STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Pennsylvania State University has put into place stricter controls on its Greek system in response to the death of a pledge in February, including mandatory education for members, new policing of the system by the university, a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, and the publishing of a "report card" on each group that includes conduct history.
"I am resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our entire community into decisive action and reform, concentrating on the safety and well-being of students at Penn State," president Eric Barron announced at a Board of Trustees meeting on campus Friday.
The campus continues to reel from the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza of Lebanon, N.J., following a pledge-night party at Beta Theta Pi. Piazza, who died Feb. 4, was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol and later fell down stairs, and no one called for emergency help until nearly 12 hours later, according to the grand jury presentment that indicted 18 fraternity members.
The university, Barron said, will consider having anyone seeking to join a fraternity or sorority read the grand jury's blistering report that describes how Piazza was slapped, had liquid poured on him, and fell several other times, and later died of a non-recoverable brain injury, ruptured spleen, and collapsed lung.
"This is going to fade in people's minds unless we make sure it does not," Barron said after the meeting.
The university also agreed to continue its decision to delay recruitment for fraternities and sororities until the second semester of freshman year, but not into sophomore year, which some board members with Greek ties had opposed.
The university, Barron said, believes that a delay to spring semester will achieve the goal of having older students join the groups and remain in the houses, but not damage the smaller houses, which could be financially affected if the rush process were pushed to sophomore year.
The new restrictions do not include a further ban on alcohol at Greek socials. The university issued a temporary moratorium on alcohol being served at the events after Piazza's death.
"You would just send it underground," Barron said. "That probably would be less safe."
The Penn State Interfraternity Council issued a statement that while not addressing the new policies, said it would "continue to be devoted to leading the change Penn State needs to prevent another senseless tragedy."
The statement also presented some of the council's own recommendations, adding: "Many of these changes align with — and even go further than — the measures President Barron presented today."
The plan presented by Barron drew unanimous approval from Penn State's 38-member board, which discussed the issue in executive session for 5½ hours Friday before announcing the changes during a 20-minute public meeting.
"We're trying to save what is at base a very good system that has made some really horrible mistakes recently," said trustee Bill Oldsey, who was president of Phi Kappa Theta as a Penn State student,
Board member Barbara Doran said she was pleased to see the university taking control of the fraternity and sorority misconduct process and adjudication, which previously was overseen by the student-run Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council. University employees also will assume the process of conducting spot checks of houses to be sure rules are being followed; Greek organizations previously contracted with a third party for those spot checks.
"It's a powerful start," Doran said.
Trustee Ted Brown, also a fraternity president as a Penn State student, said allowing rush to occur freshman year was key for him.
"That's an important agreement that we all came to," he said.
Lawyer Tom Kline, who represents Jim and Evelyn Piazza, said the goals laid out by Barron are in line with what the Piazzas asked of the university, but he said he was dismayed that the board's resolution endorsing the plan did not provide more concrete details for how and when the goals would be implemented.
"Truly, no action was taken," he said."We believe they should go further."
Barron said the plan was only a start. Penn State will lobby for tougher laws on hazing and host a national conference on Greek life to work with other universities on finding answers, he said.
Hazing, Barron also said, would result in "swift and permanent revocation of recognition" for a fraternity or sorority.
The university also will insist that students participating in Greek life sign a statement outlining rules and expectations so there are no misunderstandings, Barron said.
"This will provide much greater clarity," he said.
For the extra personnel required to implement the changes, Barron said students who join fraternities or sororities likely would be charged a new fee,
The Piazzas, in a letter to the board this week, asked that the students responsible for their son's death be expelled and employees responsible be fired. Barron declined to say whether either action would be taken.
"Today was not about blame. It's about fixing a problem," he said.
Matt Krott, 25, president of the graduate and professional student association, said he supported the changes.
"The focus has to be first and foremost the safety of Penn State students," said Krott, who attended the meeting. "I'm happy to see we are taking steps to improve that."