Texas State adopts stricter rules for Greek groups after pledge’s death

Feb 26, 2018
Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Texas State University campus in San Marcos. RALPH K.M. HAURWITZ/2017 AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas State University announced stricter standards Monday for fraternities and sororities after the death of a pledge who had a blood alcohol level more than four times the limit for driving.

The new rules, recommended by a university task force that conducted a review of the Greek system and fine-tuned in recent days, include stepped-up new member orientation, leadership education, risk reduction planning, limits on attendance at social events involving alcoholic beverages, upgraded training of chapter advisers and higher academic standards.

Texas State President Denise Trauth ordered the review and suspended activities of all 31 fraternity and sorority chapters after the death in November of Matthew McKinley Ellis, 20, a business administration major from Humble, near Houston.

Ellis was found dead at an off-campus apartment after a fraternity event. His blood alcohol level was 0.38, according to an autopsy report. The legal limit for driving in Texas is 0.08. Anyone who furnished him alcohol — the drinking age in Texas is 21 — could face charges.

Ellis was the second Texas State student to die in a little more than a year in conjunction with an off-campus Greek event. In October 2016, 20-year-old Jordin Taylor, a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority, was fatally struck and dragged by a bus near Martindale.

Under the new rules, alcoholic beverages in fraternity houses are permitted only in private living quarters for residents above the legal drinking age and must be below 15 percent alcohol by volume. Hard liquor is banned altogether in fraternity houses.

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New members must have a grade-point average of at least 2.7, no social event with alcohol may exceed 400 attendees or the venue’s fire code, and all chapter-hosted social events must be held within a 100-mile radius of San Marcos.

Each chapter’s president and advisers must meet with the the university’s Greek Affairs staff to review and sign on to the new requirements no later than March 30 to be reinstated to the Greek system. And each member of every chapter must sign a document agreeing to the standards and affirming a commitment to ending substance and alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct.

Ellis was pledging Phi Kappa Psi, and his death came about a week after the fraternity’s national organization ordered the Texas State chapter to cease social activities because of an ongoing investigation. Texas State began the investigation Oct. 4; the university has not disclosed the nature of the complaint that prompted the investigation.

Hazing is a misdemeanor unless it results in a death. The Hays County district attorney’s office is still investigating.

Of Texas State’s nearly 39,000 students, about 2,400, or roughly 6 percent, belong to Greek organizations, according to school officials. No fraternity or sorority houses are on campus, but some are just across the street.

The turmoil surrounding Texas State’s Greek system comes at a time of unrest regarding other matters on the campus as well, including free speech. The school has been peppered repeatedly with white supremacist and anti-Semitic flyers. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks distribution of such materials at college campuses, counted 11 such incidents at Texas State since September 2016.

The vast majority of such postings at Texas State and other schools are by outside activists with far-right groups, as opposed to university-affiliated people, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Another campus controversy involved an opinion column in the student newspaper in November that ran under the headline “Your DNA is an abomination,” which also is a lyric by rapper-songwriter Kendrick Lamar. The column railed against whiteness. The paper apologized, and Trauth said she was “deeply troubled” by the article.

And earlier this month, students rallied to call for the ouster of Connor Clegg, president of the student government, after several of his old Instagram posts surfaced with racist and other offensive comments.