U. of South Carolina Suspends Fraternity Rush

August 21, 2011

The University of South Carolina halted fraternity recruitment last week following reports of alcohol violations committed by six chapters. The blanket suspension, which administrators described as unprecedented, suspended the rush process for all 18 participating fraternities, hours before they were to offer bids to prospective members.

Administrators said six alcohol-related incidents that occurred between last Sunday and Wednesday shared a common thread: Each stemmed from alleged drinking at recruitment events sponsored by fraternities. One incident involved an intoxicated student who required medical attention after breaking windows in a dormitory, according to Jerry T. Brewer, the university's associate vice president for student affairs.

Mr. Brewer described another incident in which local police officers found an apparently inebriated student, unresponsive and in boxer shorts, in a parking lot. At least some of the students involved in the incidents were rushees. One was taken to the hospital, according to South Carolina officials.

"When you ask a kid, 'Why are you in a parking lot at 4 a.m., barely able to breathe?', and you hear, 'Well, I was drinking bourbon at such and such fraternity,' that's when you reach a boiling point," Mr. Brewer said in an interview with The Chronicle on Friday. "We decided that we've got to take a timeout."

Mr. Brewer, who has held his position since 1985, is no stranger to fraternities. A graduate of South Carolina, he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi, with which he has held various leadership positions. He has long urged fraternity leaders to follow their own rules, especially those that govern recruitment.

During the previous academic year, for instance, Mr. Brewer helped lead a series of discussions with fraternity members about "personal servitude." They debated questions such as whether a brother should be able to call a pledge at 3 a.m. and ask him to bring him a package of cigarettes.

On the heels of that discussion this spring, Mr. Brewer said, he challenged fraternity leaders to study their organizations' rules, assess how they could better comply with those regulations, and return to campus ready to make "better men" of their members. "Then, boom, we don't even get classes started and we start having all these incidents," he said.

Last week, Mr. Brewer and other administrators met three times with chapter presidents to discuss the alleged violations. Administrators warned them that they would take action if changes were not made. During the last of the meetings, Mr. Brewer asked the students to devise a plan to "transform recruitment." Fraternity leaders proposed a "guaranteed" dry rush, two weeks of social probation, and a reduction in the recruitment period.

Administrators deemed those proposals insufficient. Moreover, Mr. Brewer concluded that fraternity leaders were not taking the issue seriously. One house president, he said, told him that alcohol had always been part of the rush process; why, the student asked him, was the university cracking down on it now?

"We have no leadership coming out of the fraternity system right now," Mr. Brewer said.

Last Thursday night, the associate director of Greek Life e-mailed chapter presidents to say the university had temporarily postponed bid activities "until further notice." The decision to suspend rush for all participating fraternities—and not just those that allegedly committed violations—was based on administrators' conclusion that drinking was a systemic problem among fraternities. One administrator told The Daily Gamecock, the student newspaper, last week that alcohol use was a "cultural issue that has infected our community."

South Carolina officials have invited students, alumni, and national fraternity leaders to participate in a series of meetings about the incidents this week. Mr. Brewer said he was not sure when, or if, the university would restore rush activities.

For years, Mr. Brewer has believed that South Carolina's traditional rush period—which comes at the very beginning of the fall semester—was preferable to a "delayed rush," in which recruitment happens later in the fall or during the spring semester. "I've seen that if you don't recruit right off the bat, young men engage in this type of activity for two months anyway, and I have no way of tracking it," he said. "But if you're a pledge in a fraternity and you've got issues, I've got a tracking system for that." Nonetheless, Mr. Brewer said on Friday that he was open to discussing the possibility of changing South Carolina's rush period.

The presidents of two fraternities declined to comment for this article. Several others did not respond to emails. David Corso, president of Lambda Chi Alpha's campus chapter, told The Daily Gamecock that the university's decision was unfortunate. "I feel bad for a lot of the new rushees who were looking for something bigger and better," he said.

Peter F. Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, described South Carolina's move as unusual. "Usually, when you have these kinds of problems during rush, the philosophy is to punish the offender and discuss possible change," he says. "I've heard of canceling the game or postponing the game. I haven't really heard of a rain delay."