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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

Phi Delta Theta’s Continuing Struggle

The brothers of Phi Delta Theta are tenaciously fighting for some very important things: the pride they feel in their fraternity, leading in the way they feel appropriate, and the life of their chapter house.

After a tumultuous series of events, including the revocation of their national charter for what some believe to be motivated out of political or personal pettiness rather than strictly legal reasons, the men are now embroiled in court battles to save their house at the intersection of Burrowes and Pollock, one of just a few fraternities remaining on the Penn State campus.

The administration is not a silent player in the debate that should be between the chapter and the national fraternity, and, perhaps as is to be expected from this administration, they are not supporting the students’ case. The University has decided that the property is of “strategic importance.” (PSU Live, March 19, 2004)

In turn, they have informed the men of Phi Delta Theta that if the local chapter loses its charter, the administration will evict the residents of the house, demolish it, and, speculatively, turn it into a small park.

There are three important issues here worth noting for every student, beyond the many that are important to note for all those involved in Greek life at Penn State and elsewhere. The first is that this is a building and plot of land that has stood as a proud part of this campus for over a century.

The University, in its old age, has a lot of traditions that have slowly faded, and only a few that have been allowed to sprout up in recent years. I think there are many of us who view those houses on the west side of campus as a piece of the old Penn State that everyone looks back on nostalgically.

No one looks at the Business Building or the Life Sciences building as beautiful relics of a better time (let alone particularly impressive pieces of architecture) but there are those who think that of the old fraternity houses. How could the administration decide to destroy one, then, at our University?

The next and more important, is that in the future, if the administration has its way, the 41 brothers who were living in the house will be homeless. It’s nearly May. If the administration evicts them now, I sincerely doubt they will all find convenient and suitable housing for the fall, as that is a tough task even in February, let alone the summer.

This is where the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) comes in. There are ten off-campus representatives, and all of them have a commitment to fight for their constituents. To hear that dozens of our constituents will be left homeless if the administration has its way is obviously upsetting, and to that end, the UPUA Assembly of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution seeking a suspension of the administration’s attempts to take the property forcefully, at least until the end of 2008.

The other thing I want to bring up is something that hasn’t been mentioned yet, to my knowledge. I do not know how the property laws work on those plots, but I believe the alumni corporation of the chapter owns the house and the land. My concern is this: now, the brothers care for the land and the house. If that property is annexed by the administration, we’re looking at significant costs.

Penn State wants to not only buy the property, but then demolish the historic building on it. After that, they want to construct something there (it’s anyone’s guess, but I think this article is telling). Whatever they construct will have maintenance costs. I suspect that this is already adding up to millions of dollars.

The University administration spends as if money is no object, and many of us happen to know that money is indeed a vitally important consideration at a land grant institutions such as ours. There are more digits in our debt load than we should care to see. The bottom line: our University cannot afford this needless land grab by a lustful administration.

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There are numerous flaws in this, and I don’t find them Sam’s fault because I’m sure the current Phi Delt guys don’t understand either.

1) The deed for the house says that if the chapter should close, Penn State gets the land. The university already supplies the house with all its utilities and bills the housing board. That agreement has been in place for decades – read the Penn State Live article and it explicitly states so.

2) Again, the university won’t support Phi Delt because the chapter violated their own national rules. Part of the agreement that the university has with EVERY social fraternity and sorority, is that they are welcome on campus as long as they follow their national policies. The Phi Delt chapter was not following their rules, which led to the closure. I’m not sure whose fault it is that the guys living in the house did not realize what the full ramifications for ignoring the one rule that Phi Delt is known for.

I tried to refrain from commenting on the “right” and “wrong” of the fraternity’s members – I’m not denying that, on paper, they broke a rule. I think that there are valid questions about the rule’s authenticity that are being addressed, but I don’t know nearly enough about the specific legal proceedings to comment on them.

My concern is for the students, of the fraternity and otherwise, who will suffer the ramifications of the University’s actions to seize the house. The University, as I understand it, could just as easily hold the land and then return it (there would probably be a cost involved, but I cannot envision all the details) to the men of the Alumni Corporation when the chapter regains it’s charter, or successfully merges, or does anything that allows them to resume control of the property. Instead, the University proposes to not only evict the men, but destroy the house and replace it with land that the University has to maintain – expensively. That money comes from students. I think that’s more criminal than breaking a national policy of debatable origins.

It’s discouraging to see folks like Ralph who are apparently interested only in the letter of the law rather than its spirit, and Sam’s argument stands — that a truly “student centered” administration would never want to acquire the house that Atherton built simply for demolition.

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