University files suit against illegal fraternity

University Park, Pa. — Penn State filed a lawsuit last week in Centre County Court aimed at bringing to an end several years of controversy related to the former Pennsylvania Theta chapter of the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity on the University Park campus.
The Penn State chapter of the fraternity was suspended by the General Council of the international fraternity in December 2007 because of repeated violations of the fraternity’s alcohol-free housing policy. However, students continued to occupy the building at 240 N. Burrowes Rd. in direct violation of a State College Borough ordinance concerning boarding houses and also in violation of the deed selling the property to Phi Delta Theta.

Despite repeated demands by international fraternity leaders to cease operations, former members of the Penn State chapter continued to operate in the house including: performing fraternity ceremonies and initiations, recruiting and initiating new members, and holding social activities and campus events under the name of Pennsylvania Theta.
Because the former fraternity would not comply with its own organization’s policies, its charter was suspended. The majority of the current membership was expelled by the international fraternity when it was determined that the chapter had illegally initiated its fall 2007 pledge class.  Without national recognition, the former fraternity cannot be recognized by the University. Penn State no longer recognizes local fraternities.
With the filing of court papers, University officials have now taken steps to exercise the University’s right to purchase the house at 240 N. Burrowes Rd. and stop the use of the house as a boarding house. In addition to being occupied by expelled members of Phi Delta Theta, the house now is being rented to others by the former fraternity’s Alumni Association, which currently owns the house.
In 1905, Penn State originally gave the property to Phi Delta Theta and entered into a deed that states if the property ceases to be used by the Pennsylvania Theta chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, the University reserves the right to purchase the premises at a price mutually agreed to by the parties or at a price set by an arbitrator.

For almost a year, University officials have been engaged in discussions with representatives of the former fraternity’s alumni association regarding the status of the house in light of the international fraternity’s suspension of the charter, but the parties were unable to reach agreement on purchase price or other matters. Since the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity chapter no longer exists at Penn State, the University is now asking the court to enforce the provisions of the 1905 deed.
In the past, the University — at the request of the fraternity’s alumni association — agreed to purchase the house. But internal alumni-fraternity conflicts prevented the sale at that time. In recent months, the University also has discussed the possible purchase of the property but no agreement was able to be reached. What follows is a timeline of key dates related to the history of the former fraternity and the property in question.

“This is principally a matter that evolved because of a dispute between the local chapter and its international headquarters in Ohio,” said Bill Mahon, vice president for university relations, “but the group currently occupying the building is doing so in violation of State College Borough ordinances and Penn State’s requirement that Greek organizations must be part of a national group.”

“We remain concerned for the well-being of the students living in this house with no national oversight and no formal connection to the University,” Mahon said. “Our time will be better spent supporting the many successful Greek organizations at Penn State.”

Phi Delta Theta Fraternity Timeline

Dec. 15, 1905 – The University granted the property at 240 N. Burrowes Rd. to the Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity for the "express purpose of erecting thereon a fraternity or chapter house for the use of the members of the Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity." The deed provides that If the property ceases to be used for the Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, the university reserves the right to purchase the property at a mutually agreed upon price, or a price determined by arbitrators in the event the parties are unable to agree.

— The governing body for Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity announces that chapters affiliated with the organization are required to have alcohol-free housing facilities.

2000 – All 157 chapters of Phi Delta Theta in the United States and Canada must adhere to alcohol-free housing policy.

2004 — The Pennsylvania Theta chapter alumni organization of the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity approaches Penn State officials and offers to sell the chapter house and land located at 240 N. Burrowes Rd. back to the University. The University cooperated with the alumni in this matter and there was a signed agreement, but internal alumni disputes developed that ultimately resulted in the agreement being declared null and void by Centre County Court.

July 30, 2007 – The Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity issues a “show cause” letter to the Pennsylvania Theta Chapter at Penn State that required the chapter to demonstrate why the chapter’s charter should not be suspended "based on the chapter’s continued violations of the Alcohol-free Housing policy." 

August 24, 2007 – Members and alumni of the Pennsylvania Theta chapter at Penn State submitted their “show cause” letter and signed an affidavit indicating their willingness to follow the alcohol-free housing policy. The affidavit signed by the undergraduate members, members of the Pennsylvania Theta Alumni Board of Directors, and members of the Pennsylvania Theta House Corporations stated, "we are aware of the expectation that our chapter facilities are to be alcohol-free… we are committed to upholding this policy as part of our assigned duties as members of Pennsylvania Theta.  Further, we understand that any violations of this expectation can lead to the suspension of the chapter’s Charter, suspension, or expulsion of members and removal of officers from office by the General Council."

