February 2, 2012

SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller has instituted two important initiatives related to Greek Life: a temporary, modified new member education program and the formation of a Greek Life Task Force.

It is imperative that SUNY Potsdam's community of students, alumni and friends understand the reasons WHY the College has embarked on this comprehensive review of Greek Life, along with implementing a trial modified new member education or (pledging) program at SUNY Potsdam. 

The College's number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students. It is important to understand that any club, organization or programming that potentially puts students at risk must be evaluated.

We understand and admire the passion that members of Greek organizations have for their community. Indeed, these groups have produced many accomplished and devoted graduates. The SUNY Potsdam Greek community is to be commended for significant positive changes in the last five years in the areas of community service, leadership and academics. However, it is important for the campus community to be aware that the severity of recent charges against several fraternities and sororities are not trivial

Given the severe dangers to health and well-being posed by a pattern of prohibited Greek activities over the past five years, the College has no choice but to respond to the disturbing trends of violence, illegal and dangerous consumption of alcohol, sexual harassment and other risky behaviors exhibited by some members of Greek organizations.

SUNY Potsdam must act in the best interest of protecting all students. We cannot afford to wait until tragedy strikes. The College will do everything in its power to proactively address this trend before it results in fatality or permanent physical, psychological or emotional harm, as we have seen happen at other institutions across the country.

  • Despite an investment of time and financial resources dedicated to educational and strong preventive efforts over the past five years, there have been 29 reported incidents related to hazing, four charges in Fall of 2012 alone.
  • SUNY Potsdam has zero tolerance for hazing. SUNY Potsdam will investigate, evaluate and react to any report of hazing by any group or organization associated with the College, both Greek and non-Greek.

Greek organizations have recently been found responsible for hazing activities that included:

  • sexual harassment,
  • psychological abuse of new members, and
  • endangering the lives of others through the extreme consumption of alcohol.

Overall, there have been nearly 70 reports in the past five years, including hazing, alcohol and drug charges, theft, damage and fights. Four organizations had temporary losses of recognition, two were permanently banned, and more sanctions are still pending for Fall 2012 violations.

  • While there are some organizations that have had few to no reports, it has become clear that this is a systemic problem.

Effective immediately, there are temporary regulations for new member education programs (or "pledging") for Greek organizations for Spring 2013.

  • The programs can only last three weeks in duration, can only take place between 9 a.m. and midnight, and must be offered in a public place on campus.
  • To ensure compliance, modified plans must be submitted to the Office of Campus Life. The Coordinator of Greek Life is working with fraternities and sororities on suggestions for appropriate steps, to be submitted to the task force for review.

The College last convened a Greek Life Task Force in 1995-96. Given all of the changes in the past 17 years, President Schwaller and the President's Council have charged the formation of new task force to look at this issue once again.

  • The Greek Life Task Force will have student, faculty, staff and alumni representatives, from both Greek and non-Greek backgrounds. The selection process will be announced shortly.
  • Alumni involvement will be critical to this comprehensive review, and to offer mentoring to current fraternity and sorority members.

The task force will examine all aspects of Greek Life at SUNY Potsdam. The preliminary and final reports will be a comprehensive picture of fraternities and sororities at the College.

  • The task force will present recommendations regarding the future of Greek Life at SUNY Potsdam. Following higher education best practices, this review must leave all options on the table to be effective.

All SUNY Potsdam programming must reflect the College's mission and values, as expressed in the Potsdam Pledge. The SUNY Potsdam Greek community's common values of friendship, scholarship, community service and leadership will serve as benchmarks to measure where we are, and where we're going.

Feedback is vital for a conversation as important as this. Please submit your thoughts to greektaskforce@potsdam.edu.