Volume 4, No. 5
Alumni Personalities: WRSC-AM News Director Amy Williams, '89
incorporates two elements: bringing policies and practices together, and removing University liability by removing ties to the Greek system and shedding responsibility..."
The description most frequently used by administrators and reported by the Collegian was that all ties between Fraternities and the University had been legally "severed" to protect the University
There results were drastic.
The first result of the new policy was a change in the status of Fraternities. Prior to May 1, 1986, Fraternities had been chartered student organizations. After that date, the were no longer recognized as student organizations at all. The University decided to hold all Fraternities at "arm's length."The second result of the new policy was a very negative change in the status of Fraternity advisors. Previously advising Fraternities was a recognized faculty activity which was a credit to a faculty member. But the new policy took all that away. The Collegian reported the change as follows:
"The University changed the status of advisors - in the past advisors were classified as an extension of a (University) student organization—now (the University) is saying chapter advisors are on their own.
This was not a mere change of words. The administration held special meetings to actively discourage faculty and staff from serving as advisors. On September 17, 1986, the Daily Collegian reported: "The University, during a meeting last spring with chapter advisors discouraged University faculty from acting as advisors because it would create questions about the legal ties of these advisors to the University."
Many advisors, former advisors and faculty who were present at these meeting have confirmed the accuracy of this report The administration made it clear that any faculty member acting as an advisor to a Fraternity would receive no support, credit or reward from the University for helping students.
The third result of the new policy announced May 1, 1986, was the change the relationship of IFC to the University. Prior to May 1, 1986, IFC had considerable authority to make and enforce rules. But after the new policy was announced, IFC was reduced to "registering fraternities." IFC could enforce its rules only by consent Since Fraternities were no longer chartered student organizations, there was no authority to enforce rules.
The Daily Collegian reported the change in-lFC's status this way: "The policy also cuts the University" ties to the Greek system by reducing requirements of the IFC and Panhellenic Council to registering the fraternities and sororities and by enforcing University regulations only if a violation occurs on campus."
The change of policy toward Fraternities was so drastic in its effect that the University's Assistant Director of Student Organizations, Gayle Beyers, resigned in protest. Beyers was a nationally known expert on Fraternities and Sororities who had been hired especially to help. For six years, fraternities have been struggling to survive at Penn State. There have been police raids, drastic changes in the law, problems with organization, authority,
| and legal liability that sometimes were so
great as to seem absolutely insurmountable. Indeed, there have been so
many crises and problems that it is a miracle that fraternities have
survived at all.
It might, therefore, be worthwhile for Fraternity of officers and actives to understand how great have been the cases they have faced, and why it is said to be a miracle that there are still Fraternities at Penn State.
To understand this incredible accomplishment, one must understand something that happened a little over six years ago, to be precise, on May 1, 1986.
On that day—May 1, 1986—a date to remember, Dr. Bryce Jordan, then President of Penn State, announced a drastic change of policy by the administration toward fraternities. The announcement had been carefully scheduled for the last day of Collegian publication for the spring term so that students would not be able to react But the repercussions were drastic and draconian.
The goal of the new policy announced by President Jordan on May 1, 1986, was to completely "sever" all direct ties between the University and Fraternities. The new policy was described at the time as "removing ties to the Greek system" and "shedding responsibility" for anything that happened to Fraternities
The background of the new policy started a little earlier. In the early 1980's the issue of legal liability for incidents involving alcohol use at Fraternities drastically changed. The University had been sued because of an alcohol related accident at a Fraternity.
A University task force was set up to study the issues of liability. The task force recommended that the University should become directly involved in dealing with the problems of alcohol for all student organizations both on and off campus.
President Jordan rejected the recommendations of the task force, and
chose instead to sever ties with Fraternities Rather than help
Fraternities, President Jordan said that the University would not get
involved at all.
The Centre Daily Times reported on May 2, 1986, that,
"President Jordan, with the advice of legal counsel, chose to
distance Penn State from the organizations (Fraternities)." The result was that the Penn State administration consciously and
deliberately decided to unilaterally cut its involvement with
Fraternities on the most important and difficult issue they faced. Today the administration denies over and over again that it severed
its ties with Fraternities. But that was not what it said in 1986. On June 13, 1986, in a front page inset of The Daily Collegian, the
administration summarized its new policy as one of "shedding
responsibility" for Fraternities.
The Centre Daily Times reported on May 2, 1986, that, "President Jordan, with the advice of legal counsel, chose to distance Penn State from the organizations (Fraternities)."
The result was that the Penn State administration consciously and deliberately decided to unilaterally cut its involvement with Fraternities on the most important and difficult issue they faced.
Today the administration denies over and over again that it severed its ties with Fraternities. But that was not what it said in 1986.
On June 13, 1986, in a front page inset of The Daily Collegian, the administration summarized its new policy as one of "shedding responsibility" for Fraternities.
On August 27, 1986, in another front page story in the Collegian it was reported that "The new policy, according to administrators
Greeks. But she was disgusted by the change in policy upon which she had not been consulted.
The Daily Collegian reported in a front page story on October 24, 1986: "The University's decision to sever relations with Greek organizations is one reason the assistant director of student organizations said she will leave her position."Beyers summed up what she felt had happened this way: "The University said it does not want to work with Fraternities."
The IFC president at the time, Pat Conway, summed up the situation succinctly. He said, "The University simply closed the door on everything concerning "reeks." (Daily Collegian, 10-24-86, p. 10).
The responsibility which the administration shed when it severed its ties to Fraternities was shifted on to the students alone. Many advisors had quit after the administration's active policy of discouragement. IFC was left to develop a policy with little authority to enforce it.
This was the administration's official policy. As if to rub it in, the administration published a full page advertisement in the September 18, 1986 Collegian called a "statement of policy." It read in part:
Q: How do these policies have special significance for Greeks, especially Fraternities?
A: The intent of the policy is to make it clear that activities in fraternities are the responsibility of the chapters, house corporations, and nationals.
The administration wanted it known that it washed its hands of any responsibility in helping the student in Fraternities face the problems of liability and authority.
The result of the change in policy was that there was no organization in existence to provide support to the students in the chapters. In short, Fraternities had been cut adrift without a paddle.
That Fraternities have survived this official policy of abandonment by the administration is an amazing credit to the students who have served as of ricers of IFC and of the chapter houses. It is also a credit to all the alumni and faculty advisors who stayed with the student chapters even when they received neither encouragement, support, nor reward from the University for working with students. It is also a great credit to one administrator, Richard Funk, who has done an amazing job of helping Fraternities despite the severe limits of the University's abandonment policy.
In fact, the policy announced by President Jordan on that famous day, May 1, 1986, may yet turn out to have been the best thing that ever happened to Fraternities. For it has brought forth real dedication and real leaders, and has shown the world that Fraternities at Penn State can face the worst and not only succeed, but grow in responsibility.
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