As new students step onto University Park campus Monday, Penn State made sure they were aware of the new rules regarding Greek life.
The university’s board of trustees passed a list of new measures in June, following up on action taken by the administration in February and March.
The new steps to cut down on dangerous activities in Penn State’s fraternity and sorority communities were taken in the wake of the February death of Timothy Piazza, 19, a sophomore pledging Beta Theta Pi. Prosecutors say Beta Theta Pi brothers put him and other pledges through a gauntlet of alcohol consumption, which caused multiple injuries and then waited 12 hours to call for help.
Beta Theta Pi’s Alpha Upsilon chapter has been charged with hazing and involuntary manslaughter in connection with his death. Eighteen Beta members face some charges in connection with the party. Preliminary hearings in the case are ongoing and continue Aug. 31.
“We have quickly instituted an expanded series of strategies that define a new relationship between the university and its Greek-letter organizations,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement Monday. “And this is just the beginning. We plan to continue to roll out measures and adjust as needed, with the Greek-Life Response Team and its advisory group evaluating each measure and recommending adaptations as necessary to promote and produce responsible behavior.”
While announced in June, the newest measures begin in earnest with the start of the fall semester as the university assumes “organizational monitoring and discipline” for the fraternities and sororities, a power that was held previously by the groups’ own four oversight organizations, including the Interfraterntiy Council. The university administration has said it wants to become a leader in changing that model, which is the norm at colleges and universities.
Penn State says it is in the process of hiring 14 new people in the Office of Student Affairs, eight of whom are tasked to work with the fraternities and sororities, including performing random checks to ensure rules are being followed.
The university instituted cutbacks on social activities at the fraternities in February after Piazza’s death, eliminating hard liquor and restricting the number of parties that can be held. Penn State is also demanding trained bartenders at any parties involving alcohol and enforcing strict adherence to the drinking age.
However, none of that should be necessary until Nov. 1, the earliest date Penn State says a fraternity party will be allowed. All Greek-letter organizations will remain under an alcohol moratorium until every chapter goes through a series of educational and risk-management programs, the university said.
There are also changes to who can join a fraternity or sorority and how that can happen. Freshman pledging is delayed until at least spring semester as Penn State has restricted recruiting to those who have successfully completed at least 14 credits and maintained a 2.5 GPA. For those who meet those requirements, a fall pledge period will be allowed but restricted to just six weeks.
Programs and expenses to govern the Greek system will not be cheap, but the university has maintained that cost will be paid by the members, not the student body at large. The costs have been up in the air but were announced Monday. Members of IFC and Panhellenic organizations will pay $90. Members of the smaller Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations will pay $30.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller is encouraged by the response but still has reservations.
“These measures look encouraging but depend entirely on the ability of the ‘random spot checkers’ to uncover the targeted behavior. The fraternities fooled and controlled the previous spot checkers quite easily, even assigning someone to ‘watch out’ for their arrival during events so they could quickly hide violations. If the fraternity checkers ability to uncover violations is not improved, accompanying ramifications will never be realized and the needle will not be moved,” she said.