A Low Point at High Point University

Out of North Carolina come some disturbing new details about a death on the campus of High Point University. In March 2012, Robert Eugene Tipton, Jr., a student at the school, died while in the company of several brothers of his Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. Tipton’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit which claims that violent hazing contributed to his death. What makes this death especially heinous is that the “pledge master” for the fraternity was Michael Qubein, the son of High Point’s President, Nido Qubein.

You might recall High Point as “Bubble U” – the title of a 2012 piece about High Point which emphasized how the school was spending itself silly in hopes of attracting wealthy students. who can President Qubein, by all accounts a charismatic individual, frequently caps presentations to prospective parents by holding out a bag of Hershey Kisses in one hand and a box of Godiva chocolates in the other. “Both are good,” he says, “but only one resides in the extraordinary…Isn’t that what you want for your child?”

But no parent would approve of the conduct of one of Godiva University’s administrators in the months prior to Tipton’s was. According to sworn affidavits from two security guards at the school, director of security Jeffrey Karpovich (a co-defendant in the lawsuit), instructed them that Michael Qubein was “to be treated differently than other students.”  Security guard Tony Williams swore in his affidavit that Karpovich also told him, “If there is a problem with Michael Qubein, tell me, and I will deal with it.” This doesn’t quite square with Qubein’s single, disgracefully tepid comment in the aftermath of the situation: “Every student at HPU is treated with equal respect and responsibility.”

Instead of curbing Qubein, Karpovich turned a blind eye to an environment of wildness that, if the suit is to be believed, contributed to Tipton’s death. To quote security guard Elliot Crawford’s testimony, “Mr. Qubein and the Delta Sigs had this attitude that they were above the rules, and they knew full well that there was nothing we could do about it.” To that point, Crawford claims that the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity frequently had kegs at their party, despite the fact that kegs are banned from High Point’s campus. He consistently passed complaints about the fraternity onto the appropriate authorities, but was “specifically told not to go anywhere near the Delta Sigs.”

One of the guards’ affidavits is even more explicit about Quebein’s gross misconduct:

“On two occasions, I witnessed a physical fight involving Qubein. One occurred out front of the Delta Sig fraternity house during my employment. On that occasion there were several Delta Sig beating up a young man in the street out front. … I informed Student Life and my supervisors of this incident. Nothing was done to my knowledge. At times I tried to reason with some of the fraternity members who were more sober in an effort to keep the violence down. I was later told by Mr. Karpovich that I should not do this and should not even get out of the car.” A third security supervisor at the school claims in an affidavit of his own that he once saw Qubein drop a woman he was carrying on his shoulders down a flight of stairs.

On the night of his death, says the lawsuit, Tipton was “hazed viciously by members of Delta Sig at the direction of (Michael) Qubein.” Qubein and another fraternity brother, Marshall Jefferson, are also named as co-defendants in the suit. The suit alleges that Jefferson “violently assaulted and battered” Tipton. Tipton’s lifeless body was discovered in Jefferson’s apartment the morning after the alleged hazing.

We must insert a cautionary point here. At this time, the suit against Qubein et al. is just a set of allegations. No criminal charges were ever filed in the matter, and Tipton’s cause of death is formally listed as oxymorphone poisoning. Oxymorphone is a powerful opioid for pain, and it’s hard to believe that alcohol and/or recreational drug didn’t somehow contribute to Tipton’s death. Williams says he witnessed “problems with alcohol and drugs from Michael Qubein and his friends” over the years. For their part, the family alleges “aspiration of gastrointestinal contents,” in tandem with a concussion. Whatever happened that night, Michael Qubein failed to live up to his father’s modest standard of “equal respect and responsibility.”

It appears that Tipton’s death is the natural, if rare, outcome of the kind of “extreme behavior” that new Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon recently lamented. In a speech to his school, Hanlon was referring to the Bacchanalian bouts of drinking, racist and sexist party themes, the hookup culture (and attendant sexual assault), and fraternity hazing that have taken over the culture one of the most prestigious schools in the country, one that helps seed the nation’s elite institutions. In 2012, a former Dartmouth fraternity brother published an article in Rolling Stone detailing his experience there, which included being made to “swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; [and] chug cups of vinegar.” Both elite schools like Dartmouth and ordinary schools like High Point promise their applicants the experience of a lifetime. But too often, the moral atmosphere of the American college campus contributes to degrading or even fatal experiences. Hanlon has pledged to lead a change in the culture at Dartmouth. Would that High Point, and other schools, follow suit.

David Wilezol

David Wilezol is the co-author of "Is College Worth It?" with former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

22 thoughts on “A Low Point at High Point University

  1. I am deeply sadden for the family that lost a son, brother and loving young friend. It’s unfortunate that the cover-up was more important than his young life. Cover-up contends that there was something to hide. Money does buy everything including……………….covering up the brutal death of this young man.

