(Scroll all the way to the bottom to find links to published articles and letters concerning the suspension.)
Back in August, you likely received a letter from the Sigma Nu National Fraternity informing you that, effective July 2015, Epsilon Nu of Sigma Nu Fraternity has been suspended of its recognition by Miami University. In addition, Sigma Nu National has suspended our charter for the duration of the term of Miami’s suspension, through March of 2018. Many of you have inquired seeking more detail. This writing is intended to provide you with that detail. Be forewarned, this is a lengthy dissertation.
What does this mean? In effect, Miami has done to us what it has done to multiple other fraternities over the past few years. They have suspended “recognition” of Sigma Nu on Miami’s campus. The fraternity is suspended from participating in Greek affiliated activities and is not recognized by the University as an official member of fraternity system. Sigma Nu National followed suit by suspending our charter for the duration of Miami’s suspension, placing the Epsilon Nu chapter in a state of dormancy. This means Epsilon Nu is precluded from participating in fraternity RUSH until after March of 2018. As a result, this also quite likely means that 300 N. Tallawanda will remained closed to occupancy by Sigma Nu members through the 2018 and possibly 2019 school year. The financial impact is devastating, as room and board revenue is required to meet the financial obligations of the housing operation. Closure of the House for an extended period could force the sale of 300 N. Tallawanda.
The House: The House and land at 300 N. Tallawanda is owned by Epsilon Nu of Sigma Nu Corporation. Incorporated in 1927 (coinciding with our chapter’s founding), we remain a 501c (8), non-profit, fraternal organization governed by a board of directors made up, historically, of volunteer members of the alumni chapter of Epsilon Nu. In effect, the House is owned by our alumni chapter. Neither Miami University nor Sigma Nu National have any ownership in the property. The House sits on a plot of land zoned specifically and exclusively for “fraternity housing”.
First, some additional “suspension” background: Times have certainly changed at Miami since the days when Miami Security and the Oxford Police would provide a police escort for the pulling of our Viking boat across campus to pick up our Viking dates. Given the bad press fraternities have received nationally of late, racist chants, drug charges, gang rapes, sexual assaults, posting of photos of naked passed out girls to Facebook, alcohol related hazing deaths, etc., Miami, the “Mother of all Fraternities” has placed its Greek system under the microscope. Within the last four years, Beta Theta Pi, Sigma Chi, Phi Tau, SAE, Kappa Sigma, Sig Ep, Delta Chi, FIJI, Phi Psi and Kappa Alpha have all been placed on probation or have been suspended by the University or the Interfraternity Council (IFC). Currently eight fraternities, fully 25% of Miami’s fraternities, are summarily suspended by Miami. Heck, even the Tri Delt, Pi Phi and Chi Omega sororities have been hit with suspensions and Phi Mu was placed on probation in recent years. The reasons for the suspensions vary greatly. Some were found responsible for the possession or sale of drugs, some were found guilty of hazing, some were suspended for hosting events in which rampant destruction of private property occurred. However, many of the suspensions were alcohol related. At today’s Miami, student organizations are required to “register” any social event involving alcohol with the University. The organization must demonstrate that it will adhere to strict “risk management” policies to prevent underage drinking or the overserving of alcohol to those of age. Often, organizations might be required to hire third party security firms to manage and monitor the event to ensure the rules are followed.
How did this happen to Epsilon Nu of Sigma Nu? To make a long story relatively short, at the beginning of the 2014/2015 school year, the active chapter was accused of violating Miami’s “Code of Student Conduct” (2 counts of “prohibited use of alcohol”) stemming from two separate social events in which Sigma Nu participated. At both events, one held at an uptown bar, and one held at the chapter house, it is alleged that alcohol had been served to minors. A hearing was held and, although the allegations were questionable at best, it was ultimately decided that it was in the best interest of the chapter to plead “responsible” for both of these violations. The result of the hearing was that Sigma Nu was placed on probation through August 15, 2015. The terms of the probation were very clear. The chapter was not to host or co-host any event in which alcohol was served, even if served to those of legal drinking age only. Failure to adhere to the terms of the probation would result in the possible suspension of Sigma Nu from Miami for a period of four years. Again, this was made very clear to the active chapter.
About the time Miami released its decision to place Sigma Nu on probation, some upperclassmen hosted a “Heaven & Hell” theme party at one of the off campus annexes. This was a date party and presumably involved only kids of legal drinking age. However, a photo taken of a couple attending the event and standing in front of a Sigma Nu sign made it to social media, and quickly into the hands of Miami administration. The boys went from being on regular probation to being on “double-secret probation”.
Apparently, the balance of the first semester and the beginning of the second semester seemed to go on without further incidents. The boys were found to be in compliance with the terms of the probation, and went on to recruit a strong pledge class at the start of the second semester. It appeared we were poised for maxing out the House residency numbers for the 2015/2016 school year. The House was in pretty decent shape as we continued to make significant repairs and improvements. All the boys had to do was keep their noses clean until the end of the semester, and the probation would have been lifted.
Then…Around April 2, the active chapter, with willful disregard of the terms of probation as set forth by Miami, risked the possibility of a four year suspension by the University and decided to host a Viking party. Word quickly spread, and thanks to the posting of photos to Facebook, Instagram and smart phone instant messaging, the University had enough visual evidence within 24 hours of the event to charge Epsilon Nu with yet another violation of the “prohibited use of alcohol” section of the Student Code of Conduct and a violation of the terms of probation. In addition, Miami proceeded to pursue violations of hazing rules as it viewed Sigma Nu was “forcing” its pledge class to remain unshaven for the week leading up to the event (prohibiting good hygiene), and “forcing” pledges to participate in drinking games. (It was explained to Miami officials that it was tradtion for the ENTIRE chapter, pledges and active members alike, to grow beards in the week leading up to Viking and subsequent interviews with members of the pledge class debunked the notion that "pledges were forced to participate in drinking games".) Miami made Sigma Nu National aware of this Viking event the following day, and our alumni board became aware shortly thereafter. The result of this stupid act on the part of our collegiate chapter has ultimately resulted in the summary suspension of recognition of Sigma Nu on Miami’s campus for three years. Our first long term suspension in our 88 year history.
What was the judicial and appeal process? To simplify, within a week of the Viking party, Miami informed active chapter leadership and Sigma Nu National of its intent to investigate allegations of violations of Miami’s Student Code of Conduct. Due to Epsilon Nu’s probationary status at the time, if the chapter was found to be responsible for the violations, Miami would pursue suspension of the recognition of Epsilon Nu on Miami’s campus. Our alumni board was, in turn, notified by both the active chapter and Sigma Nu National. The process was rather lengthy. Miami conducted investigative interviews with chapter leadership, pledges and party guests. Several rounds of written appeals were filed individually and jointly by the active chapter, our alumni board and Sigma Nu National. When these written appeals proved futile, a formal hearing was held in which the chapter Commander was questioned and at which representatives of our alumni board and Sigma Nu National were present. The formal hearing board consisted of representatives from Miami’s administration and faculty along with both Greek and Independent student representatives. The hearing was somewhat like a “kangaroo court”. Transcripts from the hearing revealed that seemingly irrelevant questions were asked that pertained to the Viking party. “Why didn’t you let the pledges shave?” “Why were female quests instructed to make their costumes out of less than two yards of fabric?”. Although some effort was made to inquire about the more serious allegations, much time was spent on redundant or irrelevant questions. Little credence was granted to alumni or EN National concern and the hearing resulted in the decision to suspend. In addition, despite Sigma Nu National’s belief that the suspension was extreme, it decided to revoke or suspend our Epsilon Nu charter for the duration of the Miami’s suspension. This gives Miami the appearance that Sigma Nu National is in agreement with Miami’s suspension and is being cooperative in supporting the decision to suspend. However, the decision to suspend the charter precludes us from allowing Sigma Nu residency in the chapter house (more on that later).
