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STATE COLLEGE — Penn State is quietly planning to roll back its oversight of fraternities and sororities, policies the university championed in 2017 following the hazing death of a student.
The university enacted more than a dozen changes to its oversight and compliance rules for Greek life after 19-year-old Timothy Piazza died at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity on campus. At the time, Penn State said Greek life’s self-governance model had “failed to bring an end to excessive drinking, hazing, sexual assault and overly large disruptive gatherings within their organizations.”
Six years later, Penn State’s new administration appears to be easing those restrictions.
In an internal memo obtained by Spotlight PA, the university declares it is “time to recalibrate the relationships involved so the pendulum moves toward chapter self-governance, and away from University monitoring and intervention.”
According to the document, Penn State plans to end the regular monitoring of chapter houses, allow first-semester recruitment, and help Greek organizations that want to reestablish themselves at the university. The memo says that university officials who enforce the 2017 rules will focus on coaching Greek leaders. The university also wants to engage Greek life and student media to discuss “promoting the strengths and benefits of Greek life.”
These changes, which the university has not publicly acknowledged, were discussed on Nov. 16, 2022, during a private gathering of university leadership, Greek life leaders, and members of the Committee on Academic Affairs, Research and Student Life, which is part of the Board of Trustees.
Prior to publication of this story, Spotlight PA asked the university whether these changes — which the school framed in the November memo as “next steps” — had been implemented.
In a statement, the university said it “remains committed to the safety of all Penn State students and any changes in Greek life at Penn State would only be put into place after carefully considering how they would impact the well-being of our students.”
After publication, Penn State confirmed the proposed changes to Greek life oversight have not occurred. The university described Spotlight PA’s story as “speculative.” (Read the full exchange here.)
The memo also states the policies put in place following Piazza’s death were “never intended to be permanent and were clearly presented at the time as necessary, yet temporary, actions.” The university declined to provide Spotlight PA with examples of statements that showed the rules were not meant to be lasting.
Jim Piazza, Timothy Piazza’s father, told Spotlight PA he was not informed that the rules were provisional.
“I don’t believe any of them were deemed to be temporary,” Piazza said. “I think they were all deemed to be permanent for the benefit and safety of the students.”
Piazza added that he believes the 2017 measures were a good start but did not go far enough.
“I think the monitoring should be enhanced,” he said. “And I think the university is still not aggressive enough in going after the groups or the individuals that break the rules.”
Penn State agreed to tighten some of its Greek life rules as part of its settlement with the Piazza family. The university declined to say whether any of the changes outlined in the November memo violate that agreement.
Penn State currently recognizes more than 60 Greek-letter organizations, grouped under four governing councils, and lists eight suspended fraternities on its website.
The memo argues the 2017 policies created “culture shift,” including an increase in grade-point averages among Greek life members and a drop in reports of misconduct.
However, the document notes that “hazing and other safety concerns, including sexual misconduct” remain a concern and returning to full self-governance, especially for Greek groups connected to the Interfraternity Council, could undo positive changes gained from the 2017 changes. The IFC is an independent organization overseeing fraternities at Penn State that are part of the North-American Interfraternity Conference.
Last semester, the university recorded more than 30 violations of hazing, alcohol misuse, or sexual misconduct among IFC organizations. Penn State recorded 45 violations among IFC organizations during the spring 2017 semester.
Leaders of the Interfraternity Council did not respond to multiple Spotlight PA requests for comment. The group made local news last week after allowing its fraternities to register State Patty’s weekend social events for the first time since 2011. In a statement, the university said it was “disappointed” in the IFC’s decision.
Penn State’s Board of Trustees supported the 2017 changes, which included restrictions on socials, deferred recruitment from fall to spring semester, increased monitoring of Greek-letter organizations, and university oversight of misconduct adjudication. Previously, independent Greek-letter councils oversaw misconduct investigations.
Penn State declined to say whether the university still oversees misconduct investigations involving Greek life.
In 2018, Pennsylvania enacted the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, which created stricter penalties for hazing and required universities to report hazing violations.
The following year, Penn State created the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, which helped launch a scorecard system for fraternity and sorority chapters across the country.
Penn State Greek Life has faced multiple scandals and allegations of misconduct, including the death of a freshman in 2009. In 2015, the university suspended a fraternity for violations that included members posting pictures of nude women, who were possibly unconscious, on a private Facebook page.
The university, in creating the new compliance model in 2017, cited research that Greek life members were more likely to be heavy drinkers than the general student population and fraternity members were more likely to commit sexual assault then their peers in the general student population.
This story has been updated with additional comment from Penn State.
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