Penn State’s President Warns Fraternities and Sororities to Shape Up

Are we “witnessing the beginning of the end of Greek life” at Pennsylvania State University? Many administrators and trustees are wondering if that will be the case, Eric J. Barron, the university’s president, says in a bluntly worded open letter to fraternity and sorority members.

In the letter, published Monday on his blog, Mr. Barron notes that the problems of binge drinking and campus sexual assault are national in scope, yet his tone seems exasperated and at times despairing as he writes that, despite Penn State’s numerous steps over the past 10 years to deal with those problems, “excessive drinking and sexual assault continue.”

The letter comes almost two weeks after the university imposed new restrictions on Greek life following the alcohol-related death in February of a fraternity member at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house — a “tragic and heart-wrenching death” that Mr. Barron says has changed his view of whether educational efforts and the deterrent effect of punishments will be enough.

Even the new restrictions are failing, Mr. Barron laments. “We allowed one social event involving alcohol as long as all of the rules above were followed – Parent’s Weekend,” Mr. Barron writes. “Apparently this was a mistake. Nine of the university’s 82 fraternities and sororities that we know about violated at least one rule, and one fraternity – Sigma Alpha Mu – violated almost every rule that was imposed.”

The violations prompt him to ask: “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?”

The abuses, he writes, “cannot continue,” and he concludes with a warning: “If they do, I predict that we will see many empty houses and then the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

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