Cornell President Pens NYTimes Op-Ed: “A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing”

Cornell’s Greek community can expect some pretty radical changes in the coming weeks and months. That’s the word from President David Skorton, who took to the pages of the New York Times today to outline, in broad strokes, his plan for a hazing-free Cornell:

Yesterday, I directed student leaders of Cornell’s Greek chapters to develop a system of member recruitment and initiation that does not involve “pledging” — the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership. While fraternity and sorority chapters will be invited to suggest alternatives for inducting new members, I will not approve proposals that directly or indirectly encourage hazing and other risky behavior. National fraternities and sororities should end pledging across all campuses; Cornell students can help lead the way.

The move was all but inevitable after Cornell sophomore, and SAE brother, George Desdunes died after a night of reverse-hazing, back in February. That story has (rightfully) been a persistent black mark on the university over the past half-year, as a months-long police investigation resulted in the May indictment of four SAE pledges; followed shortly thereafter by a $25-million wrongful-death lawsuit against the fraternity, filed by Desdunes’ mother. The university had already planned on overhauling regulations for Greek organizations, and it became clear almost immediately after Desdunes’ death that those efforts would be redoubled.

We’ll keep the comment to a minimum for now, except to say that Skorton’s sentiments are all well and good, but ending decades-long, institutionalized practices is a bit more difficult than telling the Grey Lady, “It shall be so.” It will be interesting to see what substance comes out of Skorton’s initiative.

12 Responses to “Cornell President Pens NYTimes Op-Ed: “A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing””

  1. Jon Mack Says:

    If you drop hazing, how else are you going to prepare students for their predatory role in society’s elite?

  2. Dude Says:

    If you’re trying to be funny, that wasn’t.

  3. BrianCardinalPick Says:

    Not sure if he was trying to be funny but he wasn’t exactly inaccurate. Those guys who had no moral qualms whatsoever about ditching their SAE bids and latching onto TKE are not going to be your future nonprofit volunteers and kindergarten teachers. The whole process of hazing requires at least one of three things – a sufficient level of comfort with cognitive dissonance, a modest level of sociopathy, or a situational lack of empathy. Hazing people does not make you a bad person – however, most people that haze will try to justify it to you; and if you are trying to justify hazing then chances are that you have one of those aforementioned personality quirks.

  4. Drewchang88 Says:

    The purpose of hazing is to create a controlled environment of adversity in order to develop a sense of , loyalty, rank and order. It is difficult to understand as an outsider peering in, but many traditional pledging processes are extremely effective in creating a community based on camaraderie. The questionable behavior you mentioned is the result of a diluted pledging process where hazing is removed from the equation and the void is replaced with disorder and pointless activities. 

  5. Anonymous Says:

    As someone who went through the pledging process, I can’t help but feel like your argument — “hazing” vs “disorder and pointless activities” — is basically one of semantics.

  6. editorAlice Says:

    excuse me, does anyone feel the “cognitive dissonance” referred to in a prior defense of  hazing applies better here where “effective” means of “creating a community based on camaraderie” ended in the death of a boy? a boy bound and gagged and left to die alone on a couch while his “brothers” wandered off in a spirit of camaraderie to see how the other pledges were holding up? 

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  8. Keggy Says:

    I’m confused by the article’s use of pledging and hazing.  I would not define pledging as “the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts.”  Hazing is the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts. Pledging can involve hazing, but a pledge term does not have to involve hazing. And you can certainly participate in pledging, and pledge activities, that focus on fun, bonding, an introduction to the house, and yes, lets be real, alcohol.  But not to a dangerous level

  9. Drewchang88 Says:

    Pledging into a historic organization necessarily involves a process deep-rooted in tradition which is the essence of the organization itself. Hazing is an integral part of tradition. Without it, the process is baseless and, therefore, the whole idea of fraternity becomes nothing more than a service where you pay for friends.   

  10. Mike Conrad Says:

    Pledging is not ‘baseless’ without hazing.  For example, there can be intense tests of skill and endurance (physical, athletic, mental, or whatever) which do not involve abuse. 

  11. BrianCardinalPick Says:

    I think the author is a little too optimistic about the Greek system’s alleged invulnerability because of its “decades-long, institutionalised practice”. Skorton can easily neuter the frat system to the point where Greek life is no longer seen as the dominant social force on campus but rather a niche hobby or involvement that certain students partake in.

    Many kids rush because they want a piece of the “greatness” that is Cornell frat life. If Skorton makes frat life significantly less glorious by laying down the banhammer on parties for freshmen and permitted Greek functions (and let’s be real –  if there’s one thing Cornell can do, it’s bureaucratize something into oblivion), then the incentive and impetus for students to join Greek life will plummet; thus making Greek life as we know it at Cornell a thing of the past.

    The same logic sort of applies to the banking industry. Credit ratings agencies gave AAA ratings to piles of garbage simply because they could and there was nothing in place to stop them. Banks – in their ever-present greed – gobbled these up and tried to play a game of financially nuclear global hot potato with these assets, hoping that they came out on top. Well they fucked up something big (duh), and they want you to cover their ass, but please don’t interfere with how they do things because we promise it won’t happen again.

    Cornell always made gestures toward reforming frat this or cleaning up frat that, but never really followed through with teeth until…guess what…a frat decided to fuck up. Is this unfair to the frats that keep their shit together? Yup, just like it’s unfair to a linebacker with three sacks when his QB throws five picks in one game. Like it or not, all Greek organizations are a “team”. When one of you fucks up, you all end up getting fucked over. It’s a sad but true reality.

    Cornell can’t afford to have more kids dying because of stupid shit, so they’re cracking down.

  12. Atypicalblackman Says:


    Ithaca, NY – In a scientific find that has amazed
    scientists and anthropologists across the globe, a study conducted over a
    fourteen-year period by some of the brightest minds in the world has
    found that it is indeed possible for a college student to make friends,
    consume alcohol and get laid outside of a fraternity setting.

    study – led by University of Beijing scientists Song Tu and Wu Hu –
    surveyed a group of over 17,000 Genetically Deficient Individuals (GDIs)
    and at over 120 universities across North America. “The results”, says
    Seoul National University biochemist Lee King Poo, “are nothing short of

    The study sought to address the long-held
    misconception which asserted that the affixing of two – or in some
    cases, three – Greek letters to one’s jacket, handbag or hat led to an
    inevitable increase in happiness (measured in the study by average
    alcohol level, sexual activity and social belonging).

    Derpington (UPenn ’02) says that he wasn’t surprised in the least.

    found many of these instances where, you see, students with these Greek
    letters were actually quite fucking miserable”, quipped Derpington
    venomously. “They perpetuated their seemingly limitless insecurity into
    an unparalleled projection of faux-superiority in such a comprehensive
    and degrading manner that Harvard alumni have been beating down our
    doors asking to see the results.”

    “I would make a gay joke about
    Harvard – but fuck them, they aren’t worthy”, Derpington added.

    Cornell student Ayama Gonagetsum (’12) was similarly unfazed. “I’m in a
    sorority, yeah; but for some reason I don’t find myself attracted to
    guys wearing cheap plastic shades, salmon-colored shorts and lacrosse
    pinnies with open-toed sandals. I know, it’s weird.”

    GDI Antonio Romanov (’13) was gleeful about the findings.

    can’t wait to write about this on the internet,” he ejaculated. “Now
    everyone can be just as miserable as I am.”

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