The University of Virginia has joined a growing list of schools that have taken public steps to control fraternity pledging or ban it outright.
UVa Dean of Students Allen Groves ordered the 31 fraternities that compose the school's Inter-Fraternity Council to end pledging by 6 p.m. Sunday. He earlier set the date for Saturday but announced a one-day extension Friday.
In a letter to Greek alumni Thursday, Groves cited "colorable reports of hazing and misconduct," including excessive alcohol consumption and "other behavior that threatens the health, safety and well-being of ... students."
One fraternity is under investigation and several more will face scrutiny, Groves wrote.
The reports come two months after the Inter-Fraternity Council received a dressing-down from Groves and university President Teresa A. Sullivan over a rash of alcohol-related hospital visits by students coinciding with Greek rush week.
Neither university officials nor the fraternity council president responded to requests for comment.
UVa is not alone in seeking to curb misbehavior at fraternities.
The culture of passive acceptance and a "boys will be boys" approach to pranks and rituals designed to bond pledges and also to test their mettle is dissipating, as a generational shift in attitudes means more students who are subjected to line-crossing behavior are also more likely to speak up, experts said.
Although Greek letter organizations are nowhere close to abolishing pledging, at least nine national fraternities have adopted alternatives to the nearly century-old tradition, according to Pietro Sasso, an assistant professor of student affairs at Monmouth University.
Although most schools, including UVa, have education programs warning of the dangers of hazing and excessive alcohol consumption, most crackdowns on Greek life are, by nature, reactive, said Hank Nuwer, a professor and author who specializes in hazing education.
"It isn't a widespread practice, to stop pledging this way, but we are seeing more action at the top with regard to fraternities and sororities," he said.
Cornell University launched a prohibition against pledging this academic year following the hazing-related death of a student in 2011. Chico State University suspended all Greek activities this fall after a student reportedly died of an alcohol overdose. The University of South Carolina suspended pledging temporarily in 2011 and the University of Central Florida shut down Greek life in February after reports of hazing and alcohol abuse.
Students have died in pledging or hazing-related incidents every year since 1970, Nuwer said. He maintains a comprehensive list, which includes four UVa students who died in incidents occurring in 1982, 1992 and 1996.
Schools once controlled most aspects of student life under the doctrine of "in loco parentis," Latin for "in the place of a parent," a standard that was cast aside during the social revolutions of the 1960s, said Lisa Wade, chairwoman of the sociology department at Occidental College in California.
"Colleges then started to compete for wealthier students, building palatial gymnasiums and marketing campus life as a fun experience," Wade said.
Schools were loath to meddle in activities like pledging where hazing might be occurring for two reasons: They didn't want to be seen as the school that crushed fun and they wanted to be able to claim ignorance, she said.
The culture of complicity coincided with a rise in harmful pledging-related activity, such as excessive alcohol consumption, a problem that isn't limited to Greek life, Sasso said.
"It's just gotten progressively worse," he said. "But now, more and more students understand bystander intervention — that it's not OK to be a victim and you should say something."
More than half of students involved in campus activities — including sports, clubs or Greek life — are hazed in the process of joining or maintaining membership, according to a national study conducted by researchers at the University of Maine. The findings, published in 2008, state that nine of 10 students who reported undergoing hazing behavior did not recognize that behavior to be hazing.
Nuwer said that Virginia is one of 44 states that criminalizes hazing, which is defined in state code as the reckless or intentional endangerment of students' health or safety, or injury to students connected to initiation or continued membership in student groups.
Although the practice is widespread, some Greek organizations have moved away from pledging because they say it has the potential to act as a vehicle for hazing.
Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national fraternity headquartered in Richmond, launched The Balanced Man Program in lieu of pledging roughly 20 years ago, said Brian Warren, who is executive director of the organization and a UVa graduate.
Warren said he applauded UVa's decision to step in and shut down pledging in light of the reports administrators had received.
"In 2010, Sigma Phi Epsilon closed its chapter at UVa in partnership with the administration for similar concerns as we recognized the need for a break from campus to break from hazing and other life-threatening behaviors," he said.
Warren said he was disheartened by reports of conduct that is not in keeping with the highest and best purpose of fraternal organizations and called on fraternities to hold their members accountable.
"If we aren’t able to eliminate the risky behavior and move away from the fraternity stereotypes by providing an experience that aligns with our values, Greek letter organizations will offer little to no value to colleges and universities and, over time, will cease to exist," he said.
The incidents Groves reported are not reflective of Greek life at UVa, said Brian Roy, president of the executive council for the university's Fraternity Alumni Council. Roy said he welcomed any steps the school could take to make pledging a more positive experience.
He said that bouts of inappropriate behavior seem to surface cyclically every few years, but that "99 percent of the fraternity system is a tremendously positive experience" that becomes overshadowed by negative perceptions.
Calling hazing the "800 pound gorilla" of the pledging process, Roy said council members were more concerned about reports of binge drinking, which he said a swift end to pledging would not curtail.
Roy said he had confidence in Groves' ability to manage recent events.
"[Groves] is a fraternity man," he said.