Board of Trustees

Penn State trustees implement new reforms on Greek life

No parent should have to go through this, Jim Piazza says

Jim Piazza speaks about the death of his son, Timothy Piazza. Piazza passed away in February after injuries from a party at Beta Theta Pi at Penn State.
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Jim Piazza speaks about the death of his son, Timothy Piazza. Piazza passed away in February after injuries from a party at Beta Theta Pi at Penn State.

Penn State’s trustees voted Friday to take away some of the control of fraternities and sororities from their members.

“Across this nation, Greek life has operated through self-governance,” said President Eric Barron. “Today we believe the self-governance model is broken.”

The board voted on a long line of “far-reaching comprehensive reforms,” which included strengthening and formalizing some of the measures put into place after the death of Timothy Piazza, a Beta Theta Pi pledge who died after suffering traumatic injuries during a hazing ritual at the fraternity.

The university will take over the misconduct and adjudication process that was previously the domain of organizations such as the Interfraternity Council or the Panhellenic Association. There will be increased attention on hazing.

“Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of university recognition for the chapter involved,” Barron said.

The university will defer rush, encouraging students to get a firmer grounding as students before they become fraternity or sorority members, and attempting to raise the age of residents of fraternity houses to juniors or seniors.

Penn State has already tightened restrictions on social functions and alcohol service, but spelled that out again.

The university will also require all Greek life members sign a relationship statement, a contract that “clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the university, the chapters and their respective members.”

There will be education — before pledging and after — for students, and more for parents, including the availability of a report card charting chapters’ ups and downs.

And there will be money. The university will charge a capitation fee for fraternity and sorority members that will help cover the increased monitoring and supervision, such as extra police and education.

Not all of the steps mentioned are things that can happen on campus.

“We intend to take a national leadership role on this,” Barron said, pointing to plans to organize a national conference on Greek life.

Other larger issues include pushing for hazing to be included in Clery Act reporting and talking with state leaders for harsher penalties for hazing and more education about both hazing and dangerous drinking.

The resolution, which included an expression of sympathy for Piazza’s family and friends, passed unanimously.

Provost Nick Jones said the purpose of Friday’s actions was about student safety and the university’s commitment to maintaining that safety, changes he called “bold and permanent.”

How some of those changes wiell come about is still up in the air. According to Jones, the timeline for rolling out some of the broader steps has not been established, with some coming during the 2017-18 academic year and others that may go into effect during the summer.

In addition to time, there are other people who need to get involved, he said.

“For this to be successful, we can’t do it alone,” Jones said. “We need partners.”

He pointed to the fraternities and sororities, the national organizations, the student body, communities and others who need to come together to work on the problems.

At least one of those partners had a ready answer Friday.

“The Interfraternity Council Executive Board and Council of Presidents continue to be devoted to leading the change Penn State needs to prevent another senseless tragedy,” read the IFC’s statement.

It included a link to the proposed plan the IFC said it gave the trustees before the meeting.

“Many of these changes align with — and even go further than — the measures President Barron presented today. We agree that added social restrictions, education, transparency and professional staff support are critical. We have tried to remain committed to being an active part of the solution within our community. We stand firm on our belief that when students are involved in collaborating with the university in monitoring and accountability, a greater impact is made. For that reason, we will continue to push for a partnership between student leaders and the university,” IFC President Dean Vetere’s statement said.

“The hardest work lies ahead, and we look forward to working with the university to implement elements of our plan to make a difference in our community,” Vetere said. “We Are still Penn State.”

Barron said the administration reserves the right to add more measures as the need may arise.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce