Beta Theta Pi at Columbia is no more.
The Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity decided at its national convention in early August to disband temporarily and close down its Columbia chapter. Days later, the University withdrew its own recognition of Beta as an official campus Greek organization.
Consequently, Beta will no longer exist as a Columbia fraternity or be sanctioned to conduct the rituals and practices associated with the Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity.
Current Beta members and Columbia Beta alumni feel the chapter was not given due process and was treated unfairly in both decisions, and the Alpha Alpha Alumni Foundation is appealing both the University's and the General Fraternity's decision.
The two decisions have given Beta a unique status among campus groups. Alumni of the Columbia chapter own the Beta house on 114th Street, so although both the University and the General Fraternity do not recognize Beta as a campus group, the former Beta members still have an independent residence on Columbia's fraternity row.
The University, in withdrawing its recognition of the fraternity, also loses the regulatory power it has over campus residences, as the Beta house is owned independently of Columbia.
"As it stands now, the University does not govern us," Beta President Rich Luthmann, CC '01, said.
He said that means that Columbia security no longer has the right to enter the Beta house. Security can currently enter any Columbia-owned property, including fraternities and sororities.
Coordinator for Greek Affairs Kyle Pendleton said that Columbia still retains some jurisdiction over the Beta members.
"Columbia does not recognize the property as a fraternity," Pendleton said. But "as Columbia students, they are still bound by the policies and regulations of Columbia University."
The two decisions have also come as the Beta fraternity house on 114th Street undergoes a $200,000 renovation. As a result of disbanding, the future of the renovations is in limbo.
Both the University and the General Fraternity say they hope to rebuild a Beta fraternity on this campus sometime in future, although the process of re-establishing a new chapter could take years, Pendleton said.
The University and the General Fraternity had slightly different reasons for their respective decisions, although neither group would go into the specifics of its decision.
According to General Fraternity Director of Risk Management Tom Olver, the General Fraternity's board of trustees decided to revoke Beta's charter because of its non-compliance with the General Fraternity and its regulations.
"The overall theme [behind the revoking of Beta's charter] is that there was an overall disregard for Beta Theta Pi's policies, for our principles and our objectives," Olver said. "In other words, they weren't acting like Betas."
The University withdrew its recognition of Beta because Greek life at Columbia is moving away from partying and toward "friendship" and "scholarship," Pendleton said.
"It's [because of] a history with their organization and a history of their behavior at Columbia," Pendleton said. "The Animal House stereotype--that's not the case at Columbia, and we're trying to distance ourselves from that."
Beta contends that the decision came without warning and was based on an unjustified bad reputation and that the chapter was not given adequate opportunity to respond to the charges leveled against it by the University.
"[The decision was] lacking due process, because we were never given the opportunity to address the reasons [why we were suspended]," said Matt DeFilippis, vice president of the Alpha Alpha Alumni Foundation and the chapter's adviser.
Student life administrators unfairly charged the Beta chapter with hazing a prospective pledge last May, even though Beta did nothing malicious or out of the ordinary in conducting its pledge process, Luthmann said.
Administrators had no comment on the specifics of this situation.
According to Luthmann, the University as of late has scrutinized Beta's actions far more closely than it has reviewed and kept track of the actions of other Greek organizations on campus. Luthmann's statements are based upon the press that associated the death of Tom Nelford in February and the attempted suicide of student Eric Peel in October 1998 with Columbia's Beta chapter.
However, the Administration has not paid attention to Beta's activities in the recent past any more than it has to other groups' events and activities, Pendleton said.
"I am here to support the entire Greek community," Pendleton said. "When something is brought to our attention, then we act on it."
Luthmann said that during a meeting between Beta and student life officials over the summer, administrators raised some concerns with how Beta had conducted itself in the past year, but never indicated that Beta was in danger of being shut down.
Director of Residence Life Brian Paquette had a different take on the situation."Everyone was aware that given the tenuous status of the organization on campus, a range of options were being considered," Paquette said.
Paquette also said that while the decision may have been a harsh one, it was also a difficult one to make.
"Sometimes groups need to re-focus by having a difficult decision made for them," Paquette said. "There's no reason Beta Theta Pi should not exist in the future at Columbia."
However, Beta feels that the University's "re-focusing" is actually hurting campus Greek life.
"This [decision] seems to be catering to a certain ideological goal of what a fraternity ought to be," Luthmann said. "I think they're taking out the diversity [from] Greek life."