USF and some Greek organizations may be heading for a legal battle over a lease amendment that would allow University Police to patrol inside fraternity and sorority houses in the Greek Village. Greek organizations have been told that if they do not sign the amendment, they will be given 18 months notice to vacate and that their charter status at USF could be affected.
Housing corporation members from the USF chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon said they will not sign the lease amendment and will challenge USF in court if they are given notice to leave the Village. As of Wednesday, seven of the 14 groups with houses in the Village had not signed the amendment sent to them on May 10. Chapters have until Aug. 14 to sign the lease.
“If we are handed an 18-month eviction notice, we will exercise whatever legal remedies are available to us under the master lease,” said Ray Seaford, legal counsel for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s housing corporation.
Chris Acevedo, chapter president of Beta Theta Pi, which has not signed the lease, said the chapter has held off from signing based on legal advice. For former chapter president Kris Kattleman, the measure runs counter to the ethos of Greek groups.
“My organization prides itself on self-governance; that amendment infringes on that principal.”
The measure, known as Amendment 1, would allow UP to enter the common living areas of houses in the Greek Village, but not individual rooms. Tom Kane, director of Residence Services, said this would put the Village in line with other campus residence complexes, where UP can patrol the lobby and corridors. Greek organizations, however, say the measure violates the privacy for which they negotiated when drawing up the lease in 2002 and are unhappy that USF is attempting to unilaterally impose this change.
Seaford also said the measure may be unconstitutional, a view shared by Becky Steele, regional director for the ACLU, who said USF’s intentions raise serious concerns.
“Fraternities and sororities can’t be required to give up their constitutional rights by the University,” Steele said. “The individual residents have a right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and what the University is asking the fraternity and sorority members to do is basically involuntarily give up those Fourth Amendment rights or face eviction.”
Central to the disagreement is the definition of common areas. According to Kane, the common living areas in Greek houses are no different than the entrance lobbies of residence halls, which are typically furnished with televisions and couches. Housing corporation members, however, claim that the houses were designed to be private. The living areas are better furnished than dormitories and are a central focus of Greek life, serving as a focal point for hosting rituals and social events.
Housing corporation members also point to the layout of Greek houses as evidence that the whole house should be treated as a private residence. Each floor has rooms surrounding a shared bathroom. Unlike the majority of residence halls, a fraternity or sorority member going to the bathroom has to enter the common living area.
“Under this amendment, every time you walk out of your room to use a restroom, you may encounter a stranger,” Seaford said. “He may be a UP officer, but he is a stranger to you. That’s a greater invasion of privacy than you would have in a dorm.”
According to Kane, however, two residence halls have a similar configuration, with UP having access to bathroom areas, as they are outside of individuals’ rooms. Also, chapters are required to adhere to USF regulations that prohibit drinking alcohol in public areas, a rule that includes the living area of Greek houses.
Kane said the amendment was drawn up after UP asked Residence Services to clarify if the lease permitted them to enter houses in the Village. The request followed an incident in August when UP discovered a party with a keg of beer situated on the Quad, a central outdoor area in the Village. According to Kane, students ran into their houses and UP were unable to question them.
“The police feel uncomfortable going into the houses without the amendment there,” Kane said.
Like other residence complexes, the living areas of Greek houses are cleaned by Residence Services staff. Kane said that reports he received pointed to abuse of alcohol in the living areas.
“The trash on the floor is the empty beer bottles and beer cans and the pizza that was left there from the night before that was dropped because people got drunk and then stepped on it and tracked it through the house,” Kane said. “There’s vomit in the bathroom because somebody drank too much and threw up, but they don’t clean it up, yet they expect my staff to clean it up.”
Kane said that Greek organizations’ lofty ideals are often not matched by the everyday habits of their membership, a reality that is revealed by their reaction to alcohol bans.
“If you ask any fraternity and sorority what they stand for, it’s philanthropy. That’s really cool; that’s very admirable,” Kane said. “Brotherhood, leadership — they’ll throw a million adjectives and adverbs and all at you, but if you say, ‘Do you want to be dry?’ (They say,) ‘Oh no, that’ll kill the whole organization.’ Well then, why isn’t alcohol somewhere in those top 10 words that this is what it’s all about?”
Housing corporation members respond that problems stemming from excessive drinking are not exclusive to the Village.
“To say that drinking is only occurring in fraternities and sororities is not accurate,” said Mitchell Feldman, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s housing corporation. “To say that individual dorms not affiliated with Greek life are completely dry is inaccurate. (Kane) wants to make the living area a public area, and I don’t think that was the original intent of the special-purpose housing contract.”
Feldman’s opinion is echoed by UP. Mike Klingebiel, a spokesman for UP said that the Village has not produced any additional problems for UP since it opened in 2003.
“We haven’t noticed a great impact to our crime stats,” Klingebiel said. “Our population went up and I’d say we had a slight increase in our crime.”
Klingebiel said that UP would not have a policy recommending that female officers carry out patrolling of sororities, a further concern for Greek organizations.
“I’m sure the parents who signed off on the leases never intended to put their daughters in a situation where they’re paying the maximum amount of rent but getting the least amount of privacy,” Seaford said.
Members of Greek organizations have also expressed concern that UP officers will enter their house during fraternity or sorority rituals, which organization rules state must be kept secret from non-members. Kane said that if Residence Services know about a ritual, the organization’s privacy could be respected. But Klingebiel said that Greek rituals can’t be used as an excuse to prevent police from entering a house.
“You’re not going to deter our officers from doing their job,” Klingebiel said. “We’re not here to interfere with your rituals and with Greek life, but it’s not an excuse and we’re not going to be deterred, based on a statement, from doing our job.”
Greek Village housing corporations learned of the amendment at a Greek Housing Association meeting in May. Kane said that Student Affairs will act if chapters refuse to sign the amended lease.
“Our intent is that we will write letters to the housing corporations’ national offices and ask them to intervene with the housing corps,” Kane said. “We think that in many cases their nationals will tell them to sign it and then if they don’t that will be between them and their nationals and what happens to them and their charters.”
Seaford said his chapter would seek legal redress if they are ordered to vacate their house in 18 months.
“If there’s a disagreement between us and the University, we can hand the lease over to a judge and ask him to interpret it,” Seaford said. “A unilateral attempt to modify the lease that is rebutted doesn’t seems to be the grounds for a good-faith basis in terminating a lease where our rents are paid, (we) haven’t been evicted, (we) haven’t been served any notice of being evicted, (we) haven’t been told we’re a bad tenant.”
According to Steele, contract law would support chapters that refuse to sign the amendment.
“It doesn’t seem to me that there is any basis under contract law to require these tenants to submit to an amendment of the lease,” Steele said. “(USF is) rendering the leases that they have illusionary.”
One fraternity that has already signed the amendment is Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Nevertheless, chapter president Matthew Papa said the measure could hamper Greek organizations struggling to fill their house. After incurring arrears of $112,000 due to its inability to fill its house, Kappa Sigma will leave the village this weekend.
“It hurts Greek life,” Papa said. “We’ve had all these issues with filling the houses. The appeal is slowly waning with (stuff) like this.”