Hazing and dangerous drinking in college will remain without solid partnership among many

This op-ed appeared originally in PennLive

Student deaths and other near tragedies from hazing and dangerous drinking sadly persist despite renewed attention across the country. As I reflect on the past year and look ahead to the future, I must pause to focus on the critical importance of partnership to the success of any national efforts to combat hazing and dangerous drinking in fraternity and sorority life.

Penn State is committed to taking a lead on these issues nationally among universities, but we and other similarly committed universities cannot do it alone.

Over the past year, we have made strong progress in implementing far reaching new measures, designed to re-focus our Greek community on safety. But if we as a society are to change the current model, and see an end to the hazardous behavior that we have witnessed at Penn State and nationally, we need to find positive, lasting, broad-based solutions. To do that requires commitment from everyone involved. Regrettably, we have encountered some roadblocks to solving this national problem.

Resistance by some Greek-letter organizations

While we continue to see progress on many fronts at Penn State, we also face frustrating obstacles put in place by a number of organizations whose priorities are not aligned with our commitment to safety, accountability and cooperation. For example, three Greek chapters suspended by Penn State — Alpha Chi Rho, Alpha Sigma Phi and Sigma Alpha Mu — are still chartered by their national organizations after we have withdrawn University recognition.

The longstanding actions by some nationals of sustaining charters in such circumstances is irresponsible, and we are determined to do what we can to change this practice.

It is true that all off-campus fraternity houses at Penn State are privately owned and each chapter must meet certain requirements and be subject to drop-in monitoring in house common areas in return for university recognition. However, because these three chapters have lost university recognition, but have not had their national recognition revoked, they now operate as unaffiliated, independent groups — unmonitored, unaccountable and left to their own devices.

And it doesn’t end there. Sadly, some who own the fraternity houses are taking it a step further, now fighting a longstanding municipal ordinance that prohibits groups of unrelated individuals from living in the same house — unless they carry official recognition from the university as a fraternity. This legal dispute is deeply concerning. The ordinance as it stands has broad support: from neighbors in the community, colleagues in municipal government, local police forces, and Penn State. If landlords and property owners — many of whom are alumni who operate fraternity houses through housing corporations they have formed — prevail in this challenge, additional chapters may forego university recognition and operate on their own, negatively affecting safety, organizational accountability, and our community. We need all parties involved, including nationals, alumni advisors, and housing corporations, to join us in focusing their full attention on the critical concerns of safety, security, and wellbeing.

Speaking up

At Penn State, as well as elsewhere, members of our Greek-letter community must embrace change and dedicate themselves to a renewed mission. Safety must be the top priority. Some have reported dangerous hazing and drinking to police or university authorities and we applaud this forward action. Unfortunately many students, parents and friends attempt to provide tips about poor behaviors in Greek organizations, but for a variety of reasons do not wish to be specific or on the record. Unfortunately, vague or non-specific information is often insufficient to hold anyone accountable. I understand that at times this may be sensitive but safety is at stake. Coming forward to make a report is not always an easy thing to do, and sometimes may not be possible.

Most recently in fact, individuals did come forward and their information enabled Penn State and the national organization to conduct a thorough investigation into chapter misconduct. We know, real change cannot take place without the willingness of our own community members to come forward with concrete information needed to successfully investigate. The tendency of some to lean toward secrecy, at potential detriment to the common good, must be reconsidered. For our part, we will continue to search for additional ways to make reporting as easy as it can be, beyond our anonymous hotline and online reporting measures.

Further, no one should participate in an organization whose members and practices are jeopardizing the safety and wellbeing of people. Students must be willing to drop out of a recruitment process or leave a fraternity or sorority that does not value safety, and to seek out others that truly fulfill the ideals of brotherhood or sisterhood and service to which Greek-letter organizations aspire. Parents who learn of unacceptable behaviors must be willing to have tough conversations with their sons and daughters to leave the offending organization.

