19 involved in hazing at Citadel

Capt. Geno Paluso, commandant of cadets, discussed the alleged cases of hazing reported over a six-month period during a press conference March 4 at The Citadel.

After a three month probe, Citadel officials Tuesday identified 19 cases of hazing after looking at more than 85 allegations.

The 19 cadets involved have been recommended for suspension, dismissal or expulsion. Another nine cadets have withdrawn from the college or resigned as a result of the investigation that began in February.

The investigation, led by the commandant of cadets, retired Navy Capt. Geno Paluso, found that 53 of the allegations were training violations against freshman cadets, known as “knobs” for their short haircuts, rather than instances of hazing. Three cases were dismissed because no rules were broken and one case will be reviewed next semester.

All 19 cadets implicated in hazing incidents have appealed their cases. Citadel spokeswoman Kim Keelor-Parker said Paluso hopes to complete the appeals process before the end of the semester next week. The Citadel did not release details of each case.

Physical hazing of knobs has been an ongoing issue at The Citadel for many decades. In recent years, the military college has investigated several incidents of hazing, including an incident in 2009 when upperclassmen drove an unsharpened pencil into the head of a knob. In another incident in the 2011-12 school year, a photo surfaced showing a freshman cadet taped to a chair in the bathroom shower of his barracks.

“There simply is no place for hazing at The Citadel,” said Citadel President Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa in a statement. “It does not represent what we stand for, it is not consistent with our core values, and it does not prepare our cadets to be leaders of character.”

But parents, whose children are facing disciplinary actions, feel the college has been too eager in its labeling of some infractions as hazing and too heavy-handed in its punishment.

Anthony Kniffin, whose son is one of the 19 cadets facing disciplinary action, said the hazing infraction could cost his son an ROTC scholarship and an Army contract. Kniffin said his son was brought up on a hazing charge stemming from seven incidents where he asked knobs to do physical training, such as situps or pushups, behind closed doors.

As punishment, Kniffin said college officials have dismissed his son, which means he cannot attend the school for the 2015-2016 academic year. He can reapply for the fall 2016 semester. The cadet, who is appealing his dismissal, declined to comment while the case is under review.

“He admits he did wrong and nobody’s saying there shouldn’t be some punishment for it,” Kniffin said. “But I think the punishment far outweighs the crime.”

The Citadel’s definition of hazing includes the wrongful striking of a student by another student or one student threatening another student with violence or bodily harm. It also includes the unauthorized treatment by one student toward another student of a “tyrannical, abusive, shameful, insulting or humiliating nature.”

In the transcripts for the disciplinary hearing for Kniffin’s son, none of the cadets who performed the physical training said they thought the cadet’s actions were tyrannical or shameful nor did they think he acted out of hate. They also said they didn’t feel threatened.

Col. Brett Ashworth, vice president for marketing and communications at The Citadel, said in an interview Tuesday that “anything physical in nature was automatically hazing.” Ashworth characterized hazing as laying hands on a cadet or “unauthorized physical activity to an unacceptable level.”

“One instance (of physical training) behind closed doors in most cases would probably result in a fourth-class system violation,” Ashworth said. “Multiple instances behind closed doors could rise to the level of hazing ... We would consider it to fall within that definition (of hazing).”

Kniffin said he supports the military college’s efforts to end hazing. But he doesn’t agree that’s what his son did.

“I don’t think in a military college, such as it is, that (physical training), pushups or situps or anything like that, I just don’t see it as hazing,” he said.

As The Citadel works to change its culture, Ashworth said the challenge is to provide a “rigorous, tough academic military training, but do it in a professional manner.”

“So that’s the balance we have to find.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764. Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546.