Dansiger accuses College of inaction

by Maggie Shnayerson | 5/21/01 5:00am

Instead of a diploma, former Phi Delta Alpha fraternity member Adam Dansiger '00 returned home from Dartmouth almost four years ago paralyzed and with brain damage.

His father, Zeev Dansiger, is still pursuing an admission of culpability from the College and his son's former fraternity for the car accident in the fall of 1997 that left his son permanently disabled.

In October of that year, Adam and two other members of Phi Delt traveled to Burlington, VT. On their trip home, Adam, who was driving, had an accident, causing the car to flip over.

Police found no evidence that any of the passengers -- or Adam -- had been drinking or using drugs.

However, an investigation into the activities of Phi Delt prompted by Zeev and a letter from Adam to the College led to derecognition of the fraternity last year. The fraternity was found responsible for "dirty rushing" -- when a student joins an organization before the sophomore year of eligibility.

A later incident involving a member of Phi Delt setting a fire at Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity was the last straw for the College.

"We charged them with everything we could think of," Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman told The Dartmouth. However, the fraternity was not found guilty of those charges of rampant drug and alcohol abuse that the Dansigers detailed in letters to the College."We couldn't prove drugs, we couldn't prove hazing -- there was no proof," Redman emphasized.

The elder Dansiger has kept up his fight to change College policy, now sending letters to United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, several senators, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen and state Attorney General Philip McLaughlin, demanding an investigation into College administrators he has dubbed "racist criminals."

Zeev alleges that Phi Delt -- as well as what he calls the "uncontrolled frat culture" at the College -- is directly responsible for his son's injuries and that the administration covered up for drug use, alcohol abuse and other criminal activities at the fraternity.

College officials deny that either they or Phi Delt had any responsibility for Adam's injuries.

"He's desperately trying to search for a place to attach blame," Redman says of Adam's father, "and he's decided on Phi Delt and, ultimately, the College."

Redman pointed out that many of the Dansigers' allegations of drug use and hazing involved students who had graduated by the time the accusations came to the attention of administrators.

"The College is not a legal entity ... we don't have subpoena power to call people up and say 'I need you to answer a few questions,'" Redman pointed out.

College officials received Adam's letter -- sent to then-Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson in the fall of 1999 and describing his account of life at Phi Delt -- almost two years after the car accident.

After the accident, Adam was in a coma for three months. According to his father, he is now without a pituitary gland, is blind and deaf on his right side and is also completely paralyzed on that side.

"He drags it," said Zeev of his son's paralyzed area. "[Adam] is emotionally destroyed, he cries himself to sleep."

"He's a father trying to struggle with a very difficult situation," observed Redman of Zeev, offering Adam and his family his complete sympathy while emphasizing he remains steadfast in his opinion that both the College and Phi Delt are not at fault in the downward spiral that was Adam's experience at Dartmouth.

"It didn't happen on this campus," said Redman of the car accident. "It happened in another state."

An edition of Phi Delt's newsletter, called 'Phi-Delity,' printed this year accuses Zeev of beginning his allegations only after insurance covering the considerable cost of Adam's medical care ran out.

The newsletter implied that Zeev's main goal was to sue the fraternity, take ownership of its campus property, sell it back to the College and use the money from the sale to cover Adam's health bills.

Zeev fully and openly admits that selling Phi Delt's property to Dartmouth was absolutely one of his goals.

"Adam is going to need care for the rest of his life," he pointed out, noting that College officials had initially called it an "interesting idea," but that it hadn't been pursued because no lawyer would take his case.

"No 12 jurors [from the area] would agree with me," Zeev told The Dartmouth, adding that he believes "they are all under economic pressure from Dartmouth."

The letters Zeev composed to various government officials contain extremely strong language in reference to the College, accusing Dartmouth officials of "knowingly and routinely obstruct[ing] justice and cover[ing] up for their inabilities."

A letter Zeev wrote to Hanover Police Chief Nick Giaccone that he gave to The Dartmouth calls Giaccone "a disgrace to the badge!" Zeev also recommends Giaccone be removed from his position immediately, alleging that the Chief's "inexcusable, incomprehensible and disgraceful tirade of words" to him implied that Adam had drug and alcohol issues long before he arrived at Dartmouth.

Giaccone could not be reached for comment.

"I am not a father with illusions," Zeev told The Dartmouth. "I won't be the one to say 'Not my son,'" adding that he believes "he couldn't have achieved scholastically and athletically" while being a drug user.

"I know what [marijuana] smells like, and I would have known," Zeev said more firmly. "I would have picked up on that immediately and would not have allowed it."

According to The Dartmouth's sources, however, Phi Delt brothers have done investigations of their own into Adam's high school life, in order to dispel Zeev's charge that Adam began using drugs and alcohol upon joining their house.

Those sources say that information the brothers have uncovered indicate that Adam, who attended New York City's highly-esteemed magnet public school Stuyvesant and came away with a 97 average at the rigorous institution, was no stranger to illegal drugs and alcohol.

Should the Dansigers take their case to court, Redman predicted, the situation is likely to "get nasty."

"I don't think it will be good for he and his family for him to hear about what some Phi Delts think of Adam," said Redman.

At the close of his letter to Giaccone, Zeev writes in capital letters: "Chief Giaccone, I am Wolf Zeev Dansiger and I am Adams [sic] father. Remember my name because I will always have your words ethced [sic] in my heart."

Zeev insisted to The Dartmouth that his closing statement to Hanover's Chief of Police was in no way a threat.

"I'm not stupid, I'm not going to put it down in writing that I am threatening the Chief of Police," Zeev explained. "I just told him exactly how I feel, just that I will go down in my grave knowing what he said."

A native of Israel and Poland who emigrated to the U.S. in 1969 and is now a naturalized American citizen, Zeev Dansiger said he has familiarized himself completely with the nation's laws and takes objection to one in particular -- a law whose abuse, he says, allows Dartmouth officials to cover up for students at the College who commit criminal acts.

The Buckley Amendment, also known as the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act [FERPA], enacted in 1993, effectively seals the records of any student from being released to anyone other than the student. This includes the student's parents, if that student is over the age of 18.

Zeev notes in his letter to various senators that he believes the amendment is "routinely abused" by administrations that use the law to "act as the judge, jury and prosecutor [sic] on campus."

In writing these letters, Zeev said, he hopes politicians will "restore ... parental rights" to be told about the status of their children while in college.

Zeev told The Dartmouth that he suspects the Buckley Amendment is being manipulated by College administrators to "stifle anyone who wants to give Dartmouth a bad reputation."

Zeev emphasizes, in his letters as well as in his conversations with The Dartmouth, that he supports the Greek system as "an excellent thing," but blames Dartmouth's administration for not holding houses to high enough standards.

"The truth is, the whole administration has absolutely no ability to come through with the [Trustee's Student Life Initiative], because they will do anything the alumni want," he said.

"We're trying to do the best we can in terms of dealing with drug and alcohol abuse," Redman told The Dartmouth. "Could we do better? Sure. What college can't?"

In a brief conversation with The Dartmouth, Adam, speaking slowly and haltingly, answered questions about his health status, saying he felt he was "alright."

"All right is completely relative," he said, however. "I still have a lot of problems."