Pennsylvania State University will shut down for three years the fraternity facing allegations that members posted pictures of nude and partially nude women - some who appeared to be sleeping or passed out - on private Facebook pages, the school announced Tuesday.
President Eric Barron said the university decided against a recommendation from the student-led Interfraternity Council - the body that governs Greek life on campus - for less severe sanctions against Kappa Delta Rho, which already was targeted for reorganization by its national office after the allegations emerged in March.
The university, which has completed its investigation, found evidence of hazing, the use and sale of drugs, underage drinking, sexual misconduct and harassment and "exploitation in terms of photographs," Barron said. More specifically, the university said Tuesday night, the investigation uncovered persistent harassment of two females, and "photographing individuals in extremely compromising positions and posting these photos" online.
Pledges were required to create stories with pornographic images and a "sex position of the day," according to the university’s investigation, which cited a fraternity environment that was degrading and disrespectful toward women.
"Members regularly posted embarrassing photos of women," the university said, "used demeaning language to describe females; and cultivated a persistent climate of humiliation for several females."
The findings drew harsh criticism from Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs.
"The investigative report makes clear that some members of the KDR chapter promoted a culture of harassing behavior and degradation of women. These are not acceptable actions within a student organization that is recognized and supported by Penn State," Sims said. "We must respond accordingly, and we hope by doing so it is clearly understood that our university will not tolerate such actions."
While some offenses seemed relatively minor - such as forcing junior members to clean the fraternity house — the "sum total" of violations convinced university leaders to take a tough stance, Barron said.
"This is not a fraternity that's operating in an appropriate way," Barron said. "We're making a very strong statement about sexual harassment and sexual assault. So I'm not going to go back on that stance that we're taking."
The university’s investigation found that some frat members engaged in hazing, such as forcing pledges to run errands, clean the fraternity house, and participate in boxing matches. Pledges also were forced "to plank with bottle caps on their elbows," meaning they had to hold up the weight of their bodies on their arms with bottle caps underneath, the university found.
State police began investigating the fraternity in January after a former member reported the invitation-only Facebook pages to police. The status of the police investigation was not available Tuesday night.
The incident prompted the university to launch a review of its Greek system, and that review is ongoing.
The university’s announcement came just hours after the Kappa Delta Rho’s national office put out the statement from the interfraternity council on its recommendations and proposed sanctions, as well as a statement of its own.
The national office promised to kick out any members who were found to have violated hazing, drinking or other policies. Joseph S. Rosenberg, executive director of the Kappa Delta Rho National Fraternity office declined to speculate on how many of the 100 or so members could have lost their status, noting that members would have had to undergo a drug test, review of their academic standing and determination on whether they violated policies.
All remaining members would have been required to undergo sensitivity training on sexual assault and harassment and "bystander intervention" in the beginning of the fall semester under the actions proposed by the interfraternity council.
The national chapter also promised to develop a "new member education program," subject to approval by the council and the university before fall 2016, and appoint a "local chapter advisory board" to oversee the chapter. No recruiting of new members would have been allowed next fall.
"We are hopeful that they agree the sanctions that we imposed as a National is seen as educational and sufficient enough for the students to learn from this experience," Rosenberg said before learning of the university’s decision to shut the frat down.
He could not be reached after the university announced its sanctions.
Rosenberg in his statement noted that the office of student conduct report does not allege that any member committed sexual assault. The university did not release the full report.
University officials acknowledged that it was difficult to overrule its interfraternity council.
"Our commitment to student involvement in institutional decision-making remains important to us," Sims said in a letter to the council, "and our action in this case should not be seen as a retreat from that commitment."