Did we fight the suspension? Hell yes. In the months following the Viking Party, our alumni board along with Sigma Nu National participated in multiple hearings and appeals. Trust in knowing, many, many, many hours were spent on conference calls with board members, active chapter members, and Miami University and Sigma Nu National officials. We even sent an alumni board member to the appeal hearing and an EN alumni attorney and adjunct professor at Miami, wrote our appeals. We agreed that the active chapter violated the terms of the probation, but both our alumni board and Sigma Nu National strongly believed the penalty of what was initially a four year suspension greatly outweighed the severity of the violation. In our view, although the active chapter was “stupid”, the chapter did nothing illegal, no one was harmed, no drugs, no sexual assaults, no rampant desctruction of preopety. The boys were merely guilty of hosting an “unregistered” party involving alcohol while on probation. It was probable that there was underage drinking (there continues to be prolific underage drinking in Miami dorms and at uptown Oxford bars. It’s not just limited to fraternities.), but even Sigma Nu National believed the hazing charges to be suspect and a real stretch.
In addition, Miami’s suspension of the chapter has forced the closure of the House to occupancy. It is estimated that the annual cost to keep the House closed will run upwards of $100,000 annually. Without any incoming revenue, this could force us to sell 300 N. Tallawanda.
Our Opinions: Miami has not, nor will it, pursue suspension or punishment of any individual member of the active chapter, despite the “egregious” violations of the Student Code of Conduct and “conduct of the most serious nature”. The current actives will continue at Miami without blemishes on their records. Sigma Nu National, although revoking the charter, likewise will be doing nothing to punish those that have caused suspension of the chapter. In fact, National will be granting the current actives “Alumni in Good Standing” status, and the current pledges will be given the option of going Active, or foregoing activation and heading off to another fraternity. Therefore, the only entity being punished is our Housing Corporation, controlled by our alumni community. Should we choose to do so, it will be the board and our alumni community that will have to come up with a way to keep the House afloat until we recolonize the Epsilon Nu.
Needless to say, over the past nearly 5 years, our alumni board, has poured a ton of time and effort, blood and sweat, and financing into Epsilon Nu. As a reminder, for roughly 20 years from 1991 – 2011, there was virtually no alumni support or oversight of the housing operation or the chapter in any way, shape or form. The House had fallen into significant debt and severe disrepair. There were fewer than 20 residents at the time we initially reengaged. Over the past four years, we managed to clear up all bad debts, restructure the operation, double the residency, and make nearly $200,000 in much needed improvements and repairs to the property. With the support of alumni contributions, we were able to replace the 35 year old roof, replace/upgrade all of the exterior and most of the interior doors, and, most recently, conduct a major $40,000 repair/reattachment of the rear balcony of the House which had become disengaged from the main House creating a serious danger to anyone setting foot on the structure. We facilitated a major two stage interior “makeover” with new flooring, ceilings, lighting and paint, bought new furniture, added the most powerful fiber-optic internet system in the area, and provided catered meals to our residents. Unless you have been an active participant in this reengagement and renovation process, you will never fully comprehend the efforts put forth by our alumni volunteer board members.
Our Opinion of the Active Chapter’s Actions: It is our position that the active chapter, particularly upperclassmen and chapter leadership, was foolish, stupid and acted with complete disregard for the potential consequences of their actions. Let us be clear that the Alumni Board function is NOT and NEVER WAS to act as babysitters for the actives. The lack of active chapter leadership throughout this process was a huge disappointment. They simply had to keep their noses clean for the remainder of the second semester (approximately 45 days), and probation would have been lifted. However, they elected to host a Viking party, knowing full well of the potential consequences, and it caused the suspension. Sad indeed. The financial cost could run in excess of $300,000; a high price for irresponsibility.