  2. Young people of privilege should expect that when they attend High Point there will people higher up the food chain who will have more privilege. It’s a characteristic of societies with high income inequality.

  3. Wow… I not only grew up in High Point, but graduated from HPU in 1999 and still live on the outskirts of town. I have to say that although I was long gone by the time Dr. Qubein arrived, in my time at HPU I never heard of anything too crazy going on in regards to hazing back then. But I also worked as well as attending classes so I didn’t have any time for a “partying” lifestyle. I didn’t come from money, but was able to obtain financial aide to cover my entire education at HPU through their financial aide offices. I experienced an excellent teaching staff and felt as though I got a wonderful education there.

    However, when I took my family to their Christmas celebration a couple of years ago I was shocked at the changes. It was the first time in years I had really been on campus. I was completely astounded by the flagrant display of simply too much of everything. It was a pretty campus when I attended, but nothing like the over the top showplace it has become.

    Despite HPUs materialism, I was still hoping my son might attend there too in a few years. But after reading all of this, I’m wondering if it really is a good choice after all. Of course I noticed all of the HPU stuff all over town too, but as an alumni it was more of a feeling of pride before I saw how outrageous the campus has become. I also took a look at their website and realized that not one person that taught me is still there. The charm that appealed to me in the 90s has faded. Dr. Qubein should stop building exorbitant buildings with his name on them and start using all of that money for actual education. At the moment it reminds me a little of ancient Egypt and Dr. Qubein is the pharoah.

    I don’t know what became of the case this article outlines, but I hope his family did get some kind of justice and my heart goes out to them.

  4. As parent who lives in High Point, I can attest to this article is absolute fact.
    Our son grew up in this city of entitlement & saw first hand the actions at HPU. He graduated high school with the president’s son, Michael, whom he considers a friend, but did not follow his gang into HPU.
    It is with deep sorrow that Mrs. Tipton has had to live for years with this tragedy without help from HPU, & the High Point Police department.
    However, knowing of the situation and the aftermath, does not surprise me at all that HPU is Teflon. The demise of our town’s textile division has caused many factories to move overseas, leaving a wake of unemployment & commerce for our city.
    Without HPU, many feel that the city would perish. So heads were turned, buildings renamed, according to amounts donated by the wealthy, & Qubein became the “savior” for the city.
    As I ride around town and see purple & white flags, painted murals dedicated to HPU, I find it hard to understand how he continues to play to his wealthy friends and nothing is ever revealed.
    Another building is getting ready to be built with Qubein’s name on it. Why, when many founding fathers names were removed so that large donators could have their names placed on campus. Qubein’s large brick & marble building, already comeated, has his name engraved into it, so as not to be removed.
    This is not the quiet little town it once was. It is now a town owned by the rich, stories untold, full of secrets, while thumbing their noses at all they have done to make High Point extraordinary.
    I wish Mrs. Tipton all the best & pray she gets justice once & for all.

  5. I am a college counselor at a private high school and was invited out to visit HPU two years ago along with 30 other counselors from across the country. The amount of excess and waste on campus is astounding. Each morning students are given bottles of water and granola bars as they walk to class. $1,000,000 in fountains adorns the campus, much to the delight of Dr. Qubein (whose doctorate is honorary, by the way). This is a school that only meets 80% of financial need, but can spend millions on flashy buildings and an on-campus steakhouse. The priorities are all wrong and it does not surprise me that such activities would take place on campus. I could never, in good conscience, recommend that one of my students attend this school.

    1. Counselor, Is there any way I can contact you by email? I would like to discuss some things with about hpu. Thank you.

    2. I took my son to attend HPU for the Honors Student Weekend. The staff , students and employees were mechanically pleasant to deal with and tried to put on a good show. It is all show, no substance in my opinion. The president is a “Dr.” by way of an honorary bestowal only. He speaks to the crowd of students and parents with the passion of a southern preacher and uses emotion to make parents feel like they are denying their children what they deserve if they do not pay for HPU at a cost of nearly $50,000 year. The excesses spent on campus for dorm pools, steak house, first run theater, gyms are used to lure students in to the country club quasi theme park environment. There is piped in classical music across campus and glitzy fountains at every turn. If you research a Bloomberg report, the school is financially leveraged to the hilt and the only way for them to survive fiscally is to recruit many more students, continue to raise tuition, and con people, in my opinion. 30 percent of freshmen do not return. The president claims to be a selfmade millionaire. He claims to have come to the US alone at 17 with no english skills and $50 in his pocket, from Lebanon. Fact checking shows he came from a well connected family in Jordan, had two older brothers who attended Duke and UNC. Nothing sat well for me and my son says he trusts his gut on this one. It is not the environment for learning and growing. It is a playground for the children of families willing to spend greatly for the luxuries.
      I also found the entirely fenced campus with gates and cameras on every corner of every building to be creepy. Makes me wonder, was the girl being pushed down the stairs by the president’s son, caught on video? Seems likely. Eye opening experience and one I will not forget. I am sorry for the people who blindly trust and send their children here.

