DU Tagged for $695,000 Verdict in Battle With Fraternity

Update below: Late last Friday afternoon, a Denver jury returned a $695,000 verdict against the University of Denver in a long, involved dispute with the local chapter of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. On the surface, the five-day trial was mostly about how property is valued in an area of town sizzling with new apartment complexes and redevelopment -- but it was also a triumph of frat spirit over the bean-counters, party poopers and Dean Wormers of the university.

See also: Their Kinky College Romance Ended Badly. So Did the School's Sexual-Assault Investigation

Fraternity and sorority boosters say their organizations aid a school's good works, social life and sense of tradition. But the Greek system has come under increasing attack at many colleges. Despite reforms, administrators tend to associate frats with hazing, substance abuse and sexual misconduct, and have quietly been pushing the groups to the geographical and existential fringe of campus life.

To some extent, that's what's happened to the Phi Kappa Sigma chapter at DU in recent years. Despite a 99-year lease with the university that dates back to the 1960s, the group has undergone several relocations since then, including a move across Asbury Avenue from its previous site, four blocks east of campus, after that site was converted into high-end apartments.

The trial, held in Denver District Court, stems from what the PKS brothers claim is a concerted campaign by DU to dislodge them from their latest residence. After university administrators were shocked, shocked by fresh allegations of alcohol violations and drug use at the frat house, the plaintiffs contend they were subject to improper eviction procedures and search-and-seizure tactics. At one point, the fraternity's house adviser, a former campus chaplain and priest, was allegedly subject to false imprisonment while DU investigators went about collecting "evidence."

The fraternity chapter also claims to have been badly undercompensated for the value of the property. On that point, the jury agreed. After just a few hours of deliberation, the panel decided the value DU came up with was almost $700,000 too low.

An attorney for Phi Kappa Sigma declined to comment on the verdict. DU officials also didn't respond to a request for comment on the case. If we receive word from them, we'll update this post.

Update November 3, 12:10 p.m.: In an e-mail exchange, DU spokesman Will Jones describes the verdict as "favorable" to the university because the plaintiffs were "asking for nearly $3,000,000." Since officials are still reviewing the outcome, he says no decision has been made about a possible appeal.

"There are many chapters of sororities and fraternities that are thriving at the University of Denver," Jones adds. "DU periodically offers opportunities for expansion of Greek organizations on campus. Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity's charter has been terminated. If it chooses to do so, the fraternity is more than welcome to apply for reinstatement when upcoming opportunities for expansion are available."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast