Late last week, Judge Emil Giordano of Northampton County, Pennsylvania issued his decision related to the Complaint for Injunctive Relief filed by the Rho Chapter of Chi Phi Fraternity against Lafayette College. While it was reported as a complete victory for the college, the decision is actually more nuanced.
In reviewing the materials, there were three primary requests by Chi Phi to be addressed:
1. “Order the College to return possession of its fraternity house so that it may use the house to lodge undergraduate members of Rho Chapter.”
2. “The College be ordered to pay Rho Chapter damages for loss of revenue.”
3. The College be ordered to pay Rho Chapter for “physical damage to Vallamont.”
Everything about this case is a contractual dispute, and the applicable agreements are the founding agreement from 1909, and 2006 & 2010 agreements covering the use of Vallamont by Lafayette during the interim period.
With several pages of discussion, the judge found that the Rho Chapter was inactive or dormant during the past six years, and thus not eligible to return to Vallamont. (Read the decision to fully understand all that went into that decision.) With that decision made, the judge turned to the 1909 agreement, specifically this passage: “[Rho Chapter] agrees to provide by its regulations for the full and faithful observance of the College Rules now and hereafter, from time to time, established and enacted by the College with regard to Fraternity Houses.”
With that said, the recent decisions made by Lafayette and the College’s Board of Trustees related to the future of fraternities and sororities are determined to be rules of the College. Therefore Chi Phi could not re-establish the Rho Chapter without approval from the Board of Trustees. Since there cannot be an active chapter of Chi Phi, the College can have “the use and right to occupy [Vallamont] for such purposes in connection with the College as the College deems proper” (from the 1909 agreement).
With that question answered, it was determined that the second request (for loss of revenue) was without merit. However, on the third request, the judge found that the College was in breach of contract related to damages within the facility, and required Lafayette to remedy the situation by restoring the kitchen to “good order and condition.”
With all of that said, this case somewhat overshadows a much bigger issue. Recent actions indicate that Lafayette College is seriously considering eliminating fraternities and sororities from its campus. The ownership and occupancy (and value) of Vallamont will be a moot point on a campus that does not have any fraternities.
From my distance, it appears that the best approach for the Rho Chapter, and its alumni, is to negotiate a new agreement with Lafayette to cover the remaining years of the College’s evaluation of fraternities and sororities, and then do everything possible to demonstrate the value of fraternities and sororities to higher education in general, and specifically to Lafayette College.
It appears that the future of the fraternity/sorority community at Lafayette is seriously threatened. Preserving its 150+ years of history, and building a healthy and safe community for the future, should be the highest priority for everyone involved.