By Joshua Benton
Animal House at the University of North Texas just got tamed.
Officials have banned alcohol from all common areas of the university’s seven fraternity houses because of a rise in underage drinking.
In addition, UNT announced Thursday that it was suspending the local chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha for the rest of the school year because of a hazing incident involving underage drinking.
“We just finally realized that a culture was formulating that was not a healthy environment for our students,” said Bonita Jacobs, UNT’s vice president for student development. “We very much needed to get their attention.”
Consider them attentive.
“People are upset,” said Nick Carter, vice president of UNT’s Interfraternity Council. “I don’t think underage drinking is any worse in the houses than in the college as a whole.”
The policy says that fraternity members older than 21 may drink alcohol in their rooms. But drinking in the halls, dens or any other common area is banned.
Dr. Jacobs said that the ban is temporary and that if fraternities show a commitment to improved behavior, drinking might be allowed back within a year.
The university was pressed into action by a marked increase in the number of underage drinking incidents. So far this semester, six of the 10 fraternities have faced university charges for violations of alcohol policy. In previous years, typically only one or two fraternities would be facing such charges at this point, Dr. Jacobs said.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on it all semester, and it was getting worse,” she said.
She said the campus’ Greek groups had made significant progress in recent years toward a more controlled atmosphere, but that “something changed in the culture this year.”
One of the six fraternities accused this semester is Lambda Chi Alpha. The university said the group violated a number of school policies, including those on hazing, public intoxication and intimidation, and unspecified state laws. It’s the third fraternity suspended by UNT since April 2000.
Lambda Chi Alpha members could not be reached Thursday. A phone number listed for the chapter has been disconnected.
During the last decade, a number of hazing- and alcohol-related incidents on campuses nationwide have led to a backlash against the excesses of Greek life. Some universities have banned fraternities and sororities; others have insisted that their houses be completely dry.
“Everyone is concerned about the risk management that goes on in the houses,” said Stephen Hirst, Texas Tech University’s fraternity adviser.
Dry by choice
Fraternities often have been willing to go along with stricter rules. Several national fraternities demand that their chapter houses be alcohol-free, and several of the UNT houses are dry by choice.
“We want other people to take pride in our houses as much as we do,” Mr. Carter said. “So we’ve all been becoming more politically correct, you could say.”
The new policy applies only to members of the Interfraternity Council, which includes the school’s 10 historically white fraternities. It does not apply to the campus’ sororities or its historically black or Latino Greek organizations, in part because none of those groups have houses of their own.
Only seven of the 10 IFC fraternities have houses, meaning the policy’s impact will be minimal on the other three.
Historically, universities have had a stronger hand in regulating on-campus fraternities than those with houses not on university property. But the new policy applies equally to the five on-campus frats and the two off campus.
The university also announced that fraternities may still hold events with alcohol at places other than their houses, but only if they hire a third party such as a bar to serve the alcohol and check IDs.
Mr. Carter said that fraternity members were concerned less by the new policies than by how they were imposed.
“It’s the fact it was handed down to us without our input,” he said.
He said that the fraternity council is not informed when alcohol-related allegations are made against members, meaning the group cannot be proactive in fixing the problem.
The next step will be an evaluation of the existing rules governing fraternity parties to determine if they’re strict enough. Already, many fraternity events must be approved by university officials, including advance submission of a guest list, designated drivers, and someone to check students’ identification.
“I don’t think it will be a lot of new rules and regulations as much as making sure they follow the rules already in place,” Dr. Jacobs said.
In January, UNT plans a “leadership summit” with local, alumni, and national representatives of all the campus fraternities. Dr. Jacobs said she didn’t want to estimate when drinking might return to the houses, but she said she hoped it would be measured “in months, not years.”