Penn State Greek-letter orgs to face change as aggressive new measures launch

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With the start of the fall semester, University officials have moved rapidly to put in place numerous new measures for Greek-letter organizations at Penn State, with the primary focus on student safety.

On June 2, Penn State announced a comprehensive set of reforms aimed at curbing dangerous drinking, hazing, sexual assault and other negative behaviors and consequences found within Greek life across the nation. The combination of the more than a dozen new initiatives the University plans to implement is unprecedented in its scope, and is intended to re-establish safety as the priority among organizations that have traditionally been private and self-governing.

“We have quickly instituted an expanded series of strategies that defines a new relationship between the University and its Greek-letter organizations,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “And this is just the beginning. We plan to continue to roll out measures and adjust as needed, with the Greek-Life Response Team and its advisory group evaluating each measure and recommending adaptations as necessary to promote and produce responsible behavior.”

Beginning today (Aug. 21), responsibility for organizational monitoring and discipline of fraternities and sororities will transfer from these independent groups to the University. All student organizational conduct cases are now handled by the University, including Greek-letter organizations, making the process uniform across the institution. In the past, misconduct was investigated and adjudicated by the independent Greek-letter governing councils (e.g. Interfraternity Council (IFC) and Panhellenic Council), which also maintained responsibility for monitoring for potential chapter violations, as is done on campuses across the nation. Individual student conduct cases have been and will continue to be handled by university officials.

Important actions that have been solidified: (Note: The listed measures will be assessed and adjusted as necessary to maximize their impact):

-- New resources: Penn State is in the process of hiring for 14 new positions within Student Affairs. Eight positions have been advertised and a timeline has been developed for filling the remaining six vacancies.

-- University monitoring: Eight of the 14 full-time positions mentioned above are dedicated to monitoring Greek-letter organizations via random checks to monitor compliance with University policies. This measure is a permanent carryover from similar University monitoring conducted in spring 2017, which surfaced violations by Sigma Alpha Mu, leading to that chapter’s two-year suspension. It is the University's expectation that its compliance monitors may enter any common areas within chapter houses. Violations identified by the monitors will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for disciplinary action.

-- All social restrictions remain in effect: Social restrictions placed on Greek-letter organizations in spring 2017 are still in place, including the following:

  • Moratorium on alcohol at chapter social events continues until all chapters complete various educational and risk-management programs (no earlier than Nov. 1). 
  • No more than 10 social events with alcohol per semester.
  • No daylong events allowed.
  • Only beer and wine may be served. Kegs not permitted.
  • Social events, both indoors and outdoors, are limited to the legal capacity of the chapter house.
  • Service of alcohol at social events must follow Pennsylvania law, limited to people 21 years of age or older, and now must be distributed by RAMP trained servers.
  • University monitoring now in effect. Strongly enforced prohibition against underage possession and consumption of alcohol.
  • Failure by Greek-letter organizations to prevent underage consumption and excessive drinking in their facilities will result in sanctions.

-- Deferred recruitment/enhanced eligibility requirements: Starting this fall, only full-time enrolled students who have already earned 14 credit hours at Penn State and meet a minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 are eligible to participate. Transfer students must have 27 credit hours from another institution and a 2.5 GPA. New member education may only last up to six weeks (was up to 12 weeks previously). The purpose of these new requirements is to ensure that students become established at Penn State academically and socially before joining a Greek-letter organization.

-- The new member process (previously known as ‘pledging’): In the fall if individuals meet the eligibility requirements, the new member process may take place for a maximum of six weeks. Every fraternity and sorority chapter must produce an individual and specific new member process and education plan to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life for review and approval before proceeding.

-- Greek Chapter Score Card: A score card will be posted online at the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life website that displays critical information to educate parents and potential new members. The information includes such things as total members, cumulative GPA, alcohol and hazing violations, as well as any chapter suspensions. This will be updated each semester.

-- Greek membership fee to fund new services: A per participant fee for every Greek-letter member will be charged beginning in spring 2018 and will be charged for every semester after. The fee for chapter members in IFC or Panhellenic is $90 per semester; for members of either the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) or the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), the fee is $30 per semester. Special exceptions may be applied to students who are studying abroad for a semester.

-- Reinstatement of the Neighborhood Enforcement Alcohol Team (NEAT): NEAT is a collaborative program organized by State College and Penn State police departments to enhance safety and security in State College’s downtown neighborhoods. As part of the program, which started in 2010, officers from town and gown work in pairs to conduct additional patrols of neighborhoods. This year, the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement also plans to partner. The officers focus on alcohol, noise and other disorderly incidents, with a focus on enforcement and education. In addition, NEAT conducts pre-party checks during early evening hours and works in conjunction with student auxiliary staff to provide extra weekend security. NEAT will re-launch on Aug. 24.

-- Relationship statement: A relationship statement signed by all fraternity and sorority members this fall that clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the University, the chapters and their members. All future new members will be required to sign the statement when they are initiated into their chapter. This statement will reinforce many of the key safety measures noted above and below.

-- Further parent and member education: The Fraternity and Sorority Life office will hold an educational session on Parent and Family weekend in October and prepare handouts with information regarding opportunities and risks, signs of troublesome behavior and incident reporting information, in addition to information and education already provided.

-- Semester survey for new members: An anonymous survey is sent to all new members seeking information about their experience and determining if any hazing activities may be occurring. In addition, a random selection of new members from every chapter will be interviewed by University staff to again seek information on new member processes and to provide an opportunity to report misconduct anonymously.

-- No tolerance for hazing: Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved. In determining violations, the University is using the legal definition of hazing under Pennsylvania law. A large part of this measure will involve education of all members, as well as discussions of responsible behavior.

-- Risk management policy review: The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life has developed a program for presidents and risk managers of Greek chapters to work with community partners to develop new risk management plans and policies to ensure safety for their members.

-- Other measures: There also are other measures being evaluated and explored by the University such as reviewing the growing size of sororities at Penn State; a push for stronger criminal penalties for hazing; more education surrounding medical amnesty and Penn State’s Responsible Action Protocol; and the coordination of a national conference hosted by the Big Ten at headquarters in Chicago that can examine and find solutions to problems shared by other institutions with Greek-letter organizations.

“For a decade, we have addressed these problems in myriad ways, recognizing that Greek houses are privately owned, managed by external parties, and sanctioned by national organizations, but more is needed,” Barron said. “As we declared enough is enough and the University has concluded that taking the unprecedented step to break the longstanding self-governing model of the Greek-life community — which is the norm on college campuses across the country — is absolutely necessary. But making a true impact on these national issues is a tremendous challenge that requires the efforts of more than the University.”

Barron said that while the measures are aimed at increasing student safety, the University cannot drive change alone. The initiatives need to be accepted and new regulations followed by not only each fraternity and sorority chapter, but by their individual members as well. Barron noted that true change will not occur without the support of individual members, alumni boards, the private housing corporations, Greek councils and national organizations.

The president said his expectation is that all of these groups will partner with Penn State to minimize risky behaviors and keep student health, safety and well-being at the forefront of any decisions. Barron concluded: “The Greek system has made many positive contributions over the years to Penn State. All its members must commit to positive partnership in achieving the reforms we seek, to achieve a sustained, safe and positive contribution by the Greek system to the well-being of our community, which is a worthy goal.”

Last Updated August 21, 2017