After CLC Decision, ATO’s Future Hinges On IFC Presidents’ Vote

Having lost the housing license to its water-damaged fraternity house, and facing allegations of rush misconduct by the Interfraternity Council, Alpha Tau Omega may be expelled from MIT.

Alpha Tau Omega remains unable to inhabit its fraternity house at 405 Memorial Dr. pending the completion of repairs and until the Cambridge Licensing Commission reapproves their housing license, a process which could take weeks even after repairs are finished. Meanwhile, the fraternity faces a vote next Wednesday among members of the Interfraternity Council, some of whom are seeking ATO’s suspension or expulsion as a consequence of rush rule violations ATO is said to have committed over the past year. And the fraternity’s fall recruitment was sharply curtailed after freshmen were served alcohol at a Boston restaurant where ATO was holding a party during the first night of Rush, although it is not clear that ATO itself served alcohol to the freshmen.

ATO’s housing license, suspended after a burst pipe caused serious damage over the summer, was revoked yesterday by the Cambridge Licensing Commission. ATO can ask the commission for its license back after the house passes safety inspections and after MIT makes policy changes, according to motions passed by the commission on Thursday. The CLC seems to want MIT’s policies to give non-undergraduates, such as the resident advisers who currently inhabit each fraternity, sorority, or independent living group, greater responsibility for the maintenance of their house.

But ATO faces more serious trouble from the Interfraternity Council, some of whose members do not like the way ATO has tried to recruit freshmen.

Alcohol at an off-campus event

This year, ATO’s rush events were halted almost before they began when ATO broke rush rules by holding an off-campus event for freshmen in Boston on the day of the kickoff Greek Griller event. Not only did IFC rush rules prohibit off-campus events on the first night of Rush, but freshmen got drunk at the ATO event. The IFC’s Rush Infractions Board banned ATO from rushing freshmen until the beginning of spring term.

ATO president Chisoanya O. Ibegbu ’09 said that ATO had “overlooked the clause in the rulebook” prohibiting off-campus events, called jaunts, on the first night of Rush. ATO rented the basement of a Boston restaurant and was told before rental that the upstairs and downstairs would be completely separated. But, he said, “that broke down,” and freshmen were able to go upstairs, where a cash bar was available.

Although the Rush Infractions Board had no compelling evidence that ATO was providing the alcohol, the board found it possible that ATO was providing the alcohol, said IFC Rush Chair Jacob A. Levinson ’09. Based on the number of freshmen and of ATO brothers at the event, “they should have realized that freshmen were getting drunk,” Levinson said.

The judgment that ATO had helped get freshmen drunk was based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” Levinson said, a belief that it was more than 50 percent likely that ATO had committed the infraction. The severity of the sanction reflects the seriousness of the infraction and the degree of belief the infractions board had in the allegations, Levinson said. He told ATO about the rush board’s decision on early Monday morning. An appeal by the fraternity was rejected.

One scheduled rush event, a canoe trip, was held before ATO learned of the board’s decision, Ibegbu said. After that decision, the brothers focused on competitive athletics and got to know freshmen without rushing them, he said. At the beginning of the spring term, ATO will contact the freshmen it’s interested in and see if they are still interested in joining ATO, he said.

After the end of rush, on Sept. 12, ATO held a boat cruise where fraternity brothers and freshmen men were allowed to attend. But not everyone on the IFC’s judicial committee was pleased with the event.

The cruise “was kind of against the spirit of the rules,” said Levinson, although he said it was within the bounds of the sanction the Rush Infractions Board issued.

Aside from the incident on Saturday night, ATO was not punished for other rush violations, Levinson said.

IFC meets to quash rumors

At the end of rush, rumors were circulating around campus about ATO’s recruiting tactics and the way it had treated its house, Mena said. IFC rush chairs held an emergency meeting on Monday, Sept. 15 to discuss rush infractions, including ATO’s violations. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Mena held a special meeting of the IFC’s formal deliberative body, a council of fraternity presidents, and told the presidents about prior violations of the IFC’s rules by ATO within the past year.

