Penn State Bans Fraternity, Imposes Sweeping Changes

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As Penn State’s student conduct investigation of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity continues, more disturbing facts have emerged, including a persistent pattern of serious alcohol abuse, hazing, and the use and sale of illicit drugs. The University has decided to permanently revoke recognition of Beta Theta Pi banning it from ever returning as a chapter at Penn State. This extraordinary action occurs in the context of a continuing criminal investigation into the death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

“The University’s investigation has produced deeply disturbing evidence showing that Beta Theta Pi fell far short of its professed policies and values,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “The serious violations we have found include forced drinking, mandatory hazing and other illegal activity, which combine with a student’s tragic death to lead us to conclude that Beta Theta Pi, despite its notable history at Penn State, merits no continuing place in our community.”

In light of the ongoing investigation of Beta Theta Pi and growing evidence of problems within the University’s Greek-letter community, Penn State also is announcing today (March 30) that it will impose new aggressive measures on these groups in exchange for recognition.  Implementation will require a collaborative effort that engages undergraduate active members, Greek council leadership, alumni, national organizations and University staff.

Alcohol misuse, hazing and sexual misconduct among students are challenges at nearly every college and university across the country. Greek-letter communities throughout higher education are distinctly affected by these issues, and have generally failed to effectively address them through their self-governance processes. The same is true at Penn State, where research shows that fraternity and sorority members are four times more likely than the general student population to be heavy drinkers; sorority women are 50 percent more likely than other female students to be sexually assaulted; and fraternity men are 62 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault than non-fraternity men.

A large part of the challenge stems from the autonomy these groups have assumed. Typically, colleges and universities cede ultimate responsibility to the organizations themselves, and while alumni boards and national organizations share part of that responsibility, the undergraduate members are often given broad latitude.  

“Fraternities and sororities are private membership organizations, and our fraternities often exist in private residences off campus,” Sims said. “Our ability to influence outcomes among these young adults is profoundly limited, yet the University’s recognition is vital to all of these organizations, and their success as safe, healthy, constructive and sustainable enterprises, is equally important to us. However, we no longer believe that vesting so much responsibility in the self-governance of these groups will produce positive outcomes. Today, Penn State is drawing a line and imposing critical changes. Enough is enough.”

In order to sustain recognition, organizations must adhere to the following changes for the coming academic year:

  • Formal recruitment of new fraternity and sorority members, also known as rush, will be deferred from fall to spring semester for both fraternities and sororities in the 2017-18 academic year. Requirements for students to participate in recruitment thereafter will include completion of at least 12 credits while enrolled full-time. In consultation with various constituents within the Penn State Greek-letter community and their national organizations, other requirements and the possibility of deferring rush until a student’s sophomore year will be considered for 2018-19. Further discussion about the size of new membership classes within these organizations will be part of an ongoing review.

     
  • New social restrictions will include a strongly enforced prohibition against underage possession or consumption of alcohol in chapter houses and activities. Service of alcohol at social events must follow Pennsylvania law (e.g. limited to those 21 years of age or older), and must be distributed by RAMP trainedservers only, though third party, licensed RAMP certified servers are preferred. Only beer and wine may be served, and kegs will not be permitted.

     
  • Attendance at social events will be limited to the legal capacity of the chapter house. No day-long events will be allowed, and no more than 10 socials with alcohol per semester will be permitted for each chapter, a reduction from the current limit of 45, which was established by Penn State’s Interfraternity Council.

     
  • Failure by the Greek-letter organizations to effectively prevent underage consumption and excessive drinking in their facilities and activities may lead the University to adopt further restrictions, including the possibility of declaring that the system must be completely dry.

     
  • These social restrictions will be enforced by a new monitoring protocol that will use both third parties and a combination of student leadership and University staff. When discovered, any violations of these expectations will result in appropriate and significant disciplinary action.

     
  • There will be no tolerance for hazing in these organizations, as all hazing is a violation of Pennsylvania law. Hazing that involves alcohol or serious physical abuse will likely lead to loss of University recognition. Increased educational programming focused on preventing hazing will be mandatory for all chapter members.

     

These steps build on the University’s general moratorium on socials involving alcohol in fraternity chapters through the remainder of this spring semester, which was announced in February.

 

The Penn State community benefits from and is impaired by its fraternities and sororities in the same way as peer institutions. These private organizations create smaller communities within a large university, build relationships, forge connections, and offer mutual support and encouragement; but they also may too often produce outcomes that cause at least momentary disruption and lasting pain. The new actions outlined are not designed to undermine the fraternity and sorority experience at Penn State, but instead to ensure its long-term success and sustainability. 

Additional action to support these changes may include significantly increased staff for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life; the launch of a new search for leadership of that office; discussion about the possibility of residential staff within fraternity houses; publication of a report card providing data on the status of these groups; consideration of improvements to and new locations for chapter houses; regular meetings among chapter leadership, including students and alumni, and University staff to assess progress; and increased emphasis on educational programming that encourages scholarship, leadership, service, philanthropy and personal development.

“A fundamental shift is required if these organizations are to be truly successful and sustainable, both at Penn State and elsewhere,” Sims said. “We will work diligently with our students, alumni, national organizations and any other partners who share our commitment to student well-being to ensure that the necessary transformation occurs.”