Miami works to stem the debauchery
Fraternities, sororities 'gone wild' give school a black eye
By Sheila McLaughlin
OXFORD - A group of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority members from Miami University and their dates were socializing and playing beer pong on the porch at 130 W. Church St. when the limousine driver rolled up in a plush black party bus about 5:50 p.m. on April 23.
They were loud and having fun at the two-story white rental house - typical college students pre-gaming for a formal party at the Cincinnati Zoo.
But, for Savannah Nite chauffeur Bryan Neal, it was the beginning of an evening that would end with drunk students chasing him around a gas station parking lot, poking him in the head as he drove, yelling derogatory homosexual slurs at him and ridiculing him because of his job.
"I have never had a group this bad," said Neal, a chauffeur for five years.
"It was a pretty, pretty bad night," agreed Mike McKinney, a Savannah Nite staff member who was called to the scene.
McKinney kicked the 24 students off the party bus in Avondale after calling police. So unnerved by the ordeal, he reported it to Miami University officials.
For the university, the incident represented the eighth sorority or fraternity to be punished this year for its bad behavior, a number that has nearly doubled over 2009.
The debauchery by Miami's sororities and fraternities - especially wild, drunken sorority spring formals at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and Lake Lyndsay Lodge in Butler County - gave the school a black eye.
The incidents made newspaper headlines, provided fodder for radio talk shows and got lead play on nightly newscasts.
They also prompted a stern warning from University President David Hodge that the drunken behavior must stop.
"This has embarrassed all of us," he told The Enquirer in a recent interview. "What it's done is to galvanize the campus. It's galvanized our Greek system."
Hodge launched a study of Miami's Greek system last year after a sorority hazing incident.
Now, he has stepped up efforts to get things under control.
"Our efforts are never ever slowing down in terms of doing this," he said. "Now, we just have a sense of urgency to do something."
Calendar year 2010 was a benchmark for Miami University in more ways than one.
It had an 83 percent graduation rate - the highest ever for Miami and ranking it first among Ohio public universities.
But with six months left in the year, suspensions of sororities and fraternities for bad behavior outpace any year since 2005.
A dozen Greek organizations have been temporarily banned for misbehavior in 35 incidents in the past five years, according to records The Enquirer obtained from Miami, where one-third of students pledge sororities or fraternities.
Although two of this year's suspensions went to sororities, disciplinary records show that altogether nine sororities have gotten into trouble, with four of them being suspended. Two of those suspensions happened this year.
Miami officials blame the increase in overall discipline cases on alcohol and a Greek system that forgot its values.
"What we see is a small group of students that engage in behavior that is unacceptable, but nobody else does anything about it," said Barbara Jones, vice president of student affairs, who heads up the task force.
That was evident in the cases that brought suspension this year. They include:
Ten months for Sigma Chi fraternity after six members were accused of trashing a room at the Blackwell Inn at Ohio State University in late January. Three of the Sigma Chi members were there for a fraternity workshop but the other three who went to Columbus on their own and met them were blamed for the damage. The three pinpointed as the troublemakers were individually suspended by the Miami chapter, but they were never identified to university officials.
Thirteen months for Pi Beta Phi sorority for the April 9 spring formal at Lake Lyndsay Lodge in Butler County. Managers said the sorority members and their dates, among other things, defecated outside the building, broke bathroom fixtures, urinated in sinks, had sex in the caterer's closet, toppled a table of food, vomited several times and disrespected staff. Hodge said about 20 Pi Beta Phi members were involved in the trouble.
Twenty-seven months - the highest suspension at Miami in five years - for the Alpha Xi Delta sorority for a similar incident at its spring formal at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Freedom Center officials reported that partygoers urinated all over the building, defaced restrooms, intentionally crashed drinks on the dance floor, vomited all over restrooms and at the dinner table, swore at employees and tried to steal bottles of booze from the bar. One man also tried to relieve himself on the center's historic slave pen exhibit.
