Fraternity Member Fought Alumni, Corporation for Right to Stay in HouseBy Krista L. Niece
When the alumni board of the MIT chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon expelled or suspended 30 fraternity members following a road trip keg incident late last year, one former house president decided to test the legitimacy of the alumni corporations’ termination of tenancy.
Jason Bradford ’98, once an active member of the chapter and now expelled by its alumni board, elected to continue to live in the house -- a decision which resulted in a struggle between Bradford and the Mass Delta Alumni Corporation that has lasted since the beginning of this year and is still ongoing.
On Feb. 5, Bradford received a Notice to Quit giving 7 days to move out or face formal eviction from Alumni Corporation President Shaun L. Meredith. “I wasn’t going to listen to [the Alumni Board’s] threats, their bluffs, or their attempts to intimidate me,” Bradford said.
The massive reorganization of the local SigEp chapter, which left only 11 members living in the house at 518 Beacon St., began after an incident in which a representative from SigEp national caught SigEp pledges from MIT carrying a keg into the Penn State chapter last November. After the incident, all fraternity members were suspended, pending interviews with an ad hoc Alumni Advisory Council to decide on their future status as fraternity members.
After the interviews in early December, all expelled or suspended members were told they had to be out of the house by Dec.17., although leniency was granted to those who could not move out on that date, according to Meredith.
Meredith said the board chose to reinstate members “who are interested in the founding principles of the fraternity” and “who understood that times are changing. [The house] can’t have an ‘Animal House’ atmosphere” any longer, he said.
Case faces initial delays
In mid-February, Bradford received a summons to appear in court on Mar. 4 after not vacating his room located in SigEp’s annex at 515 Beacon St. despite the Notice to Quit.
A series of clerical errors delayed the hearing past spring break, the first of which was a missing back page to the summons originally delivered to Bradford.
On Mar. 4, Bradford’s case did not appear on the docket in court.
According to Meredith, “the court didn’t process it because [Bradford] had come in and pointed out [the summons] was incomplete.”
While a new date was set at Mar. 18, further clerical errors resulted in a judge’s ruling that the trial could not proceed that afternoon because Bradford had not been properly notified of the court date.
A revised copy of the summons had been served to Bradford several days following the Mar. 4 court date. In one place it still said the court date was still March 4, although in other places it set the date at March 18.
According to Bradford, Meredith and SigEp resident adviser Joseph Dougherty approached him advising him to move out immediately following the second judge’s ruling.
“It did not matter what the judge said, if I did not move out by the weekend, they would hire a locksmith, break into my room and remove all of my belongings,” Bradford said.
RA occupies Bradford’s room
Bradford said he was granted a temporary restraining order against the Alumni Corporation after he returned from Spring Break to find his belongings in garbage bags in the basement of the annex, and Dougherty occupying his room.
Housing Court Chief Justice E. George Daher ordered that Bradford be moved back into his room. When this was not done, Bradford filed a contempt complaint.
The judge threatened a fine of $1,000 for each day his order was not carried out. “[Dougherty] asked our President Mike McCarthy to call an emergency work party for members of the fraternity to move [Bradford’s] stuff back to 222,” said Neal F. Karchem ’99, “but we refused.”
“Several members of the house and a couple of Alumni Board members” performed the move, according to Meredith, who was not among them.
The Alumni Corporation then filed for a temporary restraining order against Bradford to try to evict him from the house. Associate Justice Jeffrey Winik did not sign the restraining order on April 14, and instead ordered both parties to return on April 21, at which point he ordered a compromise.
In settlement, Bradford agreed to pay the remaining $2,000 balance on his $5,500 annual housebill, and through May 26 retained his “right to occupy room at 515 Beacon Street for lodging only,” meaning he could not eat at or use the facilities of the house at 518 Beacon Street, such as the kitchen and TV room.
Of his experience Bradford says, “It has been clearly shown that Alumni Board did not have the legal right to evict me or any of my brothers this year.”
However, Bradford’s troubles continue. In mid-May the Alumni Corporation filed a civil suit seeking $6,463.59 against Jason Bradford and his parents, Ricky and Marilyn Bradford, who co-signed Jason Bradford’s original Housing Agreement.
An itemized bill dating from December 19 seeks $800 per month for lost rent from 222, which is a “double occupancy suite” split into rents of $500 and $300 per month for the “large side” and “small side.”
Meredith said that the suite includes 222 and a separate adjacent room 221, which was not rentable since Bradford was a “hostile tenant.” Other charges are for food and parking, as well as $2,142.50 in legal fees and costs of collection which is not included on the bill.
A letter dated May 13 from Assistant Dean for Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups Neal H. Dorow informed Bradford that MIT had placed a hold on his graduation or future registration pending the settlement of an outstanding bill of $2,321.09 with SigEp.
Meredith admits this number is a “mistake,” which Dorow arrived at by subtracting the $2,000 paid to settle the original housebill from the $4,321.09 total on the bill which omits the legal fees. Dorow refused to comment on the specifics of this case, but said he did not believe MIT would withhold registration based on a living group’s “claim of a pending lawsuit that they may or may not win.”
“I’m very surprised that these alumni, the RA, and the representatives from the national fraternity have gone to such lengths to maliciously interfere with my final term at MIT,” Bradford says of this ordeal.
Meredith counters, “This is a choice he made. I’m sorry he made that choice. It was a bad choice.”
Joel M. Rosenberg contributed to the reporting of this story.