Going Greek

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Our fraternity is 72 years old. We don’t have the money to make needed repairs. Can we just let it slide?

As university fraternity houses age, this is a controversial question about the relationship between the college fraternity administration and the frat house. While some colleges are lax in their requirements, others can be more stringent regarding the enforcement of their guidelines. Colleges are all primarily concerned with health and safety compliance for house residents and their visitors.

The argument over responsibility when it comes to colleges and frat houses has raged for years. Negative news stories pile up: hazing, drug abuse, drink-fueled parties, property destruction, sexual assault, and in extreme cases student death. As a result it is often viewed that these Greek organizations are out of control.

Colleges have moved to close fraternities and open their own internal investigations on serious matters. Fingers have been pointed and the question asked why colleges do not hold frats more accountable. Large obstacles are faced when cracking down on societies sponsored by powerful alumni and donors. As a result many colleges have made the decision to limit their responsibilities, at least from a legal aspect.

To achieve this, campuses have set up fraternity and sorority chapter occupancy agreements, essentially a contract between the frat house and the college. Frat houses are already subject to a lot of internal rules and regulations, many concerning conduct, but something is needed to assure the integrity of the physical property.

Typical contracts emphasize the need to keep the chapter house aesthetically pleasing and conducive to learning. The residential units must also comply with college health and safety standards and have sufficient security measures. In order to continue to maintain status as a college fraternity chapter or sorority society, there must be adherence to the requirements set out in these contracts.

The decisions made on the infrastructure and day-to-day running of the property are still left to the fraternity membership and its administrators. This can be quite a burden as many of the frat houses are aging, but provide daily meal service and rooms for dozens of live-in members. Every frat house built before the eighties ran on oil heating. The conversion to home gas heating delayed by the cost and inconvenience to the membership during the academic year. The college does not exercise control over the frat house at this level, so the problem persists.

Contractual regulations can vary from college to college, but they generally include similar rules such as maintaining compliance with campus or local authority fire and safety policies. A university appointed house director may be required to reside at the premises and the chapter house must be subject to inspections by safety officers.

There are occupancy rules and policies which could include out of semester periods and guidelines as to when Greek accommodation should be closed. Fraternity and Sorority Affairs will be required to work closely with college Office of Residence Life to determine dates and periods that frat houses are available for occupancy.

The college fundamentally needs to cover itself on health and safety in the event of an accident or negligence that could result in legal proceedings. It also aims to seek the assurance that the building exteriors and interiors are well maintained in line with campus property. Many of the frat houses were built in a different era and have ornate structures, such as metal roofing, Greek columns and molding. The maintenance and restoration costs are naturally higher than for newer structures. In answer to your question, ‘letting it slide’ may not be an option if you wish to keep using the place as your frat house. You will need to read up on your frat house contract to get the details.

The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining… John F. Kennedy.

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.

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