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Dubya Zeta

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Four months ago, the national office of the Delta Zeta sorority, concerned that their DePauw University chapter's nerdy reputation was affecting recruitment, evicted all of that chapter's members who were overweight, minority, or otherwise not in conformance with stereotypical sorority norms of attractiveness.  Only 12 of the chapter's 35 members remained, half of whom promptly resigned in protest.  To add insult to injury, the national office justified its actions by claiming that the evicted women (who included the chapter president) were insufficiently committed to recruitment.

Three months later, after protests, petitions, and phone calls by the former chapter members, faculty, parents, and alumni, and after the Delta Zeta website trashed the evicted members and the faculty petitioners, DePauw's president kicked the sorority out.

So why do I bring this story up, other than that it made me sick?  Because it reminds me of the US Attorney firings.  In both cases, the purgers valued a hidden, unofficial standard (conventional attractiveness, willingness to elevate politics over law) far more highly than their public, official standard (friendship/personal growth, enforcement of law).  And to conceal this unsavory reality, they shifted the blame to the purgees, slandering them as lazy or incompetent underperformers.

That second part is what really amazes me.  By insulting the victims, they practically forced them to speak out, just to defend their own reputations.  Rachel Pappas, the former secretary of the DePauw DZ chapter, printed posters inviting students to the student union to hear her side of the story.  David Iglesias wrote an op-ed for the NYT explaining the real reason he was fired.  Bud Cummins has talked openly not just about his own firing, but the firings of the other USAs as well.  Margaret Chiara hasn't spoken out publicly, but is clearly upset about the potential damage to her reputation, and I suspect that she would have gone public had the DOJ not helped her obtain a new position.

The other problem with the incompetence rationale, especially where the US Attorneys are concerned, is that there is actual, tangible evidence to the contrary.  Most of the fired Attorneys had a paper trail of glowing performance reviews, and colleagues who would willingly attest to their competence if asked.  This also makes it even more difficult to keep the lid on – because even if the fired Attorneys are all good soldiers who will keep their mouths shut, there's no guarantee that their friends will be.

Obviously, there are significant differences between the two purges.  As far as I know, the Delta Zeta national office was not urging the DePauw chapter to do anything unethical, and the impact was mostly limited to DePauw and Delta Zeta.  But the coverup of dodgy motives, and the self-defeating callousness and carelessness with which the purges were carried out, those were very similar indeed.

Hopefully the outcome will be the same as well.

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