News Tidbits 4/18/11: Fraternity Seeks Recolonization in Turbulent Times

18 04 2011

Image property of Alpha Phi Delta

Seems a second fraternity is seeking to reestablish itself on Cornell’s campus this year.  According to the Daily Sun, an interest group has been preliminarily approved for recognition of the recolonization of the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity (in other words, the first step to recognition has been taken). Unlike Phi Kappa Sigma, this interest group has taken the route of forming a group first and then seeking the recognition of a national (which is the way it’s traditionally done with fraternities), rather than the national coming in and seeking to revive or start a chapter (more common for sororities, but an increasingly appealing option for large fraternal orgs).

Alpha Phi Delta has existed previously at Cornell’s campus. It was a historically Italian-American fraternity founded at Syracuse in 1911, and still draws most of its chapter membership from colleges in the Northeast. The Cornell chapter (Mu) was founded in 1922 and closed in 1968, three years after the fraternity opened itself up to membership for all men(and not just ones of Italian heritage). From old Cornellian yearbooks, it can be determined that they stayed with one house during their time at Cornell, but I’m having one hell of a time trying to determine its location – I can’t find it anywhere nearby on the 1928 and 1954 Cornell maps, which suggests to me it might have been far from campus.

Anyways, given the closure of Theta Xi and the recent fallout due to the SAE tragedy, I’m unsure as to how successful they will be. But, I wish them the best of luck. Oh, and if they’re still looking for a house, it would make my heart jump if they could move into an unused property that could use some revitalizing, like 722 University Avenue.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

19 03 2011

So it’s official. Sigma Alpha Epsilon, up until now the second largest chapter in the Greek system, is being booted from campus for a period of five years. All members must vacate the university-owned facility by the end of the month. I think the following passage is the most disturbing:

“At this time, the information provided to the university indicates that George Desdunes, 19, was provided alcohol while in the care of certain members and associate members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and became incapacitated. Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died.”

Let’s be honest. Associate members = pledges in this case. Also, just about anyone who’s been in a fraternity can vouch they knew “that” guy who got really, really drunk one time at a frat party or a mixer, so they gave him some water, a bucket just in case, and laid him on a couch to sleep it off (or maybe that was just in my experience). But this time, either members failed to recognize the severity of the situation – tragic but not impossible – or they realized the extent of the situation and did nothing. Which I really, sincerely hope wasn’t the case, especially since a number of criminal charges are likely in the upcoming weeks.

It’s hard to imagine a system without SAE occupying its lofty Hillcrest estate. But, there is a habit in recent years of the largest, most visible houses being shut down for one reason or another. Pi Kappa Alpha was one of the largest chapters in the system back in the 1980s and 1990s, their recognition was suspended after an incident a couple years ago sent three rushees to the hospital. Before In the mid 2000s, the largest chapter was Sigma Pi, which was suspended and forced to reorganize in 2007 after they sent Thanksgiving attendees to the hopsital with alcohol poisoning. It seems that the largest houses are more apt at screwing up.

It’s difficult to picture Cornell’s Greek Life without one of its prominent members. But under the circumstances, I would’ve been even more surprised if they had been allowed to continue on campus.

The Death Knell of Greek Life?

2 03 2011

In some sense, I’ve learned to dread days where I see the number of hits to this blog skyrocket, namely because days with extraordinarily high hits can be correlated unfortunately well with the untimely death of a student at the university. So it was with some hesitancy that I glanced at the Sun’s website this weekend.

The news is unnerving and tragic. A student is dead. Secondly, the Tompkins County sheriff has gone on the record to say that the death was likely alcohol-related. The student, George Desdunes, was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and was found unresponsive at the fraternity house on Friday morning. At this point, it was yet to be established to what extent the fraternity is responsible in his untimely death, but SAE has been suspended temporarily.

