Penn State

Beta Theta Pi has history of issues at Penn State, other colleges

The brothers of Beta Theta Pi brand themselves “Men of Principle.”

At Penn State, those brothers have had their activities suspended by their national leadership and the university as investigations proceed into what happened to Timothy Piazza.

The 19-year-old sophomore from Lebanon, N.J., was pronounced dead at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center on Saturday. While the Dauphin County coroner has ruled the death accidental, State College police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding his fall at around 11 p.m. Thursday and why help was not called until 10:49 a.m. Friday.

“Under the advice of counsel, we would like to refrain commenting further as to the status of the house, past or present, during an ongoing/open State College police investigation,” the Alpha Upsilon chapter alumni corporation board said Wednesday.

This is not the first time the Betas have gotten into trouble with the law or the university, where they have been a fixture since 1888.

It was almost nine years ago when things at the fraternity last hit a bad patch. It started in April 2008 with a minor’s law violation. A 20-year-old man was found with an open container of beer and a blood alcohol level of .189, more than double the legal limit. The beer came from a Beta Theta Pi party. The house was charged with two counts of furnishing liquor.

Seven days later, it happened again. Two more counts were levied, according to one court docket. Two more counts are listed as coming from that same party, according to another, in which a 19-year-old female and several underage friends reported about 150 people at the Beta Theta Pi house being served with no identification checks. She drank about 10 beers between midnight and 2 a.m. in the basement bar area, State College police said in the affidavit of probable cause.

That was about a week before graduation. Things were quiet over the summer, but when school started back up, the trouble started again.

On Sept. 6, 2008, police responded to a Beta Theta Pi tailgate party near Beaver Stadium with about 100 people celebrating the Nittany Lions’ 45-14 trouncing of Oregon State. A 50-gallon trash can was being repeatedly restocked with ice and beer, while people helped themselves and no one tracked access. Several minors were identified with beer from the party. Another count of furnishing alcohol was charged.

On Sept. 11, 2008, both State College and university police responded to the fraternity house for a fight. A 19-year-old male was treated for a head wound at Mount Nittany Medical Center. He was drinking beer in the basement bar and no one asked for ID, according to court documents. Two more counts of furnishing were put on the books.

Guilty pleas were entered for three counts.

Other charges in the cases, including the tailgate party, were not prosecuted. In all, the three charges netted the fraternity $1,500 in fines, plus costs and some community service, according to the court. The university and the national organization, however, pulled the group’s charter for a year and made them vacate the Burrowes Street house.

The Penn State chapter was not the only one to experience problems.

Beta Theta Pi has 137 chapters or colonies across the country, with 8,499 members and 1,173 pledges. Of those, according to their website, 13 chapters are on probation, two are suspended, four have warnings and two are under reorganization.

However, that website is not entirely up to date. Penn State is still listed as being in good standing.

The list also does not list chapters that have been closed, like Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which was shuttered in 2013 after an investigation into sexual pictures and videos that were taken at the fraternity house and circulated by members.

The fraternity’s original chapter, founded at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is listed as a colony after being closed by a joint investigation by the school and the national organization into a “pattern over time of misconduct,” according to the Dayton Daily News.

The University of Washington chapter is also listed in good standing, although the Seattle Times reported it was disbanded in October 2014 for hazing violations.

The University of Oregon chapter isn’t listed after it was disbanded in 2016 for “long-standing and repeated hazing violations, alcohol violations — things that were really too high risk,” Vice President of student life Robin Holmes told the Register-Guard.

The University of Utah chapter is listed in good standing now. It was reopened in 2011 after being closed in 2010 by the national organization for “years of failure to improve bad behavior,” according to the Associated Press.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce