University officials, XOX representatives fail to reach agreement

Sept. 18, 2012, 3:05 a.m.

Chi Theta Chi (XOX) residents will return to campus this quarter to a house under University management for the first time, as XOX representatives withdrew in August from long-running negotiations with administrators to restore the house’s historical independence.

Following the Alumni Board’s Aug. 20 decision not to accept the University’s most recent offer of delayed and conditional independence, the house transitioned to University management on Sept. 1.

“The University…remain[s] committed to working closely with you to preserve as much of the traditional Chi Theta Chi experience as possible for you this year,” wrote Executive Director of Student Housing Rodger Whitney and Dean of Residential Education Deborah Golder in a letter to incoming XOX residents.

In an Aug. 3 letter from the Alumni Board to University administrators, the Alumni Board highlighted the lack of benchmarks offering a clear path to a lease with long-term security for the Board, the imposition of greater oversight over the traditionally independent house and demands for significant Board-funded capital improvements as apparent reversals of previous understandings with University administrators.

“At our most recent meeting, University representatives stated that legal ownership was never the University’s intention, leading us to believe that the University has been negotiating in bad faith for months,” Abel Allison ’08, XOX Alumni Board and Madeleine Douglas ’09 M.A. ’10 wrote in the August letter.

Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman and Senior Associate Vice Provost of Residential & Dining Enterprises Shirley Everett disputed the notion of any shift in the University’s position between May and August, noting that administrators only moved away from a permanent termination of the lease as a result of community support for Chi Theta Chi and a “compelling argument” made by alumni and students for the importance of independence to the house’s culture.

“We can say with confidence that throughout our discussions, we have been steadfast in our efforts to reach an agreement with Chi Theta Chi according to the proposed terms [of independence conditional on improved management],” Boardman and Everett wrote in a statement.

Allison framed the letter as a means of highlighting issues that the Alumni Board considered critical to obtaining a permanent settlement, and described University insistence on the termination of the lease and a stringently regulated interim period before any restored independence as insurmountable obstacles.

“This has been a very costly endeavor for everyone involved in terms of our time and energy,” Allison said. “There were a number of details that still wouldn’t work out.”

“The University started by taking almost everything away from us,” he said. “It’s been a process of having to fight to get back to a place where we’d be OK continuing…It was clear the University wasn’t going to come any more our way, [and] we needed to see more in order for this to be something worth doing.”

“It’s what people expected,” said Peter McDonald ’11, a former XOX resident active in events promoting the house’s independence. “It’s not a happy time, but there’s not a sense of giving up…[Residents] understand the Alumni Board was doing what it had to do, and there’s generally a lot of support.”

Administrators first moved to terminate Chi Theta Chi’s lease on Feb. 8, alleging “pressing life safety issues” and shortcomings in the house’s management and finances, and sought a transfer to University control on April 2. The takeover was later postponed to Aug. 31, at the natural expiration of the annually renewed lease.

While both parties appeared close in May to obtaining a settlement establishing a period of joint management and ownership of the house – with the potential future restoration of ownership to the XOX Alumni Board – the August letter from the Alumni Board to University administrators urgently requested a meeting in response to alleged changes in the University’s negotiating stance.

“The arrangement the University is presently offering is not one that we would be able to accept, as it fails to represent the core values of our constituency and the premise of a mutually-beneficial partnership with the University,” Allison and Madeleine Douglas ’09 M.A. ’10 wrote in the August letter.

Even while negotiations over the lease have concluded, XOX representatives and administrators anticipate a continued dialogue regarding the house’s transition to University management.

“All of us share the common goal of ensuring that Chi Theta Chi remains a safe haven for its residents and a dynamic living environment retaining many of the unique program elements that are important to students in the house,” Boardman and Everett wrote.

“We’re working out how to communicate to our own community that this wasn’t an easy decision to come to,” Allison said. “We’re in a holding pattern for now at least, just making sure that the students are OK.”

House residents are working to maintain the XOX ethos amid the turmoil.

“It’s wearing on the residents a lot,” House Manager Lauren Young Smith ’13 said. “Having workers and University officials coming through the house all the time is pretty unlivable.”

“We were talking about repainting kitchen cabinets and…nobody is going to put in the time and effort that that would take only to have it yanked out the next summer,” Kitchen Manager Vanessa Moody ’14 said.

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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