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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

It’s all greek to me: university policies unclear on Fraternities and Sororities

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: Features

On April 11, the Student Union will host a half-marathon across the Brandeis campus. The event is being organized by Union Vice President Amanda Hecker ’10 and Phi Kappa Psi President Justin Meltzer ’11.  The Facebook event created to advertise the event will say the race is being “cosponsored” by both the Union and the fraternity, but flyers posted around campus will include no mention of Meltzer or Phi Psi’s involvement.

This inconsistency is just one example of what fraternities and their Union collaborators do in order to avoid a scolding from the administration.

Similarly, the Union Social Justice Committee will unofficially cosponsor “Invisible Children,” an event meant to raise awareness about child soldiers in the Sudan, with Phi Psi on March 18. Like with the half-marathon, however, the fraternity will be omitted from advertisements, even though fraternity brothers and Union officials are performing “equal work.”

“In my eyes they are cosponsoring the event, whether or not we can officially recognize it,” Union Social Justice Committee member Andrea Ortega ’13 said.

According to Appendix B of the Students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, the university does not recognize “exclusive or secret societies” because they are “inconsistent with the principles of openness to which the University [sic] is committed.” The policy was “reaffirmed” by the board of trustees in a 1988 meeting. Before that time, there was no written policy about Greek organizations at Brandeis.

Though the appendix reads that fraternities and sororities “are neither recognized nor permitted to hold activities on campus or use University [sic] facilities,” the policy on Greek involvement in student life stops there.

In fact, the only other explicit statement of policy toward Greek organizations is actually found in the Student Union Bylaws, which read that in order for a club to be recognized by the university it must “not be a fraternity or a sorority.”

This bylaw was written in 1986, two years before the  board’s resolution. It was the result of a student referendum on the involvement of fraternities on campus in which 72.5 percent of students voted to not recognize Greek organizations until members could be of either gender and did not have to pay dues.

Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer said the university’s policy on Greek life additionally prohibits Greek organizations from “using the university’s name, using the university’s tax exemption status or implying that the organization is part of the Brandeis community,” however those three restrictions are not written anywhere.

Dean Gendron, director of the Office of Student Life and Community Standards, said, “what you don’t find written down are explicit statements of do’s and don’ts. Technically, all we have is a statement about how we want to think about these types of organizations.”

The inconsistencies in university policy toward Greek life are also apparent in its enforcement. In 2007, the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau received a letter from Brandeis’ legal counsel Judith Sizer ordering it to remove the university logo from its Web site. The fraternity complied; however the Brandeis-based chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi includes the university’s name on its online logo.

The Phi Psi Web site demonstrates similar inconsistencies: While the text of the site avoids mentioning Brandeis (and instead reads “welcome to Phi Kappa Psi at ??????? University”), the site is actually located on the university-supported Webs pace of one of the brothers.

Additionally, the Web site of the local Alpha Delta Phi chapter officially defines the organization as the “middlesex chapter” of the fraternity, however states that the chapter “is composed of academically motivated students of Brandeis University.”

Sawyer attributed the inconsistency in university action regarding fraternity Web sites to a lack of resources.

“No one is patrolling Facebook pages,” he said. “We have to send letters when something is obviously brought to someone’s attention, but otherwise, the university’s counsel is really, really busy.”

Sawyer called the attempt by Union members to co-sponser events with Greek organizations “a stretch of policy,” saying, “if there is a legitimate, recognized organization co-sponsoring an event with an organization, that would be stretching the limits.”

Brandeis’ first fraternity, Pi Tau Pi, was founded in 1952 but died out soon after. The university remained Greek-free until 1985, when the organization of a Brandeis Zeta Beta Tau chapter spurred the current Union and university policies concerning Greek life and sparked a half-decade long controversy among students.

Zeta Beta Tau was closely followed by Alpha Epsulon Pi in 1986, affirming the presence of fraternities at Brandeis.

Sawyer said that in their inception, fraternities were be extraordinarily aggressive in their recruitment and would attempt to overshadow Orientation Leaders in order to gain brothers. Issues of the Justice from the mid-to-late 1980s also mention multiple incidents of hazing involving the newly founded fraternities.

Lately, however, Sawyer said the Greek organizations’ “aggressiveness has dissipated,” which he credits with the “leadership in Greek organizations for being more diplomatic and coexisting on our campus.”

Still, he said, the policy will not change. If Greek organizations were recognized by the university, they would have access to the Brandeis name, use of its facilities, use of its tax-exempt status and access to the student activities funds–something Sawyer labeled “a legal liability.”

But to Meltzer, who is sponsoring the marathon with little credit, this policy is “frustrating.”

Proceeds from the half-marathon will go to Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister–the charity the fraternity supports as part of its philanthropic mission. Many of the runners in the race will be members of Phi Kappa Psi, with most of their donations coming from a network of 500 to 600 Boston-area Phi Kappa Psi alumni.

Though Meltzer said “recognition is secondary to helping others,” he does wish the event could acknowledge the contribution.

Instead, Meltzer and his brothers will be taking advantage of yet another inconsistency within university fraternity policy.

Directly after the board voted to not recognize Greek organizations, administrators would prevent students from wearing fraternity or sorority paraphernalia. As time has passed, that policy has fallen by the wayside.

“We will all be running in our letters,” Meltzer said.