In the midst of a wrongful death lawsuit and a suspended charter, the brothers of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity will be forced to leave their chapter house at 3539 Locust Walk by the end of the semester.
The decision to close the fraternity’s chapter house — which was announced to brothers late Sunday — comes after the PKS International Fraternity closed Penn’s Alpha chapter on Sept. 16.
Over the past year and a half, PKS — commonly referred to as “Skulls” — has been dealing with the legal fallout from a visiting student’s death.
At an unregistered New Year’s party in January 2011, John Carroll University student Matthew Crozier sustained fatal injuries after falling nearly 30 feet inside the chapter house.
Penn, the fraternity’s national headquarters and the Skulls alumni housing corporation have all been implicated in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Crozier’s parents.
Sunday night marked the first time the Skulls brothers convened as a whole since their charter was suspended.
“It was important to keep people up to speed with what was going on,” Skulls President and College senior Chuck Schmitt said. “We wanted to answer questions.”
After 45 minutes, the normal weekly chapter meeting was interrupted by a visit from the executive board of the independent PKS alumni corporation that owns the chapter house.
1959 Wharton graduate Bart Barre, who is president of the corporation, informed the brothers that they were being evicted by the end of the semester.
The brothers knew that Barre would be making an appearance at the meeting, but they did not know that he and the other alumni would be delivering news of the eviction.
Barre declined to comment on all issues surrounding the current situation.
The news came as a “huge surprise” to the brothers, according to Schmitt. A representative from the national organization had previously assured the 26 students living in the chapter house — as well as the students’ families — that they would be able to remain there until the end of the year despite the suspended charter, Schmitt said.
PKS Grand Alpha Doug Opicka, who heads the fraternity’s national office, declined to comment.
“The International Fraternity does not own, lease or operate any of our chapter’s houses,” Opicka said in an email. “As such, all decisions pertaining [to] the chapter house at Penn are being addressed by the local alumni house corporation in consultation with the University.”
Schmitt attributed Sunday night’s announcement to recent pressure that has been placed on the alumni housing corporation by Penn’s Office of Student Affairs/Fraternity Sorority Life to “terminate the lease agreement with all of the tenants in the house and evict them as soon as possible,” following the suspension of the charter.
On Sept. 18, Schmitt received a letter from OFSA Director Scott Reikofski formally revoking Skulls’ recognition as an on-campus fraternity.
“Based upon recent actions taken by Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity in suspending the Alpha chapter’s charter and closing the chapter indefinitely, the University of Pennsylvania is withdrawing University recognition of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity,” Reikofski said in the letter.
Reikofski did not respond to multiple requests for comment throughout the day Monday.
After receiving the letter, a cloud of uncertainty hung over the Skulls brothers.
Schmitt said he experienced difficulty contacting Barre, the PKS national organization and Reikofski.
“For the past couple of days, we were really on our own,” Schmitt said. “I guess we kind of had a feeling that the eviction was a possibility, but when it happened it was still a huge shock.”
In his letter, Reikofski referenced the University’s Recognition and Governance of Undergraduate Social Fraternities and Sororities policy.
“At the time of withdrawal of recognition, the alumni corporation will cease its operation of a chapter house, terminate residence for members of the fraternity and revoke all privileges and authority for the undergraduate chapter to function,” he said in the letter.
In addition, the alumni corporation agreed to shut down the house because its insurance policy expires at the end of the semester.
“The alumni association told us that it would be ridiculously expensive to insure 26 people formerly affiliated with a fraternity implicated in a pretty messy lawsuit living in a house together,” Schmitt said.
Although the brothers are upset by the recent developments, they are acknowledging that the issue is largely out of their hands.
“We realize that we came to Penn to get an education and to have a great college experience,” Schmitt said. “We need to focus on that and not get caught up in the Skulls issues.”
As of now, the futures of both the chapter house and its 26 inhabitants are uncertain.
Schmitt believes the chapter house will remain empty for the spring and that the alumni association will look to rent it out to a sorority in fall 2013. The housing corporation will retain ownership of the house, and the PKS International Fraternity has made clear that it is looking to bring Skulls back to campus in a few years.
The brothers do not yet have alternative housing options. OFSA has not indicated if it will help any of the brothers relocate in the spring.
“The location, history and tradition of the house are a huge part of why a lot of people joined Skulls,” Schmitt said. “It was more than a place to live. It’s where any group of people, upperclassmen and younger kids, could come to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. It was a real unifying factor, and we will miss it.”