Rider U. turning to fraternity monitors
Move is in response to frosh booze death
BY MARY JO PATTERSONStar-Ledger Staff
Rider University will hire its own professionals to live in fraternities and sororities as part of a wider crackdown on alcohol triggered by the death of an 18-year-old fraternity pledge earlier this year.
The move may be a first in the nation, said Anthony Campbell, dean of students at the private, co-educational college just north of Trenton in Lawrence Township.
"Many colleges and universities have 'house mothers' and some have graduate students. We're taking it a little further, having professionals who are our own employees," he said.
Frat house "directors" are only one facet of the school's broad new alcohol policies, announced yesterday after months of soul-searching by a task force that concluded that Rider needed a "social renaissance" as well. Other changes will include creating more opportunities for social activities, especially late at night, and strengthening sanctions for alcohol violations.
The task force that created the new policies explored banishing both alcohol and Greek life, but decided to do neither.
"(Banning alcohol) is an unrealistic approach that would be almost impossible to enforce," it wrote in its report. Making the campus dry would only push drinking off campus, or contribute to "hidden forms of dangerous drinking," it stated.
The task force also deliberated whether to banish fraternities from campus but ended up affirming their value.
"We decided they do add value, if they work within our mission," said Campbell. "We think we've created a safer environment."
Gary DeVercelly, a pledge of Phi Kappa Tau, died March 30 in a New Jersey hospital following a night of drinking at the frat house on campus. The Long Beach, Calif., resident was found to have had a blood alcohol content of 0.426 percent, which is more than five times the legal limit for driving.
Friends of DeVercelly told The Times of Trenton that before his death, he had talked about having to drink an entire bottle of vodka at an upcoming pledge initiation night. On the night of his death, he consumed three-quarters of a bottle in 15 minutes before collapsing, the Rider college newspaper reported.
His death remains under investigation as a possible hazing incident by the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, college officials said yesterday.
Rider's new rules, posted yesterday on the college's Web site, will take effect this fall.
In its report, the task force emphasized that binge drinking is a national problem. It cited a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that said 49 percent of full-time college students binge drink or abuse prescription or illegal drugs.
The college's new policy prohibits alcohol during social events at both Greek houses and residence halls. It permits alcohol to be served only at "registered" events in nonresidential facilities such as Rider's licensed pub -- under the supervision of campus security.
"We're saying, Greek houses will be treated as our residence halls are. There won't be weekend parties inside the fraternity house," Campbell said. On the other hand, "If you're 21 and you're having a drink with dinner in your room, that's okay."
Rider's new stance also establishes a "good Samaritan" policy encouraging students to seek help for others under the influence of alcohol or drugs, without fear of repercussions.
Campbell said college officials estimate the program will cost the school between $400,000 and $500,000. Seven frat house directors must be hired, he said.
Rider, on its Web site, did not shy away from referring to the March tragedy.
"While alcohol abuse by college students is a national challenge, Rider is redoubling its efforts to prevent it," said college president Mordechai Rozanski. "This is my commitment to Gary and his family and the more than 5,000 other families whose sons and daughters attend Rider."
Rider has 3,764 full-time undergraduates and four academic units, including the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. It is home to 10 Greek organizations, housed in seven houses owned by the university.
Sandy Lanman, a spokeswoman for Rutgers University, said Greek organizations on its campus are privately owned. "We have no employees in those houses," she said. "To be registered, however, they have to abide by certain regulations," including rules regarding alcohol use.