UPDATED: Some UVA fraternities refusing to sign new rules agreement

A UVA fraternity party in fall 2014. Photo: Martyn Kyle A UVA fraternity party in fall 2014. Photo: Martyn Kyle

At least two UVA fraternities are refusing to agree to new rules regulating house parties.

The additional rules were drawn up by student fraternity leaders during a more than month-long suspension of Greeks at UVA that followed a controversial Rolling Stone story alleging a woman was gang-raped at the school’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter in 2012. They take the form of an addendum to the existing Fraternal Order Agreement, or FOA, the document that defines the frats’ relationship with the University. UVA announced that the fraternities were expected to sign the new agreements by January 16.

But the Kappa Alpha Order and Alpha Tau Omega chapters have announced via their national parent organizations that they won’t agree to the new rules. NBC29 initially reported the story on Tuesday, January 13, and representatives from the national fraternities confirmed the decision Wednesday (for the full text of their statements, scroll to the bottom of this story).

Kevin O’Neill is a lobbyist for the Greek umbrella group known as the North-American Interfraternity Conference, of which both frats are members, and the executive director of the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, whose top organizational donor in the last election cycle was Kappa Alpha Order. He confirmed that the two fraternities were pushing back against the new rules, and said more frats might follow.

“Everybody’s concerned about what’s happening at UVA,” O’Neill said of the fallout following the Rolling Stone story. “It impacts operations everywhere when you have such a high-profile event. Everyone on the PAC’s board is well aware of what’s going on there, and how it impacts them on a broader level.”

The statements from Kappa Alpha Order and Alpha Tau Omega are nearly identical, and O’Neill said he believes the two national organizations collaborated on their response to UVA’s new rules.

Both say that UVA’s suspension of fraternities in the wake of the Rolling Stone story unfairly punished all fraternity and sorority members at the schools, and that it was “maintained and used as leverage to require the changes to the FOA.”

The statements go on to say that because the fraternities believe the suspension was in violation of the existing FOA, school policy, state law and constitutional rights of members, the chapters will not sign onto the new rules. They also claim that their own risk management polices dictate even more restrictive rules on parties, and that agreeing to UVA’s new rules would “create new liability for individual members.”

Each fraternity said it “fully welcomes the opportunity to work with UVA on continuing dialogue of partnership and risk management education,” but that “This should occur on an ongoing basis, not under these pretenses.”

“I think they’re motivated by exactly what the statement says, which is that the university took this precipitous action without any due process for the students, and they took it in a rush to judgment after the Rolling Stone story,” O’Neill said. “They have at no time apologized to the [UVA Greek] system and explained the process that led them to make that decision.”

Shutting down all Greek organizations after the article was published “was the equivalent of UVA having a cross-country player accused of a crime and suspending the entire undefeated basketball team and every other athlete on campus,” he said. “The University’s existing FOA doesn’t contemplate the kind of mass suspension that took place in the fall. Fraternities and sororities are partners with these host institutions, and they are happy to have an ongoing dialogue at any time on how to improve student safety. They don’t feel they need to sign that new FOA simply to continue operating, because they don’t think the suspension that occurred was valid.”

The new rules in UVA’s FOA addenda include requiring at least three “sober brother monitors” at all fraternity functions, one of whom has key access to all rooms in the house. Parties must be registered in advance, and fraternities are required to submit formal risk management plans to the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC). Drinks are limited to canned beer and wine poured by sober brothers; unmixed liquor is allowed, but at parties where the number of guests exceeds the number of brothers, called “Tier I events,” it can only be served by a licensed ABC vendor. A guest list will also be required for all parties, and an IFC-approved security agent with that list must manage the door at Tier I events.

Technically, a fraternity chapter does not need to enter an FOA to exist at UVA. In an interview earlier this week, UVA Associate Dean J. Marshall Pattie confirmed that like any student organization, fraternities are free to form a social club as private individuals.

“However, if that group wanted to be in a relationship with the University, use the University’s facilities, have access to its Web space, room space and intramural rec sports department, they’d have to agree by certain terms and conditions,” Pattie said—and for fraternities, that’s the FOA.

UVA spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said University officials are hopeful that all fraternities and sororities will commit to the new rules, which he called “reasonable protocols designed to improve student safety.”

“The Greek organizations have until January 16 to sign the new agreements, developed by the student groups themselves, and we will have no further comment or action until that date has passed,” de Bruyn said.

“The right thing to do,” said O’Neill, “is to allow them to continue to operate, and if the University chooses not to do that, this could escalate.”

The presidents of Kappa Alpha Order and Alpha Tau Omega’s national organizations were not immediately available for comment, but the two organizations shared their full statements, which we are copying below.

From Alpha Tau Omega:

INDIANAPOLIS—Alpha Tau Omega is not signing the new Fraternity Operating Agreement (FOA) for two reasons: The University violated the previous FOA as well as student individual and organizational rights. The systemwide suspension, which was initiated for reasons that were found to be untrue, unfairly punished all members of fraternities and sororities. It was maintained and used as leverage to require the changes to the FOA. Because we do not accept the validity of a suspension imposed in contravention of the existing FOA, university policy, Virginia law and the constitutional rights of our members, we are not compelled to sign a revised FOA to continue operations on campus.

Second, Alpha Tau Omega’s own risk management policies, much like the policies of all national fraternities and sororities, are as strict or more strict than this new FOA. Our chapter will comply with the more restrictive of the policies in its activities. We are concerned that the university’s revision to the FOA may create new liability for individual members of our organizations that is more properly a duty to be borne by the university itself.

Together, these circumstances set a dangerous precedent of an erosion of student and organizational rights. Alpha Tau Omega fully welcomes the opportunity to work with UVA on continuing dialogue of partnership and risk management education. This should occur on an ongoing basis, not under these pretenses.

From Kappa Alpha Order:

Kappa Alpha Order is not signing the new Fraternity Operating Agreement (FOA) for two reasons: The University violated the previous FOA as well as student individual and organizational rights. The system-wide suspension, which was initiated for reasons that were found to be untrue, unfairly punished all members of fraternities and sororities. It was maintained and used as leverage to require the changes to the FOA. Because we do not accept the validity of a suspension imposed in contravention of the existing FOA, university policy, Virginia law and the constitutional rights of our members, we are not compelled to sign a revised FOA to continue operations on campus.

Second, Kappa Alpha Order’s own risk management policies, much like the policies of all national fraternities and sororities, are as strict or more strict than this new FOA. Our chapter will comply with the more restrictive of the policies in its activities. We are concerned that the university’s revision to the FOA may create new liability for individual members of our organizations that is more properly a duty to be borne by the university itself.

Together, these circumstances set a dangerous precedent of an erosion of student and organizational rights. Kappa Alpha Order fully welcomes the opportunity to work with UVA on continuing dialogue of partnership and risk management education. This should occur on an ongoing basis, not under these pretenses.

This story has been updated since the original post to include further comments from Kevin O’Neill and full statements from the two fraternity organizations.  

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