News Tidbits 2/6/14: A Sorority Totally New To Cornell

7 02 2014

Image Property of Phi Mu sorority.

Courtesy of the Cornell Sun and Cornell Chronicle comes news of the latest addition to Cornell’s Greek Life – social sorority Phi Mu.  According to the news articles, sorority interest has increased in the previous few years, from 670 registrants in 2010 to 873 in the latest rush (Chronicle claims 871…don’t know which is correct). This moved the Cornell Pan-Hel system to add a 13th sorority. If one views Phi Sigma Sigma as a replacement for the departed Alpha Omicron Pi, then Phi Mu would mark the first time there have been 13 Pan-Hel sororities on campus since 2003, when Delta Phi Epsilon and Chi Omega closed, and were replaced by Alpha Xi Delta the following year. If you go a little further back, there were 14 as recently as 1996, before Alpha Gamma Delta closed (comparing the old photo in that link to my 2008 shot, their physical house went downhill fast).

Given that there are a number of sororities that used to have a presence at Cornell, it’s rather unusual to see a colonization rather than a re-colonization; Phi Mu has never previously been installed on Cornell’s campus. Lookins at their wikipedia page, it would seem that most of their 117 chapters are based out of the South and Mid-Atlantic; so being in the northeast is unfamiliar territory for this sorority.

A new sorority is all and well and good, but my primary interest lies in this sentence from the Sun article:

According to [Katherine-Rae Cianciotto, dean of students], Phi Mu is currently researching housing options and will likely have a house beginning in Fall 2015.”

There are options ladies. It will be interesting to see where the sorority ends up making its physical home, and hopefully build upon a house’s history.


News Tidbits 10/11/12: Kappa Sigma Reopens its Doors

11 10 2012

Even though I’m old and way out of touch from Greek Life (apart from the overly sentimental newsletter I get each semester from my fraternal alma mater), I’m sharing this because it happened my last semester at Cornell. From the Cornell Daily Sun:

After being shut down for more than two years, the Cornell chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was recently reinstated on campus.

According to Brett Musco ’13, the fraternity president, Kappa Sigma lost its charter from its national chapter in Spring 2010 after violating sanctions that the chapter imposed on them.

A year and a half before it was shut down, the Cornell chapter of Kappa Sigma was found in violation of its national organization’s “risk management policy” and told that it could no longer host events with alcohol, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Travis Apgar told The Sun in May 2010.    The fraternity was also required to have any events approved by a regional manager from the national organization, according to Apgar.

When it was discovered that the fraternity hosted an unregistered party with alcohol, the chapter was shut down by the national organization for breaking Kappa Sigma sanctions.

The fraternity house, a property on 600 University Ave., is owned by Cornell and was renovated and turned into student housing by the University for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years. However, it was agreed that if Kappa Sigma were ever reinstated on campus, fraternity members could occupy the building again, Musco said.

As part of the process of rebuilding the chapter, Kappa Sigma brothers petitioned for members of the classes of 2012 and 2013 –– who had been expelled from the fraternity –– to be reinstated as brothers.

“Once we got those core guys from those two years reinstated, we could become an interest group,” Musco said. “And then, from an interest group you become a colony, and we became a colony [in] July of 2011.”

According to Musco, while the chapter was not recognized by the IFC or the University, it still participated in rush events and informed potential members of their status.

Though it was not a chapter at the time, the Kappa Sigma colony –– or probationary body of brothers –– participated in formal rush in 2012, according to Musco.

After Rush Week, the members had to follow certain guidelines and submit a petition to regain its status as a chapter.

“A lot came down to learning from the mistakes that the older guys had made and the former chapter had made,” Musco said. “And a lot came down to recruitment and getting new guys to carry the fraternity.”

As a result of Rush Week, the majority of the fraternity’s membership comes from the Class of 2015, Musco said. Kappa Sigma will be participating in Rush Week in January 2013, he added.


So, this is an unusual case in the world of GLOs. The chapter was shut down by their national and lost recognition from Cornell. But, they were allowed to recolonize and petition for reinstatement. They also regained their house, because their agreement with Cornell allows them to move back in once they are reinstated (I like to imagine a closet in the dorm where they hid all the lettering and regalia). Now from here, it could go two ways – they fade into obscurity and failure a la Theta Chi in the early 2000s, or they build themselves back up and move on, like Psi Upsilon in 1979.

