Penn State ‘Disappointed’ With Grand Jury Report On Greek Life Culture

Penn State released a statement in response to the Grand Jury’s report and recommendations to change the culture of Greek life, which Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller presented Friday morning in Bellefonte. The statement says Penn State is “disappointed” in the report and that “…it is not a solution to simply point an accusatory finger.”

“…the Report misunderstands or entirely disregards Penn State’s tangible commitment to improving safety, as well as public universities’ relationship with alumni boards, housing corporations and national organizations, which have oversight of these private organizations,” the statement goes on.

The university also outlines much of the new regulations and reforms it has already implemented, many of which it says are similar to the Grand Jury’s recommendations.

In its formal 69-page response to the Grand Jury report, Penn State kept to the message that it has made “extraordinary efforts” to change the culture of Greek life despite “limitations” — listed as “the unwillingness of the national fraternities, their associations, undergraduate members, and fraternity alumni to challenge behavior that has been accepted for years across the nation.”

The formal response also denounced many claims made by the Grand Jury report, saying the report “diminishes” its “major” efforts without acknowledging that the problem extends far beyond Happy Valley. The university says the report also “omitted entirely” Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims’ lengthy testimony about how to battle students’ “counter-measures” to these regulations.

“These are complex issues, and the University’s initiatives will be evaluated and modified over time, as necessary, to achieve our objectives. We remain deeply committed to leading efforts to address these problems plaguing academic institutions nationwide.”

You can read the university’s full response below:

“The Penn State community continues to mourn the death of Timothy Piazza and all victims of hazing across the nation. The University will not forget these tragic deaths, as we continue our efforts to change the Greek-life culture. Our new safety and reform initiatives represent a significant departure from the Greek system’s broken self-governance model and provide a pathway to improving student safety here and nationwide. The University is seeing the Grand Jury recommendations today for the first time, and I have asked the University’s Greek Response team, a group of senior administrators, to carefully review the recommendations to see how they may further inform our aggressive efforts already taken. Penn State strongly disagrees with many characterizations of the University and our record of action as presented by the District Attorney, but we remain deeply committed to turning the pain and anguish of this tragedy into reforms that continue to improve the safety and well-being of our students,” said President Eric J. Barron.

Penn State is disappointed with the conclusions of the report issued by the DA. As the University’s response makes clear, the Report misunderstands or entirely disregards Penn State’s tangible commitment to improving safety, as well as public universities’ relationship with alumni boards, housing corporations and national organizations, which have oversight of these private organizations. Widespread problems of binge drinking and hazing persist at universities across the country, as tragic headlines in recent weeks have shown. However, it is not a solution to simply point an accusatory finger.

For more than a decade, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims and other University leaders have stepped up education and prevention programs like medical amnesty, substance free housing, mandatory alcohol education and tougher enforcement of student conduct violations. In the immediate aftermath of Timothy Piazza’s death, the University determined that the self-governance model of Greek-life, which is the predominant model across the country, is broken. We have taken direct responsibility for safety monitoring and for oversight of organizational disciplinary conduct proceedings, and our fraternity and sorority chapters must accede to this arrangement or lose University recognition. We banned Beta Theta Pi forever, have suspended or revoked recognition for seven other Greek-letter organizations and have implemented extraordinarily far-reaching reforms, many of which have not previously been tried by any other universities.

A number of the recommendations in today’s Grand Jury Report are similar to safety initiatives already implemented or in progress. The University’s response includes reference to many of these safety initiatives, such as a relationship statement, Neighborhood Alcohol Enforcement Team (NEAT), and fraternity and sorority life requirements. The University’s expectations and determination have been made clear through our aggressive actions. We are resolved through an aggressive, safety agenda that builds on preexisting Penn State programs to make new progress and to refine our measures to make meaningful change.

All colleges and universities—large, small, public and private — have attempted to deal with problems of hazing, underage alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct that are found in these independent student organizations. These issues are violations of Pennsylvania law, and, in the past, when made aware of misconduct, Penn State acted firmly, investigating and responding decisively by revoking recognition of chapters and holding individual students accountable.

The University is supportive and has been working with elected officials on tougher legislation to curtail hazing and other unsafe practices. For months, we have advocated strengthening hazing laws, and, for years, we have worked with our community leaders to enhance penalties for violation of alcohol laws. The horrific nature of Timothy Piazza’s death must catalyze others in the Commonwealth and nationally, from elected officials to university presidents to help develop solutions to the scourge of reckless drinking and hazing that are prevalent. Further, participants in the Greek life system — students, parents, alumni and the local and national Greek organizations, including their affiliated housing corporations — need to do much more as we all focus on student well-being.

This is a problem that will require the concerted action of everyone if we are to create sustainable change. These are complex issues, and the University’s initiatives will be evaluated and modified over time, as necessary, to achieve our objectives. We remain deeply committed to leading efforts to address these problems plaguing academic institutions nationwide.

About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior 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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