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You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in authority at any Maryland college or university who is not opposed to fraternity or sorority hazing. Yet when push comes to shove — or ice water bath or gross-out eating contest or binge drinking — such incidents tend to get nothing more than a slap on the wrist. As critics have noted, the current penalty for criminal hazing in Maryland is a $500 fine, which is little more than a weekend's worth of beer money for many offenders.

Enough is enough. Earlier this year, state Sen. Jamie Raskin sponsored legislation to raise the fine to $5,000, which would, at the very least, send a message that student hazing is taken seriously in this state. The University of Maryland supported it, as did a lot of student groups. Mr. Raskin's fellow senators must have been impressed, too, because it passed the chamber without a single dissenting vote in March.

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But then the measure got stuck in the legislative gears and never had so much as a public hearing in the House of Delegates. It's a familiar pattern of behavior in Annapolis — identify a problem, offer a remedy that hardly anyone even dares criticize and then let it die quietly and hope nobody notices. The polite term for this is "posturing." Like Casablanca's Captain Renault rounding up the usual suspects, it's really just an effort to appear to be doing the right thing without actually doing anything at all.

Here's what lawmakers ought to be doing. Not only should they approve a $5,000 fine, but the General Assembly's budget committees ought to drag in every president of every school that gets a dime of taxpayer support and read them the riot act. Crack down on these incidents of campus hazing — and sexual assault while we're at it — or be prepared for a big reduction in your budget. Can't afford to hire people to more closely monitor social events on and off campus? Perhaps a $5 million reduction in next year's budget will change your priorities.

Why is this so difficult? Last year, a scandal involving Salisbury University in which students were beaten with paddles and forced to drink until they passed out caught the public's attention. It's possible, however, that legislators thought that this was an isolated incident involving just one Maryland school. But, in reality, there were more than two dozen such alleged cases at state schools in recent years, a fact uncovered by The Sun's Carrie Wells through a Public Information Act request.

Students are getting hurt, and while none of these recent incidents resulted in death, the risk of such a tragic outcome is real. It has happened before in Maryland. Nationwide, at least 60 young people have died in campus hazing incidents over the past decade, according to one estimate. And it's not just fraternities and sororities. Athletic teams, clubs and other campus organizations have been putting their recruits through hell, too. At Towson University, it was the cheerleading squad that last year was caught violating the school's anti-hazing policy for under-age drinking and other questionable behavior by recruits.

Taxpayers aren't the only ones who should be upset by this. Parents need to come forward to demand accountability, too. The average Maryland school charges more than $18,000 in annual tuition, not counting room and board. Who wants to spend that kind of money so that their son or daughter can be humiliated and put at risk of bodily harm? As one Towson fraternity recruit told The Sun, so-called "Hell Week" involved going three days without sleep, eating raw flour, endless calisthenics and throwing up, a lifestyle that eventually led to a bed at St. Joseph Medical Center.

We should expect our institutions of higher education to aspire to society's best values, not its worst. A Maryland school shouldn't take its cues from Abu Ghraib. If fraternities want a "bonding" experience, let them volunteer at a homeless shelter, pick up litter or mentor inner-city youth. If they want to recruits to demonstrate toughness, require them to raise their grades or demonstrate they can treat members of the opposite sex with respect. There are plenty of ways to build a team — or a responsible adult — that don't require endangering anyone.

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