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Penn State making changes to Greek system after pledge death

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    Jim and Evelyn Piazza, center, stand by as Centre County, Pa., prosecutors discuss an investigation into the death of their son Timothy Piazza, seen in photo at right, during a news conference in Bellefonte, Pa.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. >> Penn State is making changes to its Greek system, including taking control of the previously self-governing fraternities and sororities, following the February death of a pledge.

The university’s board of trustees approved a set of changes during a meeting Friday. Earlier this week, the parents of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza released a scathing letter to the school. The parents of the college sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey, accused officials of turning a blind eye to hazing and excessive drinking in the Greek system, saying it led to the Feb. 4 death of their son.

“Our son died on your watch because of ignorance and denial by Penn State,” said the letter dated May 31 and signed by Jim and Evelyn Piazza.

Eighteen members of the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity face charges in connection with Piazza’s death.

Police say he drank a life-threatening amount of alcohol during a hazing ritual.

A grand jury report said security camera footage captured events inside the house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps.

Fraternity brothers made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him, and when one member strongly advocated for summoning help he was shoved into a wall and told to leave, the report said.

Piazza apparently fell down the steps again early the next morning but was not discovered until about 10 a.m. Someone called 911 about 40 minutes later. Piazza later died as a result of severe head injuries.

President Eric Barron said Penn State will lobby for tougher laws on hazing, something sought by Piazza’s parents, and will host a national conference on Greek Life to work with other universities on finding answers.

“Across this nation, Greek life has operated through self-governance,” Barron said. “Today we believe the self-governance model is broken.”

The university will now control the organizational misconduct and adjudication process for fraternities and sororities. Another change approved Friday is hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse or any behavior that puts a student at risk will result in permanent revocation of that chapter’s recognition.

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