An Open Letter From Phi Kappa Psi National Vice President Shannon Price on the Fraternity’s New Policies
The Phi Kappa Psi Executive Council met in Las Vegas on February 23 where it voted to change the Fraternity’s alcohol policy, new member experience and volunteer advisor education program. These votes occurred after many months of research and deliberation among the Executive Council members, staff, outside experts, chapter advisors and other interested alumni. The changes were made to promote a safe environment for our members and guests. The following changes were adopted by the Executive Council:
- Beer, wine, wine coolers, and cider are the only alcohol permitted in chapter facilities.
- Beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year, the period formally known as “pledging” will be reduced from six weeks to 10 days. The New Member Education Program will evolve into new member integration whereby new members receive six hours of orientation on Phi Kappa Psi before their initiation. They will then be required to participate in additional new member education over the course of several weeks after their initiation. The Fraternity will also develop a continuing member education program for all undergraduates – regardless of how long they have been initiated.
- A certification program for chapter advisors will be launched in Fall 2018. This program, developed in coordination with a select group of current chapter advisors, will consist of a series of required and elective components to better educate volunteers on policies and provide our advisors with the tools to better address issues facing today’s college student.
The obvious question most members have is, “why?” The answer to that question is not simplistic or easy, but involves a number of changes that are drastically changing the landscape of the college fraternity experience in the United States.
At the national level, all fraternities prohibit hazing and spend tremendous energy and money trying to combat it. Yet, data shows that 80% of fraternity members report being hazed. Bloomberg News reported on January 31, 2014 that there had been more than 60 fraternity deaths from 2005 to 2013 resulting from alcohol, hazing, or a combination of the two. In 2017 alone, there were four prominent fraternity deaths as a direct result of hazing and forced alcohol consumption:
- Timothy Piazza at the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Penn State University died with a blood alcohol content of 0.40.
- Maxwell Gruver at the Phi Delta Theta chapter at Louisiana State University died with a blood alcohol content of 0.495
- Andrew Coffey at the Pi Kappa Phi chapter at Florida State University died with a blood alcohol content of 0.56
- Matthew Ellis at the Phi Kappa Psi chapter at Texas State University died with a blood alcohol content of 0.38
While at least one fraternity member has died as a result of hazing each year since 1969, Tim Piazza’s case had something the public had never seen before. This time the entire gruesome episode was captured on security camera footage. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed calling 911 for nearly 12 hours – relenting only when one of the so-called “brothers” said Tim Piazza “looked f***ing dead” – the footage laid bare for the first time a complete picture of the dark realities of hazing.
After Tim Piazza’s death, Penn State University suspended all Greek activity on its campus and did not permit Greek organizations to rush in the fall 2017 semester. Suspension of all Greek system activities continued at Florida State, LSU and Texas State after their respective hazing deaths. In addition, due primarily to hazing and alcohol abuse concerns in the wake of the string of hazing deaths in 2017, the following campuses put a halt to all Greek activities for some period of time:
- Indiana University
- University of Idaho
- University of Iowa
- University of Michigan
- Ohio State University
- Ball State University
- Miami (Ohio) University
- West Virginia University
- Florida International University
- University of North Florida
- Washington State University
- Clemson University
- University of Missouri
- San Diego State University
- Kansas University
Justice System Responds
Criminal indictments were issued against 18 members of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State University for their role in the death of Timothy Piazza. The Grand Jury also was highly critical of Penn State University for ignoring reports of hazing.
Criminal indictments were issued against nine members of Pi Kappa Phi at Florida State University for the death of Andrew Coffey and the Grand Jury skewered Florida State University for the fraternity culture that they permitted.
Six members of Phi Delta Theta were indicted as a result of the death of Maxwell Gruver at Louisiana State University and it is expected that indictments will be handed down against members of Phi Kappa Psi as a result of the death of Matthew Ellis at Texas State University.
In November 2017, in the first known case of its kind, a small national fraternity headquarters (Pi Delta Psi) was criminally convicted in Pennsylvania state court of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, concealing or destroying evidence, and hazing as a result of the death of a pledge in a hazing incident.
In December 2017, the Harris County, Texas Grand Jury issued a criminal indictment against Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity (Pike “nationals”) for hazing during a 2016 initiation in which pledges were deprived of adequate food, water and sleep, and one pledge was body slammed, resulting in a lacerated spleen (the same injury that led to Timothy Piazza’s death at Penn State).
Following the closure of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Penn State University, a wealthy alum of the chapter sued to recover his nearly $8 million donation because the Alumni Corporation had failed to enforce the anti-hazing policies of the Fraternity.
Finally, a new line of lawsuits are being filed by victims of hazing that allege fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation against the fraternity chapter, the national fraternity headquarters and the host University. The plaintiffs are alleging that they were fraudulently told that the fraternity chapter did not haze when, in fact, it did. Allegations of fraud are particularly lucrative to plaintiffs because most states award triple damages if fraud is proven. Such allegations are also particularly devastating to defendants because acts of fraud are not insured.
There are many more recent examples of criminal and civil suits related to fraternity hazing, but these listed above demonstrate the aggressive pursuit of these claims by prosecutors and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
With the publication of True Gentlemen, the Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities by John Hechinger in the summer of 2017, along with long-form articles in The Atlantic Monthly magazine and other media attention from such sources at The New York Times, Time magazine, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, CBS This Morning, and other media outlets, there has never been a higher media interest in the issue of hazing and out of control fraternities. While some of the viewpoints expressed may be biased and unfair, and the media rarely publicizes the good things done by fraternities, their portrait of an out of control system is not inaccurate in many cases.
Local, state and national legislative bodies have also taken a heightened interest in fraternity hazing. In South Carolina, the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act requires all South Carolina colleges and universities to publicly disclose on their websites the conduct violations of every student organization, the vast majority of which come from fraternities.
In the U.S. Congress, HR 2926 (the “Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act (REACH) Act”) would require all public colleges and universities to publicly disclose hazing acts.
The Tennessee Legislature introduced a bill that would permanently ban fraternities and sororities from Tennessee public colleges and universities. Despite the clear constitutional issues, the bill is an indication of the public outcry against fraternities.
The Louisiana Legislature has introduced a bill that would make hazing punishable by up to five years in prison and would make the organization liable for a criminal penalty of up to $100,000.
In February 2018, parents and friends of nearly 20 men that died as the result of hazing gathered in Greenville, South Carolina to support each other and to publicly display their resolve to combat fraternity hazing. They have formed a group called “Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH).”
As many universities have re-examined their Greek systems, they have begun to announce new restrictions. Those that have announced initial plans include West Virginia University, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, Penn State University and Ohio State University. While the requirements and restrictions are not all identical, they all coalesce around the following major themes:
- Shortened pledge periods between three to six weeks;
- Minimum grade point averages as a prerequisite to participate in fraternity or sorority rush;
- Minimum requirements for overall chapter grade point averages;
- Limitations on “hard” alcohol, the number of permitted social events, and limitations on the number of attendees at each social event;
- Online public availability of chapter “scorecards” that identify grade point averages, community service hours and disciplinary proceedings/probations/suspensions of each Greek organization on campus;
- Requirements for enhanced alumni/adult supervision.
Phi Kappa Psi Hazing Issues
Following is a list of the 17 chapters that have been closed due to hazing violations in the past five years:
- Arizona Alpha (University of Arizona)
- West Virginia Alpha (West Virginia University); re-chartered
- Missouri Alpha (University of Missouri); recolonized
- Indiana Zeta (Butler University)
- Ohio Lambda (Miami Ohio)
- Pennsylvania Gamma (Bucknell)
- Virginia Beta (Washington & Lee University)
- Ohio Alpha (Ohio Wesleyan University)
- Indiana Beta (Indiana University); recolonized
- District of Columbia Alpha (George Washington University)
- Kentucky Beta (University of Kentucky)
- Nebraska Alpha (University of Nebraska)
- Nebraska Beta (Creighton University)
- Indiana Theta (IUPUI)
- California Delta (University of Southern California)
- Louisiana Gamma (Loyola University)
- Texas Gamma (Texas State University)
Furthermore, there are eight additional chapters currently under active investigation by their campuses and the national Fraternity because of hazing allegations.
Due to the risk management issues related to these chapter closures and investigations, the Fraternity has had to increase its insurance reserves by over $350,000 in the past two years and liability insurance premiums for our undergraduates have increased by 40%. Additional increases in both the required insurance reserves and liability insurance premiums are expected again in 2018.
Phi Kappa Psi’s Response
Limits on “Hard” Alcohol
Alcohol above 15% ABV will no longer be permitted at Chapter facilities at any time. This includes undergraduate and alumni events. Social events that are held off-campus at a registered and licensed third party vendor can include hard alcohol within the limits of the law. This limitation has been endorsed by the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) and is also being implemented by many campuses across the nation. According to the National Institute for Health, hard liquor is involved in nearly all alcohol blood poisoning deaths or permanent physical injury and brain damage. The extreme BAC levels seen in recent deaths can only be reached by consuming large quantities of “hard” alcohol in a short period of time. Phi Kappa Psi will continue to educate our members about the effects of alcohol, but this limitation will assist in reducing the issues related to alcohol poisoning.
