Penn State to examine fraternity / sorority life

As members of our University community, you have undoubtedly read or heard about the intolerable and disturbing actions of members of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity in creating a Facebook page depicting activities that are totally unacceptable. To say that I was personally repulsed and shocked by such behavior is an understatement.

Some have indicated that expulsion or suspension of every member of the KDR fraternity is immediately needed. The motivation behind these requests is understandable, however, the criminal investigation by local police into the KDR matter continues, as does the process managed by our Office of Student Conduct. Patience is required to allow these investigations to continue unimpeded so that we can achieve a level of justice that fully matches the outcomes of the investigations. I ask for your understanding as due process proceeds.

At the same time, I believe we also must embark on supplementary action that will have a more long-term impact on the issues we face. Next week, I will name a task force to look into fraternity and sorority life at Penn State. I have asked Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, to lead this important initiative. 

For decades, fraternities and sororities have played an important role at Penn State, providing leadership, community service and support to their members and to the University. However, incidents of sexual misconduct, hazing and alcohol abuse here and across the nation are all-too-common and demand immediate attention. I am determined to conduct a focused examination of fraternity and sorority life in a manner that supports the best of Greek life, while promising real and lasting change. The imperative to improve our system is clear and convincing, and is unanimously supported by University leadership.

While all of the details are not yet in place, the composition of the task force will include representation from all elements of our University community, including those who have expressed profound concerns about the system. It also will include undergraduate leadership from the system itself, as well as alumni leaders, prevention experts, trustees and representatives of national organizations.

I intend to charge this task force with a number of critical questions, including defining the fundamental purposes of the fraternity/sorority system. Other critical questions to be answered, include:

1) Does the fraternity/sorority system fall short in meeting any of its fundamental goals and living its expressed values? If so, how and what is necessary to overcome those shortcomings?

2) What is the status of sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse in our fraternity and sorority communities? Is there racial and ethnic diversity and awareness among our sororities and fraternities? How might any weakness in those areas be resolved? 

3) Is the four-legged stool of this system, relying as it does on undergraduate actives (undergraduate students who are active in fraternity life), alumni, nationals, and the University, well-balanced? Are all legs of the stool working in an even and coordinated fashion? What, if anything, is necessary to strengthen these relationships?

4) Is there appropriate accountability for misconduct in the fraternity and sorority system?  If not, what is required to achieve the right measure of accountability?

5) In examining issues, it is imperative to identify methods and activities that will bring out the best in these organizations. How can we foster a collective mindset that ensures this objective?

As president of Penn State, I take seriously our charge to protect members of our community from exploitation or harm. KDR members are only the latest fraternity brothers on college campuses nationwide to be found participating in unacceptable activities.

This comprehensive examination of fraternity and sorority life and its culture will not be simple and it may not be comfortable. It will, however, be thorough and it will provide a blueprint for creating a stronger community that brings out the very best of what our fraternities and sororities can be.

Eric J. Barron
President, Penn State

Last Updated March 24, 2015