    3. I’m watching the Dateline special regarding the death of a student (Tipton) regarding hazing that was obviously out of control. This is crazy! Road blocks in every aspect of the investigation. It’s just too disgusting for words.

  6. The permissiveness in education and parenting are shown in many ways in this report. It starts with a university president using Godiva chocolates to influences parents on what’s best for their kid’s education. High Point is a country club college for kids who can’t get into good colleges. What happens is they get over entitled kids who don’t go to college to learn but to have a good “experience”. The comments from the HP people almost sounds like a cult: “come to High Point” or “visit our university”. They act as if seeing what 700 million in spending can do will somehow justify the fraternities behavior. It’s all so Orwellian.

    I would also like to say that the “concerned parents” open letter is also a reflection of the parents who send their children to a school like HP. This parent was so concerned that they didn’t sign their name on the bottom of the letter, perhaps for fear of retribution against their son. Maybe their son didn’t even know of the letter. In either case, it’s a showy move for a showy country club school.

    The Dartmouth situation is concerning. Other schools have these same issues. Many are famous for their party culture and quality of “ragers” with kids. The “experience” many kids are seeking is for big parties and excess for four years. Pervasive at public and private schools, It’s not a reflection of the institution, it’s a reflective of our culture. We live in a age where we accept this behavior as representative of college-aged “kids”. High Point attracts those types of kids and parents directly vs Dartmouth who is concerned about the culture they currently have.

    I have been to HP. While there, kids were hanging out of new dorm windows drinking, amongst 30-foot banners of themselves adorning the building…students were drinking in parking lots and walking into a basketball game soon after…the people of the town (real residents) did not think highly of the school or the attitudes of the students. They saw a huge change in attitude with the flow of cash (and debt) into the school. What’s lost in all of this? The tragic loss of life that is so obviously a result of pledge-fraternity behavior, unintentional or not. The article asks the question: is the prevailing attitude of the institution and its leadership at least partly responsible for the behavior of fraternities at the school? I would insist that it is a reflection of our nation’s values for that age group which are equally reflected in the “concerned parent” letter.

  7. Dr Queen is a man who has done more for many at great personal costs to him. There is nothing that he would not do for a friend and he reaches out constantly to help others without fail.

    why castigate him? His son is an adult and only his son is responsible for his own actions.

    High Point University has helped our community in ways that outsiders can not begin to imagine.

    The death of the student is a grave and unfortunate event. The boy’s family will never recover from the loss.

    This,however, does not give the journalist who wrote the 2014 article the license to condemn the entire university to include the President.

    Come to High Point, visit our town, see the university, and do not let one awful incident influence an opinion that can only be formed by visiting a d judging the institution first hand.

    My heartfelt condolences to the decedent and his family. May God bless them and keep tbem.

    thank you
    David Wolff

    1. The problem Mr. Wolff, is that Qubein and university officials had FULL KNOWLEDGE of the problems, behavior and actions of his son and that of his son’s fraternity while he was enrolled as a student at HPU. Qubein and university officials turned a blind eye and worse, covered up the reckless and dangerous behavior. Qubein and his officials had a duty to protect Robert Tipton and ALL students at HPU knowing what he knew as a father and as a university president. He failed to do so. Robert Tipton died as a result.

  8. Spot on article. I hope the Tipton family will continue to push for the truth and what happened to Robert.
    Dr. Qubein (HPU) and the security director Jeff Karpovich knew exactly what was going on.

  9. My goodness! I’m so glad I happened upon this article, and especially the detailed letter from the concerned parent. I recently attended an HPU open house with my daughter, and we were as impressed as the administration hopes and expects visitors to be. But the information in the article is very disturbing and gives me pause. One of the things that put HPU high on our college choice list is the appearance of security. Now, I think we may need to look a lot closer at a lot of aspects of the university.

