The Cleveland Stater is published online and in print by students enrolled in the School of Communication at Cleveland State University.
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ON THE FRONT PAGE
Financial setbacks threaten future of fraternity housing
By Lauren Bullard
The Delta Sigma Phi fraternity flag floats in tatters above the Delta Sig housing in The Fine Arts Building on Euclid Avenue. The house is one of two fraternity residences that have closed in the past few years.
Fraternity housing on Cleveland State University’s campus has been decaying over the past several years and the struggling economy may be to blame.
Tau Kappa Epsilon lost its house on Prospect Avenue, which was purchased in 1960, in 2006, according to the chapter Web site.
Sigma Tau Gamma purchased a house north of campus on East 22nd Street in 1981 and continues to hold on tenuously after a threat of losing it was stopped by a strong effort from their alumni in 2007.
This summer, Delta Sigma Phi lost its Euclid Avenue mansion east of campus despite strained efforts to keep the house alive.
Why the decline in Greek housing? Some blame the lack of finances on every level.
“Fraternities are traditionally ‘house-based,’ and the cost of having a big fraternity house on this commuter campus just doesn’t add up financially,” Justice said.
Campus fraternities, especially national ones, which are required to pay dues to the national fraternity headquarters, in addition to financing their own local operation, are finding it harder to find incoming students who can foot the bill.
“I partly blame the economy, but at least in the instance of Sig Tau, the operating cost for keeping the house running was between $20,000 and $35,000 annually,” said Jon Simon, former Sigma Tau Gamma president and recent CSU graduate.
The Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity house is located on East 22nd street. Its entrance displays the fraternity’s colors, as well as worn steps and damaged siding.
Even though Sig Tau tries to keep its housing prices competitive with on-campus facilities, this fraternity finds it hard to keep enough people living in the house to make it financially viable.
“Price competitiveness is important,” Simon said.
The loss of the University Center (UC) last year also had an impact on the membership of all student organizations. The UC was a place for organizations to hold events, advertise with banners and signs and get word out to commuter students about getting involved on campus.
New local sororities, like Chi Delta Epsilon, don’t encounter the struggles of the nationally-affiliated fraternities because they don’t have to pay dues to a national office in addition to funding their local operations.
“Sorority life is thriving, fraternity life is dying,” said Tom Dlugopolsky, president of the CSU chapter of Delta Sigma Phi.
“It feels like this past administration didn’t give enough support to the Greek system to support adequate growth,” Simon said. “We were recognized as being important in the contribution to events, but it’s not enough. It’s important that the new president not only relies on Greek life, but supports it in its efforts and promotes it through all channels in the university.”
CSU’s alleged shortcomings in Greek support may just be another consequence of the budget under a state-mandated tuition freeze and stagnated financial support from the state as well. Hiring and wage freezes have already been instituted on campus, so it makes sense that the student life department would take a hit too.
Cleveland State has a 62 percent retention rate as of 2006, according to the CSU 2008 Book of Trends. Although these numbers are potentially on the rise given CSU’s image makeover, they’re still very low and indicate a less conventional type of campus life.
In the less conventional urban environment, keeping and maintaining Greek housing is a persistent challenge that traditional residential campuses do not encounter.
“What are people going to do on a Friday night downtown if you’re not 21? People transfer to Kent, OU, OSU,” said Justice. “What do these schools have in common? They have a massive social aspect that the school supports. People leave because it’s boring if you don’t know the right people.”
Greek coordinator Bill Russell plans to retire soon and that could also put a damper on Greek life. Not only does Russell have great relationships with students and alumni, but he was a member of the Greek community in the past and has done great things for the Greek system over the years.
James Drnek, CSU dean of students, thinks that future growth of the campus will help Greek life, as well as all other student organizations. With the recent ground breaking of the new residence hall and the student organizations-only sections of the new Student Center, it seems as though the university is striving to get its students more engaged.
Talk of a floor for Greek Council in one of the residence halls, similar to the honors floor in Fenn Tower has been discussed, but nothing was put into action, according to Dlugopolsky.
“The more people we have living around the university, the more it will feel like a real university experience. The failing economy doesn’t help, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Drnek. “Cleveland State is hoping to attract more students to live on campus, which will, in turn, allow more people to get further involved in campus activities.”
The Sigma Tau Gamma house costs between $20,000 and $35,000 anually to operate.
Residential and retail communities in development on the blocks north and south of the academic campus core lends itself to the type of involvement Drnek describes.
“Greek life is a key ingredient in campus life. I’ve asked Greek alumni to be involved in creating more of a long-range plan for Greek life. We want to help involve people in the long-range plan for housing,” said Drnek.
With the economy expected to recover slowly, the question of how fast Greek life, particularly fraternity life, will recover at Cleveland State remains to be seen.
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