Creation of a national safety database

We must maintain pressure and continue to demand that all involved put safety first. Many are working together with us, with an eye toward action.

But it is collective change on a national scale, involving universities and national Greek-letter organizations that is required to address student safety. To that end, Penn State is organizing a national conference on April 23 and 24, gathering presidents, provosts and student affairs leaders from universities across the country to examine shared challenges and to explore ideas for cooperative action.

For example, I propose that all universities have access to a common, public database tracking violations and suspensions at fraternity and sorority chapters nationally. Similar in concept to Penn State’s own Greek Chapter Scorecard, the database would allow all university administrators to have a clear view of national organizations, such as Sigma Alpha Mu, whose chapters have widespread troubles. The database would also allow students (and their parents) to make more informed decisions about which fraternities and sororities to join.

Building on progress

Penn State is driving efforts state- and nation-wide. Although partnerships are needed to do more, we have taken control of and responsibility for organizational monitoring and discipline for Greek-letter organizations. We have hired a team of monitors for unannounced drop-in checks at private Greek houses. Each Greek chapter is now required to sign a relationship statement, clearly outlining expectations. Fourteen fraternities or sororities are suspended for specific time periods, and will not be recognized by the university without significant changes to the way they operate. One fraternity has been permanently banned. We have updated policies (Responsible Action Protocol) that provide protection for students who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they seek help for another person.

We are aggressively advocating for changes to current laws, in partnership with legislators at the state and federal level. Penn State’s team in the Office of Government and Community Relations has been working closely with Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, to increase penalties for hazing across the Commonwealth. This legislation has the potential to be a model for other states to adopt, and we look forward to advocating for its passage. We also have advocated with the U.S. Congress for a bill that would strengthen requirements of universities nationwide in reporting incidents of hazing under the Clery Act. We will continue to meet with lawmakers on this topic until we can reach our mutual goal, with the hope that tragic deaths related to hazing cease to occur.

This is by no means a complete list, but does highlight some of the significant steps Penn State is taking to end dangerous behaviors. Other universities are applying various measures of increased control over Greek-letter organizations and re-evaluating every aspect of their relationships with these groups. We anticipate having a robust discussion in April to examine these concerns with university leaders from across the country, and begin to explore cooperative action. These are critical issues that impact student safety and wellbeing at universities nationwide — private and public, large or small — and we urge them all to join us in finding meaningful solutions.

To students, families, Greek-letter organizations and communities nationwide: I am encouraged that some have accepted the need for change, but we have much to do if we are to realize progress on a national scale. This will only happen when we see much stronger engagement by everyone involved.

We all have a role to play. At Penn State, we will not rest in our efforts, and we are committed to leading in the search for solutions to these serious, complex challenges.

President Eric J. Barron


Penn State president looks back over 12 months of sweeping change in Greek life

Dear Penn State Community:

This Sunday, Feb. 4, will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of student Timothy Piazza. The University continues to mourn his tragic passing. In the immediate aftermath, it became clear wholesale changes were needed to create a sustainable Greek system. We resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our community into decisive reform.

Over the past year, the University instituted extensive new measures, which depart significantly from the Greek system’s self-governance model. We are making progress:

