Concerned about an unfolding effort on the part of several fraternities to withdraw from West Virginia University governance, President Gordon Gee sent a letter Sunday to all students’ parents decrying the actions and warning that joining these organizations should not be an option for their students.
“We have had several fraternities dissociate with West Virginia University with the intent to form their own independent Interfraternity Council,” Gee said. “Some are dissatisfied with the deliberate – and necessary – steps the University took this past spring to promote Fraternity and Sorority Life on West Virginia University’s campus as safe and aligned with our University values.
On Thursday, three fraternities, all of which fall short of academic standards established earlier this year, notified the University they are severing ties, but will continue to operate off-campus as independent organizations.
The three – Alpha Sigma Phi, Phi Sigma Kappa and Kappa Alpha Order – said they are renouncing University recognition and establishing their own organization. A fourth fraternity, Sigma Chi, sent a similar letter Aug. 10.
All of the groups are part the Interfraternity Council.
Gee noted that the University, in an effort to reconcile differences, has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday with fraternity alumni and national leadership. In response, two fraternities (Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa) agreed to rescind their letters of disassociation.
But Gee noted that the local chapters of both Kappa Alpha and Sigma Chi have not withdrawn their notice. However Sigma Chi’s national office says it does not support the move and placed the chapter on indefinite suspension, while Kappa Alpha has withdrawn its initial support.
Among their complaints, the fraternities cite University policies governing membership recruitment and chapter operations.
“I am extremely disappointed that these fraternities have disassociated with the University in a deliberate and reckless manner,” Gee said Sunday. “We have worked extremely hard over the past few years to improve the fraternity atmosphere and image on this campus, and the great majority of our fraternities agree with the increased standards.
“Despite their assertion they would promote WVU health and safety initiatives, there would be no oversight or accountability,” Gee said. “I cannot and will not stand by while West Virginia University students are exposed to potentially unsafe environments.
“We will take every action possible to see that these dissident fraternities, and any others that want to follow their lead, will soon realize the gravity of their decision,” he said.
IFC President Calvin Komiske said he was “disappointed that my peers are going down a path that puts them at odds with their alma mater. The student voice was heard in this process – I made sure of that. This current action is an unnecessary overreaction that is infuriating our Council’s other member groups.”
“I want to resolve this issue, also,” Gee said Sunday. “But I will not allow our students or the rules of the University to be subverted or threatened. My first responsibility is for the safety of each student at this institution. Sanctioned rogue behavior by national fraternity leadership is irresponsible and will result in further deterioration of support for Greek organizations in this country.”
Gee’s letter noted that unrecognized fraternities are prohibited from participating in the WVU-recognized Interfraternity Council or any of its sponsored programs.
Chapters also would not be not allowed to participate in programs sponsored by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, such as Homecoming or Greek Week. Chapters may not participate in any University-sponsored activity such as intramurals, nor any activity sponsored by a recognized student organization.
The chapters could not reference “West Virginia University” or use any of the institution’s marks or brands in any capacity. They would not be allowed to reserve any space on campus for programming or business purposes.
Meanwhile, Kappa Alpha continues to promote locally that it is hosting rush activities throughout next week.
“After several attempts to have such promotion removed from social media, the posts remain in place, and indeed, escalated to specifically recruit freshmen,” Gee told parents. “It is imperative that you know our campus has deferred rush, which means freshmen are not allowed to join until the spring semester. We do this to give our freshmen time to acclimate to college life.
“Kappa Alpha’s actions are in direct defiance to University regulations and protocols,” Gee said. “Therefore, I must strongly encourage you to speak with your students and discourage them from participating in any Kappa Alpha event should they be considering this option.”
The fraternities’ action comes as WVU released the final results of its Reaching the Summit: Plan for Excellence review of fraternity and sororities launched earlier this year as part of the University’s ongoing efforts to address culture change, along with a moratorium on IFC activity.
In addition to the moratorium, established in February, the University raised academic standards to join a fraternity or sorority from a 2.5 grade point average to 2.75. To remain in good standing, chapter GPA averages must meet the same requirements. Likewise, all new member education activities will be limited to four weeks beginning this semester. Also, freshmen are not able to join until they reach the minimum standards of membership, which is typically in the spring semester.
A committee of students, alumni/ae, staff, faculty and national headquarter partners was established by the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and charged with reviewing each chapter’s recent academic, disciplinary and community engagement history. The group also was tasked with proposing recommendations for a strategic plan to better align each organization with the University’s mission, moving forward to the 2018-19 academic year and beyond.
As a result of the review, four fraternities were suspended: Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Sigma Kappa, Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Alpha Mu. The national offices of Phi Gamma Delta, Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Alpha Mu also withdrew recognition.
Others, including Kappa Alpha Order, Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Chi and Theta Chi were given various restrictions, including limits on social activities and requirements for hazing and alcohol education.
In other recommendations, one member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, comprising historically black fraternities and sororities – Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. – lost social privileges, and two sororities in the Panhellenic Association, Pi Beta Phi and Sigma Kappa, were instructed to improve their academic performance.
“West Virginia University will not waiver when it comes to the safety of our students,” Dean of Students Corey Farris said. “We will take every step possible to hold students, and the organizations they are a part of, accountable and living the values we believe in as an institution.
“Further, I applaud the chapters that are working hard to do the right thing. It's clear that they remember the high ideals upon which their chapters were founded,” Farris added.
“The ones who will suffer from all of this are our students in those chapters who have been put in the middle of a political, financial and philosophical argument of organizational sovereignty,” Director of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life Matthew Richardson said. “These students are now at odds with the University that will ultimately issue them a degree. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I have repeatedly said that West Virginia University as an institution, as well as myself personally, supports the goals of Greek life: preparing leaders, providing a structure for personal growth and friendships,” Gee said. “But it must be done responsibly.
“While many universities have responded to the crisis in fraternity and sorority behavior by shutting them down completely, we have taken a different path,” he said. “That is why I cannot overstate my dismay.
“Nevertheless, we will continue on our course,” Gee said. “I know that it is the right path and that it is supported by the vast majority of fraternity and sorority members, and their national organizations. We will not allow the misguidance of a few to keep us from creating a vibrant, healthy and productive fraternity and sorority community on our campus.”
CONTACT: John Bolt, University Relations/Communications