Do limitations on alcohol work? Absolutely. After one national fraternity adopted a policy that prohibited alcohol in its chapters, its insurance claims related to alcohol were reduced by 90% and its insurance premiums were cut in half.
Chapter Advisor Certification
A certification program for chapter advisors will be launched in fall 2018. This program, developed in coordination with a select group of current chapter advisors, will consist of a series of required and elective components to better educate volunteers on policies and provide our advisors with the tools to better address issues facing today’s college student. The national Fraternity is investing over $20,000.00 in educational materials to help train our volunteers on legal, compliance and insurance requirements, plus other educational materials that help our volunteers better relate to the campus and student environment. By demonstrating to alumni that the Fraternity is serious about providing a safe and educational environment, we will attract alumni who want to provide meaningful input without having to babysit bad actors or deal with serious conduct problems.
Reduction of Pledge Period to 10 Days
Beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year, the period formally known as “pledging” will be reduced from six weeks to 10 days. The New Member Education Program will evolve into new member integration whereby new members receive six hours of orientation on Phi Kappa Psi before their initiation. They will then be required to participate in additional new member education over the course of several weeks after their initiation. The Fraternity will also develop a continuing member education program for all undergraduates – regardless of how long they have been initiated.
Phi Kappa Psi is not the first fraternity to adopt an expedited initiation process. Zeta Beta Tau has had such a process in place since 1989. Alpha Gamma Rho eliminated its pledge period in 1992. Recently, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Kappa Lambda have eliminated their traditional pledge periods. We are also aware of at least two other national fraternities that will be considering elimination of their pledge periods this spring. Additionally, some colleges and universities are considering banning fraternity pledge periods.
Hazing occurs in numerous settings – sports teams, band, ROTC, Boy Scouts, and, as adults, in the workplace. But, the fact is that there were 44 fraternity members that died as a result of hazing between the last two non-fraternity hazing deaths (2001-2011) and dozens more fraternity members have died since that time. Why is fraternity hazing so much worse? Dr. Gentry McCreary, a leading Greek life expert, explains:
“On a sports team, in a band, in the military, and in literally every other group we commonly associate with hazing, the power of hazers is mitigated by a responsible adult who is ultimately in control of the group. If I am a freshman on the college baseball team, I may go along with some low-level hazing just to be a good sport, but I am not likely to subject myself to anything that I perceive to be particularly dangerous or degrading because, at the end of the day, the person hazing me has very little real power over me. The coach of my team ultimately decides who plays, and if I’m better than the guy hazing me, I’ll play over him regardless of whether or not I subject myself to his abuse.
The fraternity pledging process, on the other hand, gives the hazer absolute power over the person he is hazing. If I am a freshman fraternity member, I am led to believe that if I do not willingly subject myself to the whims of my abuser, that he has the power to remove me from the pledging process and prevent my initiation. There are no adults in the mix – advisors have no real authority in the chapter, particularly in decisions about membership (who gets a bid, who gets initiated). The power differential between hazer and victim is more pronounced in the college fraternity than in any other group on or off the college campus. When we add into this mix the social status that many fraternities enjoy, dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, lower levels of moral development, heightened hyper masculinity, and the belief of many undergraduates that their fraternities are inherently social in nature, we have a recipe for disaster.
We cannot have membership structures that give absolute power to 19-year old fraternity members and not expect them to abuse that power. We can no longer have a serious conversation about hazing prevention without first addressing the power differential inherent in the fraternity pledging process. It is time to end the outdated, antiquated process of pledging.
Will ending pledging get rid of hazing? Of course not. Newly initiated members will still be subjected to those members who feel newcomers must ‘earn’ their membership. But by eliminating the power differential inherent in the pledging process, we empower the new members to stick up for themselves and walk away from activities they feel are dangerous. We lessen their tolerance of severe forms of hazing, thereby reducing its likelihood of occurring. Fraternities engage in abusive hazing because they can – because they know their pledges will subject themselves to it. Once they realize they cannot – that newly initiated members will not subject themselves to abuse in the name of ‘earning’ something they have already earned, the culture will begin to change.”
Some have suggested that reducing the pledge period to only 10 days will simply compress the amount and severity of hazing into a smaller window of time. Yet data shows that the most severe forms of hazing occur the longer into the pledge period the new member has advanced. This is true because the new member is less likely to feel he has as much to lose by quitting early in the pledge period. So the longer the potential member advances through the pledge period, the more likely he is to endure more severe forms of hazing. By reducing the pledge period to 10 days, the potential member is less likely to endure severe hazing actions.