  10. October 27, 2014
    An Open Letter to:

    The Members and Pledges of the High Point University Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi (defunct) and their parents;
    Patrick F. Jessee, J.D., Executive Director, Delta Sigma Phi;
    Dr. Nido R. Qubein, President, High Point University;
    Gail Tuttle, Vice President for Student Life, High Point University;
    Paul R. Kittle, PhD, Dean of Students, High Point University;
    Teri M. Cugliari, Director of Greek Life, High Point University;
    Dr. Tara Shollenberger, Director of Student Conduct, High Point University;
    Jeffrey A. Karpovich, Directory of Security and Transportation, High Point University;
    and Marty Sumner, Chief of Police, High Point, Police Department

    Dear Sirs,

    I am a father of a member of the now defunct Delta Zeta chapter of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at High Point University. I am writing this letter because I am very concerned for the health a well -being of the brothers and pledges of Delta Sig.

    As you are aware, the national headquarters of Delta Sigma Phi and HPU revoked the charter of the fraternity in March of this year. My son informed me that prior to being shut-down, the fraternity was on probation for various university rules violations. The decision to revoke the charter by both HPU and the fraternity’s national HQ was based on a series of incidents while on probation involving the hazing of pledges, underage drinking, and an unfortunate fight which resulted in some injuries to members of another Greek organization.

    This summer, my son told me that he was very concerned about the fact that the fraternity had “gone underground” and has continued to operate. In fact, the day that Delta Sig was kicked off campus, the brothers and the pledges met and agreed to continue on as a fraternity. The leadership of the fraternity sold it as a “cheap alternative” to paying dues to an official organization. My son knew that it also meant that they “would not need to play by the rules” of the university and the national fraternity.

    Over the remainder of the semester, the fraternity continued to initiate pledges, throw parties, and go on trips as a group. The existence of this underground fraternity was evidently brought to the attention of both HPU and the fraternity’s national HQ and both organizations issued letters to fraternity members (and parents) telling them “cease and desist” and that “operations must cease or legal actions may be taken”.

    In their letter, the national HQ said that “any High Point University students that were not initiated in to Delta Sigma Phi prior to March 23rd, 2014 are not duly initiated members and do not have the rights and privileges of this Fraternity.” Yet, according to my son, he and his brothers continued to put the pledge class through the initiation process and eventually, late in the second semester, made them brothers.

    My son observed that the hazing process had become “even worse” than in years past when the fraternity was a legitimate entity. He became increasingly concerned when the initiation process took a dark turn towards extreme hazing rituals that included physical, emotional and financial abuse. The brothers forced pledges to consume human feces, physically abused and beat them, threatened them, forced them to buy them beer and drugs, made them chauffer them around campus and on road trips, forced them to consume alcohol to point of alcohol poisoning and extreme sickness, forced them to stay up for extended periods of time, and harassed and threatened them via text and phone calls.

    As the semester progressed, the level of hazing became increasingly worse. My son and a few of his brothers who were concerned about the legal and ethical problems with the situation, confided in each other. Yet, because there is a culture of intimidation within the fraternity, they did nothing. They worried that if they confronted their brothers or approached the university about the abuse of the pledges, that they would be targeted. There is a culture of intimidation and abuse in the fraternity and everyone is expected to toe the line or else.

    When he returned home, my son thought about the situation and came to the conclusion that what he and his brothers had done to the pledges was immoral and illegal. Without the oversight of the university and a national organization, there were no rules to follow. And with the culture that was now pervasive in the organization he was worried that things could get worse and that someone could be severely injured or worse, killed.

    He told me that he hoped that when he returned to school this fall that the fraternity would slow down and eventually cease to exist. He hoped that there would be no new pledge class. Unfortunately, he was wrong. Over the course of this semester, some enthusiastic brothers have managed to recruit a new pledge class. The hazing has continued and is escalating every week.

    I am writing you because of the dangers that this unregulated and unsupervised underground fraternity poses to the health and wellbeing of their pledge class. Both my son and I agreed that we could not live with ourselves if one of these young men lost his life.

    Therefore, I call on all of you, but most importantly the brothers of the defunct chapter of Delta Sig, to shut this underground fraternity down and stop the illegal and immoral hazing of pledges. I call on HPU, the national fraternity, and High Point law enforcement to aggressively investigate the fraternity’s activities and to put an end to the organization once and for all. I encourage HPU’s administration to take a close look at the leaders of the fraternity who are perpetuating and encouraging this sort of behavior. They do not represent the best of HPU and its values and they should be punished.

    Sincerely,
    A Concerned Parent

  11. Your article strongly suggest that Dr. Qubein, his son amd High Point University are guilty. Mr. Tipton Steph is a horrible tragedy but until all of the facts are known to feel strongly send messages what you have written or not only totally uncalled for but also have the potential to calls significant and irreparable harm to the university. If you have not done so I would strongly suggest that you visit our university before you continue with your allegations!

    1. As a student here, I can attest to the facts of this. Officers routinely avoided Delta Sig and especially Michael. Overall, the article was fairly objective. Sure, you can stick your head in the sand and say that we don’t have all the facts, but everyone knows this stuff went on.

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