  • The University assumed control of the fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and adjudication process, and established a team of monitors who perform regular spot checks. These compliance checks have surfaced violations of our new safety rules and resulted in several chapters receiving sanctions.
  • On Dec. 19, the University held a signing ceremony with 70 Greek organization leaders representing 49 chapters and the four governing councils (Interfraternity Council, Pahhellenic and Multi-Cultural Greek Council and the NPHC), acknowledging the expectations that the University has for its Greek organizations and members.
  • We instituted our new deferred recruitment policy. Now, new students may not rush a sorority or fraternity until they have completed a full semester. Many sorority students report that waiting to rush this past semester was helpful, because they adjusted to academic and social life on campus, and are now better prepared to consider participation in Greek life.
  • To help students and their families make more informed decisions about Greek life, we instituted a scorecard that reviews the performance of each chapter. It is meant to help students and families make informed decisions about Greek organizations at Penn State.
  • University-hired chapter monitors are working with representatives of each fraternity house with respect to their chapter’s specific risk-management programs. Risk-management programs must be in place and approved by the University and must include details on how our restrictions on the size of gatherings, our ban on hard liquor, and various other required safety protocols will be implemented. The University must approve each plan before any socials involving alcohol are permitted.
  • Our campus police participate in joint nightly patrols with State College Police as part of the Neighborhood Enforcement Alcohol Team at University Park. These patrols have detected safety violations and helped to hold students and chapters accountable for unsafe behavior.
  • Our zero tolerance rule for serious hazing is in place, and will result in the permanent revocation of recognition of any chapter found to have violated the University’s requirement.

These measures are making a difference. I am encouraged that we have received letters from our local community about improved chapter behavior in State College. Local law enforcement and others report reduced crowd sizes at fraternity gatherings. Fraternity and sorority leaders are working more closely with the University to implement the new safety programs. This is important progress.

Unfortunately, however, significant problems remain. In addition to the permanent Beta Theta Pi ban, a total of 13 other Greek organizations at Penn State have received multi-year suspensions for safety violations. While these consequences demonstrate that we mean business, the large number of suspended chapters also shows that many students have ignored the call for behavior change and fallen short of our values and expectations.

One of the underlying tenets of belonging to a community is the shared responsibility for the safety and well-being of its members.

To that end, as we approach the one-year anniversary of a terrible tragedy we must do more:

  • All of our students, as adults, must recognize the importance of safety and make changes in your own lives that will create a safer community.
  • Our Greek-letter community needs to embrace the need for change and rededicate yourselves to a mission of service and community. We must do better.
  • National Greek organizations absolutely must assume leadership responsibility. Three chapters that lost University recognition, Alpha Chi Rho, Alpha Sigma Phi, and Sigma Alpha Mu, did not receive chapter suspensions from their national offices. That is unacceptable.
  • Parents and Greek alumni should provide a much higher level of support to their chapters and provide guidance and mentoring. Sadly, we found in our monitoring that parents of students in some chapters helped students violate the law and University rules against alcohol consumption.
  • We must set a national example for reform. To that end, on April 23 and 24, I look forward to gathering university presidents, provosts and student affairs leaders from across the country to begin to explore ideas for cooperative action.

We also continue to work with Pennsylvania and federal legislators toward stricter hazing penalties. In short, we will not rest in our efforts, with the hope that this kind of tragedy never occurs again.

Thank you for your attention, and for your commitment to these efforts. Much remains to be done, and the memory of Timothy Piazza deserves nothing less than our collective action.


Eric Barron

President’s remarks on PNC Bank’s $1 million investment in Happy Valley LaunchBox

When we dedicated the Happy Valley LaunchBox a short 20 months ago, the hard-working steering committee was sitting on rusty metal folding chairs without much heat, and drinking cheap coffee. And the first cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs were living on Ramen noodles. The operation was being run on a shoestring, but the ambition was impossible to contain. Now Sheetz provides us fresh roasted coffee, we have cushy bean bag chairs and our entrepreneurs are enjoying tasty hors d’oeuvres at events.

And here we are, ready to take Happy Valley LaunchBox to the next level with the support of colleagues, partners and friends, including several members of the Penn State Board of Trustees. Our trustees have embraced Invent Penn State from its inception, and they have been powerful advocates for this effort across the Commonwealth.

Happy Valley LaunchBox is one of 17 Penn State-affiliated entrepreneurial spaces located across the Commonwealth. In two and a half short years, the University has provided seed grant funding, in stages, for the development of 21 unique innovation hubs. Each reflects the unique character of the campus and surrounding community, but all share a common mission: to inspire and advance innovation and entrepreneurship, and to help transform great ideas into viable products and business opportunities.

