Critics say the fraternity system provides little more than an organized opportunity for drinking and hazing and contributes nothing to the educational environment most universities are after. Even some of the fraternities' brethren are willing to cop to declining interest in the Greeks.

"Most of our national organizations are feeling the impact as we look at the number of new recruits at pledge time," says a former member of ASU's Delta Sigma Phi who has worked with the fraternity's national chapter and, therefore, didn't want to be quoted by name. "We're having a long and hard look at whether we're providing a real service to a college community with the scholarship and leadership opportunities that the Greeks used to offer."

The Greek system at ASU was never all that great to begin with. "Mostly, we just drank and got clobbered, you know," the former Sigma Phi member says. "There was never really a lot of focus on the tradition of our fraternity or whatever. It was just about belonging to a cool club. Being 'in' instead of 'out.'"

Michael Ratcliff
Michael Ratcliff

ASU's answer to keeping its "cool clubs" alive is not to do away with the Greek system, but to force it to behave. The most effective way to do that also guarantees that the university will wind up with millions of dollars of Alpha Drive property at its disposal. And that's moving the frats into barracks-like dormitories like Adelphi II, one of the newer residential buildings on ASU's Tempe campus.

"We call it 'The Prison,'" says one member of the Delta Chis who also asked not to be named. The Chis are housed in Aldephi II, where their partying is more easily curtailed by strict rules and regulations designed to eliminate alcohol use on campus. (Alpha Drive remains the only spot on campus where drinking guidelines remain relatively lax, at least for those of legal drinking age.)

All this control, Slayton says, will drive a stake through the heart of the already ailing ASU Greek system. The Chis already feel completely divorced from Greek life, he claims, because they were consigned to housing away from the other fraternities after their Alpha Drive house was demolished. It's the first step, he believes, in doing away with the fraternities altogether.

One can hardly blame ASU for wanting to strangle its Greek frat boys, considering its collective recent past. There was the mess with student government vice president Brian Buck's appearance in Shane's World #29: Frat Row Scavenger Hunt 3, which Buck allowed to be filmed inside the Sigma Nu house in September of 2001. Worse, there was the death of freshman Jessica Woodin that same year. After partying at the university's Lambda Chi Alpha house, the 19-year-old was killed in a hit-and-run accident by an ASU alumnus who's now in prison. The Lambda Chis were shut down by their national organization the following year.

Abraham, the Greek spokesman, insists there's no attempt to condemn or do away with the Greek system at ASU, in spite of its various misconducts. He calls the Greeks "an important part of this and any other major university" and is expecting this year's frat rush to be "as big as it's ever been." He swears that, as far as he knows, the sororities "thrived" after being uprooted and moved into campus dorms.

Yet the stories of debauchery and death get trotted out whenever anyone tries to stand up for keeping the Greek frats where they're at. These are sad stories but, Lockley says, they're a flimsy argument for tearing down significant architecture in a town that has precious little of it to begin with.

"They don't care about architecture," Slayton says. "Which is too bad, because I'd say pretty much every person in every frat wouldn't want to see the old places knocked down. One of the, like, cool things about being in a frat is all the history. But ASU thinks the frats are an eyesore."

At one time, those eyesores were a point of pride for ASU. Building a Greek row from scratch was an unusual move for a university of any size, but in Tempe, it was practically a necessity. Where American colleges typically bought up old, dilapidated houses near their campuses and renovated them as dorm and fraternity housing, the newish city of Tempe had no nearby old Victorians to offer up.

But rather than housing its Greeks in a single, perched fraternity house, as has Northern Arizona University, or scattering on-campus houses designed by the architect that designed its classroom buildings, as did the University of Arizona, or hiring an up-and-coming firm to slam up claptrap college housing, the Regents went looking for the best local architectural talent of the day, commissioning from each firm a frat house that would represent the distinctive style of its namesake or lead designer. The list included both already famous and up-and-coming architects, and reads today like a register of some of the most important names in our architectural history: Kemper Goodwin; Fred Guirey; Ralph Haver; Ed Varney, T.S. Montgomery, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Associated Architects. Each architect was given free rein, and each approached the commission as that rarest of assignments: a chance to create a building that would stand as a unique example of his own style and imagination, one that would be displayed alongside nine other buildings by nine other designers. For many of the architects, the money offered was lousy, but the chance to compete for attention on the same short stretch of land with every other designer of distinction was apparently too great an opportunity to pass up. Each of the 10 firms agreed.

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