What the Piazza family settlement with Beta Theta Pi means for Greek life

Jim and Evelyn Piazza walk toward the Courthouse Annex for former Beta Theta Pi fraternity member Ryan Burke’s sentencing  on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 in Bellefonte.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza walk toward the Courthouse Annex for former Beta Theta Pi fraternity member Ryan Burke’s sentencing on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 in Bellefonte. Centre Daily Times, file

The parents of Timothy Piazza announced an undisclosed monetary settlement with the national chapter of former Penn State fraternity Beta Theta Pi on Tuesday.

The settlement specifically allows the Piazzas to move forward with claims against any other parties, including alleged perpetrators, according to Piazza family attorney Tom Kline.

The settlement also includes a “sweeping fraternity-conduct Reform Agreement,” which aims at averting other “preventable” tragedies. Kline said that the agreement is legally binding and is effective immediately.

“The settlement represents a unique, cooperative agreement and is an outgrowth of the determined dedication by Jim and Evelyn Piazza to the cause of preventing hazing injury and death in Greek life in the future,” Kline said. “By this settlement, the Piazzas and Beta help to establish a baseline for the new norm of the fraternity pledging and fraternity life at universities and colleges in the United States.”

There are 17 agreed upon points in the agreement:

  1. Immediately supporting the proposed Timothy J. Piazza Anti-hazing Law in Pennsylvania.

  2. Requiring all chapter houses to be alcohol-and substance-free by August of 2020.

  3. Including the Piazzas in any decision-making process involving the future use of the closed Beta chapter at Penn State if the property is retained by the local house corporation.

  4. Withdrawing recognition, a prerequisite to operating a chapter, in the event a host college or university withdraws recognition based on conduct violations that have been fully and finally adjudicated at the local level.

  5. Establishing and communicating — on the chapter’s website, along with other related conduct policies and procedures — to those throughout the organization that any “action causing injury” to another is grounds for expulsion.

  6. Requiring that the college or university’s police and/or public safety department be immediately notified of any reported student conduct violations that result in serious bodily injury or death of a member, new member or third-party guest.

  7. Requiring enhanced education and training — including on a semester rather than annual basis — regarding social event planning, bystander engagement and prevention of hazing, alcohol/substance abuse, sexual assault and other abuses that could result in personal injury.

  8. Requiring chapters to publicly list online all chapter events and dates within their new member education programs as a part of Beta’s standardized new member education program and annual certification process.

  9. Requiring all chapters to complete annual safe event planning education prior to holding social events.

  10. Encouraging local house corporations to have a policy of a live-in house advisor as a best practice.

  11. Using reasonable efforts to implement a standardized new member education program limited to four weeks in length prior to initiation of new members.

  12. Encouraging chapters to have security cameras installed at all chapter housing.

  13. Establishing a relationship statement between Beta and members, including prospective members, in Fall 2018.

  14. Publishing notice on the Beta Theta Pi website regarding chapter status changes that result from violations of fraternity policies, including fraternity policies on alcohol and hazing.

  15. Encouraging open and full access to all chapter housing common areas to third-parties who are authorized by Beta Theta Pi or the host institution to visit during social events as a best practice.

  16. Requiring all chapters to have a chapter faculty advisor on their advising roster at the beginning of each academic year as part of Beta’s chapter recognition requirements.

  17. Including bystander intervention training in Beta’s risk management education each semester and continue to provide anonymous reporting options for students and parents.

“That the Piazza family has had to endure the loss of their beloved son and brother, Tim, remains one of the greatest disappointments and darkest hours in Beta’s history,” S. Wayne Kay, General Secretary and Chairman of the Beta Theta Pi Board, said. “It is heartbreaking and numbing to know our former members let Tim and his family down in such a tragic way. There will never be enough words to describe the pain they feel and Betas everywhere join with me in expressing our shared anger and sorrow that this could have happened in our fraternity.”

Beta Theta Pi Executive Director Jeff Rundle said the fraternity has implemented new initiatives to combat hazing, including eliminating illegal substances in all Beta Theta Pi fraternities and increased bystander intervention education.

“We have never been more focused on reevaluating local chapter cultures and implementing programs and accountability measures that raise the standard of fraternity life wherever Beta Theta Pi exists,” Rundle said.