Our Opinion of Miami’s Action’s: We also believe Miami is being most unreasonable. Sigma Nu is being summarily suspended for violations that are minor compared to those associated with other fraternity suspensions. And, in reality, the “violations” would have been considered “standard operating procedure” back in the day for most in our alumni community. Again, nothing illegal (save for the possibility of underage drinking) occurred. No laws were broken. No one was harmed, and no single individual was charged with an offense. The boys simply hosted parties without garnering the permission of Miami to do so. Virtually every night at Miami, Greek or Non-Greek, large or small parties take place somewhere on campus. 99% of those parties are held without permission from Miami. Underage drinking is commonplace, taking place in dorms, off campus housing or in uptown bars. In fact, Miami now ranks as one of the nation’s top “Party Schools” according to the Princeton Review and Huffington Post. If the violations of Epsilon Nu were as “egregious” and “severe” as Miami officials claimed them to be, why wasn’t any individual held accountable? Why give all of our actives a free pass without penalty? At one point during one of the appeal hearings, it was pointed out by our alumni board representative that Miami’s actions to suspend would result in the closure of the Sigma Nu House at a cost of upwards of $100,000 annually and well over one quarter of a million dollars over the term of the suspension; a cost attributed exclusively and directly to our alumni managed housing corporation. The response from one of Miami’s hearing board members was simply, “we view this as collateral damage”. $100,000 per year is collateral damage?
Candidly, the Miami hearing and appeal process was nothing short of comical. A Kangaroo court with a shameful display of lack of ethics, fairness, respect and due process worthy of a separate and equally lengthy dissertation. Their treatment of our alumni input during this process should make you all think twice about sending your kids to Miami and opening your wallets to the annual giving campaigns. While Miami continues to climb the rankings of “best party schools” and its officials continue to turn a blind eye to off campus binge drinking, Miami appears to be systematically clamping down on fraternities to the point of complete extinction. This at a time when on-campus, dormitory housing is unable to house all that require it while many fraternities remain unoccupied or under-occupied.
Our Opinion of EN National’s Support: We are also somewhat disappointed in the efforts and support of Sigma Nu National. Although the National Chapter remained actively involved in the communications and appeals with the University and attempted to vigorously defend our position that the suspension penalty did not befit the violations, when it became clear that Miami would not overturn its decision to suspend, EN National was quick to partner with Miami in suspending our chapter’s charter. This is important. In many fraternity suspension cases, Miami has elected to suspend the fraternity, but the national organization does not follow suit with suspension of the charter. This allows the fraternity to operate “underground” on campus. Yes, the fraternity is not “recognized” by Miami, and is not technically allowed to participate in Miami University or IFC sanctioned events, but the fraternity remains active and the chapter house remains operational. The chapter house continues generate room & board revenue and pay its bills, the chapter members continue to function with the backing of the national chapter, and the chapter continues to RUSH candidates. This situation is almost ideal as the fraternity does not necessarily have to comply with all of the traditional and what are now overly restrictive rules, regulations and oversight of the University and the IFC and operates more independently. The backing/recognition of National is important for the sole purpose liability insurance. As a recognized, chartered Sigma Nu chapter, the active chapter and our housing corporation are covered under National’s liability umbrella policy. With National refusing to keep the charter in place, this removes the liability insurance afforded to the housing corporation and its board members moving forward. A very risky proposition deemed too great by our board members.
At one point, positive discussions were underway with Miami administrators to suspend Epsilon Nu from recognition, but allow the chapter to continue to operate for a period of one year. This would have allowed us to house our junior and senior collegiate members in the House for the 2015/2016 school year, providing a room & board revenue stream to allow us to pay our bills while we figured out a financial plan that would carry us through a subsequent three years without residents. Sigma National indicated an unwillingness to support this “underground” status believing it unwise to allow any current Sigma Nu actives, those responsible for the trouble we are in, to reside in the House. The risk was too great. In fairness, National has indicated a willingness to investigate financial support of some kind to assist us in meeting our financial obligations to keep the House. However, nothing yet has been proposed and, to date, no financial assistance has been forthcoming. It is estimated that that it has cost our housing corporation $100,000+ to keep the house closed for the 2015/2016 school year.
In addition, like Miami, Sigma Nu National will not seek to punish any individual member of the active chapter. In fact, we are told that the collegiate members will attain “alumni status” upon graduation from Miami. So, those who contributed to the suspension of the chapter, will have the same status as those who have worked so hard over 88 years to build the Epsilon Nu legacy.
