After a Student Dies, Penn State Bans a Fraternity and Liquor at All Greek Houses

Pennsylvania State University on Thursday permanently banned a fraternity after a student died, and announced a sweeping set of measures designed to crack down on what officials described as “growing evidence of problems” related to hazing, alcohol abuse, and drug use in Greek life. The actions included a ban on hard liquor at all fraternities.

The university shut down Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity where Timothy Piazza, 19, fell down a set of stairs last month and died the next morning. Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs at Penn State, didn’t mince words in an interview with The Chronicle: “Enough is enough.”

The other changes in Greek life include banning beer kegs and daylong parties, moving the recruitment period for new members from the fall to the spring, sharply reducing the number of events with alcohol that Greek organizations are allowed to hold per semester, and strongly enforcing a ban on underage drinking within fraternities and sororities.

Officials had already banned alcohol at Greek events for the rest of the spring semester, after Mr. Piazza’s death.

Thursday’s announcement occurred as the university was still reeling from the aftermath of the trial of Graham B. Spanier. The former Penn State president was found guilty on one misdemeanor count of child endangerment for his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Penn State’s Greek system drew intense scrutiny two years ago, after members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity were found to have created a private Facebook page to share photographs of unsuspecting nude women. The president, Eric J. Barron, said at the time that he would appoint a task force to examine the role of fraternities and sororities on the campus.

Mr. Piazza’s death from injuries suffered at the fraternity represented a failure of the self-governance system that is a hallmark of Greek life nationwide, Mr. Sims said.

“This is a chapter that we believed, on paper, was positioned to actually succeed,” he said, noting that Beta Theta Pi had declared itself alcohol-free, had a full-time live-in adviser, and had a relatively high grade-point average among its members. “Their fraternity house is the nicest house I can imagine,” he said. “Despite all of that, the worst thing that could happen did happen.”

“We will not defer to that self-governance to the extent that we have in the past,” he added.

If Greek organizations don’t make measurable progress toward combating binge drinking, hazing, and sexual assault “as soon as possible,” he said, Penn State officials will consider a complete ban on alcohol in the fraternity and sorority system.

The ban on hard liquor will be enforced through a new monitoring system that will include spot checks at parties by teams of student-affairs staff members and student-government leaders, Mr. Sims said. A handful of other institutions have banned hard liquor at fraternities in recent years. Dartmouth College took its liquor ban a step further, expanding it to the entire campus.

Because liquor gets students drunk faster and is easier to conceal, Mr. Sims said, he hopes the change will reduce the rate of binge drinking among Greek students. Fraternity and sorority members at Penn State are four times as likely to identify as heavy drinkers as other Penn State students are, he said.

University officials will work closely with Greek student leaders and chapter alumni to enforce the new policies. Mr. Sims said he met on Thursday morning with the executive board of Penn State’s Interfraternity Council.

“I told them, I just didn’t believe that they were on a sustainable path, and it’s very important to the university’s administration that they be sustainable and successful,” Mr. Sims said. “We’re going to help light the way for them and lead them to it, but they need to partner with us.”

Mr. Sims is concerned that the new restrictions could lead some Greek chapters to take their events underground and off campus, out of the purview of administrators. But something had to be done, he said.

Not long after the Beta Theta Pi tragedy, he noted, five reports of hazing at other fraternities surfaced. “That,” he said, “just has to stop.”

Return to Top