Our first reporting year (2016-17) of activity — with only five of the innovation hubs open for the full year — already showed considerable impact. Consider:

  • More than 2,500 faculty, staff and students engaged in entrepreneurial activity
  • 100s of community entrepreneurs were supported
  • 80 new products were developed
  • 79 startups were launched
  • 110 student internships were created

Now, let’s look at Happy Valley LaunchBox. In addition to the free legal and IP advice from Penn State Law and business consulting services from SBDC for startup entrepreneurs, it offers three programs designed to help early stage entrepreneurs de-risk their businesses and accelerate their entry to market.

Every day in this facility, between five to 15 individuals are collaborating, 75 students are attending the two entrepreneurship classes hosted here, and five to 10 startup teams are working. This was also a site for Global Entrepreneurship Week events with over 700 individuals attending.

Since the Happy Valley LaunchBox opened:

  • 31 teams have completed the Accelerator program
  • Startup teams have raised over $425,000 in funding, grants, and awards.
  • 100+ interns have worked for startups
  • They’ve hosted 100+ entrepreneurship events
  • And, we’ve had our first Forbes 30 under 30 nominee.

I’m very pleased to announce that a special collaboration with PNC Bank will take the Happy Valley LaunchBox to the next level. PNC has generously provided a $1 million grant in support of this initiative, which Penn State will match.

In recognition of PNC’s extraordinary commitment and vision, we have renamed the center Happy Valley LaunchBox, Powered by PNC Bank. I’m thrilled that PNC is the first corporation to make this type of commitment in support of Invent Penn State.

We look forward to a close relationship that enables PNC executives to participate in entrepreneurial programming such as the hub’s speaker series, mentorship program and more.

PNC’s relationship with Penn State — both business and philanthropic — has spanned decades. There are nearly 600 Penn State alumni who work at PNC Financial Services. In addition, PNC’s philanthropy has been a part of some of the most important initiatives in Penn State’s history, supporting the Penn State Children’s Hospital, Schreyer Honors College, the Colleges of Business and Information Sciences and Technology, Penn State Harrisburg, Penn State Behrend, the Hershey Medical Center, Intercollegiate Athletics, and a multitude of other areas.

What’s more, PNC has often stepped forward in the early stages of a project — when Penn State most needed a partner with the vision to support new ventures and a friend who believed in the future.

President Barron’s remarks from 43rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet

I am truly honored to speak here tonight.

In the past, I have spoken from personal experience, as a person who, as a teenager, grew up in the time of Martin Luther King Jr. I had the great honor to have Coretta Scott King teach my Sunday school class; to worship at Ebenezer Baptist Church, to see the power of massive marches against injustice, and to be in King’s funeral procession in Atlanta. This honor does not stem from being there, but rather from being witness to and inspired by profound greatness.

Dr. King was truly inspirational — and so many of his powerful words are immortalized. Three quotes in particular resonate with me.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

More than five decades after speaking these words, Dr. King is still the standard bearer of our human morality in this nation. But the profound greatness of this man is not the staying power of his words, or how we still marvel at his eloquence and commitment, but that he spoke and acted in the face of great conflict, extraordinary ignorance, and unbelievably dangerous hatred, all bottled into the toxicity of segregation. And, he inspired so many to walk with him, with history-changing effect.

And that is what I want to talk about.

We celebrate the history-changing effect of Dr. King, but sadly I believe that the vocalization of ignorance, the signs of dangerous hatred, and the potential for conflict have returned to a level that we have not seen in many decades.

We feel it everywhere, even on campuses that work to change the world through education and transformative experiences. My belief is that you and I have seen it building for multiple years, but somehow today it seems deafening in its volume.

In context of this rising tension, it is perhaps not surprising that a group of our students came to me last year and asked that we send a stronger message of inclusion from the very first day of classes. That meeting was actually the birth of “All In.” We wanted to accomplish three things.

