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Grand Jury Appalled At University Marketing Of ‘Fun, Party Atmosphere’

The Centre County Grand Jury released its report and recommendations Friday morning following an investigation into Penn State’s Greek life culture in the wake of Tim Piazza’s death. The full report, which runs more than 200 pages, concludes what happened at Beta Theta Pi is not unique to the fraternity and is, instead, a fault of the Interfraternity Council and the university.

Part of the report describes how the Grand Jury is appalled at the university’s marketing — in an instance nearly 10 years ago described by a Beta Theta Pi alumnus — that apparently emphasized a fun atmosphere over academics.

Alumnus Ken Rawley, who attended Penn State and was a member of Beta Theta Pi in the 1970s, was hired by fellow alumnus Don Abbey to create a foundation and endowment for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. Rawley moved back to State College to oversee the house’s renovation in 2007, he testified to the Grand Jury, during which time he observed egregious behavior and alcohol abuse from the brothers of Beta Theta Pi.

The Grand Jury report describes Rawley’s testimony on a meeting with Damon Sims shortly after Sims became Penn State’s Vice President for Student Affairs, when the two discussed supposed issues with Penn State’s marketing tactics.

Rawley said he heartily agreed with Sims’ concerns that Penn State’s marketing emphasized having fun over academic endeavors or other more serious aspects of the university. Not in so many words, Rawley blamed Penn State’s marketing of a “fun, party atmosphere” (as the Grand Jury referred to it in its report) for attracting students who engage in this type of behavior, ultimately leading to fraternity chapters’ misconduct.

“And, of course, the way you market any institution tells you what kind of people are going to buy from you,” Rawley said, as if the university is at fault for marketing to the wrong types of prospective students.

The Grand Jury said in its report that it “finds it appalling that the University’s marketing would emphasize a fun, party atmosphere ahead of academics, though the Grand Jury believes the testimony of Mr. Rawley.”

You can read the full excerpt from the Grand Jury report below:

Mr. Rawley also testified that he communicated his concerns fairly aggressively to Damon Sims. He recounted for the Grand Jury one occasion when he met with Mr. Sims at Zola’s, a local restaurant, shortly after both he and Mr. Sims acquired their respective positions. During that meeting, Mr. Rawley testified that Mr. Sims “indicated his concern that Penn State’s marketing was primarily focused on having fun versus any academic endeavors or anything above that sort of thing, which I heartily agreed with and felt it was a major problem.” Mr. Rawley went on to observe “I was at that time, if I recall…surprised with Damon that that’s the way they marketed the university. And, or course, the way you market any institution tells you what kind of people are going to buy from you.” The Grand Jury finds it appalling that the University’s marketing would emphasize a fun, party atmosphere ahead of academics, though the Grand Jury believes the testimony of Mr. Rawley.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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