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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Message from Penn State President Barron (and a comment from me)

I am a proud alumnus of Penn State and a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association.  In addition, I've financial contributed (in a very meaningful way) to the University for many years and I was a member of the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society Board.  Having established my connection to the University, I'm not speaking out of turn by noting that it's been a troubling few years for Penn State.  While Penn State changed my life for the better...and for that, I will always be in debt to the University...I've found myself disagreeing with many of decisions made by the school's administration over the years.

The death of Timothy Piazza shines an important light on one element of Univesity life that needs to change:  The Greek Fraternity/Sorority system.  A University should be a place for opened doors, for exploration, for the expanding of horizons, for opportunities to meet and interact with all manner of people.  It shouldn't be a place where you go to hang out with people that are just like you.  It shouldn't also be a place where bad behavior is institutionalized and, sadly, rationalized as being somehow "good", somehow offset by some volunteer work.  A university shouldn't be a place for exclusive social clubs.

It's time to end "frats" as they currently exist.  They are relic from a long ago age that needs to be buried once and for all.  Simply tinkering around with their governance will not create meaningful change, as that's been tried before in many other venues.  Just as you can't expect a squirrel to avoid your birdfeeder, you can't expect frat houses to be anything other than exclusive drinking clubs.  It's simply what they's what they do.

Will my alma mater take the lead on this issue?  Likely no.  Like football, the Greek system at Penn State enjoys a special kind of protected status that shields them from even the most reasonable of criticisms.  As a result, I'm simply left shaking my head in disgust at Penn State one more time.

You can read the official University statement on this issue below.

* * * * * *
Dear Penn Staters,

The recent tragic death of student Timothy Piazza has shaken and impacted all of us in the Penn State community. Our hearts go out to the Piazza family and friends during this tremendously difficult time.

We are reaching out to you today as you may observe Penn State being more vocal on this serious matter. Due to the complexity of this issue, the University believes it is important to offer perspective and background to those reporting.

Further, as the May 5 grand jury findings in the investigation of former members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity have now been released, you may have questions, or others may come to you with inquiries. We wanted to:
  • Share a link to the statement distributed late last week from my office on the grand jury findings;
  • Reiterate the commitment Penn State has had for more than a decade to focus on the Greek-letter community and issues that have impacted these groups nationwide, including the introduction of educational, enforcement and other programs, as well as policies that clearly spell out consequences;
  • Highlight the unprecedented steps Penn State has taken over the last few months. We have developed a resource with critical context - Penn State Update, which:
    • Underscores and contextualizes the national issue with extreme alcohol abuse, that also impacts our community
    • References actions taken earlier this year by the University
    • Indicates resources available
There are no easy solutions, but the commitment remains strong. As mentioned in previous communications, Greek-letter organizations are self-governing private groups on private property, and thus instituting change is quite challenging and complex. The University welcomes and needs the partnership of alumni, parents, national organizations, and all other partners involved. Support and engagement are necessary in order to ensure immediate, vital and sustainable change.

An atmosphere needs to be established that protects and promotes the well-being and safety of all students in the Penn State community. Our efforts are focused on curbing dangerous drinking and other high-risk behaviors, and to bringing out the best of Greek-letter organizations and the communities they create.

Please feel free to use this information resource and share with others as appropriate.

Eric J. Barron
President, Penn State

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