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Fraternity chapter struggles to pay fees and secure future

The USF chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity learned that Housing and Residential Education charged 16 members and undergraduate alumni $975 each for damages to their former fraternity house.

The fee was charged March 30 to members who lived in the house during the 2007-2008 school year. Some of the fees were for damages incurred before these members lived in the house. USF informed them of the fee through letters and holds placed on their OASIS accounts.

Beta Theta Pi member Alex Dicandio, a junior majoring in communication sciences and disorders, said he could not sign up for classes until the fee was paid, but received an e-mail from USF stating the hold on his OASIS was removed.

“I don’t understand how we got charged for five years of damages when I only lived there for seven months,” Dicandio said. “Supposedly, $500 of it was just for trash that was left.”

Valerie Averill, associate director of Residence Life, said any time a charged fee exceeds $50, a hold is placed on the student’s account.

“We are more than happy to temporarily remove that hold so people can register for class,” Averill said. “We never get in the way of registering for class. I know a number of students who called up here and we removed their hold so they could register.”

She said all residents are supposed to fill out a room condition report that notes any damage to rooms upon their moving in.

“Things like calling fees for garbage left, all those things — sometimes that’s quite a bit of money, and that’s always the responsibility of the outgoing members,” she said.

The members and undergraduate alumni appealed the $975 charge but were denied by USF.

Dicandio said those charged plan to appeal but will not be allowed to appeal if denied again.

He said an itemized list of the damages charged was requested, but Residence Services did not provide any document to any members or undergraduate alumni.

“I have that list for anybody who wants to appeal that to me,” Averill said. “We’d be happy to make that available to people.”

She said an appeal is based on how well a student can explain why they are not responsible for charges. Averill said no one had appealed to her or requested a list of charges as of Wednesday.

“They were told things like carpet, marks on the wall — pretty much just wear and tear,” said Mike Relihan, Beta Theta Pi president. “Do I think it was fair for Residence Services to charge them that money? No.”

Relihan said he lived in the house during the 2006-2007 school year and was not charged the fee. He said he filled out a form noting existing damage to the house when he moved in.

Dicandio and Matt Hamilton, a junior majoring in mass communications, said the
national of Beta Theta Pi will not assist the USF chapter in paying the fee.

“I don’t believe the general fraternity would have an obligation to cover the financial obligations between the student and the University,” said Tom Olver, Beta Theta Pi’s director of communications.

Hamilton said he is disappointed in the national organization.

“The part of the growing experience you have in Greek Life is you learn from your mistakes, you learn camaraderie, and we just got crapped on by our general fraternity,” he said.

Beta Theta Pi housing corporation chose to remove the chapter from the house in August 2008 after the fraternity’s one-year suspension in 2007. Members now live in separate off-campus locations.

Since its suspension, Beta Theta Pi has struggled to re-establish a once strong chapter. Its membership has decreased from 48 members to six over the course of two years, and its current members are in conflict over the fraternity’s future.

The fraternity was suspended after transporting orientation students on Safe Team carts to a party. After a one-year suspension prohibiting any social events, the chapter was subject to a process called “reorganization” in which advisers supervised the chapter’s activities. Now, the chapter is on probation and able to be active under its own control.

The opinion on the  future of the chapter is split among its members.

“To Patrick (Long), Mike (Relihan) and Ray Gonzalez, the chapter can be rebuilt,” Dicandio said. “According to Ryan Jensen, Matthew Hamilton and me, it’s a lost cause.”

Long, the recruitment chair, declined to comment.

“Within a fraternity it can’t just be one member, it has to be all the members that want to do it,” Relihan said. “It’s just one of those things where it will either work or it won’t. We’re kind of just hoping for a graceful end.”