For the first time in 15 years, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) is calling for changes to the Greek housing system. Called the Phoenix Plan, the current system guarantees fraternities long-term, on-campus housing through signed agreements.
In a letter addressed to University President James W. Wagner, Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life John Ford and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Mike Mandl, which was also published in the last issue of the Wheel as an editorial, the IFC executive board and 10 chapter presidents cited two main issues with fraternity housing. These concerns included the “lack of a plan for constructing additional or renovating existing fraternity houses” and the University’s “struggle to properly implement” the Phoenix Plan for fraternities with permanent homes.
IFC and the chapter presidents proposed two solutions in their letter to administrators: developing a plan for the “long-term expansion and upkeep of Eagle Row” and placing Dean of Students Bridget Riordan — who also serves as the supervisor for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL) — as the University official in charge of Greek housing in its entirety, according to the letter.
The letter also acknowledges that the initial IFC vote rejecting the return of Chi Phi fraternity in October 2011 “was based in part on concerns over the future of fraternity housing at Emory University” due to a number of fraternities that exceeds the number of houses on Eagle Row. In addition, Pi Kappa Alpha will return to its house on Eagle Row, where Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) currently resides. The change will result in AEPi moving into the smaller house currently occupied by Kappa Sigma.
According to the Phoenix Plan Breakdown available on the OSFL website, fraternities under the Phoenix Plan must be recognized as University organizations, Emory must own the land on which the houses are located and the facilities must be used to provide housing to enrolled Emory students. In return, the University “put[s] forth best efforts to insure reasonable pricing in charges” and ensures that the fraternity is provided with a copy of the operating budget each year.
Fraternities currently residing in houses under the Phoenix Plan either owned or operated a house prior to the implementation of the plan in 1997, Riordan explained.
“Any new chapters would need to determine a workable budget for an adequate facility,” Riordan said.
Victor Rudo, Goizueta Business School junior and IFC president, wrote in an email to the Wheel that IFC and other Greek leaders have been in discussion with University administrators in Campus Life and Campus Services since last semester to address concerns regarding fraternity housing. Campus Life is responsible for the final approval of determining which fraternity lives in each house on Eagle Row, according to Ford. Executive Special Assistant to the Vice President for Campus Services Karen Salisbury said Campus Services is primarily responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of fraternity houses.
According to Riordan, all of the divisions involved in the Phoenix Plan — the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ResLife), OSFL, Campus Life and Campus Services — held collaborative meetings in November and January to talk about “mutual concerns.” ResLife oversees the review process for applying for available houses and reviews completed applications, ultimately making recommendations based on the application, ability to fill the house and past history and stewardship of the facilities, according to Andrea Trinklein, executive director of ResLife.
The parties involved in fraternity housing also plan to hold another meeting next month, Riordan explained.
Exploring the Key Issues
IFC’s letter to administrators notes that “there is no future plan for constructing new houses or renovating existing ones.”
“We understand the view of some that a ‘fraternity is not a house,’” the letter states. “But at Emory that argument simply does not hold. One look at the recent struggles of chapters removed from Eagle Row should serve as a reminder of the importance that fraternity houses hold on our campus.”
In contrast to the statements made in the IFC letter, Trinklein wrote in an email to the Wheel that ResLife recently completed the development of its strategic plan. One of the goals includes “develop[ing] a plan to renovate and/or rebuild aging Greek facilities.”
Riordan also noted that several of the parties involved will be meeting next month to discuss the possible addition of a new AEPi house on Eagle Row. She said that currently it is unclear whether this development will involve demolishing or renovating the current house at 17 Eagle Row.
“Some things can’t happen immediately,” Riordan commented. “What we can do is come up with plans to make stuff happen.”
The second issue that IFC presented says that the Phoenix Plan agreement “has more recently deteriorated into a one-sided arrangement where Emory manages the houses as it wishes.”
