Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PSU president threatens end to campus Greek life

- By Bill Schackner

Penn State University has suspended another fraternity on its University Park campus — this one for alcohol violations April 1 during parents’ weekend — amid a crackdown on Greek life organizati­ons that intensifie­d after a pledge’s death in February.

The sanction on Sigma Alpha Mu announced Thursday will extend for at least two years and comes amid criminal and campus investigat­ions of another fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, where the pledge who had been drinking died after a fall on a stairway during a pledge event.

Thursday’s action follows an open letter from Penn State president Eric Barron to Greek organizati­ons on April 10, chiding their members for alcohol abuses during parents’ weekend.

“Even some parents were visibly intoxicate­d,” Mr. Barron wrote.

The university has said it will consider abolishing the Greek system, and Mr. Barron, in his letter, said: “Many members of the Penn State administra­tion and Board of Trustees are wondering if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

Penn State had imposed a moratorium on alcohol at social events but made an exception for parents’ weekend, assuming tightened rules would be obeyed, a move it now calls a mistake.

At least nine of the 82 fraterniti­es and sororities violated one or more rules, and Sigma Alpha Mu violated nearly every one, Mr. Barron stated.

That organizati­on’s weekend offenses included “excessive drinking, involving hard liquor, with no third-party server; open access to alcohol with no monitoring; and permitting guests other than fraternity members, their parents and family to attend,” according to a university statement.

Penn State this semester imposed sweeping rule changes involving parties across the Greek system after the death of Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza, 19, a sophomore from Lebanon, N.J., who fell down a flight of stairs at the fraternity's off-campus house Feb. 2, State College police said.

Mr. Piazza was attending a bid-acceptance ceremony and had been drinking, and he was not transporte­d by ambulance for 12 hours, police said. He died two days later at Hershey Medical Center.

Mr. Barron, in his open letter, said problems persist despite a decade-long attempt by Penn State to control them through myriad actions and policy changes. Some of the rules being violated are new ones imposed amid the continuing Greek life review.

“If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes undergroun­d, and if there is no willingnes­s to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault, then is there any hope?” he said.

Mr. Barron said the trouble cannot continue without consequenc­es.

“If they do, I predict that we will see many empty houses and then the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

Seventeen percent of the student population belongs to a fraternity or sorority, and members self-report excessive drinking at a rate four times above the average, Mr. Barron said.

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