Speaking personally, about two-thirds of the people I’ve stayed in close contact with post-undergrad have been my old fraternity brothers. And I know that when something happens to the chapter that we don’t like, for instance a poor rush, we try and write it off as “it’s their house to run now”, but it still casts a bittersweet pall over our memories. So from an alumni perspective, I’m glad for their graduated brethren, and I wish them the best.

News Tidbits 4/18/11: Fraternity Seeks Recolonization in Turbulent Times

18 04 2011

Image property of Alpha Phi Delta

Seems a second fraternity is seeking to reestablish itself on Cornell’s campus this year.  According to the Daily Sun, an interest group has been preliminarily approved for recognition of the recolonization of the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity (in other words, the first step to recognition has been taken). Unlike Phi Kappa Sigma, this interest group has taken the route of forming a group first and then seeking the recognition of a national (which is the way it’s traditionally done with fraternities), rather than the national coming in and seeking to revive or start a chapter (more common for sororities, but an increasingly appealing option for large fraternal orgs).

Alpha Phi Delta has existed previously at Cornell’s campus. It was a historically Italian-American fraternity founded at Syracuse in 1911, and still draws most of its chapter membership from colleges in the Northeast. The Cornell chapter (Mu) was founded in 1922 and closed in 1968, three years after the fraternity opened itself up to membership for all men(and not just ones of Italian heritage). From old Cornellian yearbooks, it can be determined that they stayed with one house during their time at Cornell, but I’m having one hell of a time trying to determine its location – I can’t find it anywhere nearby on the 1928 and 1954 Cornell maps, which suggests to me it might have been far from campus.

Anyways, given the closure of Theta Xi and the recent fallout due to the SAE tragedy, I’m unsure as to how successful they will be. But, I wish them the best of luck. Oh, and if they’re still looking for a house, it would make my heart jump if they could move into an unused property that could use some revitalizing, like 722 University Avenue.

News Tidbits 2/7/11: Sorority Selected for Recolonization on CU Campus

7 02 2011

According to the Cornell Daily Sun, Phi Sigma Sigma sorority has been selected to recolonize at Cornell University, from a field of five candidates. From the article:

“Phi Sigma Sigma will begin recruiting a core group of members in the fall, drawing in part from the new sorority interest group on campus. The sorority will participate in formal recruitment in Jan. 2012….

Phi Sigma Sigma had a chapter at Cornell that left the University in 1969, a departure Sanders speculated may have been due to a generally negative view of Greek life at the time. She said supportive Cornell alumnae from the chapter’s earlier years would be an asset to its reestablishment. “

That much is correct. Phi Sigma Sigma established a chapter (Beta Xi) at Cornell University around 1954. The chapter was located in the house at 313 Wait Avenue.The chapter was closed around 1969, and for that I offer two, non-mutually exclusive explanation. The first is as Ms. Sanders suggested – the late 1960s were a time of strong social activism and Greek life was seen as archaic and out of touch with the times, so membership declined rapidly. Phi Sigma Sigma was one of four or five chapters to shut down in a three year span from 1969-1971. Secondly, Phi Sigma Sigma, although officially non-sectarian, was regarded as a house for women of Jewish faith. As other sorority houses adopted non-sectarian policies in the 1960s, the competition became much fiercer, and with the general declines in sorority interest, this likely compounded and caused the chapter to close its doors.

The Sun article states that 14 South Ave. is expected to be used as the new house for the sorority at Cornell. This house has been used for so many Greek houses it’s like a token minority character in a movie – no one can remember their name, but everyone remembers their race or skin color. In this case, no one can remember the house’s letters, they just know it’s a Greek house. For the record, the house was built in 1957, and home to Kappa Alpha Society up to their closing in 1990, and then it was home to AOPi and Delta Chi. This is discussed more in another entry on this blog.

Among the nifty things that turned up in a google search is a word document from the ladies of Phi Sigma Sigma national that seems to be an overview of their presentation to the Cornell Panhel on why they would make for a good addition to the campus Greek scene. It doesn’t really offer much in the way of interesting information, but I was rather surprised it was so easy to find on the Internet.

So yeah, congratulations ladies. Good luck to your rechartering in the upcoming year.

