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UB to bolster oversight, accountability of Greek life

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Wed, Aug 21st 2019 06:30 pm

By the University at Buffalo

As a new academic year begins, the University at Buffalo is implementing extensive changes to Greek life at the university, and is lifting its suspension on all but one Greek-letter social fraternal organizations as the new measures are put into place.

The announcement follows a four-month internal review completed by a committee of UB administrators, faculty, staff and students, at the request of UB President Satish K. Tripathi.

Tripathi suspended all official activities of Greek-letter social fraternal organizations in April, immediately following a possible off-campus hazing incident involving Sigma Pi in which UB student Sebastian Serafin-Bazan died.

Since then, these organizations have been barred from recruiting and engaging in new member education activities, participating in university-related events and conducting meetings on fraternity or sorority functions and activities.

The Greek Life Review Committee examined Greek life at UB, as well as best practices at peer universities, including Florida State, Penn State, Louisiana State University and Missouri. The committee noted Greek-letter social fraternal organizations “have a place on UB’s campus” and that its recommendations will “ensure that these organizations are contributing, productive members of UB’s community.”

“I am grateful to the members of the committee for their serious and thoughtful approach to our work,” said Suzanne Rosenblith, committee chair and dean of the Graduate School of Education. “This report emphasizes what measures we can take as a university community – students and administration alike – to reduce incidents of hazing and ensure that Greek-letter social fraternal organizations prioritize UB’s core belief in the inherent dignity of every member of our community.”

The committee created a series of 14 specific recommendations to improve university oversight and education and increase the responsibility within these organizations for self-monitoring. An Implementation committee headed by Barbara Ricotta, dean of students, will be created to assist Greek-letter social fraternal organizations with instituting the new policies.

The full report is available on the UB vice president for student life website.

A. Scott Weber, UB’s vice president for student life, convened the Greek Life Review Committee in April. It was asked to provide its recommendations before the start of the new academic year on Aug. 26. 

“The committee’s report provides proactive and prudent steps the university and its Greek organizations will take in order to reduce the incidents of hazing and to promote greater accountability among students and the Greek organizations themselves,” Weber said.

To ensure greater accountability of these organizations, the committee recommended UB expand its office of fraternity and sorority life to provide more comprehensive oversight of all aspects of UB’s 35 Greek-letter social fraternal organizations, which have a membership of approximately 1,000 students.

The committee also recommended the university develop an annual, publicly available fraternity/sorority scorecard to assess the health of Greek-letter social fraternal organizations at UB and to ensure each organization is operating in ways closely aligned with the values of the university and with UB’s code of student conduct.

A scorecard consists of a variety of data points that provide basic information of public interest, such as cumulative chapter grade-point average, alcohol and hazing violations, philanthropic and community service activities, chapter awards and achievements, and a history of disciplinary measures.

Other recommendations include:

•Developing a consistent, comprehensive and operational universitywide definition of hazing to target physically dangerous activities, psychologically harmful/humiliating activities and other activities that endanger the safety or welfare of students.

•Expanding the university’s current “Good Samaritan” policy to apply beyond drug and alcohol use, and to include good-faith reporting of hazing.

•Reinstituting the requirement that Greek-letter social fraternal organizations have a faculty/staff adviser.

•Barring freshmen from joining Greek-letter social fraternal organizations during their first semester.

•Limiting pledge periods to a maximum of six weeks, while prohibiting such activities from occurring during final examination periods.

•Requiring all members of Greek life organizations pay a programming fee of $25 per semester; a waiver will be offered for students with financial hardships. The fee may be used for chapter grants, educational programming, general Greek marketing, conferences and awards.

•Changing Greek life eligibility requirements to include only students who’ve earned a minimum of 12 credit hours at UB or another college and who maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5.

•Encourage “unrecognized” Greek-letter social fraternal organizations to seek official recognition with the university, rather than maintaining their unrecognized status. Those organizations that remain unrecognized by the university will be designated as “banned” to more clearly indicate their status as rogue organizations.

•Collaborating with area school districts to provide information to students and parents that educates them on the distinctions between recognized and banned organizations.

“As students, we have an important role to assist in the enforcement of Greek life policies by encouraging our classmates to maintain accountability and follow the school’s student code of conduct,” said committee member Brielle Anderson, a former undergraduate and first-year graduate student at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “The committee’s recommendations will prompt students to take a more proactive role in creating a safe, healthy and productive Greek life culture that benefits the university and the surrounding community.”

Recommendations to Be Implemented 2 Two Years

With the completion of the committee’s report, effective immediately UB is lifting the suspension that was placed on all Greek-letter social fraternal organizations last spring.

These organizations, however, will be on probation for the fall semester. While on probation, the organizations may not recruit new members. Probation will be lifted as organizations fulfill their obligations as defined by the implementation committee.

In addition, the UB chapter of Sigma Pi will remain suspended while the Buffalo Police Department completes its investigation, and until UB’s office of student conduct and advocacy can initiate and complete the university’s adjudication process.

After the committee’s recommendations are implemented over the course of two years, the university will assess their effectiveness in deterring hazing and other violations. The university also will initiate a climate survey within Greek life to determine how the implemented recommendations have affected Greek life.

Committee Members

Members of the Greek Life Review Committee included Rosenblith and Ricotta, as well as Mark Alnutt, director of athletics; Brielle Anderson, graduate student, chair of Panhellenic Council; Chris Bartolomei, chief of police, University Police; Lincoln Backman-Lowe, undergraduate student, president of Intergreek Council; Anne Curtis, professor of medicine; David Dietz, professor of pharmacology and toxicology; Bonita Durand, alumna and Greek Life adviser; Mark Frank, professor of communication.

Also: Jim Gardner, professor of law; Lee Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management; Amanda Nickerson, professor and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention; Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director, office of equity, diversity and inclusion; Eric Rooney, student and Undergraduate Student Association chief of staff; and Pamela Stephens-Jackson, director of fraternity and sorority life.

Members of the university’s implementation committee include Ricotta, Nolan-Weiss and Stephens-Jackson, as well as Nathan Daun-Barnett, associate professor of educational leadership and policy; Phyllis Floro, director of student engagement; Mike Hilberger, assistant director of student conduct and advocacy; Jacqueline Hollins, assistant vice provost and director of academic success initiatives; Tess Morrissey, director of community relations; and Troy Miller, director of admissions.

Five student representatives from UB’s Greek community will also be invited to serve on the committee.

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