After two months of dialogue, Chi Theta Chi (XOX) representatives and University administrators are close to a structured agreement that would see the house’s lease lapse for “a minimum of two years,” during which the two groups will jointly manage and operate the residence.
The deal, which has yet to be finalized, will see the University assume legal ownership of the house, collect student funds for housing and pay for repairs. The Alumni Board will be responsible for managing and overseeing the residential program, the provision of food and board and house staffing.
“This arrangement allows the Chi Theta Chi alumni organization to demonstrate that it is qualified to take over and sustain management of the house once the University has confidence that the alumni organization will maintain a reliable, healthy and productive educational experience and living environment,” wrote Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman and Senior Associate Vice Provost of Residential and Dining Enterprises Shirley Everett in a joint statement.
Administrators first moved to terminate Chi Theta Chi’s lease on Feb. 8, citing “pressing life safety issues” as well as structural shortcomings in the house’s operation and finances, with the stated intent of assuming control of the house on April 2. The University, which owns the land on which XOX stands, later postponed its takeover until Aug. 31, when the annually renewed lease of the house will expire.
While earlier indications suggesting the University may have adopted a softer approach to the lease issue ultimately failed to match the hopes of XOX representatives, Abel Allison ‘08, president of the XOX alumni board, emphasized that an agreement that would protect critical aspects of the house’s culture would offer some consolation.
“Ultimately, what I care about is preserving the aspects of the house that define it,” Allison said. “If we have a defined and measurable way to regain that lease and protect the things we care about…it’s not ideal, but it’s acceptable.”
Boardman and Everett acknowledged the extensive efforts of XOX community members in advocating the house’s continued independence. In late February, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of an independent Chi Theta Chi, citing support from, among others, Boardman.
“Chi Theta Chi is indeed a special place, as is evidenced by the passionate commitment of its residents and alumni,” Boardman and Everett wrote in their statement. “Our ideal is for Chi Theta Chi to regain its independence while also meeting or exceeding our shared expectations.”
House residents and staff expressed concern, however, at the lease’s lapse, arguing against an entrenched University role in the historically independent house.
“Joint oversight denies us what we’re already clearly capable of doing — running the house on our own,” said Laura McMartin ‘14. “I don’t know how joint oversight would allow us to demonstrate that we can [do so].”
Gerad Hanono ‘12, XOX house manager, expressed concern and disappointment that residents had been largely excluded from the negotiations with the University, at the administration’s request, and deprived of any indication of progress, a sentiment echoed by McMartin in an op-ed in The Daily (“No news for Chi Theta Chi NOT okay,” April 25).
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve been left out of the process, since we’re the main stakeholders,” Hanono said.
“The amount of work the students have put in and are willing to put in is astounding,” Allison noted. “It makes us really sad that we couldn’t have everyone in this conversation throughout.”
McMartin and Hanono also criticized the degree to which the University’s presence has already become apparent to house residents. Administrators have conducted walk-throughs of the house — including one during finals week of winter quarter — as well as inspections of personal spaces. Staff selection for next year, however, was conducted under the assumption that the house will operate largely under the status quo.
“We have to be very aware,” McMartin said. “It adds up, all these things that we’re quite comfortable living with but that the University sees as a significant problem. The standards are a little ridiculous.”
McMartin argued that the University’s silence on the matter of Chi Theta Chi’s lease — and the lack of direct contact between residents and the administrators adjudicating the house’s future — demonstrated “an inherent disconnect between students and administrators,” drawing parallels to a lack of communication between the University and students on the topic of mental health .
“We residents are seriously confused about how the University is holding our lease over our heads, claiming to have our health in mind, while making zero effort to reach out and see how we’re actually doing,” McMartin wrote in an email to The Daily. “I can’t accept that the University has students’ interests in mind at all since they’ve thoroughly disrupted our community that has been functioning happily and healthily on its own.”
Boardman and Everett declined to comment on the alleged lack of communication between the University and Chi Theta Chi residents.
While Boardman and Everett expressed support for Chi Theta Chi as a “vital and important piece of the rich cultural fabric of the undergraduate experience,” Allison voiced concern that any loss of autonomy and self-management — however temporary — might irreparably damage the house’s unique character and tradition.
“The [potential] loss of institutional memory is very concerning,” Allison said. “It’s something I’m very worried about, and we’ll be doing a lot of soul searching…It’s going to take some work and conversation to figure out how we’re going to [preserve that].”