LambdaGate: Updates on the Lambda Chi turf war

The original proposal for a redesigned Beta Lane, which is currently a road between Alpha Chi Omega (right) and the abandoned TKE house (right). Photos obtained by the Collegian.

MADELEINE LUCCHETTI | OPINION EDITOR | mlucchet@butler.edu

Universities are businesses. They provide a product: a college experience, which is meticulously marketed as polished and pricelessly valuable.

Private universities, like Butler, take this to the next level. The campus is stunning, the professors are invested, and the administration seems to want nothing but the best for each student — whose individual net worth chalks up to about a quarter-million dollars.

To be rewarded with one of these pricey diplomas, each student should expect to follow what are considered the Butler Commandments: Pay thy bills, overbook thyself, behave thyself.

“Behavior,” however, is a loose term. Supposedly, all Butler students are held to the same standard — but if you’re involved in Greek Life, be prepared to tighten up more than the average Dawg. If you’re Greek, and sipped a beer before your 21st, it makes Butler look bad. Considering image is everything, such indecency gives Butler an excuse to remove Greek organizations from campus, under the guise of morality and standards.

The national attitude toward Greek life has soured, and though Butler Greek culture is overwhelmingly positive, fraternities and sororities still pose a risk to Butler’s wholesome image. Butler maintains itself, as the Puritan John Winthrop might say, as “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.”

Heretical Lambda Chi Alpha learned this the hard way.

In January 2017, days after Bid Day, Lambda was removed from the Butler Greek life lineup. The Butler administration sent notice of six infractions, stretching over the previous fall semester, to LXA headquarters. Their house was vacant within weeks. Residents were shoved into campus armpits like University Terrace or CTS.

The suspension was justified by this litany of allegations, mostly orbiting around the issue of underage drinking. Following a thorough investigation, several of these claims were dropped.

Considering other Butler fraternities have recently survived more serious infractions, it seemed conveniently easy for the school to bid Lambda adieu, which had spent one hundred years as an uninterrupted presence on campus.

Around two years ago, prior to Lambda Chi’s exit from campus, Butler approached Lambda Chi Alpha with a proposition: they’d buy out Lambda, and take possession of their current land — which would move Lambda closer to Greek Row. But an agreement was never reached.

Now, in 2019, as the school continues to swell, Butler scrambles to find space. Their fight for the Lambda property is far from over.

In early January, I came across a PowerPoint packet ominously titled “Vacating Beta Lane.” Within the Butler-formatted pages are images of the former TKE property as it stands now, bordering Beta Lane, Alpha Chi Omega adjacent. Flip to page 4, and you’ll see mock-ups of a new Lambda house sitting on the TKE property. Beta Lane is gone, replaced by a strip of grassy lawn.

The packet contains a “Proposed Site Plan,” a blueprint/schematic dated Dec. 12 of last year, drawn up by Cripe Solutions. An illustrated 3-D image follows, and is attributed to Rowland Design.

It’s stunning. Among the new features are a stone porch, wide lawn, peaked windows and dark roofing similar to the old Lambda property.

We’re talking about the Lambda that was abhorred for throwing a Christmas party, the Lambda that was evicted within weeks as a cautionary symbol against the dangers of bad behavior. The Lambda that Student Affairs dismissed as unsalvageable.

Only two of four suspensionary years have passed. Why, now, is Butler dangling this expensive, controversial carrot?

Because the expulsion was never about behavior. It was monetarily motivated, just like anything else with which Butler involves itself. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

We’ll never get Danko to admit it, but Butler needs Greek Life. In the short-term, it sways the decisions of prospective students, gives members leadership and service opportunities, connects Butler chapters with other those of countless other universities, and, finally, graduates wealthier alumni. Wealthy alumni are the lifeblood of Giving Tuesday and other major fundraisers. In the long-term, when Lambda and Butler are buddy-buddy, the school would nab valuable real estate, and could reignite donor engagement from past Lambda graduates: a historically large pool.