To its credit, Sigma Nu National has made clear its desire and intention to recolonize Epsilon Nu commencing in March of 2018.
What’s Next? Please keep in mind that Epsilon Nu of Sigma Nu Corporation, a non-profit entity managed by our alumni board, owns 300 N. Tallawanda. In effect, the house is owned by our alumni community. Without the support of Sigma Nu National and the needed liability insurance afforded to a chartered chapter of the fraternity, the alumni board felt its only responsible option was to shutter 300 N. Tallawanda for the 2015/2016 school year. There was no revenue, and the cost was upwards of $100,000. In addition, to obtain insurance on the unoccupied House, we must install a security system. We are also exploring a multitude of options regarding the Housing operation. We have enough cash reserve to keep the House closed for the 2015/2016 school year. However, the cost is significant. Roughly $25k in mortgage payments, $22k in RE taxes, $28k in homeowners insurance (a 400% increase in annual premium simply because the liability is greater for an empty property) and another $25K-$35k in utilities and maintenance fees are the tip of the iceberg.
Enter Lambda Chi: The alumni board has secured a one-year lease of 300 N. Talawanda. Lambda Chi had lost its house several years ago. For the past couple of years, they had leased a portion of the Beta house while the Betas were under a suspension of their own. The Betas will now be coming back to campus, so Lambda Chi will be left without a home. We have decided to rent to the Lambda Chis for the 2016/2017 school year and for a fee which should cover all operational expenses through CY2017. There may be an opportunity to lease the House to Lambda Chi for an additional year if it appears Miami will not lift our suspension early. This will allow us a bit of time to decide what we do moving forward.
We are investigating refinancing our current mortgage to access additional working capital to keep the place afloat. We have ample equity in the property, and can use the funds to provide a cushion of liquid capital should we need to shutter the House between maturation of the Lambda Chi lease and the recolonization of Sigma Nu.
If immediate recolonization is not deemed to be in our best interest given the climate at Miami, another option is to sell the House outright. We could sell the property for the right price, keep the proceeds in reserve for purchase, constructing or leasing another place when recolonization takes place. Another option would be sell to a developer who would reconfigure the existing House or construct a new house that we would lease upon our return to Miami.
Some thought is being given to just letting Sigma Nu fade away at Miami without our support and relish the memories of Epsilon Nu. Times are changing and it is clear that the fraternity system in 2015 is much different than it was in 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, etc. It’s not a great business model. As highly as we regard our experience with Epsilon Nu, it may be time to let it rest. However, there has been a formidable degree of interest and effort on the parts of those who were members of the pledge class at the time of the suspension to push forward with attempts to recolonize early.
We will be given the opportunity, commencing next year to begin filing reorg plans with Miami that could lead to a reduction in the length of the suspension.
In Summary: The situation remains relatively dynamic. As indicated, the House will be closed for the 2015/2016 school year. Various members of the board are investigating all of the aforementioned options.
We welcome input from you. We still own 300 N. Talawanda and will open the House for a large, multi-class reunion to take place during this summer’s alumni weekend (June 10-12). We will hold an “Alumni A Club” during that weekend to obtain input and volunteers and we plan a course of action moving forward. Those especially interested in perpetuating the Epsilon Nu legacy moving forward and seeking to assist in the recolonization are encouraged to attend. By then, we hope to have a road map to direct us moving forward. Until then, we’ll keep you apprised with any significant news.
The Epsilon Nu of Sigma Nu Alumni Board
Here are a few links to some Miami Student articles and letters to the editor related to the suspension. We think you'll find them interesting:
Sept. 10, 2015 Student article announcing the suspension of Sigma Nu from Miami. As you will note from teh other links provided, some further fact checking might have been in order before publishing - "September 10, 2015 Miami Student Article"
Pledge Jack Yunblut's September 17, 2015 letter to Miami Student editor revealing the truth behind some of Miami's accusations. - "Jack Yungblut's September 17, 2015 Letter to Miami Student editor"
Pledge Austin Worrell's October 16, 2015 letter to the Miami Student - "Austin Worrell's October 16, 2015 letter to the Miami Student"