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SUNY Potsdam’s Greek Life Task Force issues final report


POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam must balance the secrets of tradition with a newfound sense of collaboration to preserve its fraternities and sororities, according to a report from the college’s Greek Life Task Force.

The task force was commissioned last year, amid instances of hazing and underage drinking. Two sororities and one fraternity have temporarily lost their recognition, while three fraternities have been banned outright over the last several years.

About 250 of SUNY Potsdam’s 4,000 students are active members of a fraternity or sorority.

The new report highlights the distrust between college administration and Greek students. Any successful plan will require trust and collaboration between everyone involved, according to the report. One of the first steps to building that trust is deciding where to draw the line on secrecy.

Secrecy is an integral part of fraternity and sorority life across the country, with classified rituals providing a bonding experience for members.

Alan L. Hersker, chairman of the task force, said these secrets can be positive as long as they do not involve hazing. But he said some information, such as how organizations are governed and how they educate new members, is often kept needlessly secret.

“I think often we have things secret for the sake of being secret,” the professor said.

According to the report, organizations should be allowed to maintain their secret initiation rituals in private, but only if they include activities the students would be “proud to conduct in public on campus.”

“If you feel that something needs to be secret because you’ll get in trouble for it, then it’s a problem,” Mr. Hersker said.

He acknowledged that allowing the secret rituals to continue will preserve the risk of hazing. Each fraternity and sorority is a chapter of a national organization, which is privy to the traditions and rituals of its members, and Mr. Hersker said the college needs to work more closely with these national bodies to keep bad behavior in check.

The report recommends giving Greek organizations more responsibility for their members’ actions. The All Greek Council, a student-only body, should be in charge of all judicial matters related to fraternities and sororities except in the most egregious cases, the report said.

Most Greek students are well-behaved and will willingly keep their peers in line, Mr. Hersker said.

“We need to give all students the opportunity to make their own decisions,” he said.

This presents a challenging balancing act, he added. By giving students more responsibility over their own actions, the college must be careful not to encourage the Greek students to be even more insular and secretive than they are already.

To this end, the college recommends the creation of a permanent Greek Life advisory board and a full-time assistant director of Greek life to act as go-betweens with the college.

The task force’s report does a good job of maintaining a balanced view, said student, task force member and Arethusa Sorority sister Sara Behuniak.

“It doesn’t lay blame on any one party. It forces everyone to step up to the plate,” she said.

Several recommendations in the plan may be difficult to implement.

It suggests established organizations should “take the lead in shunning” banned or unrecognized student groups. These unrecognized organizations’ behavior cannot be policed by the college, but many students do not realize the difference between established Greek groups and those that operate on their own.

Three SUNY Potsdam fraternities that have been permanently banned continue to operate in the village under new names.

It is important to undermine these organizations’ legitimacy, according to Mr. Hersker, but it will be difficult to persuade official student groups to sever ties with their friends.

“That’s kind of antithetical to the whole Greek ethos,” Mr. Hersker said.

Another tough recommendation dictates SUNY Potsdam’s fraternities and sororities remain open only to SUNY Potsdam students.

Some of SUNY Potsdam’s Greek organizations have members from Clarkson University and vice versa. Rather than entire organizations, the college would rather discipline individual students for violations whenever possible, Mr. Hersker said, but that’s impossible if the offenders are not SUNY Potsdam students.

Again, he said, it will be difficult to persuade groups that have long welcomed members from both schools to close their doors to Clarkson students.

The task force could not agree on how to discipline organizations for the most severe violations. Some supported the outright banning of fraternities or sororities in extreme cases, but others said this would only cause the groups to continue to operate outside of the college’s control.

All of these difficulties will need to be sorted out as the plan is implemented, which is why the creation of a permanent advisory body composed of students, faculty, alumni and administrators is vital, Mr. Hersker said.

“I’m really hoping the president creates this advisory council,” he said.

Administrators have not yet announced if, when, or how the recommendations will be implemented, but interim college President Dennis C. Hefner said the college is in favor of the task force’s efforts.

“I’m very supportive of the report, and I think they did a good job,” he said.

The college has posted the full report on its website at, and feedback can be sent to

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