MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As five former WVU fraternities end their long-running association with the state’s land-grant institution, school President Gordon Gee has a message: don’t suffer buyer’s remorse.
“Too bad,” Gee said, when asked by Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews “Talkline” if any of the five fraternities would try to return to the school before 2028.
WVU announced a 10-year ban late Thursday for Alpha Sigma Phi, Phi Sigma Kappa, Kappa Alpha Order, Sigma Chi, and Theta Chi. Those five announced the formation of an Independent Fraternity Council just hours before the ban, officially removing themselves from WVU and the school’s Interfraternity Council (IFC).
“I’m very disappointed in their nationals,” Gee said. “The fact that they really urged their students to try to go independent.”
Gordy Heminger, President and CEO of Alpha Sigma Phi, told The Dominion Post on Thursday that he found that response disingenuous.
“Alpha Sigma Phi’s decision was made completely by the undergraduates and with no pressure from the fraternity headquarters who supported the initiative and activism they demonstrated,” he said. “I’m disappointed in how the university has responded but it does validate and legitimize the concerns many students and student organizations have about a conduct process that lacks due process or fundamental fairness.
Fraternities also were frustrated with some redundancies explored by the Reaching the Summit (RTS) program. RTS was designed to hold Greek organizations to a new set of standards on critical issues like sexual misconduct, hazing, mental health, and racism. However, multiple fraternity officials argued RTS was both redundant and arbitrary.
“Theta Chi Fraternity remains deeply committed to promoting student health and safety,” their dissociation letter reads. “In 2013, Theta Chi launched its Sacred Purpose initiative, with a vision to provide education on critical topics including drug and alcohol abuse prevention, hazing prevention, sexual misconduct prevention, and mental health awareness and intervention.”
The severance marks the end of more than a month of back-and-forth between the fraternities and WVU administration, with the fraternities initially threatening to sever ties as a response to WVU’s RTS plan, which went into effect Aug. 1.
“I think we’ve made the move in the right direction of those groups that don’t want the support of the university, those groups that — I think — have not put safety as number one, we’ve separated them,” WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris said on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “And if they don’t want to be a part of us, that’s fine.”
‘Fine’ is a subjective term in this case — since Gee and Farris made it clear they intend to let parents of current and potential future WVU students know at every moment possible that the five banned fraternities are not WVU-affiliated.
“I will do whatever is necessary to make certain that our students are safe and that they are living within the umbrella of the university,” Gee said.
“We’ve publicly said — and we’ve sent out to parents — these are groups that aren’t living by our rules,” Farris said. “We’re concerned about their safety now that there is little interaction with the university. That has an impact on the rank-and-file student.”
Gee said he would tell parents “again and again and again” about the dissident fraternities.
“As long as I can be assured that our fraternities are living within the framework of our university, then we have a lot of opportunity to do some really good things,” Gee said.
Some of the chapters date back more than a century. The Alpha Rho Chapter of Kappa Alpha Order, for example, was first established in March of 1897 at WVU. Farris said there are others who will likely look to make WVU their new home.
“We’ve got a number of other fraternities who aren’t on WVU’s campus now who have reached out to us and said, ‘We’ll live by those rules. We think they are great. WVU’s a good campus, and we’ll be happy to come there and live by your rule,'” Farris said.
Several chapters involved with dissociation efforts accused RTS of singling out Greek Life for punishment, chiding the school for not engaging in due process. Gee has a counter argument.
“Everyone has a right to their first amendment rights,” he said. “The university also has a right to hold itself to its standards and to what we’re doing. I feel very badly about this. This is not something that I take a lot of pride in — drawing a bright line like that. But I think it is entirely appropriate given that we were really trying to work with some to come up with a logical way to approach all this.”
Gee further went on and said the issue over dissociation comes down to matters of safety — those fraternities now aren’t tied to WVU’s rules. Gee said that’s a problem for the school that has worked repeatedly to reform campus culture and Greek Life culture in the wake of the 2014 death of Nolan Burch, a freshman from New York who died with a blood alcohol content of 0.493.
“We have to make certain that our students are safe, that there are certain expectations and rules and involvement in terms of activities within the institution,” Gee said. “Just to go out and say, ‘We’re going to do whatever we want to do without any guard rails whatsoever’ is unacceptable.”