When I first heard the news, I kept hoping that the fraternity wouldn’t be responsible. SAE is considered to be one of the most visible Greek houses on Cornell’s campus. It has one of the largest memberships of any fraternity at Cornell and holds a fairly strong presence in Greek affairs, and to some extent campus affairs (a number of their members and recent alumni, such as Svante Myrick ’09 and Eddie Rooker ’10, hold prominent positions in and around the university and surrounding city). So if SAE was responsible for the death of one of its members, the effects would be profound and far-reaching through all parts of the system.

Given the problems of the system and the recent reforms forced onto it by the university, I am honestly wondering whether or not it is a sign of the end of the system. the first thing that comes to mind was Ithaca College’s ban of Greek life after the death of Joseph Parella in 1980, during a fraternity pledge event in which he was hazed. But, it’s not easy to compare the two systems. For one, Ithaca College’s fraternities were generally housed in dorms (in comparison, Cornell owns  about one-third the Greek houses), and for two, their system represented a much smaller proportion of their student body than Cornell’s does.

I suppose the usual arguments will come out – the biggest donors to the school are Greek, they can’t touch private houses, and so forth. The problem is, if SAE is found responsible, their role in the death of a student would be a very powerful and legitimate reason to favor de-recognition of Greek life. Addressing argument number two, while many chapters own their own property and would not be immediately affected, they lose the protection that the university gives — i.e. every party thrown is a target for local and campus police to bust underage drinkers. So the system wouldn’t be “shut down” per se, but it could easily be crippled.

Perhaps a better comparison would be a case from MIT that occurred about 15 years ago. On September 26, 1997, a pledge of FIJI at MIT died after a pledge event due to alcohol poisoning.  MIT is, like Cornell, a prestigious institution with substantial Greek Life – at MIT, it comprises about 42% the student body. There had been signs Greek Life had been getting out of control prior to the death of Scott Krueger. As a result of the event, RAs were put in fraternity houses, mandatory CPR training was established, all freshmen were required to live in dorms, MIT paid a $6 million settlement to the family due to negligence in preventing the event from occurring, the fraternity was shut down (and has never come back), and several of the former FIJI members were convicted of criminal offenses. It forever changed the way MIT dealt with its fraternities. But they still have a large, influential system.

But comparisons only offer ideas, not results. So what will happen with Cornell’s system? A good question.  But not one that can be answered just yet, while Cornell students mourn the loss of one of their own.

News Tidbits 2/7/11: Sorority Selected for Recolonization on CU Campus

7 02 2011

According to the Cornell Daily Sun, Phi Sigma Sigma sorority has been selected to recolonize at Cornell University, from a field of five candidates. From the article:

“Phi Sigma Sigma will begin recruiting a core group of members in the fall, drawing in part from the new sorority interest group on campus. The sorority will participate in formal recruitment in Jan. 2012….

Phi Sigma Sigma had a chapter at Cornell that left the University in 1969, a departure Sanders speculated may have been due to a generally negative view of Greek life at the time. She said supportive Cornell alumnae from the chapter’s earlier years would be an asset to its reestablishment. “

That much is correct. Phi Sigma Sigma established a chapter (Beta Xi) at Cornell University around 1954. The chapter was located in the house at 313 Wait Avenue.The chapter was closed around 1969, and for that I offer two, non-mutually exclusive explanation. The first is as Ms. Sanders suggested – the late 1960s were a time of strong social activism and Greek life was seen as archaic and out of touch with the times, so membership declined rapidly. Phi Sigma Sigma was one of four or five chapters to shut down in a three year span from 1969-1971. Secondly, Phi Sigma Sigma, although officially non-sectarian, was regarded as a house for women of Jewish faith. As other sorority houses adopted non-sectarian policies in the 1960s, the competition became much fiercer, and with the general declines in sorority interest, this likely compounded and caused the chapter to close its doors.

The Sun article states that 14 South Ave. is expected to be used as the new house for the sorority at Cornell. This house has been used for so many Greek houses it’s like a token minority character in a movie – no one can remember their name, but everyone remembers their race or skin color. In this case, no one can remember the house’s letters, they just know it’s a Greek house. For the record, the house was built in 1957, and home to Kappa Alpha Society up to their closing in 1990, and then it was home to AOPi and Delta Chi. This is discussed more in another entry on this blog.

