December was a busy month for Greek life at North Carolina colleges.
The Drug Enforcement Agency announced a years-long investigation into a drug trafficking ring near three N.C. college campuses, and 21 people, including members of several fraternities, are facing federal charges for their roles in distributing and selling drugs. The University also suspended the three UNC fraternity chapters — Phi Gamma Delta, Beta Theta Pi and Kappa Sigma — named in the DEA’s investigation.
And on Jan. 18, UNC's Kappa Sigma housing foundation terminated the chapter's lease to its house in Little Fraternity Court.
While the University has suspended or removed recognition from Greek life organizations in the past, chapters can still maintain a presence at the school in other ways.
So what actions can the University take? Here’s what you need to know.
University sanctions for Greek life organizations can vary from fines to loss of recognition — the highest form of punishment for a student organization. UNC Media Relations said in an email that in suspending recognition of a fraternity or sorority, the University has chosen not to recognize the chapter on a temporary basis. This is usually pending an investigation or review process.
Suspension also means that the organization loses certain campus privileges.
“A suspended fraternity or sorority may not participate in any University activities or responsibilities, reserve or utilize campus facilities, or participate in recruitment or other activities organized or sponsored by the Greek councils or the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life,” the Media Relations representative said.
According to a document by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life on sanctioned chapters, six chapters are under probation for alcohol and hazing-related incidents. Social probations for Greek life chapters include not being able to sponsor BYOB, alcohol-free or third party vendor events.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and Zeta Phi Beta sorority chapters have both lost University recognition until at least 2023 for hazing-related incidents, while the Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter has lost recognition until at least 2024 for violations of previous sanctions regarding UNC's alcohol policy.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, as an unrecognized student organization, no longer receives support from the OFSL and is not eligible for funding.
According to the Carolina Union’s website, of UNC’s 54 Greek life organizations, 30 groups own and operate off-campus houses — some of which are located right across from academic buildings and residence halls.
During the fall semester, questions regarding the oversight of recognized Greek life homes cropped up in conversations about the University's management of COVID-19 cases.
While the University can suspend an organization, UNC Media Relations said the school does not have the authority to remove individuals from off-campus housing.
All three fraternity houses suspended last month — Phi Gamma Delta, Beta Theta Pi and Kappa Sigma — were listed as sites of drug distribution in the DEA’s press release. One of the defendants told investigators that they observed “habitual” drug use at the Kappa Sigma house.
Representatives for the national organizations of Beta Theta Pi and Phi Gamma Delta both said the foundations do not own or manage any University chapter facilities.
Benjamin Cone III, president of the nonprofit corporation that owns Kappa Sigma’s house, declined to comment further on the situation to The Daily Tar Heel. In a press release, the Robert Brown Public Relations firm cited a letter Cone sent to the UNC chapter about the lease.
“Based on the very serious allegations against the Chapter and the actions of the University and Fraternity, the Foundation has no choice but to terminate the Lease, effective immediately,” Cone III wrote.
Apart from the school’s Code of Conduct, UNC Media Relations said in a statement that fraternities and sororities are also subject to requirements set forth by national organizations and the four Greek life councils to which University chapters belong.
Matthew G.T. Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said it’s crucial for different groups, like local law enforcement, parents and alumni, to collaborate to hold chapters accountable and address the effects of drug use and sales at UNC.
“Reflexively suspending a few fraternities and doing nothing else is not enough,” Martin said. “...This was not a kid, single use, taking a puff of a joint on the back porch of a fraternity house. This is a habitual, cultural issue, and so I think there's an education component. There is a setting of expectations.”
The International Fraternity for Phi Gamma Delta has temporarily suspended UNC’s chapter as the DEA investigation takes place, on the basis that the alleged behavior of students violated the Fraternity’s Bylaws and Risk Management policy, Executive Director Rob Caudill said in an email.
He said the suspension ceases all operations and activities, and further action will be considered depending on the outcome of the investigation.
Caudill said while he can’t speak directly to the fraternity culture at UNC, the national organization is investigating the allegations to understand the involvement of members and UNC’s chapter.
“The activities described violate our laws, policies and values, will not be tolerated and those involved will be held accountable,” he said in the email.
Mitchell B. Wilson, executive director for Kappa Sigma, said in an email that the national governing board also withdrew the charter for UNC’s chapter on Jan. 15, for violations to their Code of Conduct. The chapter has 30 days to appeal the action.
But Justin Warren, director of media relations for Beta Theta Pi's national organization, said UNC's chapter is "subject to suspension."
"The chapter’s official status is 'subject to suspension' and will be reevaluated as additional information comes to light from investigations into chapter and member involvement in the case," Warren said in an email. "Under this status, all chapter operations must cease for the time being."
The DEA investigation is ongoing, and more charges are possible going forward.
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