NABB threatans fraternities[mk1]By David P. Hamilton
Last in a series exploring the relationship between MIT independent living groups and their Boston neighbors.
MIT fraternities and independent living groups (ILG's) in Boston could be seriously affected if the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) takes legal measures against them, according to Robert A. Sherwood, associate dean of student affairs.
The NABB, a Boston-based community organization, has made several serious complaints about MIT ILG's to the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) since September, according to Tinley Anderson '86, chairman of the InterFraternity Council (IFC).
A spokesman from NABB informed the ODSA last September that if MIT did not act on the complaints the NABB would take "whatever legal steps are necessary," Sherwood said.
The NABB expects MIT to discipline its off-campus students internally, Sherwood said. However, MIT has no legal right to exercise such jurisdiction over off-campus students, he added.
Sherwood mentioned several ways in which ILG's are vulnerable to legal action:
O+ Several houses do not have current lodging licenses. Without this license, it is illegal for more than six non-blood-related individuals to inhabit a single dwelling in the city of Boston.
O+ Clerks at the Lodging License Commission have notified Pi Lambda Phi fraternity and two other ILG's that a public hearing may be necessary for the renewal of their current lodging licenses. "This is normally a rubber-stamp procedure," Sherwood said.
O+ The Boston University (BU) administration has instructed the chief of the BU campus police to file complaints against MIT ILG's at the Lodging License Commission.
O+ Houses that take in summer boarders are in violation of Boston zoning laws. These houses require a rooming license to take boarders legally. "No place that we [MIT] have houses is zoned for rooming," said Mark Ertel, advisor to fraternities and independent living groups.
O+ One NABB member has threatened a class action suit against MIT ILG's to revoke current and valid lodging licenses.
O+ Any house in which alcohol is dispensed illegally is vulnerable to legal action.
"The NABB is just making us aware of their options," Sherwood said. "They're not really threatening us."
The NABB appreciates the fraternities as good neighbors, Sherwood said. For instance, Back Bay residents credit the fraternity presence with making the neighborhood a safer place, he said. The neighbors also appreciate the community service that fraternities perform, he continued.
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"The last thing they [the NABB] want is to see the fraternities leave," Anderson agreed. "They just don't want these problems to continue."
Plans for improving relations
The NABB feels that the ODSA has been abrogating its responsibility to keep its students disciplined, Sherwood said. "That's never been ODSA or IFC policy," he added.
The ODSA, however, has been actively working to improve relations between the ILG's in Boston and their neighbors, Sherwood continued. By opening dialogues with the NABB, the IFC and the individual houses of the IFC, the ODSA hopes to "put out any spot fires" and prevent situations from escalating into crises, he added.
For instance, Ertel has held meetings with the officers of several ILG houses. The purpose behind these meetings is to "emphasize being responsible citizens in the neighborhood environment," Ertel said.
The ODSA is also working on backup housing plans in case fraternities are forced out of their houses, Sherwood said. The Planning Office and the Office of the Senior Vice-President are "vigorously exploring" alternate Cambridge-based housing plans, he continued.
For example, MIT might press for the rezoning of the Simplex development project in order to allow ILG's to live there, Sherwood said. "It's obviously not an easy proposal," he added, citing the difficulty ODSA has had encountered in finding housing for Alpha Phi.
[el1p] The IFC is similarly involved in trying to improve community relations between the fraternities and the Back Bay, IFC Chairman Anderson said.
The IFC has concentrated on increasing its positive visibility, Sherwood said. MIT fraternities made a strong showing at the Nov. 4 "Alley Rally," a Back Bay cleanup project, Anderson said. Several ILG's are also involved with neighborhood Crime Watch programs, he said.
Furthermore, many ILG members are also affiliated with the NABB, including Mintoo Bhandari '87, IFC community relations chairman, Anderson said. Ertel, Anderson, Bhandari and representatives of several IFC houses meet with the NABB once every two or three weeks, he continued.
"Over the past month the number of complaints has decreased a lot," Anderson said. He attributed the improvement in relations to better communications and the neighbors' willingness to deal with problems on an individual basis.
"It's got to be a give and take situation," Anderson continued. "The fraternities can show more conscientiousness and responsibility ... [but] the neighbors need a greater understanding of what a fraternity really is."