At that Wednesday meeting, Mena said, someone moved to expel ATO. Expulsion is a formal process by which the IFC removes a fraternity from its council; a fraternity may reapply for admission into the IFC after four years. (Another possible sanction which the IFC has imposed in the past is suspension: a suspended fraternity automatically regains voting membership in the IFC after two years.)

To consider those two motions and ATO’s situation more carefully, the IFC formed a five-man committee chaired by IFC Vice President Reid Van Lehn ’09. The committee’s goal is to “be as informed as possible … and investigate all of the past cases” of rule infractions by ATO, Levinson said. It will likely present its conclusions at a Wednesday, Oct. 1 meeting of fraternity presidents.

ATO itself also plans to present information on all the negative actions that have happened in the past ten years, and to highlight the positive things they have done for the MIT community, Ibegbu said. ATO has told alumni about their situation and has gotten support from recent alumni, from the class of 2000 to the class of 2007, in making lists of awards, he said. There is “a lot of misinformation,” he said. “Facts have been skewed.” He is concerned that presidents of fraternities feel so strongly about ATO as to want it expelled from the IFC, he said.

A vote on the future of ATO at MIT is expected at Wednesday’s meeting.

CLC asks for non-undergraduate house managers

ATO is waiting for finalized bids from contractors before repair work can begin on the house, but construction should begin soon, Ibegbu said. They plan to move back into their house at the end of October, he said.

In order for ATO to get its housing license reinstated, the CLC set three conditions yesterday: ATO must “prove that everything is safe and up to code,” they must have “a resident manager, not a student, who … has knowledge of that building” and is able to ensure that the building provides reasonable safety and quality of life, and the MIT administration must be “more involved with safety issues and resident manager issues and come back with a plan,” according to the commission’s chair, Richard V. Scali. These three conditions were passed unanimously by a voice vote of commissioners.

Cambridge inspectors found that “violations were quite extensive” in the ATO house, “in terms of safety and health,” Scali said. At a Sept. 9 hearing, the CLC heard inspection reports including “numerous health and building code violations including pool and hot tub on roof, exposed electrical wires, excessive trash and beer cans in common areas, clogged drains and flooding, mold and mildew.”

The hot tub had been on the roof since 2001, and the house had passed annual housing inspections as recently as May 2008. But in a post-damage inspection, the CLC disapproved of it, and the ATO brothers and alumni agreed to get rid of it, said Kaya Miller, assistant dean for fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, who accompanied ATO representatives to yesterday’s CLC meeting along with two other MIT administrators.

Many fraternities currently elect a member to a position called “house manager.” (ATO’s is Daniel Guillen ’10.) This person is responsible for maintaining the fraternity house’s physical infrastructure. The Cambridge Licensing Commission wants each fraternity to have a non-student resident whose job responsibilities include keeping the house in good shape.

MIT has required each FSILG to have a nonstudent resident advisor since fall 1998. But the RA’s job description has never included house maintenance, Miller said. RAs serve as mentors and learn how to support students in the fraternity; they learn risk management but “they are not chaperones or policemen” and “they have no disciplinary role,” she said.

Miller said she will begin working immediately with alumni and undergraduates, “who we consider our main stakeholders,” to meet the CLC’s requirements.

The IFC would probably not see the CLC’s requirements as a big issue, said Mena, the IFC’s president.

Stephen D. Baker ’84, chairman of the Association of Independent Living Groups, said that these requirements seemed consistent with the expectations of city licensing boards. “They have an expectation that these properties are managed by non-undergraduate adults,” he said. “They do not expect that the first responder to a problem will be an undergraduate.” The AILG has encouraged the idea of selecting an alumnus as a house manager, he said. The AILG represents MIT FSILG alumni corporations, which usually own the houses that the FSILGs occupy.

Under the CLC’s ruling, ATO cannot reoccupy its house until the CLC is satisfied that MIT has a non-student house manager policy in place. The CLC hearing and decision process can take weeks.

“I can’t put a time frame on that whole process,” the result of which will eventually need to be approved by the new Dean for Student Life, Chris Colombo, said Miller.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Miller said. “I’m confident in the process, I just don’t know exactly what it looks like yet.”