In an open letter to Greek life members on Monday, President Eric Barron questioned whether the Greek system is coming to an end at Penn State.
On his blog, “Digging Deeper,” Barron wrote that “nine of the university’s 82 fraternities and sororities violated at least one rule, and one fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, violated almost every rule that was imposed,” during the recent Parents’ Weekend. The university president also said that he had obtained an email from an Interfraternity Council leader that included a “derogatory term to describe women” and instructions on how to not get caught breaking violations.
“If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes underground, and if there is no willingness to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault, then is there any hope?” Barron asked.
The “new rules,” which include the permanent ban of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, deferment of Greek life recruitment for a semester, “strongly enforced” prohibition of underage drinking, no daylong events, and a reduction of 45 socials with alcohol per semester to 10, were announced in response to the death of sophomore pledge Timothy Piazza on Feb. 4, two days after an acceptance ceremony at the Beta Theta Pi house.
The Beta fraternity, Barron wrote, was viewed as a “model fraternity.” The fraternity had a no-alcohol policy and live-in oversight, as contracted through an external agreement with the national organization.
Barron called the permanently banned frat’s “model behavior” a charade.
“There were no outward signs of large parties, which are frequently the bane of community members. All indicators suggested a model fraternity,” he wrote. “Yet a death occurred, because a student was forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol in a hazing ritual. The story is even worse. The story is incomprehensible.”
The live-in oversight was Tim Bream, the university’s director of athletic training services. The owner of the house also had it wired for video surveillance, which has been turned over to State College police for a criminal investigation. The fraternity has requested that video evidence be returned to the organization.
Barron said in his post that the university has made attempts for more than a decade to address Greek life issues, including excessive drinking and a high rate of sexual assault. Some measures included self-policing and self-regulating. Barron created a task force to curb “negative behaviors” of Greek life after a police investigation uncovered hazing, drug use, underage drinking and harassment of women in 2015 at Kappa Delta Rho.
The university suspended the fraternity for three years after Penn State’s Intrafraternity Council’s decision to continue to recognize the organization. Administrators thought the action would deter others from similar behavior.
“The tragic and heart-wrenching death of a student at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity completely changed this view,” Barron said.