Loss for Frat at Colgate

A judge dismisses lawsuit by alumni seeking to reverse sale of their house to the university.
December 8, 2005

A lawsuit brought by a group of alumni who sought to block Colgate University from purchasing their former fraternity house was thrown out by a New York judge last week.

The group of about 75 alums of Phi Delta Theta, about 5 percent of the members of the alumni corporation, argued that Colgate had coerced the corporation into selling the house.

In July 2003, Colgate announced its new Residential Education Plan, which involved purchasing all fraternity and sorority houses on campus, and operating them as university-owned buildings.

Administrators have said the move is partly aimed at giving the university access to a house in case of an emergency, but also at limiting underage drinking. Some student critics have seen the plan as an attempt to quash campus social life. Any fraternity that did not sell its house would no longer be formally recognized by the university.

After some haggling, and an agreement by Colgate to raise the purchase price, Phi Delta Theta’s national alumni board agreed to sell the house in April. 

The group of alumni then filed the lawsuit seeking to reverse the sale, which they said was forced.
New York State Supreme Court Justice William O’Brien dismissed the case, saying that a board decision could be reversed in only two cases: if a majority of the board had conflicts of interest; or if the board did not take due care in evaluating shareholder demands.  

In his decision, O’Brien compared the sale to a corporate hostile takeover. “While such tactics may seem ‘unfair’ or even coercive,” he wrote, it is not a judge’s place to interfere with the board’s decision. 

Charlie Melichar, a Colgate spokesman, said the judge’s decision shows that Colgate acted both “fairly and legally” in acquiring the house. “The alumni board and the body supported the sale,” he said. “[The alumni who brought the lawsuit] were a small group.” 

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity never sold its house to Colgate, and currently has two cases against the university pending. One of those lawsuits was filed in federal court and alleges that Colgate violated antitrust laws and the fraternity’s First Amendment rights. The other, filed in state court, is an attempt to have the fraternity re-recognized. Decisions on those cases are expected in the next few months.


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