Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity will no longer allow pledging in an effort to prevent hazing, the national organization announced late Friday.
"Effective March 9, 2014, new-member (pledge) programming will be eliminated completely from our operations, and the classification of new member (pledge) will no longer exist. All chapters and colonies will be required to implement this important change," the organization said in a statement.
Under the new policy, whenever a prospective member is offered a bid, that student becomes a brother upon acceptance. The new member is then required to complete the Carson Starkey Membership Certification Program and accept a Scope of Association Agreement.
The group conceded the change was in part a response to recent reports of hazing at various SAE chapters. Bloomberg News had labeled the organization the nation's "deadliest frat," having attributed the deaths of nine students to SAE-related events.
The new membership program takes its name from Carson Starkey, a pledge at Cal Poly who died after drinking to excess during an SAE hazing ritual. Cal Poly suspended SAE from campus through 2033. Dartmouth College's chapter also came under national scrutiny following the whistle-blowing of former member Andrew Lohse.
"As an organization, we have been plagued with too much bad behavior, which has resulted in loss of lives, negative press and bad lawsuits," said Eminent Supreme Archon Brad Cohen in a YouTube video posted Sunday. The video suggests that, had the fraternity not taken the step to end pledging, the organization risked being completely disbanded within five years.
The organization called the bad press "challenging and regretful because we know that some of our groups have great new-member (pledge) programs and do the right thing." But, according to the statement, local chapters had reported to the national organization that such stories in the press had made it difficult for them to operate. At SAE, "we have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience. Furthermore, we have endured a painful number of chapter closings as a result of hazing," the organization said in its statement.
Alumni reactions to the news on Facebook were mixed, with some posting comments like, "We just became 'Sigma Alpha Everyone'"; "So this is how it ends huh? Pathetic"; and calling the move "True stupidity." One man wrote, "I do understand insurance issues are a challenge, but these guys will be members ... brothers without even knowing who our founding fathers are let alone The True Gentleman. It makes my membership so much less important." Others were more supportive, calling it a "courageous step"; one person wrote, "On this historic Founders Day, I could not be more proud of the new direction our Supreme Council is taking us. The right decision is not always the most popular decision."
SAE notes in the video that pledging did not exist at the fraternity's founding, and that new member rituals developed after World War II. In adopting this new course, SAE is following Sigma Phi Epsilon, which got rid of pledging in the 1990s. Like SAE's new plan for a "True Gentleman Experience," SigEp has a "Balanced Man Program."
The national SAE organization said it understands the change "will provide challenges as it is incorporated throughout our Realm. However, this change will strengthen our Fraternity, create highly positive opportunities to redefine membership, attract prospective members who otherwise might not join and lead the way among Greek-letter organizations as we recommit ourselves to our Founding Fathers' original concepts and return to their intent for membership in the Fraternity."