Among the nifty things that turned up in a google search is a word document from the ladies of Phi Sigma Sigma national that seems to be an overview of their presentation to the Cornell Panhel on why they would make for a good addition to the campus Greek scene. It doesn’t really offer much in the way of interesting information, but I was rather surprised it was so easy to find on the Internet.

So yeah, congratulations ladies. Good luck to your rechartering in the upcoming year.

The Unhappy Guide to the 2010 OFSA Report

26 01 2011

Yeah, this is the last year I will actually care about this document. For one thing, it is the last year that will be personally relevant to me since I graduated this past May. After this, I’m fairly okay with just hearing about activities through my fraternity’s newsletter or the Cornell Daily Sun.

So anyways, here’s the PDF:

Click to access 2009-2010FratSororityAR.pdf

My first instinct was to scroll past a standard sorority girl photo because I immediately recognized one of the girls as my supervisor’s boss’s daughter, and I was not the biggest fan of her lazy, ditzy behavior. I put up with her when she in high school and she was a temp employee, and I tolerated her when she came to Cornell and became a stereotypical sorority girl. She’s not doing any favors for the system’s image.

Reading through, I think the system took a collective step backwards for 2009-10. Don’t get me wrong, establishing yet another honorary society (Rho Lambda) and holding Greek summits is fine and dandy. But Theta Xi shut down, Pi Kappa Alpha was forced into closure, Beta Theta Pi reorganized and Kappa Sigma was shut down by its national. Not a good year for fraternities.

Looking at membership numbers, they dropped to 31.42% for male membership and 23.35% for women. The sororities are holding steady, but for guys, that’s the lowest percentage in four years. The total number of first-years of both genders increased slightly, and the total membership intake decreased slightly. For a system still trying to command a presence at Cornell, the decreases are a troubling sign.

Interesting, in terms of membership intake, they broke it down this year to fall, spring, rush week and non-rush week bid acceptances, and the number of deactivations. The numbers are interesting. Most house seem to have zero or one who depledged, but two houses pulled five or more – Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Delta Kappa Epsilon. Ouch. Still, looking at my own house, I can tell you with certainty that the numbers who pledged and depledged are false. So, make of this information what you will.

It also shows a couple of strange cases. Sigma Chi Delta, a small co-ed house on Heights Court near North Campus, had one pledge — who deactivated. Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian-interest fraternity, had twelve pledges – and twelve who depledged, for a final total of zero. I wonder if someone is looking into that. Kappa Phi Lambda, an Asian-interest sorority, didn’t do much better – they had 8 out of 11 depledge. I’m curious as to what exactly their pledging entailed.

No real surprises in the GPAs. The houses that are typically near the top are still at or near the top – Pi Kappa Phi had the highest spring 2010 GPA and fall 2009 GPA at around 3.56. Which, much to my chagrin, is higher than all of two of my semesters at Cornell (I studied atmospheric science, cut me some slack here).

Social events resulting in a complaint increased from 9 to 13%. Judicial complaints were up, mostly due to social violations or hazing reports.  Considering the information contained here, it’s not hard to see why the trustees voted against the system’s social policies this past fall.

Overall, the 2010 Report does not paint a pretty picture of the future of the system.

Photographic Revisions

2 01 2011

So, one of the things I’m proud of on this blog is that about ninety percent of the photos used are my own work, either “stock” images that I had taken before I graduated, or one of the few images I’ve taken while visiting as an alum. Still, one of the things that always bothered me was that a good portion of my north campus fraternity photos were blurred. This happened for a perfectly good reason – the images were taken on my old digital camera in the summer of 2008. These images were taken close to sunset on a cloudy day, so there was a lack of light, and I had to adjust the settings to compensate. Unfortunately, this meant a longer exposure time, and if my hands shifted at all, the photo would have a “fuzzy” appearance. This is what happened to most of those photos.