News Tidbits 9/24/10: New Fraternity to Open on Campus

23 09 2010

Arguably, it may not be a good time for expansion, but that’s it’s own issue. The Cornell Daily Sun has published an article discussing how the IFC is inviting the fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma (known on many campuses as “Skulls” due to their insignia) to speak to the IFC general body before a proposed recolonization this upcoming spring.

Most apparent is that this illustrates how much easier it is for a new fraternity to open on campus vs a new sorority. Sororities have to have the Panhel’s benediction and have to compete against other sororities for the opening (like what’s currently going on for the new 12th sorority; five sororities are narrowed down to three, who must then give presentations before Panhel decides which sorority to offer the position to). For a fraternity, a national organization (i.e. you don’t necessarily need an interest group) has to express interest, and a good plan of execution on how to establish itself on campus.

A little bit of background on Phi Kappa Sigma. They were a fraternity that previously existed at Cornell. The Cornell Chapter was founded in 1891, but closed in 1990. The current Pi Kappa Phi house at 55 Ridgewood Road (“Greentrees”) used to be occupied by Phi Kappa Sigma (Cornell owns the house; on the facilities website, the house is still identified as Phi Kappa Sigma). The house, built around 1900, was the property of George Morris of the Morris Chain Company (later Emerson Power Transmission) until 1935, when it was sold to Phi Kappa Sigma. Sometime between 1935 and 1990, the Skulls sold the house to the university (likely for tax and maintenance purposes correction: It would seem that Phi Kappa Sigma put the house up for sale in 1990 and it was purchased by Pi Kappa Phi). After the Skulls vacated the premises in 1990, Pi Kappa Phi, which was recolonizing at the time, moved in the following year. I’m not sure how a recolonization may affect Pi Kappa Phi’s living situation. The fraternity is similar to Phi Delta Theta in that their newly established or reestablished chapters are dry houses.

Hopefully, they’ll have a better go at things than other recently recolonized chapters. Theta Xi failed to make significant headway and from what I’ve heard, has gone dormant once again. Kappa Alpha still exists, but as a mere shadow of its former self. But, only time will tell if Phi Kappa Sigma can once again make its presence known on Cornell campus.

The Roof is On Fire (Literally)

24 02 2010

I can’t say anything in particular inspired this post, except my slight, ever-present fear of the interior of Bradfield catching fire. Technically, there was a small fire in Bradfield on the fourth floor a couple of years ago, but thankfully it was quickly brought under control. Which, compared to some of Cornell’s history, is very, very tame as fire events here go.

The most notable fire on University property is fittingly the most well known, the Cornell Heights Residential Club fire in April 1967. Cornell Heights, now known as Ecohouse (Hurlburt House), was bought by the university in 1963 (its former use being a motel) and was being used to house students in an experimental program that would allow them to complete a PhD in any department in six years (which, for anyone who knows  plans on or knows people pursuing doctorate study, six years from college freshman to PhD is a pretty sweet gig if one could keep up with the work). The program began to be housed in the building in 1966, so they hadn’t even been there one full year when the fire occurred. The PhD program had 43 students, three faculty-in-residence and a faculty-adviser-in-residence, and the second floor held twenty-four senior and graduate women, for a grand total of 71 occupants. The fire started at 4 AM, when most residents were sleeping or busy pulling all-nighters.

looks better from the outside, doesn't it?

Images property of

Well, the building was thoroughly modern by 1960s standards, which means that just about every piece of nondescript furniture inside was made of some toxic material that could be hazardous if ingested, inhaled, seen or most importantly in this case, burned. The fire caused a toxic smoke to be emitted from the plastic upholstery, suffocating the victims, and sending ten others to the hospital for smoke inhalation (52 others escaped unharmed). The lack of adequate fire exits, alarms and sprinklers, especially on the second floor, only exacerbated the situation. As a result of the tragedy, the university undertook a major overhaul of its fire safety standards.

The second deadliest fire wasn’t technically university property, but was associated with one of the fraternities. Chi Psi lived in a glorious mansion built for the insanely rich Jennie McGraw, and completed in 1881. Too bad the tuberculosis she had killed her just as she arrived back home to witness its completion. Well, the house was auctioned as part of the “Great Will Case”, bought by McGraw relatives who then sold off most of the furniture, and then sold the unoccupied house to Chi Psi in 1896.

