The recently settled fraternity lawsuit stemmed from objections to Lawrence University’s Formal Group Housing policy, approved and implemented by its board of trustees October 2001.The FGH committee has been among the most controversial campus committees, but documents obtained by The Lawrentian provide a window into how – and why – FGH made one of its most controversial decisions.
In Spring 2003, the courts granted an injunction to the Delta Tau Delta fraternity after the FGH committee denied them reappointment for formal group housing for the 2003-2004 school year at 218 S. Lawe St, a house that Delts had occupied since before 1941.
FGH rules also forced the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity to move out of their 206 S. Lawe St. house, but the Phi Taus were not plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The Delt housing issue became essentially a mini-lawsuit within the larger questions of FGH. Consequently, the FGH decisions took place under the auspices of a lawsuit that, among other issues, challenged the validity of its very existence. The Delt decision led to some of the most contentious passages of the fraternity lawsuit – including public documents enumerating social code violations of Delta Tau Delta members, organized by name and date.
National or alumni representatives of each social fraternity on campus, except for Phi Kappa Tau, filed suit against the university in autumn of 2002. While the case was pending, though, the FGH committee was hard at work.
It was founded at the recommendation of the task force on Residence Life, a task force charged “to undertake a comprehensive examination of the college’s residential life system.”
The task force included several students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
(One alum, Joseph Troy, an Outagamie County circuit court judge, was initially assigned to preside over one of the fraternity lawsuits, but recused himself due to “familiarity with the issues involved with the case and participation on a committee that addressed some of those issues.”)
FGH allowed all five social fraternities to retain their houses in its inaugural spring 2002 decisions, also giving housing to the McCarthy Co-Op, Sinfonia, Kappa Alpha Theta, and the Outdoor Recreation Club.
2002-2003 LUCC President Cole Delaney, however, contended that the student members of FGH were not seated properly according LUCC bylaws and the organization voted that they be removed. Many in LUCC were upset when President Warch, citing time concerns, made a spring break decision to re-seat those FGH committee members without the consent of LUCC’s Committee on Committees.
Phi Kappa Tau, Delta Tau Delta, and Hulbert House – aka the McCarthy Co-Op House – were the three houses up for renewal last spring. Each stands on the spot identified by Sasaki Associates as the optimal location for a future campus center.
Citing occupancy requirements, FGH committee moved the Phi Taus to 741 E. John Street. The Delts housing contract, however, was simply not renewed.
Delta Tau Delta chapter President Andy Fieber requested an explanation from Assistant Dean for Residence Life Amy Uecke.
“By its action not to award Delta Tau Delta a formal group house, the Selection Board indicated its decision that your group does not warrant the special privilege of living together as a group,” Uecke wrote in a May 14, 2003 letter to Fieber included in the lawsuit documents.
In that same letter, Uecke defends the integrity and seriousness of committee members, adding “it was deemed appropriate for Selection Board members to refer to their own experience” within the “Lawrence community.” The board cited lack of openness to campus as a reason for the revocation of group housing rights, although many Delts protested that open housing was impossible due to the chapter’s social probation. Some committee members still felt a lack of openness from the fraternity.
The Delts, through attorney John Hein, sought an injunction to prevent the university from removing its housing rights.
On May 28, 2003, Judge Michael W. Gage granted the Delts a temporary injunction pending final resolution of the lawsuit. “The exceptions, of course, would be a circumstance where Delta Tau Delta did not have sufficient membership ready to timely occupy the premise or some intervention or circumstance not presently disclosed, such as things like hazards, unsuitability, uninhabitability, or a catastrophe or other condition that might be within the ambit of the 1941 agreement,” Gage ruled.
Gage took on the argument that chapters can continue despite a lack of housing: “Fraternities are not virtual meeting places. They are regarded as residential life facilities,” Gage said.
To what extent did the FGH decisions deal with “hazards, unsuitability, uninhabitability, or a catastrophe or other condition that might be within the ambit of the 1941 agreement?”
Gage made it clear that FGH could exercise jurisdiction over housing policy, but not where there were prior legal commitments – legal commitments the lawsuit sought to settle.
In September 2003, Nancy Truesdell submitted an affidavit in opposition to the injunction, and this affidavit includes a series of letters to Delt leaders detailing disciplinary infractions between the years of 2001-2003 and the reasoning behind social probation, effectively opening a can of worms.
In some of these letters, available by a simple court document request, names of individual students are listed next to particular infractions. Among these letters includes three summaries of Delt incidents for 2002-2003. In a letter dated June 11, 2003 to Fieber and Delt Residence Life Manager Sam Sather, who later filed his own affidavit in the case, Truesdell outlines the following incidents, allegedly associated with Delt members:
$220.07 in damage to a Kohler Hall elevator; vandalism to a light pole on Main Hall Green; noise complaints; fire alarms; an individual found duct-taped to a bench at Alexander Gym during a pledge/active event; a broken window in Trever; allegations of a drunk Delt who stole a clock and made “a rude drawing in permanent marker on a mirror” during a visit to Kohler; disruption of Shack-a-thon; and a March 21, 2003 event wherein “Two women students [were] involved in a physical altercation in the Delt first floor bathroom after reportedly partying in the house. Physical injuries reported. Investigation by house indicated that no house member was aware of the party or present during the fight.”
Truesdell’s signed deposition includes the names of many of these students, made fully public in these reports. The same letters to the Delts are also attached by Hein in his own subsequent affidavit, though Hein chooses to block out the names.
The Delts kept their house, and the lawsuit was settled out of court almost two months in advance of this year’s FGH decisions. But the lawsuit released into the public record at least a roundabout accounting of how FGH functions, and some of the information that may have gone into one of their most controversial decisions to date.
The extent to which the lawsuit changed the way FGH operates will only be seen with time and the full disclosure of the settlement’s terms. But campus gossip-mongers with a hunger for scandal will find 2002CV1087 to be one of the sauciest public documents in Lawrence University history.