Grand jury report: Penn State failed to properly monitor fraternities, hazing

By Susan Snyder | The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

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Pennsylvania State University failed to properly monitor and discipline its fraternities for years, leading to life-threatening conditions and widespread violations of policies involving alcohol, according to a grand jury report released Friday.

The long-awaited report on Greek life at Penn State blasted the school for allowing the student-run Interfraternity Council to monitor and discipline fraternities, a practice that the university changed following the death of sophomore pledge Tim Piazza last February.

“The IFC’s self-regulation was a joke and a catastrophe,” Stacy Parks Miller, Centre County District attorney, said during a news conference, releasing the results of the report. “Penn State allowed the students to police themselves and the results were predictable.”

Ten months in the making, the report calls on the state legislature to toughen the hazing law and to increase penalties for furnishing alcohol to minors. The university, too, should increase its penalties for violations, the report said.

“Sanctions for violations of the alcohol policy must be severe, progressive and non-negotiable,” the report said. “No longer should Penn State allow multiple slaps on the proverbial wrist for alcohol violations.”

The report also called for training for all employees and students on the danger of hazing.

Penn State has been under scrutiny since the death of Piazza last February.

Parks Miller last spring charged 18 fraternity members in connection with Piazza’s death. Prosecutors have alleged that Piazza was forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol during a hazing ritual that included a drinking “gauntlet.”

Piazza, an engineering major from Lebanon, N.J., later fell down the stairs at the fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and was left to languish for nearly 12 hours before anyone called for help. He later died of a head injury, ruptured spleen and collapsed lung.

A district justice initially dismissed involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges against eight of the fraternity members, but Parks Miller refiled the charges in October. Fourteen members currently face charges that also include hazing and reckless endangerment.

Parks Miller promised months ago that the grand jury also intended to reveal what it learned about Penn State’s fraternity system. About 17 percent of the student body, or about 7,000 students, typically belong to the 76 fraternities and sororities. More than a dozen fraternities are on suspension at Penn State, several of them since Piazza’s death. The university permanently revoked recognition of Beta Theta Pi.

Since Piazza’s death, Penn State has overhauled its regulations on Greek like, including taking control of discipline and monitoring of fraternities and sororities, a job that used to be handled by the IFC and the Panhellenic Council.

The university also banned the serving of alcohol at social events, and only recently has allowed a few fraternities to resume serving alcohol.

Other changes include prohibiting first semester freshmen from joining Greek life groups and posting a report card on fraternities and sororities, including infractions that occurred.

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