Disaffiliated frats create independent Interfraternity Council

Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 6:41pm

Disaffiliated fraternities from the Interfraternity Council have created their own independent Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council.

Disaffiliated fraternities from the Interfraternity Council have created their own independent Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Fraternities that disaffiliated from the Interfraternity Council at the University of Michigan created their own independent Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council this month.

In a statement released by IFC last week, six fraternities have disaffiliated due to new city zoning code restrictions implemented by the Ann Arbor City Council in July and the University’s decision to defer rushing to the winter semester beginning January 2020. The six fraternities that have disaffiliated as of publication are Theta Chi, Psi Upsilon, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Sigma Phi, Delta Chi and Phi Sigma Kappa. This disaffiliation means the fraternities can still operate on campus but will be denied certain programs and resources such as safety and anti-hazing task forces. However, disaffiliated fraternities are still subject to national body and University rules, but their national charters are not affected by the decision to disaffiliate.

A new AAIFC

Business junior Michael Salciccioli, president of the newly formed Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council, wrote in a statement AAIFC remains concerned about protecting student rights and fraternal corporation property rights.

The zoning codes passed unanimously by City Council require fraternities and sororities to maintain affiliation with a university in order to keep their housing permits. If a chapter loses their affiliation, they can apply for a two-year exception before their housing will change back to single-family or two-family units. The regulations apply to new chapters and do not affect existing chapters at the University.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of our members and guests, which is why we have committed to standards that meet or exceed the policies put in place by the University and the UM IFC,” Salciccioli wrote. “As the Ann Arbor IFC, we remain concerned about protecting students’ associational rights — a concern also clearly stated by the leadership of the UM IFC last spring, as well as the property rights of fraternity house corporations. As we move forward, we will continue to seek a resolution with both the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor.”

With representatives from the six disaffiliated fraternities, AAIFC has already convened meetings.

Stephen Bernstein, attorney counsel for Alpha Epsilon Pi, said disaffiliation is an ongoing trend and topic of conversation across the country. 

“There is a whole issue in the Greek world about whether it is advantageous to be affiliated with the constituent university,” Bernstein said. “At some universities, the houses are right on campus. … Then, there are other places like the University of Colorado where the entire fraternity system disaffiliated from the university. The students are still students. They still have to observe the conditions of the student code, but the organizations are independent. U-M has recognized that there’s a right to do that.”

Bernstein said University Greek life’s recent shift to more stringent regulation — such as enforcing winter rush and fraternity action plans — affects working relationships.

“Historically, the University of Michigan Student Life and Greek Life Office has really been the best to work with over the years,” Bernstein said. “They seem to have gone back 50 years in time, and part of that has to do with government regulation, to in loco parentis. I think that that is the core of the problem. For what it’s worth, we are glad to discuss this with the University. If we can work through this, I think everyone thinks it would be better to have a working relationship.”

According to Bernstein, the Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter at the University consulted with their national body before disaffiliation.

CSG President Daniel Greene, Public Policy senior, said student government respects the jurisdiction of IFC and will continue to support university students and IFC.

“We remain committed to ensuring the best Michigan experience for all students,” Greene wrote in an email interview. “We will continue to monitor the situation, and we will provide support if deemed necessary by IFC.”

IFC and CSG have collaborated on projects in the past, including Football Saturday water stations.

Heather Kirk, chief communication officer of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, wrote in an email interview the conference will continue to work with the city and University to find solutions that address issues pertaining to Greek life.  

“All of our member fraternities with chapters at UM — whether affiliated or in the Ann Arbor IFC — are concerned about the impact of the city’s new zoning ordinance and the University’s decision to restrict students’ association rights,” Kirk wrote. “The NIC will continue to advocate for all of its members as we work with City and University to find reasonable solutions that address the critical issues in the community and fraternities’ concerns.”

City Councilmembers confront loopholes

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, who serves as a pre-health advisor in LSA, said she’s skeptical about the true reasons fraternities are choosing to disaffiliate from the University.

“The skeptical side of me is wondering, ‘Is this really about the zoning ordinance or are they trying to sell something to fraternities that might be other benefits –– short-term benefits –– to disaffiliating in terms of the changes that are coming down the line, in terms of fall recruitment?’” Grand said. “I think there’s a loophole that they’re looking for. I suspect that that may be a stronger driver than the issue about zoning.”

Grand remains suspicious of the disaffiliation due to some of the fraternities’ reputations. In a meeting with Greek life representatives in 2015, President Schlissel claimed Greek life’s connection to issues like alcohol abuse and sexual assault tarnish the University’s reputation. Last year, IFC self-suspended all social activities in response to a litany of charges such as hazing, sexual misconduct, hospitalizations and more.

“By having some of those groups that have not always had the best reputation in the system to disaffiliate, it definitely makes me raise an eyebrow,” Grand said. “I think that the landlords of these houses are looking out for themselves.”

Chapter stances

Alpha Sigma Phi

Gordy Heminger, president and chief executive officer of Alpha Sigma Phi International Body, released a statement to The Daily on Thursday affirming the fraternity’s commitment to health and safety remains the same despite the decision to disaffiliate.

“Our commitment to health and safety has not changed, which is why we have worked with other fraternities to support a new independent IFC that has already developed standards that meet or exceed the university’s own health and safety standards,” Heminger wrote. “We seek to find solutions with the city and university that address our concerns as Alpha Sigma Phi believes the fraternity experience is at its best when there is a true partnership between the University and the Fraternity.”

Theta Chi

Ben Hill, chief communications officer of Theta Chi, confirmed in an email the frats’ disaffiliation came about from the zoning code and deferred rush changes.

“This decision was — and still is — about preserving our property and association rights in response to a recent Ann Arbor zoning change and the University’s announcement to restrict first-semester students from joining fraternities,” Hill wrote.  “We seek to find solutions with the city and university that address our concerns.”

Delta Chi

Ben Ely, director of communications and publications for U-M’s chapter of Delta Chi, wrote the international headquarters supports the chapter’s decision to disaffiliate.

“The Delta Chi Fraternity recognizes the actions taken by our Michigan chapter in collaboration with other fraternities and support their decision to disaffiliate from the University of Michigan,” Ely wrote. “We’ve worked with our interfraternal partners to support a new independent IFC that has developed standards that meet or exceed the university’s own. … We remain committed to pursuing solutions with the city and university that address our concerns.”

Phi Sigma Kappa

Phi Sigma Kappa leadership did not respond to requests for comment.

Psi Upsilon

Thomas Fox, executive director of Psi Upsilon, said the fraternity disaffiliated due to the zoning code changes and deferred rush as well. According to Fox, Psi Upsilon supports a new and independent IFC and continual work with members and alumni.

“ … (W)e have full time staff members on campus currently working with our members to educate our members about these standards and best practices for a safe, productive chapter experience,” Fox wrote. “The alumni corporation that manages the chapter house has also hired a live-in director to help guide the chapter. … We seek to find solutions with the city and university that address our concerns and will continue to work with our interfraternal partners to do so.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi

Alpha Epsilon Pi national leadership did not respond to requests for comment.

Members of the University’s chapters of the six fraternities either declined to comment or did not respond to a request to comment.

Daily News Editors Kaela Theut and Andrew Hiyama contributed to this article.