So, while visiting friends as part of a 700-mile car trip around the New Year’s holiday, I did an overnight stay with a few of them that have remained in Ithaca (for grad school and work). Having a little free time as I first arrived into town on the afternoon of the 29th, I decided to rectify this issue once and for all. The images are included below.

Phi Delta Theta

Alpha Xi Delta…and what appears to be an early-1980s Pontiac Bonneville. I thought the only models of that car left would be in museums or junk yards.

Pi Kappa Phi

Beta Theta Pi

Sigma Delta Tau. I think that is the exact same Jeep from my photo two and half years ago. Housemother’s? Also, I couldn’t tell whether or not that was new construction in progress off of the rear of the old structure.

Alpha Chi Omega

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Tau Epsilon Phi


Alpha Gamma Rho

Kappa Kappa Gamma

Alpha Epsilon Pi

Delta Chi

Alpha Zeta

Phi Kappa Tau

Fraternal Publicity

23 12 2010

This entry is a bit unorthodox, but since the Greek houses are gearing up for rush in a few weeks, it’s apropos. I was curious to see what houses came up were most frequently requested in the search bar, and what Greek house photos were most popular. Give two and a half years and about 125,000 houses, there’s a good-sized chunk of data to work with. Any combo of the house’s name, with or without Cornell, is considered. Plural searches or searches geared towards chapters at other schools are excluded.  Since wordpress gives the option, I’m dividing the results into two groups: all time (since June 2008) and the past 90 days.

Here’s the top five search entries for specific Greek houses in the past three months:

1. Psi Upsilon – 201 searches, henceforth called “hits”

2. Sigma Chi – 191 hits

3. Delta Chi – 183 hits

4. Delta Kappa Epsilon – 120 hits

5. Chi Phi – 99 hits

…and for all time:

1. Sigma Chi – 816 hits

2. Chi Psi – 605 hits

3. Delta Chi – 562 hits

4. Psi Upsilon -631 hits

5. Chi Phi – 362 hits

Interestingly enough, Psi U splits its hit almost evenly between “psi upsilon cornell” and “psi u cornell”. Sigma Chi, Delta Chi and Chi Phi are dominated in searches by their full name (“sigma chi cornell”), and Delta Kappa Epsilon was mostly searched for as “dke cornell” or “deke cornell”. Only about half of houses on campus had more than ten hits in the past three months. At least five had no hits at all. My old house has a grand total of seven hits in the past 90 days. Looking at search entries, it seems that the recent favorites are in general perennial favorites. DKE had a total around 350 hits and was sixth on the all time list.

Sororities are apparently unpopular searches. The highest all time was Delta Gamma, with 113 hits. If it were a frat, it would be about 19th on the search bar popularity list. Hell, Telluride had more hits (123).

Looking at the images, the results play out a bit differently for the past 90 days. They’re a bit harder to classify, since I can only go by the number of times people downloaded the full-size photo of a house. But, if we make the assumption that the number are roughly similar, then we can make some form of a conclusion. Anyways, here’s the 90 day results, followed by the “all time” results:


1. Chi Phi’s house (23 full image downloads)

2. DKE’s house (15)

3. FIJI’s house (13)

4. Pi Kappa Phi’s house (10)

5. Alpha Delt’s goat house (10). Their house photo had (9) hits.


1. Chi Phi (118)

2. DKE (82)

3. Sigma Chi’s house (77)

4. Zeta Beta Tau’s house (63)

5. Delta Chi’s house (61)

So, it’s obvious that there’s a flow and ebb of publicity going on here. Like for search bar entries, some houses are much more popular than others, although it looks like every house photo had at least 3 downloads. Keeping in step, my own house had an almighty 11 downloads over the past two and some odd years.

Partly out of curiosity, I decided to commit the sin of going to collegeACB to do a quick search to see what were the most popular houses.

Psi Upsilon, searching for “psi u” alone, came up in 256 threads (aside: what the hell? Don’t you psi u obsessed folk have lives?). Searching Psi Upsilon spelled out fully and making a half-hearted attempt to pull threads where psi u is already mentioned pulled in only a couple more hits.  Sigma Chi was mentioned (either as “sigma chi” or “sig chi”) in over 170 threads. Delta Chi appeared in 127 threads.

