Penn State students return to new frat rules

Photos – local – 20170505hnBarron
Penn State University President Eric Barron pauses while addressing the death of Timothy Piazza, the charges filed against members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and the future of Greek life at Penn State on May 5, 2017 at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center in State College.

Students involved in Greek life at Pennsylvania State University have returned to school this week under new rules and guidelines announced last spring following the death of sophomore pledge Tim Piazza.

The university on Monday, the first day of instruction, rolled out its new policies and procedures, including some details on how it plans to enforce tighter restrictions on University Park’s 81 fraternities and sororities.

Under the new protocol, the university will take over control for the monitoring and discipline of fraternities and sororities from the student-run Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, which handled the process in the past. The school also plans to hire 14 new employees to help with monitoring the fraternities and sororities, eight of whom will be involved in conducting random checks of the houses to make sure members are adhering to rules.

“We have quickly instituted an expanded series of strategies that defines a new relationship between the university and its Greek-letter organizations,” Penn State president Eric Barron said in a statement. “And this is just the beginning.”

Barron, who initially announced the changes during a board of trustees meeting on campus in June, said the university would continue to make changes as needed with a “Greek-life Response Team” created last spring tasked with evaluating each of the new initiatives.

Penn State’s crackdown started last winter when Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering major from Lebanon, N.J., died after participating in an alcohol-saturated pledge party at the Beta Theta Pi house. Piazza fell down stairs after being forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual, prosecutors have alleged. No one called for help until the next morning. Piazza died of a non-recoverable head injury, ruptured spleen and collapsed lung.

Eighteen fraternity members have been charged in Piazza’s death. Their preliminary hearing — which opened in July with prosecutors showing gruesome video taken from the fraternity house of Piazza repeatedly falling and left to languish on a couch — continues next week in Bellefonte.

Under the new rules, entering freshmen will not be eligible to join a Greek group. Students must earn 14 credit hours at Penn State and achieve a minimum 2.5 GPA to pursue membership. The university also will require all new members to participate in 12 hours of educational training, up from six hours previously.

The university also intends to post online a “scorecard” on Greek groups, including alcohol and hazing violations at each fraternity and sorority and cumulative GPA of members. University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the scorecards would likely be available in about a week.

A moratorium on alcohol at all Greek social events will remain in effect until members undergo required education, the university said. Beer and wine will be allowed later in the school year, but no sooner than Nov. 1. Furthermore, each group will be permitted to host no more than 10 events with alcohol each semester, the university said. Hard liquor and kegs are banned.

Also, any group found guilty of hazing will face permanent revocation of its recognition, the school said.

To pay for the upgrades, the university, beginning in the spring, plans to charge students who participate in fraternities and sororities a fee: $90 per semester for most students.