Others have argued that 10 days is not enough time to evaluate a potential new member and that, by initiating the person after only 10 days, Phi Kappa Psi will be lowering its standards. In response, one has to question what Phi Kappa Psi’s standards are now. We have demonstrated the number of chapters that have either lost their charter or are actively being investigated due to hazing. We have also demonstrated the increase in liability insurance premiums and required reserves because of the increased instances of hazing. It is also true that the Fraternity has no minimum academic standard to be a member and chapters as a whole are not held to any academic standards. As a result, Phi Kappa Psi ranks next to last among the prominent national fraternities in the percentage of chapters that meet or exceed the All-Men’s grade point average on their campus. If these are our “standards,” then I respectfully submit that we are not attractive to the type of men our chapters need to live out our values and Creed and our chapters are not doing a good job of due diligence with potential new members. Some chapters utilize a six-eight-week pledge period before initiation, but many chapters currently do not initiate new members until the beginning of the second semester after their pledge period begins. This data shows that evaluation of potential new members is NOT a product of the length of time in which they are evaluated.
A reduced pledge period has been proven to reduce risk management issues and insurance claims. Sigma Alpha Epsilon shows that in the four years since they instituted a 72 hour pledge period, the average number of annual insurance claims has been reduced from 14 per year to three per year and the average loss on those claims has been reduced from over $400,000 per claim to less than $14,000 per claim. This is not simply anecdotal evidence, but hard data from their insurance history. Are there SAE chapters that have thumbed their noses at the required 72 hour initiation period? Absolutely. But their national governing council has been swift to address those issues and, in some extreme cases, have revoked the charter of some of their more historic chapters (e.g. Ole Miss, Texas, etc.).
Whether potential new members can learn the history and values of Phi Kappa Psi in 10 days has also been disputed. Based on my experience of blank stares when introducing myself to new initiates and even long-term active members as being a member of the Executive Council, I am confident that few of our members have been fully educated in the history and traditions of Phi Kappa Psi. Further, if a chapter could demonstrate that they actively recruited potential new members by differentiating Phi Kappa Psi from other fraternities based on the tenants of our Ritual and Creed, it would be the first chapter I have ever seen that has done so. In practice, the modern college fraternity experience is a commodity and virtually no recruits are selecting their fraternity of choice based on the ritual, creed or values espoused by the particular fraternity.
Finally, it has been argued that an extended pledge period is “tradition” that should not be changed. Neither William Henry Letterman nor Charles Page Thomas Moore were subjected to a pledge period. Nor were Thomas Cochran Campbell or Woodrow Wilson. Traditions, both within the Fraternity and without, change over time. If society held onto tradition, we’d all still be smoking cigarettes and driving 70 mph on the interstate without seat belts on our way to restaurants with separate lunch counters based on race. But we know from experience that society’s expectations change over time. The expectation of an extended pledge period and hazing in college fraternities are “traditions” that are being shunned by today’s society. Phi Kappa Psi can either be a leader in the change that is occurring or it can continue to ignore the changes, continue to close chapters because they failed to meet the new expectations of our host institutions, and eventually become obsolete.
Since announcing these new changes, the reaction from the parents of our undergraduate members has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received dozens of letters and notes in support of these changes. The parents of our members view this issue as a safety issue. They have heard from their sons about the hazing they have endured and the parents are glad to see Phi Kappa Psi making positive changes to reduce the opportunity for hazing in the future.
Our host colleges and universities have also been very supportive of our changes. They are making changes to their Greek systems and are looking for good partners to work with in re-creating a new fraternity system that actually lives out the values that are espoused. Phi Kappa Psi is now viewed by these colleges and universities as leaders in the changes that are inevitable in the modern college Greek system.
Our NIC colleagues have also been surprised at our willingness to lead change. Phi Kappa Psi has traditionally had a reputation of being slow to change and not a progressive leader within the fraternity movement. Our new initiatives have been welcomed by our interfraternal partners. Those that have already instituted similar changes have pledged to work hand in hand to share ideas and information to make all of our efforts successful. Those national fraternities that have not yet summoned the courage to change have been inspired by our leadership.
Our members have had mixed reactions to these announced changes. Many alumni have been critical, while others have relayed their own experiences of hazing abuse and have been supportive of our efforts to stop further abuse. Some members have simply shouted obscenities while others have voiced concerns in a brotherly way and have provided valuable input. Regardless of the reaction, I relish the opportunity to have an honest dialogue with anyone of good faith that is open to discussion. While we may not always agree or reach the same conclusions, there is much to be learned from each other if we are respectful of the various opinions and accept the data and information with an open mind.
I know that ending pledge periods will not end hazing. But I also know that Phi Kappa Psi cannot truly address the issue of hazing until it ends pledging.
Shannon Price, (Alabama ’88)
National Vice President of Phi Kappa Psi