September 17, 2007 – The Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity accepted the chapter’s show cause letter and returned the chapter to "good standing" status.

October, 2007 – Members of the Pennsylvania Theta chapter at Penn State violated the alcohol-free housing policy by hosting a pre-game event during the Ohio State football weekend in the chapter house.

Dec. 7, 2007 — The General Council of the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity suspended the charter of the Pennsylvania Theta chapter at Penn State for the October violation of its Alcohol- Free Housing Policy. Current members are informed they are now “alumni” of the chapter. The 15 pledges are released of any obligation and may not be initiated.

Feb. 11, 2008 — Penn State Student Affairs officials inform the Alumni Corporation that the University will extend the time former fraternity members may stay in the house, allowing them to stay until June 30, 2008. The occupants of the house continued to host parties where alcohol was served.

March 2008 — All former active members received notice from the international fraternity that they are expelled from membership because it was determined that they illegally initiated the 13 pledges while suspended. The General Council voted to expel the members and the two alumni advisers.

March 31, 2008 – Six recently expelled undergraduate members of the Pennsylvania Theta Chapter filed a preliminary injunction motion in the Centre County Court against the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity requesting that the court enjoin the suspension of the Pennsylvania Theta chapter’s charter.

April 3, 2008 - The University reiterated the position outlined in the February 11, 2008 letter and advised alumni officials that the former chapter house would need to be vacated by June 30, 2008 if the chapter’s charter was not reinstated at the summer conference in June. The University also advised those officials that, "it is strongly recommended that the students currently living in the house be encouraged by you to explore housing options for the fall 2008 semester in the event the appeal is not successful."

May 5 & 9, 2008 – A two-day hearing was held in the Center County Court in Bellefonte in response to the motion filed by the six former students of the chapter.

June 18, 2008 – Center County Court Judge Pamela Ruest rejects former Phi Delta Theta members’ appeal for an injunction to prevent their disbandment as a fraternity at Penn State.  As part of the Greek Pride Initiative, Penn State no longer recognizes a group that is not recognized by its international organization.

June 24-27, 2008 — Former Pennsylvania Theta chapter members and alumni attend the fraternity's international convention in Arizona to seek reinstatement of their charter, but are not successful.

June 27, 2008 - The University corresponded with fraternity alumni officials and indicated that it was the University's expectation that since the Chapter’s charter was not reinstated at the convention, the students residing in the house will be required by the Alumni Corporation to vacate the premises by no later than June 30, 2008.  The University also offered to provide any assistance to help facilitate the transition and asked the alumni to let the University know how it could help.

June 30, 2008 – University deadline to vacate the property.  At least six students remain.

July 2, 2008 - University continues to operate in good faith – confident that the students will comply with the directive. A chapter alumni official asks that Penn State take no action pending a July 8 meeting.

July 8, 2008 – Student Affairs staff members (Stan Latta and Roy Baker) meet with Alumni Corporation officials. The former members hope to keep the house and re-emerge as part of the Phi Society, a social organization with no national affiliation. They were advised that recognition of the Phi Society would not be an option.

July 18, 2008  — The University received a formal application for recognition of The Phi Society from Mr. Tim Palowski and Mr. Randy Thompson.

July 22, 2008 – Correspondence was sent to chapter alumni officials advising them that the application had been denied since "the University does not recognize interest groups not affiliated with a national or international fraternity or sorority. Exceptions to this policy are not made."

July 22, 2008 — The University moves to exercise its right to purchase the property and offered $900,000 (appraised value of property as of May 2008). Gave Alumni Corporation until August 15 to accept offer.

August 13, 2008 — University’s offer to purchase the property is rejected by the former fraternity’s Alumni Corporation.

August 25, 2008
— Members of Kappa Alpha Order fraternity move into the 240 N. Burrowes Rd. property in violation of the deed and ordinances.  The Alumni Corporation, owners of the house, allowed this. (Kappa Alpha members are paying rent)

Since August 26, 2008 — University officials have been meeting or corresponding with 240 North Burrowes Road Alumni Association to exercise the purchase option, find an arbiter, reiterate the need for former fraternity members and others to vacate the property, and to discuss other related issues. No resolution has been accomplished.

University officials hope the courts will expedite the enforcement of the provisions of the 1905 deed.

Last Updated March 05, 2010