By Hoppy Kercheval
MORGANTOWN — Four years ago, Nolan Burch, a West Virginia University freshman from New York, died from alcohol poisoning during a fraternity hazing. His blood alcohol content was 0.493, six times the legal limit for driving.
That was not only a great tragedy for his family and friends, but also for WVU. The University may be huge, but it is still a community that is bonded together by a strong sense of place and purpose.
Sure, WVU had — and still has — a party image, but there would have to be limits and consequences.
West Virginia President E. Gordon Gee, an admitted supporter of the Greek system, has worked since Burch’s death to bend the curve of bad behavior on campus, especially among fraternities. He initiated the Reaching the Summit program aimed at lowering the incidents of drug and alcohol abuse, hazing, and sexual misconduct at fraternities and sororities.
Part of the plan prevented first semester freshmen from pledging. Gee rightly believed that new students on campus need time to adjust to living on their own and dealing with the academic rigors of college before committing time to rush.
That threw a curve ball to fraternities that count on first semester recruiting to fill their houses and pay the mortgage. For that reason, as well as other modest restrictions, five fraternities have dissociated themselves from the University.
In other words, the members still want to be WVU students and enjoy the many benefits the University has to offer, but they don’t want to play by even the most reasonable set of rules.
Gee, who has bent over backwards to accommodate the frats, appears to have finally had enough. He announced recently that the five dissociated fraternities are banned from campus for ten years. I asked Gee on Talkline recently, “What if any of the five wanted to come back into the fold before 2028?” “Too bad,” Gee said.
Tens of thousands of WVU graduates, yours truly included, can tell stories of alcohol-fueled parties and wild times. Then again, very few campuses adhere to the same moral standards as, say, BYU.
However, Nolan Burch’s party is over forever and WVU has not only the right, but also the obligation, to make its best effort to ensure that a similar tragedy does not happen again.