After years of sanctions and suspensions over excessive partying and underage drinking, UC Santa Barbara fraternity Beta Theta Pi was disbanded this week amid new reports of hazing that sent two pledges to the hospital. The fraternity’s national office issued the notice on Monday. UCSB endorsed the decision.
“Given the defiant actions and dishonest responses of the undergraduate chapter members throughout multiple periods of investigation, a period of closure is necessary in order to stop this pattern of high-risk behavior,” General Secretary David Schmidt wrote in an email to the brothers and families of UCSB’s Beta Theta Pi chapter, Epsilon Pi. He said the chapter, which was founded in 1991 and includes 73 members and 29 pledges, “experienced four status downgrades related to alcohol and unsafe pledge education practices” since 2009 and had been on “suspension status” since last January.
Schmidt explained the final straw came this fall when an investigation into a hazing allegation revealed that new members were forced to drink alcohol, and that two of them were hospitalized as a result. The pair’s parents reportedly notified his office of the incident. No other details were provided, and Beta Theta Pi officials at fraternity headquarters in Oxford, Ohio, declined to comment further on the matter or any of their past disciplinary action at UCSB.
On its website, the 175-year-old frat “dedicated to developing men of principle for a principled life” says it operates 131 chapters and colonies throughout the U.S. and Canada. Last month, the chapters at West Virginia University and University of Washington were shut down because of underage drinking and unsafe hazing.
UCSB chapter president Roberto Pregadio said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by this week’s decision to yank their charter, considering Epsilon Pi’s “history of behavioral issues,” but he called the move unfair and potentially dangerous. Of the hazing and hospitalization complaint, Pregadio said the national office “blew the entire incident out of proportion. … I’m sure that the allegations were not confirmed during the month-long investigation,” he wrote in an email “After all, it was not related to hazing.”
Pregadio claimed two fraternity members simply had too much to drink one night, and out of concern for their well-being, a few brothers drove them to the hospital. “Alcohol and drug-related issues unfortunately happen all the time in the UCSB community,” he wrote, “and I’m afraid that this decision will set a precedent in which students would rather not call an ambulance when a severe situation is at stake, out of fear of punishment.”
The real issue, Pregadio went on, is that Beta Theta Pi brass was sufficiently spooked by Isla Vista’s recent murders, riots, and sexual assaults that they’d written off Epsilon Pi as an unneeded liability. “They do not want to be associated with a campus that contains these high-risk issues,” he said. “So they look for reasons to close us off in order to protect themselves, and in doing so, they’ve affected over 100 current members and a network of roughly 500 alumni.” The whole episode, Pregadio said, has made him realize that Beta Theta Pi is a business, not a brotherhood.
Lastly, Pregadio characterized the closure as “gossip” and declared that the real issue is the “UCSB culture and its corrupt student organization system.” He said that “the Greek community is easy to use as a scapegoat when issues arise on a high-risk campus like ours” and that “the system would rather point fingers at outside organizations like ours and make examples out of them instead of tackling the campus culture issue head-on.” The misdirection is so ingrained that “they would rather disband an organization like ours even when we were the ones preventing a scandal from happening in the first place,” Pregadio lamented. “We were concerned for a person’s well-being and we took him to the hospital! How is that wrong? It makes very little sense to me.”
In his email on Monday, Schmidt said all chapter members will be moved to alumni status, and he kept a door open to the possibility that Beta Theta Pi may once again run a UCSB chapter. “The General Fraternity will work hard with alumni, university administrators and the IFC [Inter-Fraternity Council] to demonstrate that a strong Beta chapter can and will be re-installed on campus,” he wrote. In the meantime, the former frat brothers occupying their big house on Embarcadero del Mar will live there until their lease is up.
IFC president Carl Provenzano said the last time he saw a full-on closure was two years ago when UCSB shut down Sigma Alpha Epsilon over risk management concerns. There are currently 45 Greek organizations affiliated with the school, he said. The Nu Alpha Kappa fraternity was suspended indefinitely in October after an alleged rape took place at their house on Fortuna Lane, Provenzano noted, but he said he’s not aware of any other disciplinary actions being enforced at any of the other fraternities or sororities.
“Everyone is really upset about it,” said Provenzano of Beta Theta Pi’s closure. “They did a lot for the community.” Provenzano lauded the frat for “showing a lot of integrity” over the last year of their suspension but admitted their consistent rule-breaking was too much for the national office to bear. It’ll be hard for Beta Theta Pi to re-charter anytime soon, he said, as there are only a few houses in Isla Vista large enough to accommodate a fraternity of their size, and they’ve already been booked for the next several years.
“It’s Greek life,” Provenzano summed up. “That’s how it goes. We have a lot of great members, but there are some bad ones. We create a stigma for ourselves, and it’s hard when a few bad members burn an organization to the ground.”