Two state legislators and the University System of Maryland chancellor say they support tougher penalties for hazing after a recent report detailed an extreme case at a Salisbury University fraternity chapter.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin said he will introduce a bill in this year's legislative session to increase the criminal fine for hazing from $500 to $5,000. He said he was shocked by a recent report from Bloomberg that examined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter's alleged hazing, including paddle beatings, forced drinking and making pledges stand in trash cans full of ice water.
"It seems like a $500 fine on the books is not enough to deter basic violations of the law," said Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat. "I don't want to be holding hearings after a student dies from this."
Police and the Wicomico state's attorney's office were notified about the allegations at Salisbury, which were investigated. State's attorney Matthew A. Maciarello said Monday that the case had been closed with no criminal charges. However, after the Bloomberg story was published, his office reopened the case and it is still under investigation.
The Salisbury case is the second to come to light at a Maryland college in recent months. Last fall, Towson University announced it had suspended its cheerleading team, ranked No. 1 in the country, for hazing, though officials declined to reveal the specifics of what the cheerleaders had been accused of.
State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he wants to explore toughening the criminal penalties, though he had not yet settled on a course of action. Ferguson also said he wanted to work with officials from the University System of Maryland, which Salisbury and Towson are a part of, on whether their policies on hazing could be strengthened.
"Hazing is something that will never go away forever, and it makes sense to look at what we have and make sure it's effective and applicable," Ferguson said.
University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he's in favor of strengthening the penalties and looks forward to conversations with legislators on the issue. The system's Board of Regents Committee on Educational Policy and Student Life is meeting Tuesday to review its own policies on hazing.
"I was appalled by what took place, as reported in the article," Kirwan said.
Salisbury University officials have said they do not tolerate hazing, and, after investigating the matter, they suspended the chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon through the spring. The chapter will face another full year of probation after that.
According to Bloomberg, Sigma Alpha Epsilon's national office has defended its record on hazing, characterizing incidents as isolated and not tolerated.
Hazing is a misdemeanor offense and carries a maximum of six months of jail time in addition to a $500 fine; it is unclear how often the statute is enforced.
Raskin and Ferguson also said that the findings of investigations into hazing should be publicly available as a deterrent, though they want to explore the issue further to ensure that no laws are inadvertently violated in the process. Last fall, Towson University denied a Baltimore Sun request made under the Maryland Public Information Act for the report on its investigation into hazing in its cheerleading team.
The university suspended the team from performing for the academic year after the investigation, but officials said they had consulted with the Maryland attorney general's office and determined that its investigative report could not be disclosed under the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA requires student records be kept private.
"If somebody jumps out from behind a tree and beats up a student, that should be a publicly available report, and if somebody beats up a fellow student in a frat house, that should be a publicly available report," Raskin said. "We should lift the culture of secrecy and complicity that surrounds hazing on campus."
Kirwan supports disclosure, as long as it means reporting the organizations themselves and doesn't include individuals' names, which he said would violate the privacy act.
"As long as we can avoid violating the requirements of FERPA, I would be in favor of disclosure," he said.
In 2007 and 2008, two fraternity chapters were suspended at the University of Maryland, College Park after allegations of hazing that included forced drinking, confinement and injuries.
In 2002, College Park freshman Daniel Reardon died of alcohol poisoning, and his family alleged in court that fraternity members forced him to drink and then waited hours before calling 911. A "Good Samaritan" bill protecting those who call 911 to report a drug or alcohol overdose from arrest failed in the General Assembly but ultimately was passed by UMCP's University Senate.
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.
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