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As part of its initiation rites, the Wake College Omega Nu fraternity brothers, led by their president, Ky Walker, force gentle pledge Tod Palmer to swim in freezing-cold water until he nearly drowns. When Tod still shows no fear, Ky vows to break him. The next day, Tod is late for his blood pathology class, prompting his professor and mentor, Dr. Stephen Brice, to ask him if pledging has made his grades slip from As to Cs. Tod denies this, and after class, Ky beats him publicly with a paddle. Although Tod's girl friend Kathy Hughes insists that Ky has a vendetta against him and he must quit the fraternity, he demurs. Meanwhile, at Stephen's home, his wife Julie pressures him to push to be dean of the medical school so they can finally enjoy some prosperity and social standing. Just then, Tod's mother visits and asks Stephen if she should sign the fraternity's affidavit, which frees the students from responsibility for Tod during Hell Night that evening. Stephen encourages her to sign, knowing that it would shame Tod to be thrown out of Omega Nu and labeled a coward. As Hell Night begins, the four pledges, including Bartholomew "Beanie" Brown, are blindfolded and brought to the middle of the forest. There, dozens of alumni watch as the pledges' clothes are ripped and faces painted. Ky instructs Tod to shoot a puppy in the head, but after he refuses, Beanie kills the dog and Ky forces Tod to drink the blood. Tod knocks the cup down, and when Ky punches him, he flees into the forest, pursued by the fraternity members. Tod escapes to Stephen's, who helps him bring his story to district attorney Jesse Hopkins and school president Colin Mayberry. They pursue the case but, finding no clues and believing Beanie's lie that the dog killing was just a prank, drop it, to Mayberry's relief. Julie chastises Stephen for jeopardizing his career, and then the next day, Ky whips Wake into a fury over Tod's accusations. Tod explains to Kathy that he must stay in school to help the next year's pledges, but he is hazed all day and then, when he tries to pick up his clothes at the frat house, the brothers throw him out and pursue him in his car. Frightened, Tod veers off the road and hits another car. At the hospital, Mrs. Palmer blames Stephen for Tod's serious injuries, and when sultry student Tracy Norman suggests he use her father's estate to address the student body, a guilt-stricken Stephen ignores her flirting and agrees. The next day, Julie witnesses Tracy trying to seduce Stephen, and gives him an ultimatum: he must drop the speech or she will move out. Stephen is crushed but cannot call off his crusade, so Julie leaves tearfully. During Stephen's speech, Kathy delivers the news that Tod has died, and the students all sign the petition to abolish hazing. Tracy later tries to kiss Stephen, prompting him to tell her that she is beautiful but spoiled and must grow up. Furious, she runs outside, where Ky, her ex-boyfriend, convinces her to seek revenge. She promptly visits Stephen in his lab, kisses and claws him, and then screams that she has been attacked. With no proof from either side, the Board of Regents is forced to fire Stephen to avoid scandal. Outside, Julie is waiting, contrite. They prepare to move to his father's home in Wisconsin, but are interrupted by a call from Beanie. Ky has admitted to his brothers that Tracy lied, and Beanie now offers to tell this to the board. Ky hears him, however, and scares him into submission by beating him up. When Beanie does not show up at the board meeting, Stephen tracks him down and notices that the boy's swollen chin matches Ky's sore knuckles. That night, Stephen goes to Omega Nu and is told that Beanie has left school. He confronts Ky, taking his bandage to analyze whether it bears traces of Beanie's blood. Ky spies on Stephen at the lab and finally breaks in, dousing the lights. He hits Stephen but the professor intimidates him into admitting that he killed the dog and arranged the attack story with Tracy. Stephen calls out to Kathy, two professors and Mayberry, who have been listening behind the door. Mayberry apologizes to Stephen and begs him to stay on as dean to oversee the eradication of hazing. Stephen agrees, hoping that the incoming class will include another boy like Tod Palmer.