Fraternities take legal action

Devin Burke & Andy Dolan

The ongoing dispute between Lawrence administration and four campus fraternities regarding housing agreements has resulted in the initiation of lawsuits against the university. Alumni of Beta Theta Pi, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Delta Theta, and Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternities filed suit on Sept. 24, 2002 in Outagamie County Court in Appleton.According to a statement issued by John Hein, the lawyer representing the four fraternities, the lawsuits “seek judicial declaration and enforcement of the rights of the members of those Fraternities under agreements entered into in the 1940’s and reaffirmed by the current Lawrence administration in 1985.” Four separate lawsuits have been filed, three of them being class action lawsuits. No hearing date has been set.

The fraternities on campus do not have direct involvement with the lawsuits. According to Nick Janofsky, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, “We’re on the sidelines. It’s completely out of our hands. As an undergraduate chapter, [the lawsuit] is not our sphere of influence.”

Mark Schmoll, president of the Phi Delta Theta, did affirm that each fraternity was being informed through meetings in which Hein was “making a point of getting a consensus from the current members.”

Chris Phelps, president Delta Tau Delta, echoed the statements of the other four fraternity presidents. The priority for Phelps and the other current Deltas, he said, is to maintain their role as students.

“We’re not expected to take part in or immerse ourselves in any type of litigation. We will support the actions that our alumni take and believe in what they believe in but we’re here as students and nothing more.”

The fifth fraternity on campus, Phi Kappa Tau, is not involved with the lawsuits. They dropped out of the Lawrence Fraternity Alliance last year, and have not pursued any action against the university since. The Fraternity Alliance, according to Adam Locke, president of Beta Theta Pi, is still “working and involved, if not in name, in spirit.”

The Formal Group Housing plan, which went into effect this year, removes exclusive housing rights of the houses on the quadrangle. Though all of the fraternities are currently living in the houses they have been in since they were built, they are no longer guaranteed rights to them under the plan. Also, the proposed plan for the new campus center would include the destruction of two of the fraternity houses.

Though no contracts were signed, the fraternities claim that agreements were made that grant them exclusive rights to the housing. The statement by the fraternities’ lawyer further stated, “It has become apparent that the Lawrence administration and the fraternities have fundamentally differing views as to Lawrence’s legal and moral obligations under these agreements. These lawsuits provide a forum for the resolution of those disputes. The Fraternities remain committed in their loyalty toward their alma mater, and believe these actions will help to sustain Lawrence’s position as a unique, high-quality residential undergraduate university.”

Phelps agrees with the sentiment expressed in the statement. Concerning the new housing plan, he stated, “None of the expectations or the qualifications of formal group housing are unreasonable. I expect those of my house members.”

The main issue, said Phelps, is the proposed campus center. “When they [the University] say, ‘we want to build a student union without building houses to replace yours,’ that’s when it gets messy.” The situation is not equitable, he said, “especially since we have this agreement, [but] we’re not out to get the university, we just want to be students here.”

Currently, the fraternities are guaranteed their houses for the next three years as part of the standard Formal Group Housing Plan.

President Warch, who has been ill, could not be reached for comment.