The Enquirer's analysis of Greek disciplinary records since 2005 suggests that punishment - even for similar acts - is inconsistent.
Hazing and destructive behavior seem to bring suspensions, yet lesser sanctions have been handed down for what appears to be similar misconduct.
For instance, Sigma Nu fraternity received a 10-month suspension last year for a large brawl at the Gold Key Lounge near Oxford and for violent and unruly behavior on the charter bus, which prompted a police escort back to town.
Also, after 30 members of Phi Kappa Psi were busted for underage drinking at Whitewater Canoe Livery in Brookville this year, the fraternity was ordered to attend a two-hour substance abuse program and was placed on probation for eight months during which it was banned from hosting events with alcohol.
Those 30 students also individually face punishment ranging from substance abuse education to suspension for alcohol violations.
University officials say it's difficult to identify and discipline students unless their names wind up on a police report.
For instance, the names of three Sigma Chi members who were suspended by their fraternity were not on a police report and the fraternity refused to tell the university who they were, said Dionn Tron, associate vice president for university communications.
Several university chapter officials did not respond to calls and e-mails from The Enquirer.
Alyssa Sterioti, Zeta Tau Alpha social chairman at the zoo formal, said she wasn't allowed to talk to reporters about what happened and referred questions to national headquarters in Indianapolis.
National President Laura Mauro said in an e-mail that the entire chapter was placed on probation - even before the university's sanction - for "a date calling the bus driver a derogatory name." No individual Zeta Tau Alpha member involved in the limousine ride was held personally accountable.
Savannah Nite's McKinney didn't appreciate that Zeta Tau Alpha received only two years probation from Miami for trashing the company's party bus and abusing the driver. University officials also told him he had to contact the sorority to recoup the $400 it cost to clean up the spilled liquor, trash and vomit and to disinfect the bus.
Although it has ordered restitution in the past, the university hearing board did not include it as a sanction.
"The college just basically told the sorority, 'Go act a fool however you want, represent our college name...and we will just slap you on the hand,'" McKinney said.
"Why did the other two sororities get suspended and this one gets probation when it's the same type of event? Because I'm not the big Freedom Center?"
The Freedom Center formal grabbed the attention of the university's president. In response, Hodge fired off a letter to students and faculty saying he was appalled and that such behavior wouldn't be tolerated.
He said discipline was necessary but wasn't enough.
Fraternities and sororities get in trouble more than any other organization or club on campus, university administrators said.
Yet, the head of Miami's discipline office said mandatory penalties for infractions aren't the answer.
"We have mandatory sanctions for alcohol (violations) and I don't think that's necessarily a deterrent when they go out at night," said Susan Vaughn, director of the Miami University Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution.
Each case is judged on its own merits, she said: the level of danger and the offending organization's past disciplinary history.
But the cases also are heard by various disciplinary boards or a hearing officer, who have wide discretion when it comes to incidents other than alcohol violations.
That also explains the disparity between punishments.
'"Our boards are like juries. So, you never know why one may convict and sentence them to death and the other might say it's just a learning experience," Vaughn said.
In 24 years at Miami University, she's never seen a fraternity or sorority kicked out for good.
The length of suspensions generally weeds out the bad members, allowing the Greek organization a fresh start.
"If you really want a total clean house to start over new, it's going to be three or four years to get everyone out," Vaughn said.
"After that, there's no one left that would have been involved in that behavior, so you give them a chance to come back."
June 27, 2010
Miami University's Greek groups 'in crisis'
Recent incidents blamed on alcohol
By Sheila McLaughlin
OXFORD - A national assessment team had a lot to say after it hit Miami University's main campus in February 2009 following the suspension of sorority Delta Delta Delta for blindfolding and forcing pledges to drink so much they needed medical treatment.
"In crisis" was the way the team described the sororities and fraternities here.
"It becomes clear that the foundation of Greek life, values, individual growth and development, achieving higher standards set forth in initiation rituals, as well as a defined and inherent purpose and path, are virtually non-existent," said the report issued last year by six officials from national Greek organizations and universities including Purdue.
