Amid suspension, fraternity leaves house behind

After the USF chapter of Beta Theta Pi was suspended for poor conduct by the fraternity at its international convention, the chapter’s leadership decided it should no longer invest in an on-campus house.

The Beta Theta Pi House Corporation — a separate legal entity that pays for the fraternity’s housing — signed a 30-year contract with the University, but refuses to pay any rent beyond Aug. 14, the day the chapter vacated the house, said David Schmidt, president of the Beta Theta Pi House Corporation.

The University scrambled to fill the house with non-Greek residents, whose leases are only 9 months long, compared to the 12-month Greek housing lease, said Dorie Paine, interim dean of Housing and Residential Education.

Eighteen students were selected from a general waiting list for on-campus housing, Paine said. She chose to keep the house’s original RA — the only resident who remained from the Betas’ occupation.

The hasty exit, however, may not have relieved the fraternity of all financial obligations to the University.

Greek organizations sign lengthy contracts to stay in the village. Beta signed a 30-year commitment in 2003, Schmidt said.

The non-Greek residents of the house pay standard Cypress suite rates — $527 a month — for their stay, which lasts only about nine months a year, Paine said. A normal Greek lease would pay similar monthly rates for a full year. This leaves a financial gap of about $2,000 per resident between what the school is generating from the house and what they received from Beta Theta Pi.

“There’s a substantial difference there,” Paine said. “Beta is still responsible for the difference.”

The Beta Theta Pi House Corporation is willing to pay for all charges dated before Aug. 14, Schmidt said, but will not take responsibility beyond that.

“As far as we are concerned, the House Corporation has released its financial obligation. They are looking for us to be the scapegoats to fund their financial shortfalls,” he said. “If the University is going to take (legal) action, the ball is in their court. That’s something our lawyers will look at.”

At press time, it was unclear whether the University plans to seek legal action.

Neither USF nor the Beta Theta Pi House Corporation is willing to absorb the cost of a seasonally empty house.

“A lot of alumni feel these houses on campus are way, way, way too expensive,” Schmidt said. In addition, only three Betas had signed contracts to live in the house by mid-August. It costs $6,120 a year per resident regardless of how many people live in the house; the corporation is responsible for the rent of 18 residents.

Beta Theta Pi attracted attention last year when SAFE Team golf carts were used to shuttle freshmen from an orientation event to its house party.

Their members — including former Student Body President Barclay Harless — were also cited for violations of the school’s alcohol policy.

“We have to deal with those past sins now,” Schmidt said. “We are not Animal House. We don’t tolerate that behavior. Something had to be done.”

The organization has been temporarily suspended from all activity while it is reviewed and reorganized member by member, Schmidt said.

However, the decision to leave the on-campus house was primarily a financial one, he said.

Beta Theta Pi House Corporation leaders had to make a quick decision following the Aug. 10 announcement of the fraternity’s suspension, Schmidt said. Just four days later, they told the school the chapter was leaving Greek Village.

The decision left the house’s residents with little time to react.

“We had two days to leave,” said Nick Heller, president of the USF chapter of Beta Theta Pi. “A lot of us spent three days homeless.”

Schmidt said the quick decision enabled the chapter to vacate before the Aug. 15 deadline, when charges for the upcoming fall semester began.

“They did have very short notice,” Schmidt said, but by now, “everyone who needed to find housing has.”

However the situation is resolved, Beta leaders are not enthusiastic about a return to on-campus housing.

Heller said he doesn’t feel his organization is welcome on campus.

“We are definitely going to try to get a house off-campus,” he said.

Beta Theta Pi will make an official housing decision, Schmidt said, when its internal review is completed and it is reinstated with a probationary status.

The organization could be reinstated and begin to conduct business as early as the beginning of this week.

“I hope this effort can change some of the behavior of the Greeks in its entirety,” Schmidt said.