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30 Frats Shut Down In The Past Month As Colleges Respond To Misconduct More Aggressively

04/07/2015 06:43 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

Thirty fraternities have been shut down by either their university or national headquarters since the beginning of March due to hazing, alcohol-related problems, criminal investigations and other student conduct infractions.

Most have been imposed for longer periods, typically two or three years, while some of the suspensions have been handed out on a short-term basis and will be reassessed after the school or police finish investigating reports of potentially illegal behavior. A few fraternities have lost their charters, which will prevent the chapters from re-establishing themselves without a significant endorsement from their universities and national headquarters.

It's difficult to quantify how many colleges are disciplining fraternities compared to past years, said Kevin Kruger, president of the student affairs group NASPA. But he noted that a decade ago, schools were more likely to rely on educational efforts -- for example, to require members to go through sensitivity training -- to discipline chapters than suspend them. Administrators have a "decreasing level of tolerance for the abhorrent behavior of students on campus," Kruger said, adding that at this point one incident may be enough for a school to shut a house down.

"Greek chapters are going to expect campuses are going to have a zero tolerance for [members' misbehavior]," Kruger said. "Schools will be acting quickly because they have a liability and repetitional risk, and they'll be acting fairly severely."

Indeed, Washington & Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio suggested it would be "dangerous" if he didn't harshly punishment on his school's branch of Phi Kappa Psi after members used a stun gun on a pledge to "intimidate" other new members.

The University of Michigan asked Sigma Alpha Mu's national office to revoke the chapter's charter after its members took part in destroying 45 rooms at a ski resort, causing an estimated $430,000 in damage.

The responses from university administrators in some of the most publicized incidents have been met with mixed reactions: Some civil liberties groups say school officials have overstepped their bounds, while many students complain the schools haven't been tough enough.

The Pennsylvania State University's Kappa Delta Rho chapter circulated nude photos of unconscious women and discussed selling drugs on a Facebook page, according to police, who found the page in January. Last month, Penn State said the chapter is suspended while it is under investigation, but many students have demanded more forceful action from the university.

After a video was leaked of University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon members singing a racist song, even President Barack Obama noted how quickly OU President David Boren condemned the behavior and punished members.

However, free speech advocates criticized Boren's decision to expel two students due to their "leadership roles" in the racism, saying the president's actions risked violating the students' constitutional rights.

"It's some most challenging leadership decisions a generation of college presidents has faced," said Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law. Lake said he believes the 2014-15 academic year has been an "unusually strong season" for fraternity closures.

Use the map below to see which chapters were suspended since March 1, 2015, and what they were accused of doing. Story continues below.

Douglas Fierberg, an attorney who has sued fraternities on behalf of hazing and sexual assault victims, said he has no illusions that fraternities will be banned outright, citing the constitutional right to free association.

"So the question is, how can they be effectively regulated?" Fierberg said during a recent HuffPost Live discussion. They insist on self-management, he added, which has proved to be dangerous and fundamentally flawed. ... They should have to prove that they are in fact safe, not the other way around. There should be no assumption they are safe."

There are some Greek organizations that are well-maintained, Fierbeg conceded, but he noted frats as a whole are ranked by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners as the sixth worst insurance risk in this country -- just above hazardous waste disposal.

North‑American Interfraternity Conference President Pete Smithhisler said issues of hazing, racism, sexual assault and binge drinking are not unique to fraternities, and that "the vast majority of [fraternity members] are having those very positive fraternal experiences."

Smithhisler declined to say if he thinks fraternities are being unfairly targeted or receiving extra scrutiny. Instead, he said, "We must continually re-educate our members, especially when we have new members, from the leadership, what the expectations are."

Tim Burke, founding partner of Fraternal Law Partners, put it another way: "Is it easy for [Greek organizations]? Hell no!" However, he said, "when you operate from a national headquarters halfway across the country, it's tough to know what your chapters are doing."

So no matter how much the national Chi Phi organization may tell members not to haze, that alone won't fully prevent their University of Wisconsin-Madison chapter from forcing underage pledges to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, depriving them of food or making them sit in isolation while wearing hoods.

Experts say fraternities today are under more scrutiny than they were in the past because the Internet makes it easier circulate -- and catch -- examples of misbehavior.

"Part of the message that ought to be out there is if it's going to get you in trouble, that's a reason not to do it," Burke said. "The overuse of the web probably gets people in more trouble now than if they didn't have cell phones to begin with. The smart-ass comment you might have said over the telephone and [that would go] away because no one remembered it, is now being perpetuated out there for a long, long time and is easy to distribute to others who were never supposed to hear the asinine comment."

Lake agreed, pointing to the Oklahoma SAE racism scandal as an example: By the time the national fraternity or the university addressed what happened -- just hours after the video was revealed -- the media had already created a narrative.

"People feel a pressure to respond and to respond in a way that's not seen as white-washing," Lake said. "The next chapter in this is probably 'The Empire Strikes Back.'"

Jason Laker, a professor in the Department of Counselor Education at San José State University, said there needs to be more of an effort to help fraternity members who potentially act in racist, sexist or violent ways understand the impact their actions will have. It's important to remember, Laker said, that society's current construct of masculinity has taught guys on campus that being dominant over women or other males is what makes someone a man -- an idea that must be broken down.

"We're so quick to denigrate and say, 'you're horrid,' 'you're a racist,' 'you're a bigot and sexist,'" Laker said, "even though there's truth to that we raised the kids to be that way."

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