The 22-page report painted a picture of fraternities and sororities that lacked guidance and accountability and a university office established in 2005 to oversee them that wasn't doing its job.
Among the assessment team's recommendations:
Strengthen leadership in the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life & Leadership.
Revive the faculty adviser program, which has fallen by the wayside because faculty members either don't have the time to participate or don't like Greek organizations.
Strengthen relationships with national Greek organizations, which usually only have contact from Miami in cases of discipline.
Increase training for fraternity and sorority members so they understand limitations and goals.
Get a commitment from Greek chapter leaders to hold members accountable to standards.
A task force of university officials and members of the Greek community are working this summer to review sanctions for Greek organizations, to beef up training and teach members how to intervene and stop the misbehavior.
That came at the request of University President David Hodge, who set the task force in motion after a spate of recent drunken and destructive incidents by Miami sororities.
Pete Smithhisler, president of North American Interfraternity Council, a trade association that performed the assessment, said there's no failsafe answer to quelling the shenanigans.
But it starts with changing the mindset of Miami's Greek organizations.
"The frank answer is that it stops when today's student realizes that fraternity and sorority is much more about how we build our brothers and sisters up, make them better community citizens than it is about the party," he said.
Hodge is quick to point out that the problems at Miami - the home of about 45 fraternity and sororities - are something colleges grapple with nationwide.
The incidents are almost 90 percent the result of alcohol abuse, he said.
He blames the mischief on the developmental disconnect that biologically keeps 18- to 22-year-olds from making good judgments, a culture that celebrates excessive drinking and bad behavior, and apathy among fraternity and sorority members.
Education about alcohol and what the academicians call "bystander behavior" are at the forefront of Miami's attack on abating the trouble.
Miami already requires all incoming freshmen to complete an online class about the ramifications of drinking.
"We believe that the development of character is just as important as the development of intellect. That's what we do here. So the frustration comes from, we obviously didn't get it right," Hodge said.
He wants more involved faculty advisers in each chapter.
The assessment report said that fewer than 15 percent attend at least one chapter meeting a semester, even though the university requires each chapter to have a faculty member as an adviser.
That requirement has not been enforced.
The assessment team - which called the adviser program "critical" - suggested that unspecified incentives be offered to faculty to attract them to advisory roles.
Hodge said he's leaving that up to the task force, and the assessment report notes that Miami "administration's expectation is that faculty and staff support the (Greek) system and that no extra incentives are needed for volunteer participation."
Shoring up relationships with national fraternities and sororities also is necessary, Hodge said.
He wants the national offices for the fraternities and sororities to support Miami's punishment instead of fighting it.
"Some nationals get it right away. Others - maybe, maybe not." Hodge said.
"It's harder when you don't have the backup, and the reinforcement that you need in order for these things to happen."
Leaders in the campus' Greek umbrella organizations are involved in the effort for change.
Larissa Spreng, a Miami senior and medical school hopeful who is president of the Panhellenic Association, said fraternities and sororities need a clearer picture of what is expected of them. The association is the coordinating body for the university's 18 sororities.
The task force is studying the possibility of incorporating sanctions for violations in Greek bylaws that spell out the minimum punishment for specific conduct violations.
She said the recent trouble has upset a lot of rank-and-file Greek members.
"A lot of Greek community members say that the actions and what happened is not representative of our entire community. People who might not be part of those chapters are saying they are (branded) just being Greek at Miami," said Spreng, who is a member of Alpha Chi Omega.
As for stronger leadership in the university's Greek office, director April Robles just this month announced that she was taking another job at the university.
Mark Shanley, the interim associate vice president she reported to, finished up his allotted time in the temporary position.
Those changes fueled speculation of a shake-up, which Hodge denied.
"But I think it's fair to say as we talk about the replacements and moving forward is that there is a greater sense of seriousness about making sure we have the right people in these positions to make sure we do what needs to be done," Hodge said.
Copyright 2010 Enquirer Media, Gannett Co., Inc.