The Local Experience
This section focuses on fraternity history at the Oregon State University, where I was enrolled as a graduate student from 1994-1997. It follow fraternities from their origins as humble “student societies” to their powerful financial investments in prime real estate. Locally, there has been many struggles by the university institute to control fraternity growth via housing policies and social codes.
This is a business with a relatively high budget, an annual budget too, and we have to keep it running smoothly. (Aaron)
Fraternities actually are huge and they sit on a lot of money. (White Sail)
We own our house, we own three acres of land, which is valued at 1.8 million dollars. (The Owl)
If we were running to capacity we would generate profit… up to my junior year we had up to 35 people living in our house…which was nice because it fattens your social account, your able to do more stuff around the house and improve it, stuff like that. You recycle your profits…but membership was down partly because the rules the school instituted that sophomores couldn’t live in the houses, which totally screwed us…that is a ton of income loss. (The Owl)
[I]t is a big money making thing really. That is the bottom line. They will say that too. Rush is the most important thing because you have to get your members. You have to have a full house in order to pay the bills, and you have to pay the bills to live there. It is just a big money making scam really, but other people see it as a social thing, but it is not it is just a business. The guys who are making money are the house boards because they are the guys that own the house…they put it in their accounts, and they are earning all this interest off it. (Jack B. Dalton)
Fraternity history is full of struggles at Oregon State University. In 1858, Corvallis College was formed after spending two years as a community academy. The first class to graduate was in 1870. In the first twenty years, the university discouraged student community organizations, however literary societies were eventually allowed to form.
Greek letter societies made a brief appearance in 1882 when Alpha Tau Omega was formed. However, Alpha Tau Omega folded after only a few years of existence (Gearhart 121). Fraternity history at OSU is intertwined with housing policies and struggles for student autonomy. In “The Evolution of Housing Regulations at Oregon State University,” an article located in the OSU archives (Record Group 134), history is measured in ten different stages. The following outline is structured around these time lines.
Phase 1 (1891-1908): “From 1891 to 1908 there was no evidence that any consideration was given to the housing of students while they were in Corvallis” (OSU Archives Record Group 134). Students were on their own to find suitable housing, most often with parents or a friend of the family. Student societies, such as fraternities and literary groups, were prohibited until 1897 when students finally won the right for social activity such as dancing (Gearhart 121). In 1900, the first student body organization was voted into existence and approved by the governing faculty. This student body had its own constitution and by-laws, but its jurisdiction was usually limited to athletic activities (Gearhart 153). Fraternities made their second appearance at OSU in 1905 when Gamma Delta Phi became the first OSU fraternity in over twenty years.
Phase 2 (1908-1932): As the student population grew, increased importance was placed on housing. It appears that fraternities capitalized on the student housing market because “[t]his period did not list any accommodations other than fraternity or sorority facilities” (Record Group 134). The university attempted to notify students about off-campus room and board situations, but had not yet designed regulations for student housing. After the First World War, the housing climate had proved beneficial for fraternity growth. According to the 1912-26 OAC Biennial Reports, approximately 50% of OSU men were listed as fraternity members, 95% fraternity houses in operation (the only non-fraternity housing at this time, Poling hall, was a campus dormitory originally used as an army barrack)(65). Furthermore, there was a total of 49 local and national Greek organizations at OSU in 1923, and by 1931 a total of 51 OSU Greek organizations had gone national (Gearhart 124).
The sudden growth of fraternities brought faculty concerns about how to contain or control their growth. In 1910, a student council was created and, accepting faculty rules, prepared a new student constitution and by-laws. The newly formed student council had punitive powers that were at times directed at fraternity behavior. For example, the 1910-1912 OAC Biennial Reports indicates that six violations of hazing regulations had resulted in penalties (X-xi).
In 1915, the OSU faculty started to define rigid regulations had resulted in fraternity growth, and by 1923 the OSU faculty decided to withhold recognition of new fraternities (Gearhart 124). Finally, the office of the Dean of Men was created at the beginning of academic year 1924-25. Although this new office had “no definite instructions as to function” it was one source used to supervise fraternities (OSAU 1912-26 Biennial Reports 65).
Phase 3 (1932-1945): In this period it was required that unmarried Freshman and Sophomore men live in a fraternity, dormitory, or with a relative. This college requirement made it likely that many in-coming male students would choose the housing option of a fraternity. However, the relationship between fraternities and the university was not always positive. In 1934, OSU President George Peavey questioned the value of student organizations, particularly the honor and professional societies. President Peavy soon outlined a program that maintained the cost of fraternities, and appointed a faculty-student committee to govern their actions.
