There should be no doubt by now that some officials of the university were aware, or should have been aware, of the pernicious practice, including students being hurt in hazing rituals. It took the death of a drum major, Robert Champion Jr., in November, to show that hazing can kill.
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Champion’s death are being investigated by law enforcement as a criminal matter and it is only a question of time for the details to become known. There is an eagerness to apportion blame now but it is better to wait until the investigations are completed.
For the time being, the focus, rightly, must be on the road ahead. It is clear by now that hazing can no longer be tolerated, even though it has become a rite-of-passage of the college experience. Mr. Champion’s death makes that point self-evident. The question is how to prevent it from happening.
That should be easy: Just outlaw the practice and crack down as severely as possible on anyone who violates the ban – and decertify any organization whose members indulge in it.
That does not require a committee, independent or otherwise, to accomplish, so there is a temptation to assume that the trustees’ decision to set up the panel may in fact be just building another layer of cover for officials who have been in charge of the school while violence was practiced against students seeking acceptance in an organization or its inner sanctum.
But the committee can perform a service by putting an independent stamp on the urgent need to establish guidelines for student behavior and the creation of a protocol that would govern student behavior with regard to groups such as fraternities.
The committee should look also into recommending that one university official be designated the point person, perhaps within the office of the Dean of Students, or, better yet, the president’s office, with direct responsibility for hazing matters. That way, there can be certainty that hazing reports will not get lost, if that is what really happened, in the daily grind of university activities.