Greek tragedy

The USF Kappa Sigma chapter is to leave the Greek Village after failure to fill its building will likely result in the group owing USF more than $100,000 by the end of the academic year.

The chapter has not paid USF $33,000 in rent shortfalls for the 2003-04 academic year. With only nine rent-paying students living in the 27-bed building since the start of the fall semester, the chapter’s debt is increasing by almost $8,000 per month. Unless the chapter can find more members to live in its house, the rent shortfall this academic year will be around $80,000.

Residence Services Director Tom Kane has agreed, with the chapter’s housing board, to release the group from its five-year lease on the building provided another Greek organization takes up the contract. The earliest this would likely happen is July, Kane said.”(The chapter) came to us with a plan for what they wanted to do to increase occupancy,” Kane said. “This didn’t pan out. They’ve acknowledged they don’t have the resources to fill that house.”

Kappa Sigma is one of 14 fraternities and sororities that moved into the Greek Village when it opened in August 2003. The group leased the house for five years at $144,000 per year. With each student paying around $450 per month in rent, the chapter needs 27 students paying rent all year to cover the costs of the lease. Unlike the customary nine-month leases that resident students sign, Greek groups are required to lease their buildings year round.

But only rarely has the building been close to housing 27 students. Kappa Sigma housing board member and USF alumnus Matt Mehltretter said the chapter was 10 students short in fall 2003 and described the summer 2004 occupancy as bare.

Mehltretter said the chapter and its leadership had not placed enough importance on getting members to live in the fraternity house.

“They have their own priorities, and filling the building wasn’t one of them,” said Mehltretter. “Being part of the Greek Village should be a privilege. For whatever reasons their priorities were not to fill the house.”

Chapter president Nick Derise declined to respond to the criticism, but said the chapter, which has about 55 members, had tried to get more members to live in the Greek Village.

Derise said the problem was aggravated by poor communication between the chapter and its housing board about whether it would continue to lease the building after the first year. The doubt, he said, led to some members, including himself, signing apartment leases to live elsewhere.

The priority for the chapter now is to clear its debt with the university and continue off campus, Derise said.

“We’ll work with the university to make up the difference that we owe,” Derise said. “We’ll make sure that we’ll get it back to them.”

But the chapter is unlikely to receive any assistance from its national organization. Mic Wilson, executive director for Kappa Sigma Fraternity, said it is up to the local chapter to resolve any financial problems arising from housing.

“It’s up to an individual chapter to determine whether they have a house or not,” Mitchell said. “It’s their choice.”

If the chapter cannot clear its arrears, the university would no longer recognize the chapter. With Kappa Sigma’s long association with USF — the chapter was founded in 1968 — Kane said he expects the debt will be repayed.

“They have a vested interest in fixing this,” Kane said. “We may not get the money this year, but we’re going to get the money because they don’t want their organization to go away.”

Kane said he has talked with two Greek groups who are interested in moving into Kappa Sigma’s building.

According to Kane, Residence Services functions as a separate financial unit from USF. Students living on campus, including in the Greek Village, pay rent directly to residence services. The money does not go into the university’s budget, but is used to pay off loans and bonds from the cost of constructing on-campus housing. If the rent from students living in Greek housing does not cover the cost of the lease, a bill is sent to the group’s housing board at the end of the academic year.

Kane added that some other Greek groups have had difficulty filling their buildings, but they have paid residence services the shortfall.