May 28-31, 2015
Dear Gamma Omicrons (and Deltas):
By now you have most likely heard from Colgate that President Herbst has finally, after four months, ruled upon the chapter’s appeal of the Student Conduct Board’s (“SCB”) permanent suspension of our chapter. We are now suspended for five and a half years, with the possibility of returning after that. This possibility of reactivating the chapter is conditional on the Sigma Chi compliance to a laundry list of behaviors dictated by the Student Conduct codes of University. While I understand why the President felt it necessary to include these conditions, it also exemplifies some of the obvious problems with the process. We are not a recognized chapter, yet can be judged for conduct violations by individuals as if we are. I plan to continue the process of asking for clarification of this section of the appeal pronouncement letter. With the president’s recent announcement of his departure at end of the spring semester, I don’t know if the ruling will eventually be modified, extended, or changed in any other way. Time and perseverance will tell.
I appreciate that many of you contacted me to express concern, and also many of you communicated your concerns about the appeal to President Herbst through direct mails, petitions, and calls. I think I responded to all communications; I apologize if I missed you.
In a brief recap of the fall semester’s events:
After the chapter fired their cook in the spring, Gene Krebs and I (along with extensive assistance from Gair Meres of the FSAA) hired a new cook to reform kitchen processes in the fall.
Gene, Gair, and I met with the undergraduates prior to the beginning of the semester to discuss changes in the kitchen and chapter operations. I believe our plans to change operations were grudgingly accepted by a majority of the chapter. With a few relapses, the chapter started to make progress in the first 10 days of the semester.
Days before the fall new member recruitment (“Rush”) in early September, just a few days after the beginning of the semester, a complaint was filed accusing the chapter of various hazing-related violations.
The SCB conducted an investigation of the charges for several weeks, and eventually held a hearing. Will Ely, chapter consul, represented the chapter and accepted responsibility for the chapter’s violations. The SCB issued its suspension ruling the next day, without any involvement by alumni or the fraternity in any phase of this process.
Undergraduates (Sigs and many others) protested in and around the house following the notification of the suspension. Some damages and vandalism occurred.
The university notified alumni that the chapter would have 10 days to appeal, and asked us to keep the kitchen open until the appeal was ruled upon. However, this became a day-to-day proposition that was financially unsupportable. We explored several options, such as extending kitchen operations through the end of the semester. However, we had no response from the university, so we closed the kitchen at the end of November with very little warning. (1) Undergraduates received a prorated board refund dictated by the university. (2) We have paid all known accounts payable. (3) Kitchen staff were paid approximately two weeks’ severance.
After another alleged destructive incident in the chapter house, the undergraduates were relocated from the house to other university housing. Gair has secured as many alumni assets (furniture, composites, ritual items, photos, Charter, etc.) as we’ve been able to recover.
This is a very high-level review, and the details are many and complicated. Different interpretations are likely by the different parties involved. Needless to say, the undergraduates are frustrated and angry. Their parents are frustrated and angry. I am frustrated and angry. Our terminated kitchen staff are frustrated and angry. Our association finances are now minimal, as our intervention in kitchen operations was expensive and was expected to improve over time instead of being terminated almost before it started.
Although I was initially angry with the undergraduates for precipitating this suspension, Gene Krebs has provided great counseling, and I think I’ve reached a balanced state of mind. Next, we will welcome the undergraduates into our alumni association. We are all Gamma Omicrons, and we’re in this together now. From a historical perspective, Gamma Omicrons were never closely aligned with our alumni; we were always somewhat independent of the university, the fraternity, and the alumni. While the recent hazing was disheartening, unnecessary, and broke a bunch of rules, many of our own classes performed silly, dumb, or even risky actions in our own time that we should have avoided. In addition, the risk management emphasis on college campuses today is steadily increasing. The fact remains that the university SCB chose these transgressions to drive the suspension. We can debate the level of excess transgressions, but it won’t change the situation. All parties could have done better, and we will have to learn from this.
The alumni need to explore ways to reestablish the chapter in the future with a focus on the aspects of the fraternity that really mean something. Hazing is not one. Extreme drunkenness is not one. Brotherhood, character development, leadership development, sincere philanthropy, true friendship, having fun—these should be the primary goals of Gamma Omicron, and the fraternity has a lot of training material that can help develop these.
When we are allowed to reactivate Gamma Omicron, we will need a lot of help in establishing new goals and processes for the chapter. I don’t expect the university to be of much help. The fraternity and some energized, motivated alumni will make this happen.
In the meantime:
For those of you who have supported our association financially with dues payments, I offer my most sincere thanks. Your support made it possible to attempt our changes, although unsuccessful this time. From my past columns in the Chenango Sig, you know that the majority of my focus has been on assisting the undergraduate chapter. Now, our situation has changed, and we appear to be entering a new period in our history. With the chapter’s suspension, for however many years, we can change our focus to ourselves, the alumni.
I propose the following changes:
Encourage the use of our website, sigmachicolgate.org. We can expand the content, and I welcome suggestions. Please visit and sign up, if you have not already done so. You will note that the website is not active, but you can help us make it valuable by signing up.
Publish Chenango Sig issues electronically on our website and email communications to our members. You will be able to download content and print, if you choose. This will save printing and postage expense. I am willing to maintain a short list of brothers requesting printed copies be mailed to them—you just have to notify me directly of your request. We need you to sign up at the website and provide your email address so we can mail issues and information. We will not sell emails or solicit here, except to collect dues and contributions for the alumni. This website is for Gamma Omicron.
I will seek to maintain a Sig Alumni connection with the FSAA organization and, in doing so, maintain the open communication with the existing/remaining Greek community at Colgate. Their support and survival is appreciated and will be key to our come back. I will keep you all informed of Greek issues of importance.
It is my intention to bring the conversation of re-colonization and reclaiming the Sigma Chi house with the new Colgate president (to be announced in the next year). It will be one of the first subjects to be presented, as I do not want the temporary residential groups to get too attached to our Sig house, our home at Colgate.
Establish some formal activities to reunite alumni located outside of the Hamilton area.
Feel free to contact me with suggestions and assistance. I expect to be at Reunion. I believe we will be allowed to hold our annual meeting in the chapter house, although we may end up in an alternate location—I am working on this right now. The house is being transformed into sophomore and upper class housing for at least the short term.
On a sad note, I noticed in the Magazine of Sigma Chi that Jim Wasserman ’54 and Paul Jermak ‘08 passed away recently. I also heard from Mark Lawrence about the passing of Troy Robinson ’89. Many will miss them. Jim was a consistent and frequent correspondent over the years, and I will miss his encouragement and advice.
Finally, I once again request that you consider sending your Alumni Association dues. If you hesitated in the past because you were concerned about the use of funds, now you will see it directed toward alumni activities and to rebuilding our small cash reserve.
I will be in touch with the university and Sigma Chi to explore the opportunity to reactivate the chapter in the future. The Fraternity will have a process. I doubt the university is thinking ahead to this situation, but I will endeavor to investigate, as the process could take a couple years and require alumni involvement with training, organization, etc.
Beyond asking you to pay your dues, I won’t pretend to suggest how you direct your charitable donations. After paying my Alumni Association dues, I will apply my typically small contributions to help rebuild our cash reserve. Now that I know that Gamma Omicron has an opportunity to reestablish an active chapter, I may also contribute to our chapter’s Sigma Chi Colgate Foundation for the future. Once Gamma Omicron is active on campus again, I’ll reconsider donating to the university, but not until the SCB processes are revised and other administrative changes have occurred.
Richard Harder ’76