By Nick Boncek
In 1825, the American collegiate system was changed forever, when (if Schenectady was anything like it is today) on a cold, late-November night, Kappa Alpha was founded at Union. Over the last two centuries, Greek life has grown and adapted into what it is today: a system that annually posts campus-high GPAs, tremendously high philanthropic goals and tends to, even in the face of the Minerva System, control the social scene.
In recent weeks, surveys have asked the Greek community how Union can be the “premier Greek experience in the Northeast.” This has come as somewhat of a shock; the same administration that removed many organizations from their houses a decade ago is now asking how to make it better. A simple answer would be, “Give back the buildings to Greek organizations that led to members’ pride in something that was wholly theirs, permitted meals together and that had, in some cases, been built and cared for by their organizations over the last century. This simple answer, however, comes with a plethora of far more complex issues.
The first issue is the financial sustainability of a switch, which is a relatively simple issue. If the three Minerva houses that are currently in former Greek houses were moved and combined into two houses, it would save $30,000 annually.
Further, by combining Wold, Messa, Green and Sorum into two houses, respectively, instead of the four they are today, the result would be another $60,000 saved annually. This would also raise the number of house members from roughly 300 to 550.
For a system that is already diluted, with approximately half of all upperclassmen joining Greek organizations, doubling Minerva size could result in the doubling of those active in their Minerva Houses. In doing this, not only would the gigantic Minerva budget seem more sensible, but it could also help make the Minerva System what it set out to be, rather than what seems to be a hugely flawed, money-hemorrhaging system.
The second issue is the relocation of Minerva Houses, and with it Greeks, which presents an interesting quandary. What would happen in the event of a pure swap, such as Sigma Phi with their former house, now Breazzano. Such a relocation would not only return a Greek organization to the house that it built, but it would also provide the Minerva System with a much closer connection to first-year students, to whom the system mainly caters.
Further, this move would remove a Greek house from neighboring first-year students, which can cause some issues. With the sizable Minerva budget, these areas could be vastly improved in ways that the underfunded Greek system cannot afford.
In addition, Minerva Houses’ ability to fill rooms would be better accomodated in the larger living arrangements provided by these Greek residences. Along with this, the smaller, formerly Greek, houses could be more easily be filled, not to mention that rising seniors would be more inclined to stay on campus to live in their Greek homes if they truly were homes, a problem the college is struggling with.
The third and final issue is trusting Greek organizations. This has been an issue amongst administrations nationwide, seemingly since 1825. In looking at the current upkeep and treatment of Greek houses, it would be hard to expect improvement.
There is, however, the exceptionally relevant idea that treatment of and respect for Greek residences would increase substantially if the college returned buildings to the organizations that built them, and in which these organizations take great pride. This change could also be expected to result in an improved attitude of Greek organizations toward the administration, as well as improving the general atmosphere of Greek life at Union.
At any school with a reputable Greek life, a staple of the organizations is the houses in which members live. Union had this until the creation of the Minerva System and the removal of Greek organizations from their houses in 2004 by then President Roger Hull.
In restoring Union to a state where it can once again proudly wear the name of “Mother of Fraternities,” it would seem an obvious place to start is relocating the Greek organizations to their houses.
Understandably, these suggestions are made from a Greek system-favoring stance. However, if Union truly desires to be an example to which other Greek systems ought to look for guidance, such a move by the administration would surely be met with tremendous alumni and national Greek support.