Penn State President Eric Barron looked sad as he addressed the press before Friday’s board of trustees meeting.
He was speaking to something he didn’t want to have to talk about, the February death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza and the charges being levied against 18 people because of it. Barron’s comments came after the release of information from an investigating grand jury that drew a picture of how Piazza went from attending a party to dying in Hershey of wounds sustained in multiple falls at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house.
“The details in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible,” he said. “The university community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing.”
The presentment painted a picture of how Piazza fell, was not given medical attention and slowly bled out from a spleen injury before falling down the basement steps a second time, all while others used their cellphones to take Snapchat videos of him and do Google searches. Barron called the forced hazing by alcohol followed by “hours of suffering” something that was “inhumane” and “sickening and difficult to understand.”
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“It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community,” he said.
Barron answered questions about assistant athletic director Tim Bream, an adviser at Beta Theta Pi, who was not among the 18 individuals detailed in the grand jury presentment.
“In his role, he was a private citizen,” Barron said. “I think how the district attorney is looking at it is how we should be looking at it.”
He would not comment on possible civil exposure for the university.
What he would discuss was where Penn State goes from here. The university has already revoked Beta Theta Pi’s right to be a fraternity at Penn State permanently. It has taken strong steps against the rest of the Greek system, including hard limits on the number of alcohol events that can be held and how they will be monitored, as well as handcuffing the pledge process for next year.
Another fraternity was suspended last month when the university punished Sigma Alpha Mu for flouting the rules.
The Interfraternity Council was singled out in the grand jury presentment. Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims addressed that issue.
“We are working with the IFC. I think the IFC has a responsibility for managing its own leadership issues,” he said. “We increasingly have students who want to partner with us to address these issues.”
Barron could not say whether any of the 18 students were slated to graduate in the commencement ceremonies that started Friday and run through Sunday. He also did not say whether any of them would graduate regardless of their year in school.
“I don’t think we will want to speculate before they go through our process,” Barron said. “It’s essential, even with what the DA has said, that they go through our regular process.”
Barron wants to continue to find new ways to take on something he called a national problem with drinking and hazing, but he did express frustration with how to do that when fraternity houses are private organizations.
“We are going to do everything we possibly can,” he said. “I never want to do this ever again.”