COLLEGE PARK -- Homecoming Week, a celebration with nightly beer busts in years past, kicks off at the University of Maryland College Park tomorrow amid a new campus rule that threatens to crimp the historic rituals.
Effective this week, fraternities and sororities are banned from serving alcohol at weeknight social events, with an exemption for this Thursday only.
Wild parties don't go along with the "top 10" academic image the university is cultivating, educators said in explaining the ban.
And this fall's opening round of parties, when police were called to break up fights, was the last straw.
The crackdown follows years of complaints from local residents and what officials say was the failure of fraternity leaders to enforce their own rules, enacted last spring, to restrict parties to weekends and limit the number of guests.
"It's going to have a major impact," said Mark Abadir, 22, a senior lTC economics major and member of Kappa Sigma.
"Overall, we're a social fraternity. That's the way it is. We study hard, and we blow off steam," he said. "Beer and college kind of go together."
The university policy, which limits alcohol to Friday and Saturday night social events at on- and off-campus fraternities, is believed one of the toughest in the country.
"With the extension [of the ban] to off-campus, we are a bit farther down the line on restrictions than most" universities, said William L. Thomas Jr., vice president for student affairs.
In a compromise with the 42 Greek organizations, the policy allows houses with academic grades above the all-campus average to hold parties on Thursdays, he pointed out.
"They have reacted extraordinarily well," Mr. Thomas said of the fraternity and sorority houses that have 4,400 members, about 15 percent of the undergraduate population.
The policy ties the behavior of off-campus organizations to the university's discipline system and not to the traditional self-discipline process, he added. Organizations housed on the campus are subject to an extensive conduct code that results in very few parties with alcohol, Mr. Thomas said.
Effective this summer, the university banned parties that serve alcohol from a keg or "common container," because that practice "tends to lead to alcohol abuse in contrast with use of individual containers," he noted.
The university acted after seeing widespread violations of the fraternities' own party rules in the first two weeks of the semester.
"We are not going to take it any more," Mr. Thomas said. He predicted the new policy would lead to an "appreciable change" in alcohol use.
The policy affects one of the largest Greek communities in the country and took many students by surprise when the university announced it 10 days ago.
In response, stunned Greek organizations last week proposed a set of tougher regulations for themselves, including a return of Thursday night alcohol privileges in exchange for better grades. University officials say fraternity grades are currently "well below" the campus average for men.
Mike Wathen, a senior and member of Sigma Chi who took over as head of the Interfraternity Council when its president resigned over the ban, conceded that fraternities had failed to police themselves. He said the council's new set of tougher rules had been accepted by the university late Friday.
While few public universities have gone as far as College Park, rules limiting drinking and party size are being put in place by fraternities themselves as the result of concerns over under-age drinking and insurance liability, said Terry Zacker, assistant director of campus activities and adviser to Greek groups at College Park.
"Across the country, things are changing," she said. "Our frustration was, it wasn't happening here."
A check of large public universities last week turned up no restrictions on Sunday-though-Thursday alcohol use.
"I don't think it would go over too well here," said Scott Stephan, president of the Interfraternity Council at Pennsylvania State University, which has the second largest Greek community and is slightly bigger than College Park. The largest is at the University of Illinois.
But Mr. Stephan said Penn State fraternities, in trouble for serving minors, restricted party size last fall and now are considering going to a "bring your own bottle" system.
Administrators at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., combating what they described as a rise in violence and vandalism, recently adopted a strict new alcohol policy that emphasizes supervising and monitoring student parties.
The new rules limit how many students can attend a party and how much alcohol will be available: six beers for each legal-age drinker. The rules mandate that parties be monitored by at least two non-students -- available from four campus security organizations including the campus police -- who will check to see whether partygoers are on the guest list and have student-identification cards.