Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Alcohol wake-up call

Problems could bring Greek life at PSU to an end


Penn State University has threatened to abolish Greek life because of rampant alcohol problems at its flagship campus in University Park. That’s a sobering message and one the university must stand behind.

For a decade or longer, the university has struggled to rein in excessive drinking at Greek organizati­ons. But the students haven’t been listening. The situation has been getting worse.

On Feb. 4, a student died after falling down a flight of stairs at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. He was attending a bid-acceptance ceremony — and, not surprising­ly, had been drinking.

The university banned drinking at Greek functions for the duration of the semester but made exceptions for parents weekend earlier this month. To its credit, the university deployed “spot checkers” to see how well fraterniti­es and sororities complied with the special rules put in place for that weekend. The checkers’ observatio­ns were disappoint­ing.

The behavior of one fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, was so egregious that the university decided Thursday to suspend it for at least two years. Officials said it violated nearly every one of the special alcohol rules that weekend, and even the standard rule against underage drinking. Eight other Greek organizati­ons violated at least one of the rules, meaning they haven’t yet grasped the serious of the situation, either.

Evidently, part of the problem is that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “Even some parents were intoxicate­d,” university president Eric Barron complained in an April 10 open letter to Greek organizati­ons.

This is far beyond “these are just kids letting off steam” behavior, and the university understand­ably has run out of patience. One death is one too many.

The drinking itself is just part of the problem. Across the country, drinking at college parties has been associated with cruel hazing rituals, sexual assaults and drunken driving. In his April 10 letter, Mr. Barron said the end of Greek life could be the solution. He’s right to take a hard line. If fraterniti­es and sororities don’t shape up, they can ship out.

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