With the Piazza case at Penn State dominating the news, and opinion leaders from all sides checking in and editorializing, I thought I might add a few suggestions of my own. I was involved in fraternity management from 1973 until 2013. I have held almost every leadership function in a national fraternity from the local alumni association to the national and to the foundation. I currently am an Expert Witness in Greek Life Hazing and Risk Management cases and am presently appearing in 8 cases ranging from hazing to sexual abuse.
First, one major problem is academia itself. College lawyers seeking to rid themselves of liability have spent decades ridding themselves of the doctrine of in loco parentis which required the college to assume the role of the parent and insure the safety of its students. In so doing, they reversed over a century of a symbiotic relationship with the fraternities providing substantial housing on the campus and pretty much the entire social life.
The fraternities were cut free. The North American Inter-fraternity Conference initially through its Interchange program sought to replace the now missing authority with the Inter Fraternity Council, a self management arrangement with local undergraduate representatives from each fraternity on campus. This entity would have limited ability to punish wrongdoing, establish risk management programs and assume a level of governance over the local chapters.
The schools would back away as far as possible and have a campus life employee part of whose function was to advise the IFC among other duties dealing with clubs and associations on campus. When trouble arose, the school would act as if Martians had landed and retaliate against the National fraternities, never considering the local chapter to be a housing group of individual students all of whom were selected to be members of its student body.
The retaliation of late has been to suspend the activities of the offending organization for 4-5 years, figuring that the wild bunch will all have graduated by then, and perhaps. the Greek organization can come back under some sort of heavy sanction. As a result of this system, there are now remnants of the chapters acting as underground fraternities recognized by no one, not the fraternity nor the college, littering the landscape. And, it is not just fraternities, women members of an outlaw group that evolved from Tri Delt when it was thrown off campus, were present at Beta Theta Pi the night of hazing that resulted in Piazza's death.
These non members of the legitimate Greek System become attractive nuisances for individuals who might join the more respected organizations but see a great deal of fun going on in the unregulated, unrestrained, outlaw groups. Many of these continue to occupy the old fraternity house or have managed to rent dilapidated housing off campus which have become virtual blind pigs. So, the college, which doesn't want the responsibility for the Greeks anyway, has managed to eliminate its one possible ally, the Greek National, in the control scheme.
What should be done? My suggestion would be to have the colleges bring back in loco parentis, work with the NIC to enforce individual sanctions, put a college employed resident adviser (a young police officer or retired Army Ranger would come to mind) in each fraternity house, and discipline individual students when appropriate.
Penn State appears to be heading in this direction as a result of the Piazza incident. It is about time that somebody had real authority on campus, not the IFC with its undergraduate members or the National trying to police from afar. Let's return to the 60's and 70's when it was the dean who had the power to put the fear of God into the fraternities. Self regulation by 18 to 22 year-olds just will not work.
It is not just Penn State. I assure you that the problems are system wide in the Greek World. Penn State has a much more developed system than most schools. It also has the largest Greek system in the United States. Unfortunately, the Piazza case is not an aberration, it represents the type of behavior that is nearly universal. Interestingly, the National leadership standing up and calling hazing a capital sin, all went through some form of hazing in their undergraduate experience. Does this in anyway color their vision?
The colleges, the NIC and the Nationals should also agree that no fraternity would be permitted on the campus without college recognition, and it would have to pass an annual evaluation. The group should work with the local jurisdiction to pass zoning laws that required college recognition before permitting Greek groups to rent, own or otherwise occupy property. The precedents currently taking place at Dartmouth can be a model for this.
Just a few thoughts and a couple of suggestions. The alternative is likely to be pitch forks and torches if this nonsense is not brought under control and soon.
David K. Easlick, Jr., is a Hazing and Risk Management Specialist and a member of the State Bar of Michigan for over 30 years. Mr. Easlick was the Executive Director of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity for over 20 years. In such role, he became familiar with just about all outrageous conduct by undergraduate young men on the college campus. He spent years combating it, and attempting to correct and eliminate it. His experience includes Hazing, Binge Consumption, Sexual Misconduct, or other Risk Management Violations.
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