The primary suspect in the fire of December 7, 1906 were oily rags in a broom closet and flammable varnish on the wood floors. Although the building was finished with stone, the wood-frame construction made the place into a hellish inferno. Most of the 26 brothers were trapped in the burning building, with some only escaping when the collapsing walls gave them opportunities (at least one man escaped by falling with the collapsing wall onto the snow below; others jumped three stories). Of the seven people who died, two fraternity brothers were killed when they failed to jump from the collapsing southwest tower, two more died when they ran back in to rescue others, and three volunteer firemen were killed when the north wall collapsed on top of them, and “slowly roasted to death” as a New York Times article of the day puts it.

Turning to less fatal events, the Chemistry Department suffers the dubious distinction of being the most fire-plagued program in the history of the university. First of all, their first building, the old Morse Hall, partially burned down in 1916. When Olin Lab was under construction in 1967, the exterior tarp caught fire while it was under construction, causing a wall of flame along the partially-completed building (luckily damage was minor). The building had another minor fire in 1999.

Now imagine a ten story wall of flames. You get the idea.

Tjaden Hall had a flat roof on its tower portion for about forty years because lightning set the original roof on fire in the 1950s and they had to remove it. Then you have minor fires in the dorms once every couple of years or so. Balch Hall had a minor fire in the fall of 2004, and one of the lowrises in the spring of 2006. I think Donlon Hall had a minor fire sometime in the past few years. Point is, they’re usually mild, little news-makers, enough to end up at the bottom of the front page of the Sun for a day, and life goes on.

Regarding the Greek end of things, things get a lot more interesting. A brief (non-exhaustive) list:

-A fire burnt down the lodge of Kappa Alpha in 1898.

-Delta Chi’s house burnt down in 1900.

-Delta Upsilon had fires in 1909, 1916, and 1919. The 1909 fire completely destroyed the house.

-Sigma Alpha Epsilon lost a house to fire in 1911.

-Alpha Delta Phi’s house burnt down in 1929.

-Alpha Epsilon Pi had a house burn to the ground in 1929.

-A wing of Zeta Beta Tau’s house was consumed by fire in 1939.

-Zeta Psi’s original house burnt down in the late 1940s.

-Kappa Sigma suffered significant fire damage in 1948.

-Tau Epsilon Phi lost the old wing of their house to a fire in 1961.

-Sigma Pi’s house was reduced to a burnt-out shell in 1994.

So historically speaking, fraternities are not the best places for fire safety. On the flip side, I’ve never heard of a Cornell sorority house burning down.

This Isn’t Your Father’s Fraternity

29 12 2009

So, with Rush Week coming up, I figured it was about time that I did another Cornell Greek System related article.

So, a fair number of guys who come back for rush week do so on their parent’s urging. Which seems a bit funny, considering the stereotypes and all, but it’s likely that the parents who are pro-Greek were in a fraternity or sorority themselves. Sometimes, someone’s father might try to prod them towards the house that they were a member of back in the day.

Well, fraternities are rather preculiar in that the character of a house can change completely in about three years, as members graduate and new brothers are initiated.  So, your father’s fratenity, while it may have been a “small nerdy house in 1970-something” or “a big jock house back in the ’80s”, may be something completely different today.

For this entry, I decided to compare the membership numbers of houses. For one thing, numbers are solid; character is subjective. Secondly, I’m only doing fraternities; sororities tend to be somewhat less elastic with numbers, especially since they operate with a quota system that sets the number of pledges a sorority may have.

The first number is the active membership number from the Spring 2009 semester for Cornell fraternities. The second number is for Spring 2005, selected merely to illustrate the dynamics of change (or lack thereof).  The last number is from Spring 1983, selected because it is a legitimate date that token rushee X’s dad might’ve graduated from college, but also because  it was easy for me to get a hold of the figures (on paper, so no links unfortunately).

A few details: Membership percentages in Greek houses in 2009 was 33.15% of the total undergrad male population, with 47 members on average (50 chapters fell under the “fraternity” designation, but that includes MGLCs – accounting for their typically small number, the reduction is to 42 chapters, then the IFC average is about 54 members). No offense meant to the MGLC folks, but I have no 1983 data for those chapters, so they are excluded.

For 2005, there were 40 IFC chapters, and an average of about 47 members per house (fraternity membership was 28.75%).

