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New Greek task force at KU to recommend changes for fraternities, sororities by summer

Underage drinking, sex, hazing: Orientation touches hot-button issues for new KU fraternity members

Building Brothers, an orientation for new fraternity members, was held Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The event was presented by the Kansas Fraternity Landlords' League.
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Building Brothers, an orientation for new fraternity members, was held Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The event was presented by the Kansas Fraternity Landlords' League.

A new task force convened by University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod will explore changing the school’s Greek system to make fraternities and sororities safer and more efficient.

Girod announced Thursday that a new “Sorority and Fraternity Life Task Force” meets for the first time this week and is expected to recommend new Greek policies and programs by the summer.

“With sororities and fraternities under scrutiny nationwide and at KU, we must commit to raising our standards for health, wellness and self-governance and seek new ways to meet the expectations we have for our community,” Girod said in a statement.

The move comes months after the university worked with a small group of fraternity leaders to curb Greek social activities, only to have the broader fraternity community revoke changes they deemed “unconstitutional” within days. At that time, Girod called for more collaborative efforts to address the issues.

The task force is made up of 27 individuals with deep ties to fraternities and sororities, including student leaders, chapter advisers, alumni and parents, in addition to school officials from Student Affairs, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the Student Conduct Office and the Chancellor’s Office.

KU alumnus and Beta Theta Pi member Mike Michaelis will chair the task force.

Girod said the group will be expected to “evaluate sorority and fraternity life at KU, explore best practices related to policy and programming, and submit recommendations on how Greek life can be enhanced.”

A KU spokeswoman said KU officials are not available to provide further information about the task force. But the group echoes similar reform efforts enacted at the University of Missouri this year.

In January 2018, Mizzou Vice Chancellor Gary Ward convened a similar task force in the wake of a damning consultant’s report that found Mizzou’s Greek system, particularly its fraternities, was plagued by hazing, overconsumption of alcohol and drug use.

The 40-person advisory board also included a variety of Greek stakeholders and in July submitted a series of recommendations that would alter many long-held traditions practiced by Mizzou’s Interfraternity Council fraternities.

The reforms included limiting freshmen from living in chapter houses, encouraging fraternities to delay rush until after the school year begins, placing limits on social events and offering amnesty for those who report hazing.

“What Mizzou is doing right now is in step with what everyone else in the country is doing,” Mizzou Dean of Students Jeffrey Zeilenga said at that time. “We jumped into this at the same time as most other major institutions that have decided, ‘We have to do things differently.’”

Like Mizzou, KU’s fraternities and sororities include the historically white Interfraternity Council fraternities, the historically white Panhellenic Association sororities, the historically black National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities and National Multicultural Greek Council chapters. Alumni and student representatives from these councils will serve on the task force.

The universities also share an unusual governance structure. Many fraternities and sororities are privately owned, meaning the university lacks the power to directly enforce rules or evict members at Greek houses, even as it decides the standards chapters must comply with.

The announcement of the chancellor’s task force follows a clash between university officials and Interfraternity Council fraternities this past spring, when students opposed a freeze on social activities approved by a small group of fraternity leaders and endorsed by the university.

Girod had voiced his support for the freeze as a way to address “systemic problems related to student conduct.” At that time, multiple fraternities were being investigated for health and safety violations by their national chapters.

But IFC leaders revoked the freeze four days later because it was not voted on by the General Assembly of fraternity leaders and had limited support from IFC executive board members.

Girod accepted the IFC’s decision, but issued a statement in the wake of the freeze that suggested he was not prepared to let the issue of Greek reform rest.

“The university recognizes IFC’s role as a representative government and respects its decisions,” he said then. “However, the current environment that has precipitated these recent events remains an area of significant concern to the health and safety of our students.”

He said efforts to address issues surrounding fraternities and sororities must be a “collaborative effort.”

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