First, create a message that we could rally around — one we built on Wally Triplett and the refusal of Penn State football to acquiesce to the demand from southern schools to only bring white players — our response was “we play all or we play none — we are Penn State.” We play all or we play none — that is a message that resonates throughout Penn State’s history.

Second, try to rewire our thinking — to recognize that every person you see at Penn State, regardless of what you think you see, has earned the right to be here through brains and hard work. When you see someone, your first reaction should be — this person must be interesting and worth knowing or they wouldn’t be here at Penn State.

And three, perhaps more than anything, we wanted specific ideas on how we could move from a focus on diversity to one of inclusion. We all know that the difference between our reality and our aspirations requires action.

I am sure you have heard Verna Myers description that Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

If we invite a disabled person to Pegula Ice Rink, but allow donors to take the closest parking places, we haven’t asked them to dance.

If we welcome Jewish and Muslim students to Penn State, but don’t provide food that satisfies the needs of their religion, we haven’t asked these students to dance.

If our recruiting process has bias, we haven’t even issued an invitation much less asked anyone to dance.

And if we do not make the effort required for retention and success, we can hardly claim to have asked these faculty and staff to dance.

Today, Pegula has a different parking plan, we have a new food service that allows students to practice their faith, we have recruited our first Senior Director of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion to focus on recruitment and retention, and we have opened a new matching funds program for postdoctoral fellows to attract young PhDs from underrepresented groups to Penn State. These are just a few examples of action resulting from specific proposals offered as a part of All In. There are many more.

I want to be proud of the successes so far, but truthfully I cannot be. Why, because there is a very great difference between where this institution wants to be in terms of diversity and inclusion and reality. Why, because we are incapable of expelling hatred, easing the tension of a nation, or ensuring that the person sitting next to us is not posting racist posters in the middle of the night. We are incapable of ensuring that everyone is All In. In fact, sadly, we will never have everyone All In.

And importantly, despite our intent, people tell me All In is a program focused on our image, not on the reality we strive for. Perhaps that is a failure on my part to communicate or a failure to entrain new students in our ever-changing population. After all the successful ideas are most likely to come from within. Perhaps it is an issue of whether we can really trust any administration not to have shallow motives? Do you know the African proverb that Maya Angelou used to quote — “be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”

Well, I don’t want to be the naked person that offers anyone a shirt. I don’t want to run away from our reality. We need to be the place where we play all or we play none; we need to be the place where your first reaction to someone who is different than you is to say they must be of value because I know they earned the right to be here. We need to be the place where tangible ideas can be put into action. All In, or whatever words are used, is a request for specific actionable ideas. We need it to be successful, and it won’t without our collective efforts and it won’t if we don’t believe we can make progress.

I can say it plainly — if we can’t make progress in this community, for which so many abhor injustice, how can we hope to be successful nationally acting in the face of growing conflict, great ignorance, and increasingly dangerous hatred in society at large. We cannot afford to fail.

In closing, I like Dr. King’s words “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” I also like Theodore Richards’ interpretation of those words. We find salvation not in adjusting to our society but in using our maladjustment as a creative, not a destructive, force to transform it.

We cannot celebrate a legacy if we do not have the will to live it.

Thank you for listening.

‘Raise the Song’ in praise of our tremendous community and our successful University

We are just a few months into the academic year and already there have been extraordinary achievements and noteworthy accomplishments. I am so proud of what is happening at Penn State, and I’d really like to take this opportunity to raise the song. Here are a few notes that recently really impressed me.

As you know, federal and state dollars that support research are in decline. Faculty have to be outstanding, aggressive in writing proposals, and consistent in their level of accomplishment to maintain funding for research. So, all Penn Staters should be incredibly proud that Penn State broke our all-time record for research expenditures this year — totaling nearly $863 million.