Butler’s proactiveness indicates their true motive. It’s clear that Butler is highly interested in having Lambda, and only Lambda, built on the former TKE lot.

Consider the strange state of Beta Theta Pi. The new fraternity colonized on Butler’s campus in 2017. Beta is currently homeless, and has no brick-and-mortar presence on campus. The members meet in the Reilly Room or other designated areas for meetings and events. This puts them at a clear disadvantage in terms of recruitment numbers and overall campus presence. So why wouldn’t Beta have priority bidding on the first vacant lot?

Though Beta is a well-behaved and law-abiding organization already on campus, they have no bartering chip. They don’t own vacant land. Nothing tempts Butler more than a new construction site, and Beta can’t offer that. Whereas Lambda has a gold mine sitting across from Scotty’s and the HRC.

Beta has no alumni network, while Lambda has historical roots. Their website states that “more than 1,300 men have worn the Lambda Chi Alpha badge at Butler, and our alumni base includes more than 700 living alumni.” Some of the stars include Bill Farkas, the current Lambda Chi Alpha CEO, along with Emmy winner William C. Evans. There’s also Stephen A. Briganti, CEO of the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation, and Thom Burleson, a former distance runner who qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1976 and 1980.

For years, Butler’s been trying to persuade neighboring Hampton Drive houses to get onboard with construction on the TKE plot. As evidenced by the mock-ups within the packet, this would mean removing Beta Lane as a whole, eliminating valuable parking and redirecting traffic patterns.

Alpha Chi Omega sits adjacent to the TKE property. Any matters of their building and property fall under the judgement of their housing corporation, whose Vice President, Kathy Andry, is entirely uninterested in having Butler infringe upon the borders of Alpha Chi’s tight space. She, too, finds Butler’s lack of transparency off-putting.

“Every so often, these guys show up from the university. They come in and they’re very nice, but can’t answer a single question. They try to gloss the details over,” Andry said.

Namely, “these guys” are Bruce Arick, Butler’s vice president for finance and administration, and Doug Morris, associate vice president of facilities. When Andry pressed the two Butler representatives for a clear timeline, she said they couldn’t provide one.

She noted that the Alpha Chi housing corporation is frequently approached by Butler officials, though her board has remained adamant that such construction plans contradict the interests of Greek Row as a whole.

“The Alpha Chi Omega Butler University House Corporation is not in favor of abandoning that lane for several logical reasons,” Andry said.

Her main concern is also a perennial Butler issue: the lack of parking. Women living in Alpha Chi and neighboring Greek Row houses regularly use the 21 parking spots lining Beta Lane, and some in the TKE lot.

“We don’t want them to do it,” she said. “If we give Butler an inch, they’ll take a mile. And we need every inch of that parking.”

Andry noticed the growing desperation of the visiting Butler officials, who have been holding periodic meetings with her board.

“They’re obviously between a rock and a hard spot,” Andry said. “They’re running back and forth with their tail between their legs.”

Andry added that during the most recent meeting, it was recommended Alpha Chi cooperate with the building plans, as “‘it might be a nice gesture to the university.’”

She feels especially frustrated because these plans are being pushed purely out of concern for university initiatives.

“I don’t feel that the Greeks get the support and the respect they deserve,” Andry said. “If the Lambdas want to take TKE down and redesign it, fine. I’m certainly not opposed to another sorority or fraternity being right there.”

Butler’s reshuffling the campus cards — and cheating. They pulled Lambda from the discard pile and can’t figure out why the other players are calling bluff.

Essentially, this mess of a proposition only works if Lambda agrees to reinstate itself on campus. After being kicked off campus in an turf war thinly disguised as a moralistic throwdown, the organization may have to warm to the idea. Meanwhile, Butler will continue to woo Lambda and nag the neighbors, continuing the cycle of hush-hush money politics and keeping the rumor mill running.

Squeaky-clean behavior is expected of the students, but not of our administration.

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9 Comments

  1. Lambda Alumnus said:

    While I like that you painted Butler’s Lambda Chi chapter in a positive light (there wasn’t a lot of that for a while), and you make some good points, I wish you’d done your due diligence on some of your research. The Lambda Housing Corporation is still very much alive, as they’ve had to maintain/pay taxes on the old house the entire time the chapter’s been gone. It might have been prudent to reach out to them to get more information on the situation, rather than just to Alpha Chi who are unsurprisingly not super receptive and feed your negative narrative better. Before I keep going though, thanks for writing this – it’s good to see people still care and having discussions publicly about stuff like this is very important. Keep fighting the good fight.

    Talks were ongoing between Butler and Lambda before we were kicked off, and I can almost guarantee you that the powerpoint you found was likely a result of those talks from a few years ago. If it wasn’t, and is new, it’s because Lambda Chi Alpha nationals is already moving forward with bringing a chapter back to Butler. There are already representatives going to national meetings/conferences as the “Butler Colony.” There’s no warming up to be done here, it’s happening. Where the chapter ends up is still likely in the cards. One thing that’s for sure though, none of the old members are going to be back and a part of the new chapter – so them “pulling Lambda from the discard pile” may be somewhat true, it’s true in name only. They don’t need to butter anyone up but the alumni, nationals, and the ostracized donors who they so desperately want back. While unfortunate, that’s just the way things go.

    You calling it a “turf war” is somewhat accurate though. There was a lot of back and forth before the “incident” and you pointing out that there was a lot of much worse stuff going on at other fraternities and sororities is spot on. Butler REALLY wanted the land that the current Lambda House was on, and development there 100% was part of their lauded 2020 plan. Lots of brothers speculated that the move to kick us off was a strategic one to soften up the housing corps into selling the land for less (or even selling it in the first place). Whether that’s true or not probably will never be known. That house was the second building started on our current campus (behind Hinkle) and the first completed. There’s a lot of history there and there was a contingent who valued that. Lambda was actually preparing for a big, million plus dollar renovation when Butler suddenly approached them about moving instead. Votes were taken, and the discussion was heated as to which path to take. Part of the talks were ways that could preserve some of the old parts of the house and work them in to the construction of the new one. This is something that had been ongoing for quite a while by the time Lambda was bullied off campus by two groups (The University and Nationals) who kept pointing the finger at each other and refusing to take the blame.

    This comment is already too long, so I’ll just finish it up by saying what I said already. There’s definitely some more research that could have been done here to get some facts straight or shed light on some of the different aspects of what’s going down. This very much feels like it was written trying to make waves (it is, by the way, a bunch of people have already sent it to me). It’s understandable, because if I recall you were close with some of the guys in the house (so bias is inevitable, and emotions can take over), but part of your duty as a journalist is to make sure you get the WHOLE story. While bomb-dropping articles get more views and create more waves, a well researched and thought-out piece will not only still get read, but also ensure that the story is straight and no unnecessary tension is caused.

    • KB said:

      I hope you can find some special parts of the old house to take along to a new one. Illinois did that rather successfully with their demolition/new house construction.

  2. LXA Housing Board said:

    We on the Butler Lambda Chi Alpha housing board were surprised to read the Collegian Opinion Editor’s piece posted 1/30/2019, “LambdaGate.” We enjoy conspiracy fiction as much as anyone, but only when labeled as such. Opinions are fine, but “facts” invented to justify the clichéd chestnut “Gate” aren’t a valid basis for an Opinion piece.

    Contrarily, the simultaneously-posted Collegian article by the Managing Editor about Lambda Chi housing is accurate, with some minor clarifications we are happy to provide.

    We first approached the University about 3 years ago, early April 2016. We were planning an expensive renovation on our 90-year-old home. Butler raised the enticing idea of investing instead in a new house on the Row. It was never forced on us, not in the least. Lambda Chi undergrads and alumni had talked internally about moving to the Row for over 30 years, but it never seemed feasible. We (not Butler) decided the TKE property would be the ideal location for our fraternity, and we began negotiating with Butler to purchase it in exchange for our property. It’s a better use of our alumni investment, a better location in the center of the Row, and is consistent with Butler’s long-term master planning which we support.

    The Opinion piece goes on at length saying Lambda Chi unfairly jumped in front of Beta, which she alleges is “cheating” by the University. She asks “why wouldn’t Beta have priority bidding“ on the TKE property. She contradicts herself by noting we were negotiating for it before the January 2017 chapter closure. Beta first came to Butler and began recruiting new members in late fall 2017. We had already been negotiating with Butler to purchase the TKE property for over a year before Beta existed. The Collegian’s own 9/26/2017 article stated, “the Lambda chapter would have first choice of the vacant TKE property.”

    It’s dubious whether Beta leadership was consulted by the Opinion Editor. Even if Beta had come to Butler before we began negotiating to purchase the TKE lot, it would be unheard of for a brand-new chapter to build a house. A chapter house is an immense amount of work and responsibility, costing millions to build, and costing hundreds of thousands plus dozens of volunteer alumni hours per year to maintain and operate. That would not likely be feasible for a brand-new chapter with no alumni. The time, energy, and expense would be a detriment to a new fraternity, which is why it’s typically not done. Lambda Chi has been at Butler for over 100 years, and has the depth of alumni support required for this project.

    The Opinion piece says Butler is “dangling” the move to “coax” and ”woo” us into buying the TKE property and building our new home; and that we may not be warm to the idea. Hardly. We’ve been negotiating with Butler for the TKE property and planning this new construction for 3 years. She says our plans were “not drawn up by Lambda headquarters” but “conjured up” by Butler. She is correct about Lambda headquarters, but only because Lambda headquarters does not get involved in its chapters’ housing. That is the sole purview of the local alumni housing board. We (not Butler) hired our architect Eric Rowland in September 2016. The local Lambda Chi alumni housing board has done 100% of the designing, not Butler.

    As to Beta Lane, vacating it is not required for construction. But as we designed our new home it became clear that dividing that space half to the TKE lot and half to Alpha Chi, as new green space, would aesthetically improve Hampton Drive, the campus, and both Greek properties. We asked Butler to pursue this possibility, not the other way around. I’m perplexed by Ms. Andry’s statements that Alpha Chi members “use the 21 parking spots lining Beta Lane, and some in the TKE lot,” and Alpha Chi “owns the property.” They obviously do not own the property. The street is owned by the City, and the TKE lot is owned by Butler and will belong to a new fraternity as it did to the prior fraternity. Once a fraternity returns to that location, the Alpha Chi’s won’t have any of the TKE spaces; and its members will likely find significantly fewer than half of the 21 street spaces, when competing with all Butler students with “B” parking passes including the over 100 members of the adjoining replacement fraternity.

    That said, Ms. Andry’s objection to turning Beta Lane into green space has been beneficial, because it has caused us to rethink the proposal. We are now suggesting the street be turned into a single lane one-way drive with angled parking down both sides. That will more than double the current number of spots, which will further relieve Butler’s overall parking issue.

    Her statement that Butler is “obviously between a rock and a hard spot,” and “They’re running back and forth with their tail between their legs,” is frankly as boorish as it is false. Vacating Beta Lane to make it private instead of owned by the City is not required for a new fraternity house, but would significantly benefit Alpha Chi as well as Butler students generally by creating more parking, not less.

    The Opinion’s statement that “Lambda, who would have to agree to the proposition, either has no idea one is in the works, or doesn’t care to seal the deal,” is completely false. The “proposition” is ours; we obviously know about it, and we very much intend to “seal the deal.”

    We are very pleased with the design, and we appreciate the piece’s observation that it is “stunning.” Thank you; we (not Butler) have worked hard on it with our (not Butler’s) architect. In replacing the decaying TKE house, it will be a beautiful addition to campus assuming Butler agrees to complete our purchase.

  3. 2013 Alumi said:

    This is poorly written, and lacks an unbiased presentation of facts that is required of journalists. I realize that this is an opinion piece, but don’t mistake opinion for tall tale.

  4. Student said:

    I want very badly to be able to support this piece, and the situation it is addressing, but the disregard for fact and the lack of input from all sides of the story is disheartening. Regardless of the fact that it is an Opinion piece, it is missing so many interviews that would have strengthened the story immensely, namely the LXA housing board, Beta Leadership, and Butler University Officials themselves. I understand the Butler officials in particular would have likely been dodgy on the subject, but even still that would have strengthened the context you are building. The LXA housing board spoke for itself in a previous comment, but as for Beta Leadership it is unfortunate you spoke to their situation without them supporting your claims or offering their own context to their housing deliberations with the University. They have had their own difficulties getting University officials to engage them regarding a house, because it has been established by Beta they have both the funds and resources to build one they are just waiting on the University to give them a location. Their housing representative from theor national office was even on campus as recently as last week continuing housing deliberations between Beta Nationals and Butler Officials. That representative would have almost certainly sat for an interview if asked. Reaching out to Beta student leadership at least would have provided context to the reader as to how their housing experience has played out with the University, as opposed to you speaking for them. It would have strengthened your claims.

    The University’s actions in prioritizing their own self interest above students and organizations is fairly clear, but this piece does an inadequate job of establishing that given the facts and sources used. I wish this piece had been given another week of work, and I wish all relevant sources were considered and reached out to.

    Best to you regardless, and thank you for speaking on the topic even under these circumstances.

  5. James Lustig said:

    Reading this article as a member of Beta on this campus is very frustrating. The claims made about our organization in this article are either completely false or misconstrued. The article does not talk about our organization for long, but somehow manages to fit every single preconception about our organization in just 7 sentences.

    Thankfully, the writer did correctly state that we first arrived on campus in 2017, so we have been around for a bit. She also was right on the money when she pointed out that we have no brick-and-mortar presence on this campus.

    However, the claim that Beta meets in the Reilly Room is misinformed. Beta had one philanthropy event this past semester in the Reilly Room, but besides that, we have not once met in that room. That really is not important, but the main point of this statement in the article is a jab at our organization.

    Yes, not having a house may put us at a disadvantage in certain areas, but not to the degree this article claims. Yes, it’s more difficult for our organization than others who have a house on this campus to show our presence, but to say we haven’t made our presence on this campus known is not fair.

    The claim Beta has no alumni network in the Indianapolis area is egregious. Beta Theta Pi as a national organization has one of the most connected and largest alumni network of any organization. Beta at Butler has been able to tap into this alumni network, because believe it or not there are Betas that live in the Indianapolis area, and those Betas are willing to support our chapter even though they may not have graduated from Butler University. Not only have we received overwhelming support from our alumni network in our colonization year and support for our growth, our alumni network has already offered several professional opportunities for our current members.

    Now that I’m through defending my organization from the claims this article makes (which is extremely disappointing considering we are not even the subject of this article) I’d like to address the other more obvious way that our organization relates to this issue, and that is our house. The article poses the question “Why wouldn’t Beta have priority bidding on the first vacant lot?” This, I sense is the author raising a question it outrage in favor of our organization. Had the writer actually spoken to anyone in our organization, especially in the recent weeks, they would see that including us in this article as a means to point out how we are being treated unfairly is completely irrelevant and not the case.

    Another thing that disappoints me about this piece, is that it voices a concern that many in Butler’s student community share, however its message is tainted by unbased claims and lack of fact checking. Just reading the responses from some of Lambda’s leadership who reacted to this article made that apparent from their side. Had the writer reached out to all parties before writing this piece it could have represented a frustration within our community even after accounting for all the facts. Instead, the piece makes generalizations and jumps to conclusions, and makes Greek Life at Butler look more toxic and vengeful than thoughtful and organized by relaying stereotypes about one of its student organizations, and making conclusions before considering all of the facts.

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