By Alex Wiederspiel and David Beard, WV Metronews and The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN — While most of WVU’s Greek chapters are on board with changes the school adopted this month, some remain a little “squishy,” said university president Gordon Gee.
“There are a couple who just simply did not want to” align with new standards, he said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” Monday.
“My view is that the university has a real stake in the safety and quality of life of our students, and I just will not back away from that, nor will the university. And I think parents appreciate that.”
Last week, four fraternities signed off on dissociating from the school. At least one began advertising for rush activities, which were delayed for WVU-sanctioned fraternities until students are on campus for at least one semester.
“The university also has a responsibility to let parents and others know that, if their students are going to go in that direction, they’re doing so without the sanction of the university,” Gee said.
He warned the disassociated organizations that “independence comes with a cost.”
Two of the four fraternities that announced their intention to dissociate — Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa — have since rescinded their threat ahead of a meeting between Gee, alumni and members of the national chapters set for Tuesday.
Alpha Sigma Phi is a recognized fraternity undergoing educational sanctions. Phi Sigma Kappa is suspended through spring 2021.
Kappa Alpha Order and Sigma Chi — both suspended from the Interfraternity Council pending action plan approval — did not agree to rescind their notice, though Kappa Alpha “paused” its move.
In February, citing concerns over hazing and other conditions that school officials believed were ripe for a repeat tragedy, WVU placed a moratorium on all social activities for campus Greek life. That moratorium led directly to the adoption and eventual enactment of “Reaching the Summit Standards” beginning this month.
Those chapters that choose to sever ties will be prohibited from engaging in university-sponsored programs.
“I am not going to allow dissociation from the university when they use our students as a way to fill their houses,” Gee said.
Gee hopes to find a quick resolution, meeting with the head of the national IFC and members of the national fraternity offices.
“I’m going to meet with the squishy guys, and let’s see if we can’t come to an accommodation that they live by the rules and that we’ll be their friends.”
The national Kappa Alpha Order office sent a statement to The Dominion Post concerning the proposed disassociation:
“Kappa Alpha Order (KA) values its partnerships with institutions of higher education where our partnership is equally valued. KA is also committed to the health and safety of its members and guests,” it said.
But Kappa Alpha alleges that WVU’s new standards single out fraternity men “with restrictions of rights and onerous requirements not applied to any other student organization or athletic team.”
Kappa Alpha agreed to “pause” its dissociation pending the meeting’s outcome.
“At no time did the national organization withdraw support for its local chapters and members.
“KA remains unified at all levels in the need to address the restriction of rights and onerous requirements.”
Kappa Alpha Order lost recognition after its chapter GPA fell below 2.75. Student leadership and alumni are charged with crafting a rehabilitative plan.
Alpha Sigma Phi national President and CEO Gordy Heminger said his group fully supports the health and safety policies formulated in the Summit Standards. And the fraternity plans to complete the educational sanctions proposed by the local charter.
They wanted to disaffiliate, he said, because there are no due process rights or protections for student organizations going through the conduct process.
“Our goal is to be a recognized student organization fraternity at West Virginia,” Heminger said. “We’re hoping to work it out and come to a positive solution for everyone. … We all want a healthier, safer Greek community at WVU.”
Sigma Chi currently is under interim suspension stemming from a November 2014 incident in which some members ran intoxicated through the South Park neighborhood.
Gee praised the majority of those on board with the new standards, including members in good standing with the IFC, the National PanHellenic Council (historically African-American fraternities) and the Panhellenic Association (sororities).
“They want to live by these rules,” Gee said. “They believe in them. They understand change. They don’t want to have something terrible happen. Yet there are a few who believe college life is about independence in the worst possible way, and it’s not that.”
Gee said the school is in the midst of a multi-year culture change, a response to over-the-top partying and dangerous mischief both at WVU and around the nation.
“Everyone can find their place here, but they need to take time to do so,” he said. “And, first of all, we are an academic institution. The first semester of this time here needs to be spent talking about the academic program and getting people acclimated.”
The changes followa 2014 tragedy involving Nolan Burch, a WVU freshman who died from alcohol poisoning during an unsanctioned fraternity event.
Burch’s family settled a lawsuit with WVU, Kappa Sigma and property owners at the building where Burch died. At the time of death, Burch’s blood-alcohol level was 0.493.