Phi Kappa Sigma’s charter has been suspended by its national headquarters, the fraternity’s student leaders confirmed to The Daily Pennsylvanian Monday night.
The chapter — commonly known as “Skulls” — learned Sunday afternoon during a campus visit by PKS Executive Director Michael Short of the decision. Around the same time, PKS Grand Alpha Douglas Opicka posted a video message on the fraternity’s Facebook page.
“I must regrettably inform you that, as of 3 p.m. today, Sept. 16, 2012, the charter for the Alpha chapter has been suspended and the chapter itself has been closed,” Opicka said in the message. “Last week, it finally reached a point that the fraternity’s executive committee felt we could no longer allow Alpha chapter to operate due to the risk that they posed to the entire fraternity.”
The suspension follows a tumultuous year and a half for Skulls, in which it has experienced tension with both Phi Kappa Sigma International Fraternity — its national headquarters — and Penn’s Office of Student Affairs/Fraternity Sorority Life following the fatal injury of a student at an unregistered New Year’s party.
On Dec. 31, 2010, John Carroll University student Matthew Crozier fell nearly 30 feet from the second to the first floor of the chapter house, located at 3539 Locust Walk. He died Jan. 5, 2011.
After the incident, Skulls was suspended temporarily by both OFSA and its national headquarters. Although the OFSA suspension was lifted in March 2011, Skulls was prohibited from participating in 2011 spring rush.
Skulls President and College senior Chuck Schmitt confirmed that the fraternity’s national organization is currently facing a lawsuit from the Crozier family. Although he declined to comment on the specifics of the suit, he said that “multiple” fraternity brothers were deposed over the summer by the Croziers’ lawyers.
A copy of the lawsuit was not immediately available. Opicka said he was “not going to comment on a continuing lawsuit.”
Schmitt added that “things largely came to a head in July,” when attorneys working on the suit inspected the house and found alcohol present.
“It was a pretty big surprise to all of us,” Schmitt said of the suspension. “We felt enthusiastic about the viability of the chapter.”
When Short visited the Skulls house on Sunday, Schmitt said he was there “under the pretenses to take all our ritual stuff,” which includes things like the fraternity’s chapter flag and other memorabilia.
Skulls will retain its chapter house for the rest of the year — which, according to Schmitt, is owned by a corporation managed by Skulls alumni.
The fraternity is unsure what steps it will take moving forward, but Skulls Vice President and College junior Chase Lax emphasized that future decisions will be largely up to Skulls sophomores, who are “the ones most affected” by the decision, since they have the most time remaining at Penn.
“We’re going to support them in whatever they decide to do,” Lax said.
Skulls currently has about 50 members overall.
Although Sunday’s news came as a surprise to brothers, Lax acknowledged that “the fact that we were open 18 months [after Crozier’s death] is an amazing thing.… We’ve always been emotionally prepared for this.”
For the remainder of this year, Lax said that “on the surface, not really much has changed,” since members will still be living in the chapter house.
Interfraternity Council President and College senior David Shapiro expressed disappointment with the national organization’s decision, which was also a “shock” to him.
“The IFC is always very sad about the loss of a chapter,” he said. “Skulls was particularly involved [around campus]. They were a great group of guys.”
OFSA Director Scott Reikofski said in a brief email statement that the University “supports Phi Kappa Sigma’s actions.”
While the fraternity’s student leaders are doubtful that the suspension will be reversed, Opicka said in the video statement that Skulls may re-open at Penn a few years down the road.
“I personally believe that we exhausted all avenues available to try to save and rehabilitate the Alpha chapter,” he said. “I look forward to that date in the future when we are able to welcome back the Alpha chapter into our brotherhood.”