After the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked Pennsylvania State University, the school vowed to become a national leader in child-abuse prevention.
It hosted national conferences and hired prominent faculty experts in child maltreatment, and this year received a prestigious national grant to combat the problem.
On Friday, under fire for another tragedy, the university again promised to take a national leadership role, this time against hazing, excessive drinking, and sexual assault within fraternities and sororities. The declaration came in response to the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza following an alcohol-fueled pledge night party.
"We intend to take a national leadership role in this," president Eric Barron said at a special board of trustees meeting Friday on the main campus in State College.
That campus is still shaken by the Feb. 4 death of the sophomore engineering major from Lebanon, N.J. Piazza was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol at the Beta Theta Pi house and later fell down stairs -- but no one called for emergency help until nearly 12 hours later, according to a grand jury that indicted 18 fraternity members. The report describes how Piazza was slapped, doused with liquid, and fell several more times, dying later of a non-recoverable brain injury, ruptured spleen, and collapsed lung.
Barron on Sunday asked other university presidents in the Big Ten athletic conference to join him in organizing a national gathering on Greek life.
"Presidents across this nation, big universities, small universities, private universities and public universities, are all facing these problems," he said, "and finding it a challenge to deal with them. And I think by working together and sharing what we know, that we have the potential to do even more in comprehensive reform."
University spokesman Lawrence Lokman said Sunday evening that the Big 10 has agreed to host the event at its headquarters in Chicago and two other presidents will co-organize it with Barron.
"It's too early to provide further details but President Barron was pleased with the support and commitments he received and looks forward to moving forward on this effort," Lokman said.
Other schools in the conference include the Universities of Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, and Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, and Rutgers Universities.
Barbara Doran, a member of Penn State's board, said she was heartened to hear that Barron wants the university to assume a high-profile role in tackling the problem.
"We have done lots of innovative and comprehensive programs, but we still have a problem, and it's a problem that plagues all universities," she said. "It's time to team up. We have the resources. We have the will, and we have the know-how."
Barron announced on Friday that the university would put stricter controls on the Greek system -- including taking control of the misconduct process currently overseen by student-run groups, implementing a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, and publishing a "report card" on each fraternity and sorority that includes conduct history.
The changes come on top of others announced this spring, including a ban on hard liquor and kegs at socials, a deferral of recruitment or rush activities until second semester of freshman year, and a reduction in the size and number of parties that fraternities and sororities can host each semester.
Tom Kline, the lawyer representing Piazza's parents, Jim and Evelyn, endorsed the university's desire to become a national leader, but said many of the initiatives the school outlined need clarity and definition.
"The disappointment is that with great fanfare, we were told with high expectations that there would be a new Penn State in effect," he said. "What we were given are an outline of goals, which now take drafting and implementation. ... They have a large opportunity and a long way to go."
Kline, who also represented a Sandusky victim in one of the civil cases against the university, said he was underwhelmed by Penn State's efforts on child-abuse prevention.
"The sad, sorry truth is that Penn State did not reshape the landscape of the debate or show any unique leadership in that role," he said.
Penn State officials would differ.
Flash back to 2012. Former Penn State administrators had been charged with child endangerment and conspiring to cover up Sandusky's abuse of young boys, and the university was struggling to defend itself against criticism. Then-president Rodney Erickson announced that the university would target child abuse.
The school began to host national conferences on the topic and, in 2013, to hire a cadre of professors who are experts in child maltreatment. And this April, the university announced it had received a $7.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Center for Child Maltreatment Studies, expected to serve as a national model.
The university still is dealing with the fallout of the scandal involving Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing 10 boys. On Friday, three former Penn State administrators, Graham B. Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, were sentenced to jail time for misdemeanor child endangerment in the case.
So while board members were in a 5½-hour private session on how to best deal with the fraternity tragedy, former top university leaders were in a courtroom in Harrisburg learning their fate from the previous scandal.
"It was the best day for the board members to meet for a critical special meeting, and the sentencing was not a factor," Lokman, the university spokesman, said of the timing.
But Friday's date was not all the cases have in common.
Both have touched large bases of avid alumni and students — the sports and fan base in the case of Sandusky, the Greek community in the Piazza death.
While the Penn State community remains divided over the Sandusky scandal, in the more recent case there seems to be universal recognition that changes are needed -- including Greek alumni groups and the student leaders of Penn State's Interfraternity Council (IFC).
In fact, IFC leaders in some cases proposed more stringent changes than the university announced it would implement. For one, the IFC said that under a plan it presented to the trustees, socials would have to be alcohol-free until a fraternity could prove it had adopted all other recommendations set forth by the group.
"Only then may each chapter apply for the ability to host social events with alcohol in its house," the group wrote.
Penn State banned alcohol at socials for last semester, but fraternities will be permitted to serve beer and wine again when school starts in August.
The IFC also proposed that new members be required to complete an anti-hazing class, that no new-member activities take place between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. or without a trained adviser or IFC peer monitoring team on hand, and that 50 percent of all members be trained in active bystander intervention.
"The hardest work lies ahead," said IFC president Dean Vetere, a finance major from Staten Island, N.Y., who belongs to Sigma Phi Epsilon, "and we look forward to working with the university to implement elements of our plan to make a difference in our community."