IFC specifically cited ResLife and the Division of Campus Life as departments that have been less responsive to the progress of developments in fraternity housing. The letter states that Greek leaders have met with officials from these divisions several times, but the departments have failed to accomplish its needs.
Campus Life, according to IFC, has fallen short of improving its relationship with members of Emory Greek life and alumni “by asking for and accepting constructive feedback” and has failed to communicate certain repairs and capital projects and remain transparent in terms of finances.
However, Ford said that although “progress has been slow for a variety of reasons,” progress will likely move more quickly now that meetings with IFC have begun, and there are several more scheduled for the future “to resolve all of the remaining issues.”
Trinklein acknowledged that while she is aware of the “value placed on Greek housing,” she added that she has “not been invited once to IFC to provide information, present or answer questions.”
“There seems to be from IFC’s perspective a lack of transparency about how Residence Life and Housing is functioning,” she said. “Just because one organization is unaware, it does not mean the work and progress has stopped ... It would be advantageous for housing staff to provide information or answer questions at critical times of the year.”
At the same time, IFC applauded the efforts of Campus Services. Though IFC stated that the work of Campus Services may not have been done in a timely manner in the past in addition to mistaken charges, the Council also noted that Campus Services has responded well to IFC’s requests.
“They have since made tremendous strides towards opening communication, reducing costs and generally improving customer service,” IFC wrote.
Campus Services had a meeting with ResLife and Campus Life to “go over the concerns of fraternity houses” regarding costs, repairs and communication, Salisbury said.
Salisbury said that Campus Services has set up a meeting to address the concerns of fraternities, which will result in a monthly report to show Campus Services’ work that has been done in each individual house. She said she has heard the concerns of certain fraternities that Campus Services had not been as transparent in its reports in the past.
“People might say, ‘Why did I get charged $144 for something?’, so we could go back and see what it is that took place, and we’re pretty excited about it,” Salisbury said.
ResLife has worked closely in the past with Campus Services to develop Major Repair and Renovation (MRR) lists for each house, according to Trinklein.
“This is a starting point for major infrastructure improvements to the individual structures,” she wrote.
She added that ResLife will form an advisory committee consisting of students, alumni, OSFL staff, Campus Life staff and ResLife staff. The committee will review the Phoenix Plan and ensure it is consistent with campus and department mission statements.
In addition, Riordan noted, she and the parties involved in fraternity housing have set up tours that will allow them, along with students and alumni, to determine what type of work needs to be done in the houses.
Though controversies surrounding fraternity housing at Emory remain, Megan Janasiewicz, the recently appointed director of OSFL, said she came to Emory at a time when “the conversations [about housing] started to happen.”
“This is the perfect time to say, ‘we know there are concerns,’” Janasiewicz said. “We need to start looking at the long-term big picture. This is a big part of my responsibility and what people want to be looking at right now.”
Officials in several University departments, as well as IFC, have proposed various solutions to the Phoenix Plan. In addition to suggesting establishing a long-term plan for the expansion of Eagle Row, IFC has proposed placing Riordan in charge of Greek housing.
According to Riordan, Trinklein currently oversees the fraternity housing process. Trinklein said ResLife “has always maintained an open door relationship” with respect to Greek housing.
“There is much value placed on Greek housing, and with that in mind, a tremendous amount of forethought, care and respect is maintained as decisions are made,” Trinklein wrote. “We are open to the exploration of future Greek housing development. We recognize there are multiple factors that weigh into the success and plausibility of a development plan.”
In an email to the Wheel, Rudo wrote that he believes Riordan “has the perspective and relationships necessary to serve in this capacity.” Riordan added that she and Trinklein will continue collaborating on the different issues that arise.
IFC and Janasiewicz will explore possible long-term plans regarding Greek housing during the summer when she is more informed on the situations at hand, she said.
Ford wrote that he has scheduled for the upcoming weeks for Campus Life to discuss the housing situation with IFC and the parties involved.
— Contact Jordan Friedman.