UCF’s Greek problem: Out-of-control fraternities and sororities | Editorial
By Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board
Feb 06, 2020 | 12:27 PM
The University of Central Florida’s code of conduct includes a long list of offenses that can get a student or an organization in trouble: Disruptive behavior, sexual misconduct and violence, alcohol misuse, hazing ... it goes on and on.
Here’s what else goes on and on: The number of times UCF’s fraternities and sororities keep violating those rules.
But despite all the resulting suspensions, probationary periods, warnings and finger-waggings, nothing changes.
If UCF wants to gain control, it needs to act more decisively. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, the scope of the problem: In the past five years, the university has conducted 73 investigations into the actions of 32 different fraternities and sororities, according to a UCF review of misconduct allegations since 2015. Those investigations covered nearly 200 separate allegations, about half of which were determined to be violations of the conduct code.
The investigations resulted in 17 suspensions, 21 instances of probation and an unknown amount of university time and public money squandered on college students who keep disregarding rules designed to protect people from harm.
If you like to think in averages, as we do, that’s about 15 investigations and three suspensions every year over the past five years.
The latest discipline was handed down in late January, when UCF suspended the Sigma Chi fraternity through the end of 2020 after members misbehaved at a bar. Sigma Chi already was on probation for posing as a business group to register at resort in the Florida Keys, where it then raised so much hell that other guests were demanding to change rooms or go home early.
A UCF fraternity already in hot water has had its suspension extended through the end of 2020 after members were accused of misconduct including throwing drinks on to a dance floor and threatening to “jump” someone.
Sigma Chi is a chronic offender, with eight separate investigations since 2015, four of those in 2019 alone, according to UCF’s review. Offenses during the five-year period have run the gamut: hazing, alcohol abuse, lying and bullying.
Sigma Chi’s punishment was preceded in November by a suspension of the Pi Beta Phi sorority following accusations that members were forced to use drugs and drink until they passed out. Those accusations are under investigation.
That same day, Kappa Sigma was suspended pending an investigation into accusations that fraternity brothers forced pledges to smoke pot, drink “entire bottles of alcohol” and endure abuse from members.
This isn’t harmless fun. And yes, we’re fully aware of how much that might sound like the cheerless Dean Wormer character from “Animal House.”
But in real life, people get hurt, emotionally and physically. Sometimes they die. They have, right here in Florida.
In 2001, 18-year-old University of Miami student Chad Meredith drowned during a Kappa Sigma hazing episode. That led to the Chad Meredith Act of 2005, which made certain acts of hazing a crime.
In 2017, Florida State University student Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died after drinking bourbon and malt liquor at a party. His blood alcohol level was .447, nearly six times Florida’s legal standard for being drunk.
That led to Andrew’s Law, which in one sense strengthened the existing hazing law but also created some protection for people who try to help a victim.
Florida keeps passing anti-hazing laws named after dead students, and Greek organizations keep hazing and breaking other rules.
After Coffey’s death, FSU President John Thrasher shut down the campus’ entire Greek system. It was partially reinstated in January 2018 under a new set of rules designed to crack down on alcohol abuse and keep a closer eye on organizations.
UCF is investigating reports that fraternity members blindfolded a pledge and forced him to use cocaine, threw drinks onto a dance floor and threatened to “jump” someone just months after the organization was accused of booking a wild getaway at a Keys resort under the guise of a business club seeking a “cultural” retreat.
Part of the problem is the fleeting nature of student leadership on college campuses. A fraternity president who keeps his brothers in line may be replaced by a president who doesn’t take hazing and alcohol abuse seriously.
We’re confident the university takes the problem seriously. It has policies and training in place for student leaders and it diligently investigates alleged violations, meting out sanctions intended not just to punish but to teach.
After last fall’s string of incidents involving Greek organizations, Interim UCF President Thad Seymour asked administrators to find some solutions.
They came up with a few ideas, such as having chapter coaches to counsel Greek leaders. Most significantly, however, the university hired an outside expert to evaluate the campus’ Greek system. The consultant’s findings are expected soon.
We hope that report, if it includes recommendations, doesn’t nibble around the edges. UCF has a problem and — we’ll say it again — their well-intentioned attempts to solve it so far aren’t working.
Here’s what would get their attention: Start imposing what amounts to an organizational death penalty for repeat offenders. Give groups a couple of chances over a fixed period of time. If they reoffend, revoke the university registration that allows an organization to function on campus.
UCF already has that power under its conduct code, but hasn’t used it in the past five years.
That kind of ultimate penalty comes with some risk. When Lambda Chi Alpha was kicked off campus in 2014, the brothers promptly set up an unsanctioned fraternity they called the Gazoni Family that boasted of having no rules.
The alternative to such rogue student groups, so far at least, has been a wash-rinse-and-repeat cycle of complaints, investigations and punishments. It amounts to babysitting, and UCF has bigger fish to fry.
Even national fraternal organizations have decided some of their chapters were lost causes. Lambda Chi Alpha’s dismissal from UCF was at the behest of the fraternity’s national headquarters. So was Beta Theta Pi’s in 2018.
If those organizations are willing to take such a drastic step, why isn’t UCF?
We understand the unique and supportive role that fraternities and sororities are intended to play on college campuses.
When they’re doing the right thing, those organizations can give young people — many away from home for the first time — a sense of belonging and an opportunity to create lifelong friendships.
When they’re doing the wrong thing, fraternities and sororities are playing dangerous power games that recklessly endanger the well-being of themselves and others, all for the reward of a good laugh at someone else’s expense.
This is a national problem, not just UCF’s. But it is a problem here, as 73 investigations in five years show.
Unless something changes, unless repeat offenders start getting kicked off campus, it’s going to end tragically someday for a young UCF brother or sister who’s just seeking acceptance and friendship.
Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Shannon Green, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send email to [email protected]