In comparison, Alpha Delta Phi, which would’ve rounded out the top ten in the search bar, comes up in over 250 threads, and SAE, which was also in the upper part of the top ten, had 278 threats threads. Less searched houses drew relatively few threads from the gossip site (generally 50 or less; of the five houses who had no searches in the past 90 days, none returned more than a couple dozen gossip threads). So, there might be a very general correlations, but it definitely doesn’t match up perfectly.

Well, whether it’s raving or ranting, publicity is still publicity, I s’pose. I hope those who search are mindful that the info here is sparse, and that the opinions of collegeACB are about as respectable as a hooker in church.

Bob Saget Loves Seal and Serpent, Part II

9 12 2010

I live in my grad student bubble.  So I was pleasantly surprised when Matthew Nagowski over at Metaezra happened to write an entry about the A&E Channel’s airing of the episode of “Strange Days with Bob Saget” that has everyone’s favorite dad from Full House “pledging” and joining the fraternity, complete with formals, toga parties and pledge activities. Conveniently, the episode is free to watch on A&E’s website.

I remember writing up a brief entry last spring after this blog was swamped with questions in the search bar asking why Bob Saget was on campus, and then quickly forgot about the whole thing. It was a minor newsmaker, sure, but it was just one event in a stream of activities taking place around and about campus. The only time it ever came up again was when Seal or someone in their house would come up in conversation, and if this conversation was with someone else in the Greek system, the line “I can’t believe that Bob Saget went to Seal to film his show” often followed suit. Not many people in the system were pleased about Seal hosting such a high-profile event, since Cornell’s Greek Life would be publicized (and stereotyped) as a tudor-style house on Thurston Avenue. It seemed to be the general sentiment that there were low expectations for the episode, because it was thought its portrayal (either on the show’s part or the brothers’ part) would be unflattering and give a bad impression of the system.

I’ll admit that as a member of another house, I was a bit weary of Seal’s involvement. I actually had been to the house on a number of occasions because one of my best friends at Cornell was engaged to a senior in the house (they are now happily married). The first floor, with its wood finishes and giant Seal and Serpent lineage flow chart, did not fail to impress. I was less enamored by the party area in the attic (which is a bit abnormal, since most houses have party spaces in the basement) and some of the eccentricities of members (between friends, we affectionately referred to one brother as the “Beer Pong Nazi” while a second brother was infamous for a comment regarding the difference between “rapeability” and “rape-ability”, which is better left unwritten), but overall, they struck me as a fairly harmless bunch of guys, not without their quirks but with a very well-heeled and active alumni base.

So I watched the whole episode through. I thought it was entertaining. It was certainly enjoyable to see some of the guys I knew in Seal dressed up and being polite and respectable in front of the cameras (especially since I knew better). I thought that the impression they gave of Cornell’s system was adequate and not particularly offensive. I was also watching the episode while keeping in mind some of the details of what went on behind-the-scenes.

It was explained to me over the weekend as they were filming that there were some alterations from reality (even more so than pledging that only lasts a weekend). For the party scene, they couldn’t serve to anyone under 21 due to legal obligations. Well okay, that makes it less realistic, but that’s to be expected. However, they could only play generic rock music at the party so they could avoid issues and fees with copyrighted material. That seemed even more unrealistic to me than the lack of underage drinking. At least the show did pick up the tab for the brothers’ party costumes and food/drink, which were more impressive than your typical toga party fare. If I recall correctly, Bob Saget was also at an “IFC Meeting”, but it appears any footage that might’ve been taken from that event was cut from the final production.

Watching the show and treating it as just a show with creative license made the episode much more enjoyable. The episode cast Cornell in a positive light, and lewd jokes aside, it wasn’t offensive to anyone. I wouldn’t call it accurate, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what matters, I suppose.

