Housing decisions meet opposition

Andy Dolan

In Oct. 2000, the Lawrence Board of Trustees accepted a report created by the Task Force on Residential Life. The most controversial aspects of this report deal with plans to build a new campus center and the university’s policy toward student group housing. Because these proposed changes would impact the exclusive occupancy of the fraternity houses, there has been a large response from the five fraternities at Lawrence.Beta Theta Pi, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Delta Theta, Phi Kappa Tau, and Sigma Phi Epsilon are the five fraternities that currently reside at Lawrence. They have “joined forces and pooled resources” to create the Lawrence Fraternity Alliance, according to a press release issued by the group. They feel that they have a right to exclusive occupancy of the houses in the Fraternity Quadrangle, citing agreements signed in 1941 and 1985.

Kit Vernon, a Lawrence Beta alumnus and president of the public relations firm Blue Horse, Inc. hired by the Alliance, explained that he felt the fraternities needed permanent housing to maintain their relationship with Lawrence. According to Vernon, the current fraternity housing offers “a sense of place and continuity” from which fraternities “derive their strength and stability.” He also explained how he felt the documents originally signed in 1941 established mutual trust between the university and fraternities that should not be violated.

In 1985, under current president Rik Warch, new agreements were forged between the university and the fraternities. These new agreements, according to Vernon, were reaffirmations of the original aggrements. President Warch disagrees, saying that the 1985 action was actually “not a reaffirmation of contracts,” but rather dealt with changing dollar amounts related to scholarship agreements.

Neither Vernon nor Warch would comment on the legal issues surrounding the case or the legal merit of the documents as, potentially, a binding contract signed in 1941. Vernon did state that the Fraternity Alliance would consider litigation against the University.

The plan regarding formal group housing outlined by the Task Force on Residential Life is scheduled to go into effect during the 2002-2003 school year. The plan will allow any group on campus to apply for small housing, including those on the quadrangle. This has been seen by the Fraternity Alliance as a violation of the agreements signed in 1941 and 1985. They are asking for “comparable small group housing,” which would be for the “long term” in a new location if they cannot keep their current quadrangle housing.

Warch explained that the University would not be building new housing specifically for the frats. The plan is to “level the playing field” so that all groups have equal opportunity to apply for housing without offering special privilege to any one group. Warch made it clear that the fraternities would be able to keep their current houses if they met the eligibility requirements that are required for any group. These include being able to fill the house to 90 percent capacity—though at the time of application, groups must account for each living space—as well as having a membership of 11 or greater. If granted a formal group house, groups would be given the house for three years by way of a housing “compact” with the University.

When asked about the decision to allow any group to apply for the houses, Warch stated the Board of Trustees decided this was in the best interest of the student body as a whole, and that since Lawrence was a “very different place” than it was in 1941, those documents are no longer in the best interest of the entire Lawrence community.

The Fraternity Alliance will be calling alumni, passing out information, and conducting picketing at campus events prior to the Board of Trustees meeting. William Haas, president of Beta Theta Pi at Lawrence, states in a press release by the Alliance, “Our goal is to persuade the Board of Trustees to reconsider their ill-advised actions and modify their small formal group housing policies in ways which are less disadvantageous to the future well-being of Lawrence’s five national fraternities.” The meeting is being held Oct. 18-20. The Board will be discussing issues including plans for the new campus center. Harold Jordan, a member of the board, stated in a letter to alumni that the trustees have a “commitment to equity and to enhancing the quality of residential life for all students at Lawrence.”

It is not known whether the board will discuss the issues raised by the Fraternity Alliance. Both Vernon and Warch declined to speculate on the possible outcomes of the meeting.