MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Here's a story that the guys from ANIMAL HOUSE would not want to hear. Colleges and universities are trying to buy fraternity houses so they can have more control over what happens inside. Matt Hackworth of member station WAER has the story of one college's effort, and why at least one fraternity is suing to stop it.
MATT HACKWORTH reporting:
Snow is starting to cover the lawns of the stately fraternity and sorority houses that sit just across the street from Colgate University. Senior Sam Higgins stands in front of what used to be home to his former fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon.
Mr. SAM HIGGINS (Senior, Colgate University): I really enjoyed the sense of community. I loved going to have dinner every night with all my best friends. But just being around your best friends all the time is an unbelievable experience.
HACKWORTH: But now the house on a tree-lined street in the village of Hamilton, New York, sits nearly empty. Colgate forced the fraternity to disband when its alumni corporation refused to sell the house to the school. More than a third of Colgate's 2,700 students are involved in the school's 10 fraternities and sororities. Colgate says it wants to own Greek housing to keep better tabs on students and bring the Greek community closer to the rest of the campus community. But not everyone agrees.
Mr. TOM WIENCEK (Alum, Delta Kappa Epsilon): It laid bare the motive that Colgate had to essentially engage in a land grab because they're short on beds and they're short on space that's contiguous to the campus to maintain that community atmosphere.
HACKWORTH: Tom Wiencek is a Delta Kappa Epsilon alum who is suing to block the purchase.
Mr. Wiencek: I think its motives are pretty clear. It's trying to expand its residential housing without having to build new construction, which is twice as expensive.
HACKWORTH: The houses' proximity to campus and sheer size make them attractive real estate. The DKE House, as it's known, is a sprawling Georgian mansion with a nicely trimmed lawn. Colgate says it already owns plenty of property in the town. The university's president, Rebecca Chopp, says Colgate wants to better regulate student behavior such as drinking and hazing.
Ms. REBECCA CHOPP (President, Colgate University): Far more importantly, our parents expect us to make sure this is a safe environment for the students. So it wouldn't matter the rules. We had the rules. It was a matter that we didn't have a relationship. I'm an educator. The only relationship I have with the student shouldn't be a disciplinary one.
HACKWORTH: The university's concerns over student behavior aren't without merit. More than five years ago, a fraternity member who was driving drunk hit a tree on campus, killing four teenagers, including a Colgate student. Although New York has strict laws on underage drinking, and fraternity hazing is a felony, the college has struggled to gain control over what happens on private property. But Colgate's efforts to buy fraternity and sorority houses have irritated some alumni to the point where they're withholding donations. Alumni corporation president Joanne Spigner though says the effect has been small.
Ms. JOANNE SPIGNER (Alumni Corporation President, Colgate University): There probably are a few alumni who have decided not to give just as when I came to Colgate, there were alumni not giving because the school decided to accept women. Change is often hard for some people.
Mr. HACKWORTH: A majority of fraternity and sorority members in the U.S. still live in houses not owned by their colleges. Colgate isn't the only school trying to acquire Greek housing. At Colgate, Sam Wiggins's former group, Delta Kappa Epsilon will soon be the only holdout on selling the school its property. The alumni of DKE are hoping a state court will force Colgate to reinstate the fraternity allowing alumni to keep the deed to its house and maintain the traditions found inside.
For NPR News, I'm Matt Hackworth.
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