Fratastic Governance

TEP1.jpg

Alumni from across the country are apparently suing their fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, a small society founded at Columbia in 1910. According to an article by John Eligon in the New York Times:

The lawsuit, filed in September by dozens of fraternity members, seeks, among other things, to remove the national executive director, George Hasenberg, whom it accused of operating the fraternity for his personal gain and driving chapters away by making unreasonable financial demands while providing little or no service.

Hasenberg became the national executive director in 1999. That year the fraternity had 42 chapters; today it has 13.

Though the fraternity is supposed to have a national election every year, there hasn’t been one since 1999. Hansenberg, who pledged TEP at Rutgers back in the 1970s, maintains that he can’t hold an election since “a chapter must be in good standing to be eligible to vote.” No chapters are in good standing, since none of them have paid their national dues in full.

Though that whole paying their dues in full thing is a little questionable, since Hasenberg tended to do things like send bills requiring payment from students who had graduated. According to the article,

…several chapter presidents were concerned that Mr. Hasenberg was raising dues but not providing basic services expected from a national fraternity: holding regular national conventions, conducting training on matters like running the chapter and recruiting, supplying pledge pins and issuing an annual newsletter about the fraternity.

When [one chapter president] told Mr. Hasenberg that dues were being raised higher than the fraternity’s constitution allowed, Mr. Hasenberg sent him a document that Mr. Broughty says he believed had been doctored to insert lines saying the executive board could change dues. The cover page of the document misspelled the word “constitution.”

There also seems to be something rather troublesome about the constitution itself. So Hasenberg only holds an election if chapters are in good standing, but if chapters aren’t in good standing he remains in charge? Okay, Francois Duvalier…. Seems like Hasenberg’s got a little too much power, and not much incentive to do a good job.

While fraternity chapters were regularly failing to pay bills to the national organization, that didn’t stop Hasenberg from regularly increasing his salary. In 2000 he made $49,000 a year; by 2008 he earned $175,000 a year.

In 2006 Hasenberg’s salary was nearly 40 percent of the fraternity’s total expenditures. At the closest comparable national fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, that figure was 6.6 percent.

Last Wednesday Judge Melvin Schweitzer ordered the fraternity to hold a new national election and promised to appoint an independent body to oversee the process.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer