This Isn’t Your Father’s Fraternity

29 12 2009

So, with Rush Week coming up, I figured it was about time that I did another Cornell Greek System related article.

So, a fair number of guys who come back for rush week do so on their parent’s urging. Which seems a bit funny, considering the stereotypes and all, but it’s likely that the parents who are pro-Greek were in a fraternity or sorority themselves. Sometimes, someone’s father might try to prod them towards the house that they were a member of back in the day.

Well, fraternities are rather preculiar in that the character of a house can change completely in about three years, as members graduate and new brothers are initiated.  So, your father’s fratenity, while it may have been a “small nerdy house in 1970-something” or “a big jock house back in the ’80s”, may be something completely different today.

For this entry, I decided to compare the membership numbers of houses. For one thing, numbers are solid; character is subjective. Secondly, I’m only doing fraternities; sororities tend to be somewhat less elastic with numbers, especially since they operate with a quota system that sets the number of pledges a sorority may have.

The first number is the active membership number from the Spring 2009 semester for Cornell fraternities. The second number is for Spring 2005, selected merely to illustrate the dynamics of change (or lack thereof).  The last number is from Spring 1983, selected because it is a legitimate date that token rushee X’s dad might’ve graduated from college, but also because  it was easy for me to get a hold of the figures (on paper, so no links unfortunately).

A few details: Membership percentages in Greek houses in 2009 was 33.15% of the total undergrad male population, with 47 members on average (50 chapters fell under the “fraternity” designation, but that includes MGLCs – accounting for their typically small number, the reduction is to 42 chapters, then the IFC average is about 54 members). No offense meant to the MGLC folks, but I have no 1983 data for those chapters, so they are excluded.

For 2005, there were 40 IFC chapters, and an average of about 47 members per house (fraternity membership was 28.75%).

For 1983, there were 50 IFC chapters, and an average in the low 50s.The chapters that existed in 1983 that don’t today are

Phi Alpha Omega, a small collegetown-based fraternity started around 1982 and gone by 1986.

Triangle, down to eleven members. Their national would shut them down by 1985.

Theta Delta Chi, which closed in 1999 (to their credit, they have one failed recolonization attempt, from 2003). They failed to submit information in time to be included in the 1983 publication I’m using.

Phi Kappa Sigma, which closed in 1990. They had 35 members in 1983.

Phi Sigma Epsilon, which merged on the national level with Phi Sigma Kappa in 1985, closing the Cornell chapter. It had 73 members in 1983.

Chapter /Spring 2009/Spring 2005/Spring 1983

Acacia 39/29/33

Acacia was on the brink of closing in the late 1990s, when membership dwindled. It seems to have recovered well enough.

Alpha Delta Phi 57/69/56

Alpha Epsilon Pi 35/NA/NA

So, here’s the problem. The first time AEPi closed was in 1984. The second time was in 2005. Way to screw up by stats guys. I looked up their 2004 data; its membership number recorded 29 brothers.

Alpha Gamma Rho 52/63/86

Alpha Sigma Phi 51/56/71

Alpha Tau Omega 75/61/63

Alpha Zeta 55/24/53

Alpha Zeta almost closed in the mid 2000s, so that makes it upward climb more impressive. The 1983 value may be off, since this co-ed fraternity only recognized women on an honorary level at the time, so they were left off the roster. The other two values are combined co-ed.

Beta Theta Pi 30/51/49

Beta is in the midst of reorganizing, hence the low 2009 figure.

Chi Phi 73/72/ 56

Chi Psi 53/47/84


Delta Chi 82/27/65

Delta Chi closed and reopened in 2004,  hence the low 2005 figure.

Delta Kappa Epsilon 46/45/68

Delta Phi (Llenroc) 64/41/57

Delta Tau Delta 40/27/56

Delta Upsilon 66/50/60

Kappa Alpha 17/NA/39

Kappa Alpha closed in 1990 and reopened in 2007.

Kappa Delta Rho 39/34/47

Kappa Sigma 71/42/87

Lambda Chi Alpha 67/58/69

Phi Delta Theta 47/54/70

Phi Delt reorganized in 2000, when it threw out the then-current membership and started fresh as a dry fraternity.

Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) 84/53/93

Phi Kappa Psi 72/61/87

Phi Kappa Tau 56/51/34

Closed in 1994, reopened in 2000.

Phi Sigma Kappa 51/56/65

Pi Kappa Alpha 61/56/102.

Wow. I never knew Pika was once the largest house on campus.

Pi Kappa Phi 65/48/25

Closed in 1986, reopened 1990.

Psi Upsilon 37/57/NA

Psi Upsilon was closed from 1981 to 1985. They also reorganized in 2008.

Seal & Serpent 17/20/35

What happened here was a slaughter of their reputation. That was covered in a previous entry.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon 91/89/35

On the other end of the scale, the rise of SAE is impressive. Who would’ve guessed they were such a small house back in the day?

Sigma Alpha Mu 70/52/21

Sigma Alpha Mu was rechartered in 1983/84.

Sigma Chi 67/61/79

Sigma Chi Delta 12/8/14

An item worth noting- the vast majority (80%+) of Sigma Chi Delta’s membership in the 1980s was of east Asian ethnic groups.

Sigma Nu 55/61/72

Sigma Phi 58/47/45

Sigma Phi Epsilon 51/52/50

Not as stable as it looks. Reorganized in spring 2006, closed for the fall, reopened in 2007.

Sigma Pi 39/83/94

Reorganized in 2008.

Tau Epsilon Phi 59/11/30

TEP must be doing something right.

Tau Kappa Epsilon 31/34/44

Theta Delta Chi 63/40/69

Theta Xi 23/NA/NA

Theta Xi was closed in 1970 and didn’t recolonize until 2008.

Zeta Beta Tau 43/51/NA

They didn’t submit in time for their 1983 data to be published.

Zeta Psi 53/29/43

So in conclusion, although your dad may regal you with stories of his fraternity days, don’t expect to have the same experience if you pledge his old house.



2 responses

13 04 2012
Victor S. Alpher, Ph.D.

I am seeking information on the Tau Alpha Omega Fraternity Zeta Chapter at The George Washington University in the 1940s. It was founded at CCNY in the 1920s. No relation to the current TAO in the Phillipines.

13 04 2012
B. C.

A quick search shows the GWU chapter was founded at 1925. The CCNY chapter is shown as active through the 1940s. The Brooklyn College chapter appears to have been known for supporting communism in the 1940s, which certainly wouldn’t help them during the Red Scare of the following years. I don’t see anything online, perhaps the university would have something archived in their library system? Best of luck in your search.

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