AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas said it will consider reducing the Texas Cowboys' six-year suspension for hazing.
According to a letter sent to the Cowboys by UT's Vice President for Legal Affairs, James E. Davis, on Friday, President Gregory L. Fenves has agreed to hold a meeting in January and August of each year, beginning in 2022, to evaluate whether the Cowboys may be reinstated at a point prior to the end of the suspension.
UT's Office of the Dean of Students handed down the Cowboys' six-year suspension, along with a two-year probationary period after reinstatement, in March. The decision to suspend the organization followed an investigation into hazing at a retreat the night before a new member, Nicholas Cumberland, was injured in a wreck. Cumberland later died from his injuries.
The letter from Davis said Fenves would "consider the Texas Cowboys alumni efforts to help the university eliminate hazing, the proposed future benefits to the university's efforts to eliminate hazing arising from a newly constituted Texas Cowboys student organization and the merits of proposed reforms to the Texas Cowboys student organization and alumni association."
According to a discipline report obtained by KVUE in March, UT said the Texas Cowboys violated rules that prohibit hazing, behavior threatening the health or safety of students, employees or visitors and alcohol misconduct.
In addition to the suspension and probationary period, the Office of the Dean of Students also decreed no sub-groups of the Cowboys would be allowed, the group must receive pre-approval by the organization's adviser for all future off-campus Cowboys events, an organizer must be present at all future off-campus events and chartered buses must be used for all off-campus events.
The original report stated that the group had the option to accept the sanction, appeal it or request a formal hearing. On Friday, the Cowboys waived their right to an appeal and accepted their suspension.
The report said at the end of the six-year suspension, the Cowboys will be eligible to resume their status as a Registered Student Organization if they: create a Risk Management position on the Executive Committee; create a safety and risk management plan to be approved by their adviser and submitted to the Office of the Dean of Students; and create a presentation to be shared with all future new members detailing the suspensions the group has been handed. Additionally, all new members of the group will be required to read the book 'The Cowboy's Secret,' about Gabe Higgins, a UT Austin student who died at a Cowboys new member retreat in 1995. They will also be required to complete an alcohol education program organized through UT's Office of Health Promotion.
The full discipline report can be viewed below:
In November 2018, Nicholas Cumberland's family contact UT's Student Conduct and Academic Integrity to share concerns they had regarding the Cowboys and the new member retreat that occurred on September 29, 2018. The family told UT that members of the Cowboys told them that hazing occurred at the retreat. Based on that information, Student Conduct conducted an independent investigation into the hazing allegations.
During the investigation, Student Conduct found that new members of the Cowboys experienced such hazing as "physical brutality, physical activity, forced ingestion of unwanted substances, coerced consumption of alcohol and degradation," according to the discipline report.
In the early morning of September 30, 2018, en route back to Austin from the retreat, Cumberland and several other Cowboys members were involved in a car accident. On October 30, Cumberland died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.
The Texas Cowboys have been suspended in the past for hazing. In 1995, UT canceled the group for five years after repeated instances of hazing resulted in the death of Gabe Higgins at an event the group referred to as "picnic." At the time of Higgins's death, the Cowboys were already on probation for engaging in hazing activities three times in so many years.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves released the following statement in regard to the Cowboys' suspension:
"The University of Texas at Austin lost a cherished student last year — Nicky Cumberland. For the last six months, our thoughts have remained with the Cumberland family. We mourn alongside them. And we wish them peace.
Let me make clear — there is no place for hazing at The University of Texas. The mission of this university — to educate, learn, discover and serve — can only be accomplished in an environment where we respect each other. Where we look after our neighbors, peers and friends.
The Dean of Students has conducted a thorough investigation. The appeals process is still underway, and each case is judged on its facts."
KVUE also reached out to the Texas Cowboys organization. The president of the group's Board of Directors, Edward R. Lopez, said the group was disappointed in UT's decision. Lopez also said, "We are disappointed by the misconduct of certain student members. In fact, we have expelled and suspended from our organization the students who were connected to the hazing."
However, Lopez also said, "Hazing did not cause the car accident that took Nicky Cumberland's life. The University's ruling expressly determined that sleep deprivation did not occur at the retreat. According to the University, 'multiple members reported that they were able to go to sleep at various times of the night...as well, no one reported having been prevented from sleeping.'"
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