Philanthropy is of growing importance to the success of Penn State. It is very difficult to aspire to greatness when funding is based on tuition and declining state support. In this regard, our alumni and friends are sending a strong signal on the importance of Penn State to them. This year, in only the first year of our new fundraising campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, we raised more than $300 million — the third highest amount in our history. We had one of the largest increases in private gift commitments of any Big Ten school last year, and an impressive 5 percent increase in the number of alumni donors. In all, a total of 222,448 alumni, parents, companies, foundations and friends made a gift to Penn State. Now that is a message!

I am particularly proud of our overall graduation rate. National ranking groups like U.S. News and World Report predict the graduation rate of our students based on factors such as the number of students in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and the family economics of our students. Penn State’s doors are wide open to hard-working students, and U.S. News predicts that our graduation rate should be only 65 percent. In fact, it is 86 percent. The difference — a whopping 21 percent — is the largest of any university ranked among the top 100 schools. No one is even close. Penn State is the land of opportunity for tens of thousands of students. And more than 600 companies each semester come to recruit the combination of our students’ work ethic and a Penn State education that ranks in the top 1 percent in the world. No wonder more than 130,000 individuals applied to come to Penn State this year.

Speaking of graduation rates, our student-athletes also outperform our sister institutions with an outstanding graduation rate of 90 percent. A few other highlights from this year’s NCAA 2017 Graduation Success Rate report:

— Men’s basketball has a 100 percent graduation rate for the fifth consecutive year;

— Women’s basketball has a 92 percent graduation rate for the second year in a row; and

— The Nittany Lion football team has an 84 percent graduation rate, up 4 points from last year.

All three teams continue to be above the national average for their sport. This is testimony to the dedication of these student-athletes and their coaches, who face long hours of practice, a full schedule of home and away games, and challenging academic schedules. I am proud that Penn State student-athletes continue to achieve noteworthy success in the classroom and in athletic competitions.

In the area of innovation, Penn State has created 17 incubators for company startups across the state of Pennsylvania, giving faculty, staff, students and community members the support they need to create companies and drive our economy. Visited by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a senator, members of Congress, and numerous other elected state and local officials, our “launchboxes” are making their mark. In fact, there are many signs of success. This year, 1,100 teams from 450 universities around the world entered the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. The grand-prize winner of $100,000 was Project Vive, a company founded by Penn State students (now alumni) that helps individuals with communication disabilities express themselves. This company had a great idea that was advanced through the Happy Valley Launchbox.

I have visited many universities and come to the conclusion that Penn State is likely the strongest university when it comes to crossing disciplinary lines to solve major problems of importance to society. Consider one example: A team led by Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture faculty was trying to solve the problem of energy loss where windows meet walls. Shadi Nazarian, associate professor of architecture, worked her way to finding experts in materials science and 3-D printing with the idea of literally printing a wall — where the material used for printing went seamlessly from concrete to glass. Really interesting. Now imagine this team entering a NASA competition to use 3-D printing to print a habitat on Mars. After all, NASA can’t actually ship buildings to Mars. Seventy-seven teams competed and only two survived — a corporate effort and PennStateDen@Mars.

Here are some additional notes:

Penn State World Campus is ranked in the top 10 in six categories of U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Programs, the most of any institution.

For the fifth year in a row, Penn State has been included on the U.S. Department of State’s complete list of colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright U.S. students.

Five Penn Staters were named to the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list!

The past five semesters are the five all-time highest for the number of Nittany Lion student-athletes with at least a 3.0 GPA. A record 97 Nittany Lions earned Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Awards for the 2016-17 academic year. Our football program has surpassed all prior academic standings.

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics has selected Penn State’s Sandy Barbour as one of the recipients of the prestigious Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year Award. She also has been named to the United States Olympic Committee’s Collegiate Advisory Council, which is tasked with guiding high-performance strategies for Olympic sport programs at the collegiate level.

The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center received the highest national honor for nursing excellence.

No wonder I am so proud of our great institution, and the amazing students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who are contributing so much to our world. Although I don’t often have a chance to report it, I am fascinated and impressed by the continuous work underway on all of our campuses. Thank you for making us proud.

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