Alpha Omicron Pi Drops Recognition of House Over Property Dispute

August 5, 2015

Alpha Omicron Pi will no longer recognize the University of California at Berkeley chapter's house, the women's fraternity announced Tuesday, saying it would strip the house of its letters, drop the house's insurance and bar any official activity from taking place there.

But the de-recognition is not because of any misconduct committed by the chapter's members. Rather, the house will lose recognition over an ongoing dispute between the chapter corporation's board and the international organization over who should control the property.

"This chapter was the first one west of the Mississippi and is one of the oldest still in existence," Sandy Jaeger, president of the Berkeley chapter's board, said. "And basically they're saying, 'we don't want you anymore.' We have been negotiating in good faith, but everything just comes back to that they want our property."

In 2005, Alpha Omicron Pi's Council voted to amend its governing documents to transfer the "property management responsibilities" of each chapter's house to the international organization. According to the organization, 134 of 135 Alpha Omicron Pi's corporations agreed to the new "coordinated management system." The lone holdout was the board at Berkeley, known as Sigma 1916.

After years of discussions, the international organization offered the Berkeley chapter a settlement proposal: the local chapter's corporation could keep the title for the house and local alumni could retain representation on the board, but it would have to yield majority control of the board to nonlocal representatives of the organization. After a chapter-wide vote, the local members declined the settlement in February, saying they did not want nonlocal representatives to make decisions about the house -- including about repairs and whether to mortgage the property.  

This week, the chapter's members and alumni received an email from the organization's executive board announcing that the house would no longer be recognized as an Alpha Omicron Pi facility.  In a statement Monday, Gayle Fitzpatrick, international president of Alpha Omicron Pi, said that the decision came after "more than 30 points of communication and many years of tireless efforts for resolution."

"We understand and appreciate the rich history of Sigma 1916, the Sigma collegiate chapter house and those who dedicated countless volunteer hours," Fitzpatrick stated. "However, by and through the AOII Executive Board, every corporation is obligated to uphold Council's decision to coordinate management for the benefit of the entire fraternal organization."

The statement noted that the other 134 chapter corporations "embraced" the coordinated management system. In 2013, however, the University of Minnesota corporation of Alpha Omicron Pi sued the international organization over similar issues. In that case, a federal judge ruled in a preliminary decision that the international organization could not "take over" the chapter's house.

The win was largely symbolic, as the corporation had already agreed to transfer management -- though not total ownership -- of the property to Alpha Omicron Pi. In June,  the two groups agreed on a settlement, similar to what was offered to the Berkeley chapter.

"Some chapters have probably embraced this system because they don't have alumni who are willing to take on managing the property," Jaeger, president of the Berkeley chapter's board, said. "But this chapter built this house and have always managed this house, and there have always been very diligent alumni who are perfectly happy to give up their free to time to be in here making decisions and doing day-to-day stuff. They just want to use this property as a cash cow."

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