the house.

A former LSU student and DKE member was charged with misdemeanor simple battery in November after police said he pushed another student down two flights of stairs during a fraternity preview event in August 2017 — just one month before Gruver's death. 

The chapter has also drawn criticism in recent years for displaying inflammatory banners outside their house, which have included offensive jokes about minorities and victims of gun violence.

One that received a lot of attention referenced the mass shooting that has become known as the Kent State Massacre in the context of an LSU football win. The sign read: "Getting massacred is nothing new to Kent State." Members of the fraternity later issued an apology, saying that as young college students they "did not grasp the full scope of the tragedy."

DKE was one of six fraternities that administrators placed on "conditional status" earlier this month for failing to meet a minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 for new members, according to LSU Associate Dean of Students and Director of Greek Life Angela Guillory. Conditional status restricts the chapter's ability to participate in social events both on and off campus. 

The academic performance requirement is one of several recent changes that arose from meetings of the President's Task Force on Greek Life, which LSU President F. King Alexander established in response to Gruver's death. The new rules also include expelling students caught hazing pledges, banning hard alcohol at fraternity parties and requiring supervision at pledge activities.

Advocate correspondent Jackie DeRobertis contributed to this story.


Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.