MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A number of West Virginia University’s top academic officials do not believe Greek Life needs a permanent shutdown, but they are seeking institutional change.
“I’m not one of those who believes that by shutting it down you are simply going to let problems go away,” President E. Gordon Gee said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.
As of Wednesday, 16 fraternities at WVU, all members of the Interfraternity Council, are operating under an immediate moratorium for social and recruiting activities.
“In this country, it’s very apparent that fraternities and sororities are under attack,” Gee said. “A number of institutions are ceasing or closing them down, ceasing to have them as part of their culture. I happen to believe in the role of fraternities and sororities.”
That belief in the role of Greek Life is precisely why Gee supported the decision to freeze nearly all of the activities these fraternities engage in.
“We’ve had incidents,” Gee said. “Reports of hazing, of inappropriate activities during the time that students are in the fraternity house, problems with alcohol. There have been a number of incidents that we want to try to ameliorate immediately.”
Those incidents were not disclosed, though it’s believed that the University was in the process of reviewing information related to an incident in downtown Morgantown last week. A Theta Chi brother posted a video on Snapchat directing racial slurs at a bartender at a club in downtown Morgantown, prompting outrage. The chapter announced earlier this week that the brother in question was no longer part of the fraternity.
WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris said the moratorium decision far pre-dates this latest incident.
“It’s the fraternities that we seem to be having the ongoing problem with,” he said. “So, we’re able to isolate them, and that’s what we’re going to do — work individually with some of those individual members.”
It isn’t all fraternities or even all members of the 16 targeted fraternities, Farris said. Rather, it’s a minority of students in the overall Greek Life student body.
“Not only are they louder, but they are doing some things that are unacceptable to me and potentially life threatening,” Farris said.
Both Gee and Farris — who were at WVU during the 2014 death of WVU freshman Nolan Burch — don’t want to see a repeat. A toxicology report revealed Burch died with a BAC of 0.49. A civil case involving Burch and the University was settled late last year.
“Before we have another tragedy or some other terrible thing, we’re taking the pause to address it now,” Farris said. “Sooner, rather than later.”
Gee said the moratorium was one of two options; either the University could choose a proactive measure, or they could potentially see a permanent end to Greek Life at the 150-year-old institution.
“That’s drastic,” Farris said. “By just making a decree to say it’s going to go away doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”
Gee, a Pi Kappa Alpha national fraternity member, said he believes that Greek Life is capable of being a force for good on college campuses.
“I actually go out and visit these kids and see what they’re doing,” Gee said. “I’ve been very impressed by much of what is happening. The things that disturb me disturb me like a father.”
That’s one reason why the Panhellenic Association, which comprises the sororities at WVU, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, making up African-American fraternities and sororities at WVU, were not included in the moratorium. The problem, Farris said, is isolated — and must be treated as such.
Gee said fraternities were at a “tipping point” Wednesday during a special meeting of fraternity and sorority representatives. That tipping point has led to the suspension and even permanent end to Greek Life on other major college campuses, but Farris said that’s not the path WVU wants to walk.
“Just simply doing away with them is one option, and it’s also an easy way,” Farris said. “But it’s not teaching the students, and it’s not making real change.”
But that doesn’t mean things should be easy, Farris said.
“I’m one of those people that (says) we need to change the culture immediately quickly, and see some immediate results,” Farris said. “We will do that in pretty short order. Some of those are going to be measurable things.”
The immediate actions will include raising of academic standards to join a fraternity or a sorority from the current 2.5 grade point average to 2.75, increasing to 3.0 by Fall 2020. Chapter GPA averages will be required to meet the same requirements, and all new member education activities will be limited to four weeks beginning next Fall.
“We will be able to watch GPA’s rise,” Farris said. “We will be able to watch the reports of bad behavior incidents in alcohol and drugs and sexual misconduct and hazing. We’ll be able to watch those numbers drop. It’s going to be pretty easy to observe it as we make the changes moving forward.”
Dr. Matthew Richardson, Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, is expected to plan an integral role in the process. Part of his job will be to bring together a nationally representative group of students, alumni, and national headquarter partners that will develop a new strategic plan for the future of Fraternity and Sorority Life at WVU.
“We continue to contribute to that upward curve,” Gee said. “The students themselves understand the issue of them taking charge of their own lives and being adults.”
The group will:
- Review the judicial history of all chapters
- Determine which organizations will be invited back to full recognition in the Fall 2018 semester
- Set short and long-term goals in terms of membership numbers and academic achievement
- Determine minimum requirements for joining and maintaining membership
- Identify parameters around new member education and membership intake
- Review policies and procedures and make necessary revisions
- Review the Summit Standards Accreditation Program and make necessary revisions
Once finalized, that plan will require the approval of Farris, Gee, and WVU Provost Joyce McConnell.
The organizations immediately affected are:
- Alpha Gamma Rho
- Alpha Epsilon Pi
- Alpha Sigma Phi
- Kappa Alpha Order
- Lambda Chi Alpha
- Phi Delta Theta
- Phi Gamma Delta
- Phi Kappa Psi
- Phi Sigma Kappa
- Pi Kappa Alpha
- Pi Kappa Phi
- Sigma Alpha Epsilon
- Sigma Alpha Mu
- Sigma Chi
- Sigma Nu
- Sigma Phi Epsilon
- Theta Chi