October 27, 2010

IFC Votes to Allow New Fraternity

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In a 24 to 11 vote on Wednesday, the IFC recommended allowing the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity to come to Cornell. The vote, which came after a presentation from the fraternity’s national president and the assistant director of chapter services, now means the fraternity must await approval by Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73.

“Around campuses we’re known as ‘Phi Kaps,’ or more affectionately as the ‘skulls,’” National President Doug Opicka said. “The skulls is in reference to the skull and crossbones that appear on the flag and coat of arms. It’s used to differentiate us from other fraternities.”

IFC President Allen Miller ’11 cited the potential difficulties of bringing a new fraternity chapter to Cornell.

“It’s really hard coming here because there are so many houses,” Miller said. “The board looked at their record. They’re committed, and they’ve been here before.”

Members of the IFC executive board noted that several chapters have left in the past year, that Phi Kappa Sigma has a “concrete plan” for expansion, and that an influential trustee, who the IFC did not name, is an alumnus of the fraternity.

According to Miller, one of the biggest concerns that chapter presidents had about allowing Phi Kappa Sigma to come to Cornell is that it will increase competition for new members, causing other chapters’ numbers to go down.

Some chapter presidents expressed concerns about the current landscape and how it might change within the next few years, when the new Recognition Policy is implemented.

Several fraternity presidents at the meeting expressed concern that this is not a good time for a new fraternity to come to campus and that it was unclear how adding a chapter would improve the system as a whole.

Miller pointed out that, “the voting is to give them a chance to see if the campus is the right fit.  If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.” The IFC will not vote on whether or not to grant them a charter until Fall 2012.

Cornell appeals to Phi Kappa Sigma primarily because there was a chapter here in the past, officials said. In 1904, a local fraternity was founded, which then became the Alpha Rho Chapter in 1911.  In 1991, it was kicked off due to risk management issues.

“I’m not sure why we’ve waited this long to come back,” National President Doug Opicka said.

Opicka also cited the “fit with our values and Cornell’s values” and the fact that the fraternity is “aiming to be at top notch universities.” The fraternity also gives out the Neal L. Hospers ’48 award, named after a Cornell alumnus, to its top undergraduate student.

“It’s Cornell. Every fraternity wants a chapter here,” Opicka said.

The fraternity boasts a number of notable alumni, including Charles L. Jarvie ’58, the president of Dr. Pepper Co. from 1980 to 1982.

There are 450 living Cornell alumni, 150 of whom live within a 50 mile radius of Cornell, who would potentially support the new chapter, as well as the Gamma Chi Chapter, which has resided at Ithaca College since 1992.

The fraternity’s slogan is “men of honor since 1850,” the year the fraternity was founded at the University of Pennsylvania. There are currently 1,200 active members in chapters around the United States and Canada and over 40,000 alumni.

“Our headquarters is only 3.5 hours away in Chestnut Springs, P.A.,” Phi Kappa Sigma Assistant Director of Chapter Services Vincent Grim said. “It’s not too far away if assistance is needed.”

The fraternity plans to form an alumni advisory board this spring. In Fall 2011, it plans to build an interest group of upperclassmen. “We need a core group right from the start,” Opicka said.

In Spring 2012, the new fraternity will participate in formal recruitment and may be chartered in Fall 2012. Initially, the fraternity plans to lease a house from the University so that they can determine whether or not the new chapter will be successful before making a long term arrangement.

Opicka and Grim also noted recent expansion successes, including at University of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania State University, University of South Carolina, and New York University. Other schools, including the University of Texas at Austin, are in the early phases.

According to Grim, undergraduates are involved in the general leadership in the national fraternity and help to determine policies at conventions.

In 1998, the national organization voted to outlaw alcohol on all Phi Kappa Sigma properties, which became substance-free in 2000.

Original Author: Laura Shepard