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June 02, 2017

Penn State to impose major changes on Greek life after hazing death

Penn State announced new restrictions on its Greek community Friday, saying it would take control of all fraternity and sorority misconduct and revoke its recognition of those whose hazing puts a student in harm's way.

Another series of regulations introduced earlier this year is also being made permanent, the university stated.

RELATED: Drexel frat suspended for five years

The announcement augments the school's effort to tighten its grip on the Greek community there following the widely publicized death of a student who fell down a flight of stairs at a fraternity party in February.

Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore engineering student at the school, died two days after he suffered a collapsed lung, ruptured spleen and a traumatic brain injury during a pledge event at Penn State's Beta Theta Pi fraternity chapter. 

Eighteen Penn State students face charges – eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment, hazing and related offenses; and six for evidence tampering.

Prosecutors say Piazza was involved in heavy drinking that night fueled by a hazing ritual, and that the brothers at the fraternity did not call 911 until 12 hours after Piazza's fall.

The university has since permanently banned Beta Theta Pi, which faces its own charges that include involuntary manslaughter and hazing.

The university proposed its new restrictions at Friday's board of trustees meeting. 

Prior to the meeting, Piazza's parents, James and Evelyn Piazza, wrote a letter to the board of trustees in which they said, "Our son died on your watch because of ignorance and denial by Penn State," according to ABC News.

"Our University community continues to mourn the death of student Tim Piazza and again sends our deepest sympathies to the Pizza family," Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. "I am resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our entire community into decisive action and reform."

Those decisions also include implementing "strict social restrictions," university monitoring of social events, deferring the pledging process from the fall semester to the spring and mandating all Greek members to sign a relationship statement that "clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the university, the chapters and their respective members."

These add to sweeping restrictions announced in early March that were made permanent as of Friday, including a strongly enforced ban of underage drinking in chapter houses and "social events." Only beer and wine may be served (no kegs allowed), and only RAMP-certified servers can distribute drinks, officials said.

"These new safety and reform initiatives represent a significant departure from the Greek system’s broken self-governance model and indicate steps necessary to address the complex problems," Barron stated.

Barron is also set to appoint a Greek Response Team overseen by staff from a number of university departments. The group will work with local law enforcement, campus police and the surrounding neighborhoods in State College.

"The changes require significant shifts in the relationship among fraternities, sororities and the University,” Barron said.

Read the university's announcement in full here.