FIU right to crack down on out-of-control fraternities

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Fraternities at Florida International University are “hanging by a thread,” says its president.
Fraternities at Florida International University are “hanging by a thread,” says its president. panthernow.com

Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg is firmly and effectively cracking down on Greek life at his school. The good news is other institutions of higher learning in the state are taking a hard look at fraternity culture, too.

But Rosenberg deserves praise for tackling the frat problem head-on and sending a strong message that fraternities have to do better if they want to continue to exist.

These are hard times for these student organizations, and often because they brought the difficulties upon themselves. Universities across the country are suspending fraternity and sorority chapters in response to troubling — and sometimes deadly — incidents on campus. They have sparked a national conversation about the future of Greek organizations, which some students defend.

At FIU, fraternities were seemingly out of control. A fraternity’s leaked group chat revealed photos of nude women, Holocaust memes, jokes about rape and pedophilia and conversations about drug sales. They’ve been caught serving liquor to minors at tailgate parties.

After a month-long suspension of the groups, FIU announced this week that the campus chapters of 16 Greek organizations have been reinstated. But they won’t return to business as usual.

Real change is on the way. During the suspension, administrators, Greek organization leaders and alumni met in search of ways to curb the bad behavior. Frat life needs to evolve out of the 1950s — or die.

Rosenberg’s first solid act: banning alcohol from all fraternity and sorority events for the rest of the semester. Good move. Keeping liquor away from a campus is going to be really, really hard. But alcohol is too often the common denominator when a frat tragedy occurs, so Rosenberg’s edict wisely goes right to the source.

Two troubled fraternities have been suspended for two years. A third, Pi Kappa Phi, was suspended for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time.

“The fate of Greek life has been hanging by a thread, and this pause gave us the opportunity to recommit to our values and end the age of permissiveness and ambiguity that has hung over our Greek organizations for far too long,” Rosenberg said. Those aren’t the words of a scold, or a prude. Rather, they represent the responsibility campuses have not to be parties to illegal or dangerous behavior.

The days of looking the other way in response to bad behavior in Greek life should be over. And like FIU, universities are getting more aggressive as the death count grows.

November saw the shocking death of a pledge to the Pi Kappa Phi chapter at Florida State University. Andrew Coffey, 20, a graduate of Pompano Beach High School, was found dead. FSU said, Enough, and suspended Greek life.

In 2011, FAMU was hit with the hazing death — beating death, really — of a marching band newbie. Offenders received prison time, and deservedly so.

At the University of Miami, the future of fraternities and their oversight are also being debated.

There, hazing is strictly prohibited, according to the dean of students, but a Miami Hurricane student newspaper editorial recently said the practice “is common knowledge among students and needs to be discussed.” The university has hosted workshops and town hall meetings on the issue. That’s the correct course.

Done right, frat life is a rewarding and life-long bonding experience for students. But they are becoming an anachronism in a #MeToo world.

Rosenberg is on the right track in his efforts to rein in fraternities.