For 1983, there were 50 IFC chapters, and an average in the low 50s.The chapters that existed in 1983 that don’t today are

Phi Alpha Omega, a small collegetown-based fraternity started around 1982 and gone by 1986.

Triangle, down to eleven members. Their national would shut them down by 1985.

Theta Delta Chi, which closed in 1999 (to their credit, they have one failed recolonization attempt, from 2003). They failed to submit information in time to be included in the 1983 publication I’m using.

Phi Kappa Sigma, which closed in 1990. They had 35 members in 1983.

Phi Sigma Epsilon, which merged on the national level with Phi Sigma Kappa in 1985, closing the Cornell chapter. It had 73 members in 1983.

Chapter /Spring 2009/Spring 2005/Spring 1983

Acacia 39/29/33

Acacia was on the brink of closing in the late 1990s, when membership dwindled. It seems to have recovered well enough.

Alpha Delta Phi 57/69/56

Alpha Epsilon Pi 35/NA/NA

So, here’s the problem. The first time AEPi closed was in 1984. The second time was in 2005. Way to screw up by stats guys. I looked up their 2004 data; its membership number recorded 29 brothers.

Alpha Gamma Rho 52/63/86

Alpha Sigma Phi 51/56/71

Alpha Tau Omega 75/61/63

Alpha Zeta 55/24/53

Alpha Zeta almost closed in the mid 2000s, so that makes it upward climb more impressive. The 1983 value may be off, since this co-ed fraternity only recognized women on an honorary level at the time, so they were left off the roster. The other two values are combined co-ed.

Beta Theta Pi 30/51/49

Beta is in the midst of reorganizing, hence the low 2009 figure.

Chi Phi 73/72/ 56

Chi Psi 53/47/84


Delta Chi 82/27/65

Delta Chi closed and reopened in 2004,  hence the low 2005 figure.

Delta Kappa Epsilon 46/45/68

Delta Phi (Llenroc) 64/41/57

Delta Tau Delta 40/27/56

Delta Upsilon 66/50/60

Kappa Alpha 17/NA/39

Kappa Alpha closed in 1990 and reopened in 2007.

Kappa Delta Rho 39/34/47

Kappa Sigma 71/42/87

Lambda Chi Alpha 67/58/69

Phi Delta Theta 47/54/70

Phi Delt reorganized in 2000, when it threw out the then-current membership and started fresh as a dry fraternity.

Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) 84/53/93

Phi Kappa Psi 72/61/87

Phi Kappa Tau 56/51/34

Closed in 1994, reopened in 2000.

Phi Sigma Kappa 51/56/65

Pi Kappa Alpha 61/56/102.

Wow. I never knew Pika was once the largest house on campus.

Pi Kappa Phi 65/48/25

Closed in 1986, reopened 1990.

Psi Upsilon 37/57/NA

Psi Upsilon was closed from 1981 to 1985. They also reorganized in 2008.

Seal & Serpent 17/20/35

What happened here was a slaughter of their reputation. That was covered in a previous entry.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon 91/89/35

On the other end of the scale, the rise of SAE is impressive. Who would’ve guessed they were such a small house back in the day?

Sigma Alpha Mu 70/52/21

Sigma Alpha Mu was rechartered in 1983/84.

Sigma Chi 67/61/79

Sigma Chi Delta 12/8/14

An item worth noting- the vast majority (80%+) of Sigma Chi Delta’s membership in the 1980s was of east Asian ethnic groups.

Sigma Nu 55/61/72

Sigma Phi 58/47/45

Sigma Phi Epsilon 51/52/50

Not as stable as it looks. Reorganized in spring 2006, closed for the fall, reopened in 2007.

Sigma Pi 39/83/94

Reorganized in 2008.

Tau Epsilon Phi 59/11/30

TEP must be doing something right.

Tau Kappa Epsilon 31/34/44

Theta Delta Chi 63/40/69

Theta Xi 23/NA/NA

Theta Xi was closed in 1970 and didn’t recolonize until 2008.

Zeta Beta Tau 43/51/NA

They didn’t submit in time for their 1983 data to be published.

Zeta Psi 53/29/43

So in conclusion, although your dad may regal you with stories of his fraternity days, don’t expect to have the same experience if you pledge his old house.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 115 other followers