Florida Atlantic University has had no shortage of bad headlines in the last semester. Well, chalk up another one: A student is saying the school committed bureaucratic overkill when it suspended him for two years for an off-campus fight -- one he claims was not his fault.
Matthew Bondi, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, stopped by Club Oasis in Boca Raton on February 22. At some point in the evening, he spotted one of the frat's pledges, Harrison Bate, on the dance floor. Bondi says he had no idea Bate had dropped from the pledge process earlier that day, so he asked him how it was going. A verbal confrontation ensued; Bondi says Bate became belligerent and friends pulled them apart. (Bate didn't return a call for comment.) Not long after, Bate was sucker-punched on the dance floor.
According to the police report filed on the night of the fight, the victim was attacked from behind, blacked out, and "did not officially see the guys who punched him, however he strongly feels [members of the frat] had something to do with the battery." The report concludes: "There is no suspect information to be noted."
But the next day, Bondi learned FAU was charging him in the incident. He says he was immediately suspended from school and banned from the campus. When his case was heard before the Student Conduct Board (composed of two students and two faculty) in March, Bondi produced witnesses who said he didn't throw any punches. The board recommended a one-year suspension.
Why would some bar fisticuffs fetch such a strong reaction? The school considered the incident to be hazing, retaliation for Bate's decision to leave the frat. The charge carries serious weight -- especially after a hazing incident at Florida A&M University in 2011 led to the death of a student. But Bondi maintains the scuffle had nothing to do with frat-house rites of passage.
When Dean of Students Corey King reviewed the conduct board's recommendation in mid-March, he "modified" the sentence to a two-year suspension "considering the responsible conduct," he wrote in a letter. For Bondi, a two-year ban ended his career at FAU.
"It would be absurd for me to come back to a school that turned its back on me," he says. Bondi is particularly upset he didn't even get a hearing in front of King before the decision and has no way to appeal it. "[The dean] never heard my side of things or my evidence. He just decided to double everything."
Such harsh handling would have been justified if a crime had been committed. But there are no pending criminal charges for Bondi over the fight. The investigation is currently inactive, according to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.
FAU spokesperson Lisa Metcalf tells New Times that "FAU is prevented from discussing any disciplinary matters regarding students under FERPA and state federal privacy laws."