Alpha Upsilon and other USC fraternities launch independent IFC

Dear Sigma Chi Alumnus:

 

Since its founding in 1889 as the first men’s fraternity at the University of Southern California, the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Sigma Chi has been deeply embedded in the culture and history of USC and brought substantial fame and renown to the University. Sigs have served on the Board of Trustees and as USC Deans and faculty and represented USC in many athletic endeavors – Olympic, college and professional. Alumni have gone on to great accomplishments in a host of fields – entertainment, law (both judges and lawyers), business, global exploration, decorated military service, and government service. The Trojan Shrine, aka “Tommy Trojan”, arguably the most famous university icon in the entire world, was the direct product of 3 Sigs who served as innovators and fundraisers for the sculptor’s model.

 

Sigma Chi for more than 125 years enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership with USC and believed that collectively we are more effective when we worked collaboratively to advance the student experience. Unfortunately, that partnership has failed given the manner in which the USC continues to treat fraternities. 

 

In October/November, USC unilaterally suspended nearly all organization activities of USC Interfraternity Council members, including parents’ Homecoming  and chapter philanthropy, even though the overwhelming majority of chapters had not been implicated in any alleged policy violations. This suspension extended for more than 90 days before even chapters in good standing were given an opportunity to resume normal operations conditional on completion of   remediation mandated by USC. Such action was counterproductive, unfair and unilaterally penalized all chapters; it also discouraged peer governance and lacked fundamental principles of fairness and due process which should be afforded to all students under USC’s express written policies. At the same time, the university has been investigating allegations that have resulted in a few individual organization suspensions lasting as long as nine months without resolution or any finding of responsibility. In some cases, these investigations and suspensions continue.  

 

The result of these actions and processes has been a USC presumption of guilt throughout the fraternity community, even as to those in good standing, and the perception that fraternity men do not care about the health, safety, and wellness of their peers. We believe that individuals and organizations should be held accountable for policy violations, however, we also support adjudication and processes that are timely and fundamentally fair. 

 

The foregoing USC actions are in addition to a University mandated deferred recruitment policy limiting the associational rights of Greek students starting in 2018 and further restrictions on chapter recruiting. These policies resulted in a significant reduction in the size of the overall fraternity community over the past 5 years. USC admitted that there is no data that shows how delaying or deferring recruitment is effective in enhancing student outcomes. Actually to the contrary, Dr. Gary Pike at Indiana University recently reaffirmed his 2003 findings that fraternity members benefit from engagement significantly more than non-members. The study also shows that fraternity members experience greater gains in learning and are more satisfied with their college experience. The collaborative learning effects were most dramatic for first-year students. 

Finally, Alpha Upsilon has a unique basis to take issue with USC and its unfair positions and practices. In 2019 USC tried to imposed disciplinary sanctions, including training on “proper speech”, regarding a private party in the Bay Area by a one-week pledge. USC relied on a derivative theory in the Student Conduct Code of group responsibility for individual actions. The chapter diligently pursued its administrative remedies in USC’s internal judicial processes but was backhanded by USC at each step. Left with no alternative, Alpha Upsilon filed a lawsuit and in 2020 the LA Superior Court granted the relief sought. Alpha Upsilon of Sigma Chi v. USC, LASC # 19STCP044232. The court held that the group responsibility theory relied upon by USC plainly did not apply as there was no evidence that Alpha Upsilon “knew of the planned social gathering, authorized it, promoted it, suggested it or had anything to do with the event.” Therefore, “the court cannot find [Alpha Upsilon] can be disciplined under the group responsibility theory.” The win, impressive and as correct as it was, didn’t come for free – the price was thousands of dollars of attorneys’ fees and costs to obtain justice from an obstinate administration.

 

Sigma Chi prefers a strong, positive partnership with USC but the University’s conduct has made it impossible to continue the status quo. Accordingly, Sigma Chi, assisted and supported by the North-American Interfraternity Conference, https:/nicfraternity.org/, elected to join with other USC fraternities in good standing to form the University Park Interfraternity Council. https://UniversityParkIFC.com.  The UPIFC will be an independent self-regulatory council of USC fraternities adhering to the highest standards of college Greek life, one that is student led and supported by national and local alumni leadership. The decision is one that has ultimately been made by our undergraduate chapter, and it is not one that our national leaders, the undergraduates, or local alumni volunteers have come to lightly—nor is it the outcome that we desire. However, we believe it is a necessity given the manner in which the USC administration continues to treat fraternities.

 

We expect that USC will attempt to raise false concerns in the areas of student health and safety. But Alpha Upsilon is and has long been a chapter in good standing at USC. https://greeklife.usc.edu/prospective-students/chapters/ (as of Aug. 2022). Further, all chapter members are expected to follow the law and Sigma Chi’s behavior, health and safety policies. https://sigmachi.org/home/resources-3/policies/.  Sigma Chi Headquarters will continue to guide and support Alpha Upsilon as it seeks to embody Sigma Chi principles and values in all areas of operation. Finally, for at least 10 years the Alpha Upsilon Alumni Advisory Board, consisting of about 10 alumni of varied ages and skills, has stood at the chapter’s side offering guidance and advice.

 

We hope to rebuild a partnership with the USC in the future. But until our organization and others are treated fairly, we will move forward in a manner that promotes fairness, integrity, and student development and achieves our long-standing fraternal goals of “Friendship, Justice and Learning”.

 

If you have questions about the foregoing or process, I invite you to contact Chapter Advisor Jeff Schwartz  at chapteradvisor@sigmachiau.com.

 

In hoc signo vinces,

 

 

Harry Palmer

Sigma Chi Grand Praetor

Los Angeles Coastal Province

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