News Tidbits 9/24/10: New Fraternity to Open on Campus

23 09 2010

Arguably, it may not be a good time for expansion, but that’s it’s own issue. The Cornell Daily Sun has published an article discussing how the IFC is inviting the fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma (known on many campuses as “Skulls” due to their insignia) to speak to the IFC general body before a proposed recolonization this upcoming spring.

Most apparent is that this illustrates how much easier it is for a new fraternity to open on campus vs a new sorority. Sororities have to have the Panhel’s benediction and have to compete against other sororities for the opening (like what’s currently going on for the new 12th sorority; five sororities are narrowed down to three, who must then give presentations before Panhel decides which sorority to offer the position to). For a fraternity, a national organization (i.e. you don’t necessarily need an interest group) has to express interest, and a good plan of execution on how to establish itself on campus.

A little bit of background on Phi Kappa Sigma. They were a fraternity that previously existed at Cornell. The Cornell Chapter was founded in 1891, but closed in 1990. The current Pi Kappa Phi house at 55 Ridgewood Road (“Greentrees”) used to be occupied by Phi Kappa Sigma (Cornell owns the house; on the facilities website, the house is still identified as Phi Kappa Sigma). The house, built around 1900, was the property of George Morris of the Morris Chain Company (later Emerson Power Transmission) until 1935, when it was sold to Phi Kappa Sigma. Sometime between 1935 and 1990, the Skulls sold the house to the university (likely for tax and maintenance purposes correction: It would seem that Phi Kappa Sigma put the house up for sale in 1990 and it was purchased by Pi Kappa Phi). After the Skulls vacated the premises in 1990, Pi Kappa Phi, which was recolonizing at the time, moved in the following year. I’m not sure how a recolonization may affect Pi Kappa Phi’s living situation. The fraternity is similar to Phi Delta Theta in that their newly established or reestablished chapters are dry houses.

Hopefully, they’ll have a better go at things than other recently recolonized chapters. Theta Xi failed to make significant headway and from what I’ve heard, has gone dormant once again. Kappa Alpha still exists, but as a mere shadow of its former self. But, only time will tell if Phi Kappa Sigma can once again make its presence known on Cornell campus.

News Tidbits 9/8/10: The Kappa Sig Dorm

9 09 2010

Being interested in both the Greek System and in the university’s physical facilities, an article that details how Kappa Sigma’s house has been transformed into a small dorm is bound to catch my attention. Evwn better, it’s a very well-detailed article, and I found myself pleasantly surprised with the quality of work.

I guess being an alum just reminds me of how unaware of news I am now, as this was the first time I heard anything about this renovation and reopening. The reuse of the building as a dorm is actually the less surprising part. 112 Edgemoor and 14 South are former Greek houses that operate now as small dorms (Triangle, which closed in 1985, occupied 112 Edgemoor up to 1985 and Kappa Alpha lived in 14 South from 1957-1990). Cornell purchased the Kappa Sigma facility as part of the Cornell University Residential Plan of 1966. Reasonably, when Cornell owns a facility (as it does with at least 15 Greek houses, of which all but one (722 University Ave.) are fully occupied), it’s financially much more preferable to maintain the space as a working residential facility. This goes for private houses as well — the article mentions Pike is being rented out as a boarding house. This policy also has bearing on active chapters; boarding which is a popular option with residential fraternities with low membership numbers as a way to maintain the financial viability of a house. Interestingly enough, the university used Craigslist to advertise the spaces, and managed to fill all but one.

The article reports that the estimate for maintaining an empty fraternity house runs about $80,000 to $90,000 in a given year. The extremely general description for the expenditures is maitenence. More specifically, heating (pipes may burst in the winter if the facility isn’t adequately heated), insurance, security for a vacant facility, interior and exterior upkeep, and other utilities (which cost money to even have access to let alone use) come to mind.

I’m rather surprised at Cornell’s investment in renovating the facility. I dunno how much work had to be done, but if the Kappa Sigma alumni have already started the rechartering process, then it’s likely the university won’t be filling the facility for more than two years.  But, I don’t know much about the maitenence of university-owned Greek houses (my fraternal alma mater was privately owned by an alumni board). It just struck me as curious.