Economics were a motivating factor in his criticism “because the public initiation proceedings and exorbitant initiation fees and dues” took money away from the university. (Gearhart 123).
Despite President Peavy’s new program, fraternities had a strong presence on campus until World War Two, when fraternity members became soldiers. According to the Barometer (3/5/43), the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) voted to prohibit fraternity
Pledging for the duration of the war. Potential pledges were instead chosen for selective service and no fraternity houses were allowed to operate autonomously from the IFC rule. Some fraternity houses argued that they could not survive such action or that it would prove too difficult to re-organize after the war (2). Nevertheless, some fraternity house were eventually forced to close down partially due to the suspension of the initiation process.
Phase 4 (1945-1957): In this period all unmarried male undergraduate students, regardless of academic class, were required to live in a fraternity, dormitory, cooperative or other approved housing. Naturally, many male students preferred fraternity membership after returning from World War Two. This period was productive in terms of fraternity growth and it also marked a shift in university policy in relation to fraternities. An untitled document from the Dean of Men’s Office to President A.L. Strand indicates a new concern about racism in fraternities(OSU Archives Record Group 13, Reel 155, Folder 171).
Beginning in 1947, attempts were made to open up fraternity membership to young men of any race, color, or creed. It appears that many campus groups bonded together to eliminate the “White Caucasian” clause from the Blue Key. For example, the IFC went on record in opposition to restrictive clauses in fraternity membership and the Student Senate established the Committee on Human Relations, which designed a proposal to deny recognition of any student organizations that had restrictive clauses in their constitution or by-laws. Despite these actions, a 1953 survey determined that out of 31 fraternities, five still had restrictive clauses.
The Later Stages (1957-1968): These later stages do not mark any major changes in fraternity-related housing policies not previously mentioned. The university continued to require that unmarried men, under the age of 21, live in university-approved housing which included fraternities. However, fraternity houses had less ability to determine who was eligible for fraternity membership. On 1/24/61, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education passed a resolution stating that it would withdraw recognition from fraternity or sorority who restricted membership based on race, color, or religion. This resolution has been challenged from time to time as will be discussed later in this chapter, however this new policy marked a new interest in civil rights issues at Oregon State University.
The Present Situation: In the 1994-95 academic school year, for the first time, the OSU General Catalog did not list any requirements that students needed to live in university-approved housing (47). This policy change applies to all men regardless of age, marital status, or academic class. Thus giving all in-coming students the option of not living in fraternities, cooperatives, or dormitories. Aside from housing policies, it is difficult to locate resources acknowledging changes on how fraternities are to be governed. My impression is that most legal disputes are now dealt with from inside the fraternity system. If a legal question arises it might go no further than a fraternity house or the IFC, thus preventing the incident from being publicly reported. By making judicial decisions private it has made it difficult to conduct research and it allows fraternity members more self-governance at OSU.
Nevertheless, civil rights issues continue to plague OSU fraternities and destructive acts like hazing an drape can and do take place in fraternities. Therefore, I propose the idea that legal and punitive question should not be handled by the Greek system alone but made public to the entire student body. The methods that fraternity members use to govern themselves will be made more clear in Chapter Five, however I would first like to direct attention to the decline in fraternity membership.
Based on statistics complied from the OSU Fact Book and the OSU Fact Pamphlet, from the years 1988 to 1996, it appears that OSU fraternity membership is declining at a rapid rate (see Appendix Two for complete statistical table.) For example:
• In 1988 total fraternity membership was 1,805 but by 1995 it had decreased to 1,351.
• In 1988 at least 1,361 fraternity members resided in their fraternity house; by 1995 in-house membership had dwindled to less than a thousand (the lowest level since World War Two).
• The 1995 percentage of university students who are fraternity members decreased 4.3% since 1994.
• There are fewer fraternity houses now than at any point since World War Two.
• In 1996, fraternity housing hosts only 987 residents out of a capacity of 1,517.
Prior to this research, the decline in fraternity membership was unknown to me and to many participants of this research. In mutual cooperation, we have outlined a few changes in student attitude about fraternities, but to structural changes affecting the university. For example, changes in housing policy, increasing tuition, decrease in student body, budget cuts, high costs of living, and a delayed entrance age by male students. For whatever reason, fraternity membership at OSU is dwindling at a such a rate that some fraternity houses might not be able to operate any longer. If this is of concern to fraternity members, then it might prove beneficial to conduct additional research, perhaps digging up their own fraternity history in the process. In the words of Lionel Tiger (1984): “[i]n order to change how we act, we have to know what we are (217). Likewise, if fraternity members are to change their situation, they might first educate themselves by asking who they are and how they have changed. However, fraternity self-research should move beyond membership statistics, it must also examine the historic bonds that have brought them together.