Beta chapter loses national affiliation

The Yale chapter of Beta Theta Pi has been disbanded by the fraternity’s national parent, the organization announced Wednesday, though the chapter has vowed it will not shut down.

A Beta member, David Light ’09, was arrested last month for allegedly firing a handgun inside the fraternity and keeping a stockpile of weapons in his bedroom, and the organization said that arrest contributed to the fraternity’s decision to disband its Yale chapter. Still, leaders of the Yale chapter said Wednesday night that Beta will not close but will instead continue to operate this year as an independent, unaffiliated fraternity.

“The Chapter has struggled in recent years,” the Beta Theta Pi national organization said in a statement, citing problems with the chapter’s financial management and its adherence to the organization’s policy regarding, among other things, alcohol.

In November 2005, the chapter was placed on probation for violations of that policy and, a year later, was moved to “suspended” status for failing to meet certain financial obligations, the organization said. The chapter was scrutinized by a panel of delegates at the fraternity’s national convention on Saturday, and those delegates decided to cut ties with the chapter, the organization announced.

“As a result of this history, coupled with the July 13, 2007 incident at the chapter house involving David Light, Yale ’09, the Chapter was reviewed … and subsequently moved to ‘Disbanded’ status on the Convention floor,” the organization said.

The disbandment came as a surprise, said Brad Hann ’09, the president of Beta’s Yale chapter. But Hann said members of the fraternity have discussed in recent years whether it might be best to break off from the national organization, and he said the fraternity’s decision to close its Yale chapter will not have any serious effect on the group.

“The Beta house is going to be business as usual next year,” Hann said. “People on campus know us. We’re not going to change. We’re just looking forward to a good year next year.”

If anything, the fraternity might change its name to just “Beta,” as most Yale students now know the fraternity, Hann said. In all likelihood, the fraternity will operate without any national affiliation, which should prove beneficial in the long term since Beta will no longer have to pay dues to a national organization and could instead spend more money on its own activities, he said.

Beta chapters at Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia have also been shut down by the national organization in past years, Beta members said. And the organization’s problems with the Yale chapter stem from only a few, isolated incidents in the past few years, Hann said.

Two years ago, the national organization found a keg at the fraternity house, which first put Beta in trouble. Then, this summer, a University of Connecticut student rooming at the Beta house for the summer hosted a keg party and posted photos of it on Facebook, which were uncovered by Beta officials, raising their ire.

The arrest of Light, Hann said, “was just the nail in the coffin.”

Light was arrested July 16 after a visitor to the Beta house at 36 Lynwood Place reported that the Calhoun College junior, apparently under the influence of alcohol at the time, had fired a handgun into the ceiling of the fraternity’s living room. Police found a cache of weapons, including two illegal assault weapons, in his bedroom.

Light, who students described as an avid gun enthusiast, was charged with two counts of illegal possession of assault rifles, unlawful discharge of a firearm, reckless endangerment in the first degree, threatening in the second degree and breach of peace in the second degree. He is next scheduled to appear in New Haven Superior Court on Aug. 23 and remains suspended from the University pending a meeting of the Executive Committee in the fall.

Beta members indicated that Light’s gun collection was no secret and, if it had been locked properly in a cabinet in the fraternity’s basement, as was supposed to have been the case, they thought the guns would not have violated any of the national organization’s policies. Beta Theta Pi permits some weapons to be housed in a fraternity house as long as they are unloaded, disassembled, and locked away.

The arrest attracted national attention, and in a statement following Light’s jailing, the University quickly distanced itself from the fraternity, noting that it has no official affiliation with Yale.

David White, Beta’s founder and the president of Second Century Fund, Inc., as the Yale chapter is legally known, said he had no doubt the fraternity would prosper even without the national affiliation.

“The boys have been thinking of getting out of Beta for a while,” he said. “The fraternity will go local, it will prosper. We have a huge alumni network.”

White, who owns Universal Hotel Liquidators on State Street, also founded the Beta chapter at Princeton. The Princeton chapter is now doing better than ever after being cast off by the national group, he said.

The Yale chapter’s disbandment was first reported late Tuesday by the blog IvyGate by way of an anonymous tip.

The national Beta organization said the Yale chapter’s charter, ritual books and other property will be securely stored by the parent organization, and all of the fraternity’s members will be moved to “alumni” status. Upon graduation, the organization said, those students will be entitled to the same benefits granted to other Beta Theta Pi alumni.

The dissolution of the Yale chapter does not mean Beta members who live at the house are now homeless, as Second Century Fund, Inc., not the national organization, owns Beta’s house on Lynwood Place. The organization bought the 107-year-old, 5,600-square-foot house, valued at more than $400,000, in 1992, according to the New Haven Assessor’s office.

In regard to the fraternity’s finances, Hann said Beta and the national organization had been mired in a long-running disagreement over member dues, as some Beta members could not afford to pay hundreds of dollars per year in dues and, as a result, put the chapter several thousand dollars into debt with the national organization. The fraternity did not want to kick out economically-disadvantaged fraternity members as a way to get out from under that debt, Hann said, and so the debt continued year after year.

An examination of Beta’s most recent tax filings shows that the chapter lost money as recently as 2005 but did appear to be on the mend as far as its financial status was concerned.

In 2005, for instance, the chapter posted a yearlong loss of just over $3,000, leaving the fraternity with barely over $17,000 in cash on hand, according to its tax filing. But in 2006, Beta was back in the black, bringing in $28,000 more than it spent, according to its most recent Internal Revenue Service filing. Still, though the fraternity listed owning property worth around $200,000, it also disclosed over $180,000 in debt on that most recent filing.

Beta Theta Pi, founded at Miami (Ohio) University in 1839, has more than 125,000 members, including 6,000 students at more than 100 colleges across the country. The fraternity’s Yale chapter was founded in 1892, though it went defunct in the 1968 and was resurrected by White in 1990.

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