West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee is losing patience with some of the campus fraternities, and who can blame him? Four fraternities have notified WVU that they plan to dissociate from the University, but remain active by recruiting new members and keeping their frat houses open and operating.
The fraternities don’t like some of the new rules WVU imposed on Greek Life following a thorough review and recommendations by a working group of students, staff, faculty, alumni and representatives from fraternity and sorority headquarters. Those changes include raising the minimum chapter average GPA to 2.75, tighter restrictions on social events, educational programs about alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault and hazing, and delaying freshmen pledging until second semester.
The delayed pledge period for freshmen is a significant sticking point for several of the dissident frats because it will make it more difficult for them to recruit new members, collect dues and fill their fraternity houses. However, Gee is adamant that new students need time to adjust to college life before making a commitment to a fraternity or sorority.
In November 2014, WVU freshman Nolan Burch died from alcohol poisoning during pledge hazing at the Kappa Sigma fraternity. That prompted the University to try to change the culture by emphasizing “working smart and playing smart.”
However, the fraternity problems continued. Last February, WVU placed a moratorium on all social and recruiting activities of the 16 chapters of the school’s Inter-fraternity Council “in the wake of concern over continued behavioral issues.” At the time, WVU spokesman John Bolt said, “We have seen continued issues with hazing, alcohol-related incidents and sexual misbehavior.”
August 1st was the re-launch of Greek Life at WVU under the new rules, but now we have four frats that would rather keep the party going. That prompted Gee to send a letter to all students’ parents “decrying the actions and warning that joining these organizations should not be an option for their students.”
In an interview on Talkline Monday, Gee acknowledged the right of the frats to exist outside the University system, but added that “the University also has a responsibility to let parents and others know if their students are going to go in that direction that they are doing so without the sanction of the University, without following the rules and frankly without the safety net that is provided by the institution.”
The relationship between the four frats and WVU may still be salvageable. Gee is scheduled to meet with representatives of the fraternities today to try to find a way forward. Gee, who himself was in a college fraternity and is a big believer in the benefits of Greek Life, does not want to go the route of a growing number of institutions that simply ban fraternities.
Additionally, as John Hechinger points out in his book “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,” Greek Life is a big selling point for prospective students because of the social life. Also, Hechinger says, fraternity members often become some of the most loyal donors.
But there is a difference between an active social life on campus and a dangerous Animal House atmosphere where hazing, binge drinking and sexual misconduct put young college students at risk. Since these frats want to dissociate with the University, the University should consider dissociating with the students who insist on making up their own rules.