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Frat Sent Packing WSU ‘Animal House’ Loses Charter Over Drinking, Poor Grades

Fri., Oct. 17, 1997

In what may be a first for a Washington State University fraternity, Beta Theta Pi officials pulled the local chapter’s charter after a Wednesday meeting in which the members were told they had run out of chances to mend their ways.

Problems ranged from poor grades to bad building maintenance, but repeated drinking violations lay at the heart of the matter, officials said.

“They were just chronic in flouting the requirements of the university,” said Erv Johnson, national director of communications and a University of Idaho graduate.

Fraternity members said they were shocked at the sanction and said they had gone a long way in improving their behavior.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into this house, and it’s gone,” said Scott Forseth, a senior from Portland who, as he put it, “used to be” president.

“People don’t really know what’s going on. We’ve had 25 guys try to get leases on apartments today.”

The fraternity’s 29 live-in members have until Sunday to find new housing. Security guards are standing watch as they go about packing and trying to study for this week’s mid-term exams.

“I’ve got four days to sit on my favorite spot,” a glum Kenneth Archer said from the Linden Street house’s front stoop.

The closing of the 78-year-old chapter comes at a time when fraternity drinking nationwide is under scrutiny, especially with the drinking deaths this semester of pledges at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Louisiana State University.

Drinking is considered by many an intramural sport at Palouse universities. In 1993, a University of Idaho sorority member was paralyzed in a fall after drinking heavily at two fraternities, including the UI Betas’ “50 Ways to Lose Your Liver” party.

WSU this summer banned alcohol at Greek parties and the school and national fraternal organizations periodically discipline chapters for drinking violations and other problems.

But this is the first time in recent memory that one of the school’s fraternities had its charter revoked.

The national Beta organization has also pulled charters in recent years at the University of Michigan, Washington University, Northwestern University, Ball State and the University of Nebraska.Beta members acknowledge that for years the fraternity has enjoyed something of an “Animal House” reputation. In January 1996, the fraternity was put on probation.

Transgressions included letting the house fall into disrepair, poor grades, “risk management” problems and what Dick Phenneger, district chief, called “substantial alcohol abuse.”

Last fall, WSU’s Interfraternity Council put the chapter on suspension for letting minors drink at a house party, said Phenneger, an employee buyout consultant in Spokane.

“They did improve,” he said, “but they could not get over the hump in this one area.”

Forseth said the last straw came two weeks ago when members broke the chapter’s “substance free” rule and were seen drinking in the house.

Third strike or not, members Thursday said they were paying too heavy a price for what they look at as a couple of beers.

“We have the same sort of record that any other house has,” said Ken Coleman, a recent transfer from the University of Washington.

Cheri Barr of Wenatchee, the mother of member Chaun Birks, said the chapter may be suffering for WSU’s party-school reputation.

“Maybe that’s what they’re trying to do - make scapegoats out of this house,” she said.

The chapter will be able to reapply for national recognition in January. Johnson, the national spokesman, said he expects the house to reopen next fall.

Meanwhile, members were considering moving in with each other in apartments. One member was planning to have shirts made saying, “Beta Theta Pi - Gone but Not Forgotten.”

When someone mentioned this weekend’s homecoming parade, calling to mind the riotous climax of “Animal House,” Birks joked, “You haven’t given us any ideas we haven’t thought of already.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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