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Dartmouth College Tries to Block Fraternity’s Bid to Keep Status

  • Sigma Alpha Epsilon, on College Street in Hanover, N.H., on April 20, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Valley News — Sarah Priestap

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2016 11:54:52 PM
Modified: 6/25/2016 11:54:51 PM

Hanover — Dartmouth College has presented new evidence in an effort to block a fraternity’s bid to retain its residential status.

The fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, lost ties to the college last winter amid accusations of alcohol-related hazing. It is now fighting a decision that this de-recognition also means its College Street house can no longer serve as a residence.

The Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment in April ruled, 5-0, that the status of SAE, as the fraternity is known, was “grandfathered” under town zoning ordinances. SAE has been active since before the code was adopted in 1976, and fraternity members argued that this obviated the ordinance’s requirement that residences in the campus “institutional” district be operated “in conjunction with” an institution.

“The fraternity has existed before any ordinance went on the ballot,” SAE Trustee Jeremy Katz said Thursday before a hearing of the zoning board.

But the board also left room for Dartmouth to give evidence to the contrary, and on Thursday, the college did, sending Associate General Counsel Kevin O’Leary to show that SAE had always operated together with Dartmouth.

O’Leary presented records to show that college trustees had worked with the fraternity before 1976, but he also spent a considerable amount of time rebutting claims from SAE.

In fact, most of Thursday night’s hearing — more than two hours of it — was devoted to counterarguments from Katz and the fraternity’s attorney, Carolyn Cole.

Katz, a 1995 alumnus who lives locally, advanced several lines of reasoning. He attacked the wording of the ordinance, saying the terms “in conjunction with” and “institution” were unclear.

There could be other institutions in the district besides Dartmouth, Katz argued, including the alumni trust that owns the fraternity house.

And the association implied by “in conjunction with” was “unconstitutionally vague,” attorney Cole said.

Katz also argued that the ordinance governing student residences did not apply because SAE had never been strictly a “student residence,” but rather a fraternity where some students happened to live.

The board appeared split over the fraternity’s arguments; Steve Marion said it seemed to him that SAE could be “deserving of a grandfathering,” while Arthur Gardiner did not appear impressed.

“The residence is being operated because students are going to Dartmouth,” Gardiner said at one point. “This is not a question of language.”

The fraternity representatives also attempted to get the whole hearing thrown out, arguing that a board member had improperly communicated with Dartmouth before its April decision. The member in question, Bernard Waugh Jr., had emailed the town zoning administrator asking her to send the decision to the college in the event it was approved.

“We object to this hearing completely and request that it be deferred until the conflict is resolved,” Cole said. She argued that “Mr. Waugh’s bias” had swayed the board and called the communication a “constitutional violation of our due-process rights.”

Waugh was not present at the meeting and could not be reached for comment afterward; an employee at his office said he was traveling.

Board members that night quickly dismissed both parts of the motion. Waugh was not present, they pointed out, so the request to disqualify him was moot. Moreover, they said, the communication was well within the limits established by the board’s bylaws.

Whether or not SAE wins its zoning case, members likely won’t be able to live in their $1.3 million College Street mansion, because Dartmouth has a policy that forbids students from residing in unrecognized Greek-letter houses.

On the merits of the case, the zoning board made no decision Thursday night — its deliberations usually take place at separate meetings — and members said it was unlikely, due to their personal schedules, that they would do so this month.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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