National discharges 45 MIT brothers of AEPi
By Linda D'Angelo
The national organization of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, in an attempt to reorganize its MIT chapter after three breeches of policy, has invited only 10 of the chapter's 55 members to remain in the house after this term.
According to Richard P. Wong '91, an InterFraternity Council cabinet officer and former AEPi vice president and rush chair, "the basis for people being asked to leave is religious discrimination." While less than 20 percent of the house was asked to stay by the national organization, four of the six or seven Jewish members were asked back, Wong noted.
Wong was one of the 10 brothers invited by the national organization to remain.
Representatives from the national organization could not be reached for comment.
The other 45 members who have not been directly contacted by the national organization "are still officially members of the fraternity," Wong said. However, he expects that they will receive eviction notices effective at the end of this term. These members will be made "immediate alumni and will not be allowed to associate with the chapter for the next year," Wong added.
The impetus to the reorganization efforts by the national was the chapter's violation of the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group risk management policy. The FIPG is a "collection of national fraternities who pool their resources to buy liability insurance at competitive rates" with the understanding that their chapters will follow a risk management policy, Advisor to Fraternities and Independent Living Groups Neal H. Dorow explained. The policy includes provisions for alcohol and drugs, hazing, sexual abuse, education and safety.
While the MIT chapter of AEPi buys its insurance through the MIT Alumni-InterFraternity Council Program, they are obliged by their national organization to follow the risk management policy, Dorow noted.
There are discrepancies between this policy and the MIT policies, according to Wong. Thus practices which follow MIT's "common sense policy" are violations of FIPG guidelines, Wong said.
The first of the chapter's three violations occurred in February 1989, at AEPi's initiation. "One of the national representatives (a director of expansion) came to the house for initiation and there happened to be a keg in the room," Wong explained. The keg was a "violation of the FIPG's provision against open parties," and the chapter "got a warning," he added.
The second violation involved publicity for an AEPi party. The FIPG risk management policy states that "open parties where alcohol is present, meaning those with unrestricted access by non-members of the fraternity, without specific invitation, shall be prohibited." The national organization obtained a copy of an AEPi poster and judged this to be a violation of the FIPG guideline, Wong said.
"Based on the keg incident -- which was dubious to begin with because it was empty -- and because of postering we were put on probation some time last March," Wong said.
After a "completely dry" rush, in which "there were no problems," the third violation occurred, Wong said. During a fall trip to a college in Ohio, some freshmen pledges stole a sign. This "was a mistake," Wong said. The chapter "returned the sign, and thought that the issue was over."
But, late in January, the national organization notified chapter members that "these violations were so flagrant and so bad" that reorganization was necessary, Wong said. A representative of the national organization contacted them to say that he "was coming in February to audit the chapter and to reorganize it based on the three very serious FIPG violations," he added.
Punishment is too
severe, brothers say
Like most AEPi members, Wong admitted that the national organization had cause to act. "We were definitely wrong in not complying to the letter with FIPG," he said.
But the majority of them also felt that the severity of the action was not justified. The response of national was "too severe based on our efforts to respond to their concerns," Wong contended. The chapter "no longer has kegs and no longer posters," he noted.
Dorow, too, felt that the national organization was right to act on the chapter's risk management violations. "Fraternities nationwide are facing serious problems and, to various degrees, different nationals have aggressively fought to reduce risks presented by chapters who misuse alcohol or participate in hazing activities," he said.
While Dorow "respects the actions that nationals have taken to aggressively address these very serious issues," he felt "discouraged by the actions of the national organization as they pertain to this chapter."
The actions of the national organization also seem out of place when considered in comparison to the actions taken against other AEPi chapters, members said. "Based on people I know in other chapters, and the kinds of things they do, there is no way we deserve this," AEPi brother Paul J. Deitel '91 said.
According to Wong, the Boston University chapter of AEPi was recently reorganized by the national organization due to infractions of the risk management policy. But only eight brothers were released at BU, Wong said.
Reorganizations on the scale of MIT's took place at Brooklyn College and Cornell, Wong said. But these chapters "were reorganized due to alcohol-related deaths."
Many members felt that the violations were simply a mechanism for the national organization to act on other concerns, specifically concerns that the chapter had lost its Jewish identity. "Any national fraternity cannot afford to have a chapter violate its risk management policy, but what the national did does not seem to be based on our violation of FIPG," AEPi President M. Travis Stier '91 explained.
The questions asked by the national representative in reviewing the chapter focused more on AEPi ideals and principles than FIPG guidelines. This was evidence of an ulterior motive, according to Wong. "In interviews, some brothers were not even asked about FIPG," he said.
Instead, members were asked why they joined AEPi and what they felt about the fraternity's commitment to principles of Judaism, Wong said. The "content of the interview questions and the posture which national has taken leads me to question" what the real reason for the reorganization was, he added.
"No one in the first two days was asked about the insurance policy," Deitel said. "In my interview, in particular, [the interviewer] never once asked if I would follow the insurance policy." Instead, Deitel explained, "he focused on my feelings on being in a Jewish fraternity."
"If FIPG was so important you would think they would want to find out who would comply and who would not," Stier said. "What they asked in interviews, however, was not congruent" with this, he added.
It is a common practice for national fraternity organizations to monitor their chapters, according to IFC President Miles Arnone '91. "Every national has field officers that visit every chapter about twice a year, so in that sense chapters are being evaluated all the time" he noted.
Reorganization, even to the point of 45 out of 55 being asked to leave, is also "not uncommon," Arnone said. "For a restructuring, they consider that more than a majority of the members are not following something that they want followed," he explained.
As a national, "AEPi aggressively reorganizes chapters that it thinks is not functioning up to their standards," Dorow said. Wong, too, felt that "AEPi inspects its chapters more closely than other nationals." However, the MIT chapter "is scrutinized even more closely because of our membership and because we are not following national's implied policies," he commented.
A history of problems
A long history of antagonism between the national organization and the MIT chapter of AEPi was also cited as a factor in the decision to reorganize. The national acted on "a very complex set of motivations, encompassing some bad feelings extending over a period of 10 or 15 years," Stier said.
As recently as five years ago, Stier said, the president of the MIT AEPi chapter sent a letter to an MIT administrator (which ultimately got back to the national organization) inquiring into "options for going local." This move was the result of a strong anti-national sentiment within the chapter, Stier added.
Since then the chapter has reversed its feeling, and a strong effort has been made to improve relations with the national organization.
The initiation ritual, which had been modified by the chapter, was returned to national specifications, Wong said. This change, and others like it, were made in a conscious effort to "try to conform to national," he added.
Because of these efforts "communications had been much more close with national this past year and a half," Stier said.
A "Jewish chapter"
The interviews during the reorganization process, which focused on the Jewish principles of AEPi, has led many members, like former AEPi and IFC Rush Chair Sean R. Findlay '90, to conclude that the national organization "wants an all Jewish chapter."
As stated in the mission statement, which was distributed to AEPi members at the start of the interviewing, the purpose of AEPi is to "develop leadership for the future of the American and Jewish community."
This goal is to be carried out without any type of discrimination. While "AEPi is a Jewish fraternity," the statement reads, it is must be "non-discriminatory and open to all who are willing to espouse its purposes and values."
Wong and other AEPi members worried, however, that this non-discriminatory policy has been violated. "In my opinion, the basic underlying reason they have been scrutinizing us is because of the composition of our membership," he contended.
"I believe that discrimination was part of the re-evaluation process itself," Wong said.
While "AEPi national is historically Jewish, they don't discriminate on the basis of religion today," Dorow said. In this specific case "we're not sure there was any discrimination on the basis of religion, in fact most of our information points to the contrary," he added.
Arnone also saw no evidence that discrimination was a factor in the national's actions to reorganize.
In fact, Arnone said, "National has experienced this before and, with their stated goal, when they take an action like this" they expect discrimination to be suspected. But "there has never been an accusation of discrimination with any AEPi chapter that was found to be valid that I am aware of," he contended.
Arnone did note, however, that "if it was proven that a living group was acting in a discriminatory manner, the IFC could take actions that would affect their rush privileges."
These privileges include "access to clearinghouse, the ability to have a sign at the freshmen picnic" and "freshman preferred housing," he said. If the national organization were to lose this latter privilege, "and I'm not sure if this is even a remote possibility, then they could not house freshmen there," Arnone explained.
As far as regaining their active membership within the chapter, the released members of AEPi have "no avenues to correct what has happened," Dorow said. "Rightly or wrongly, the action that national has taken, as I understand it, is irrevocable," he commented.
However, the Dean's Office is in contact with the national organization in an effort to support the MIT chapter members. "National has yet to give MIT or us concrete reasons why they kicked people out on an individual basis," Stier said. "They say this is a private issue, but MIT (specifically Dorow) is pressuring them to justify what they did," he explained.
Regardless of whether or not discrimination was a factor in the reorganization, Dorow said his office "would help the students." A "relatively informal" meeting has been scheduled for Monday "to discuss what has happened and where to go from here," Dorow said. The meeting will involve Dorow, AEPi chapter members, representatives from IFC and the Dean's Office, and, possibly, the national organization.
The formation of a new fraternity is one option which the members of AEPi are now considering, Findlay said. "People are looking at opportunities to stay together as a frat, hoping to start another local fraternity if that is necessary," Wong said.
Members are also "trying to look into buying another space, maybe to block space in a dormitory," he noted. "We would like to see MIT help us acquire these houses, other houses, or dormitory space," Wong added.
There is also a sentiment among members that "AEPi national should be kicked off campus, and have their freshmen housing privilege revoked," Findlay said. "I do not think other MIT undergraduates should be subjected to what we've been subjected to," he reasoned.
According to Wong, the national chapter is planning to rush this spring. Dorow, however, said that "nothing has been decided."