There comes a time when every fraternity must face a challenge so daunting it will shake a man to his core. We’ve had our ups and downs these past four years back on campus, but each challenge has made us closer as a brotherhood and we've tripled in size.
Now, the men of Phi Kappa Psi face their greatest challenge, yet, since reopening in 2010 – the acquisition of their chapter house and property by the University of Oklahoma.
Phi Psi has had a long and rich history for 94 years at OU. In 1919, the men of the local Kappa Psi organization petitioned for a charter to Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. That next year, in 1920, a charter was granted and the men in Norman became the 69th chapter and earned the title of Oklahoma Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.
There have been several prominent graduates from the University of Oklahoma who were members of Phi Psi, including Rob Standridge, who currently serves as our Oklahoma Senator for District 15. One of our most historic alumni is Stanley B. Catlett, for whom the OU Catlett Music Center is named. He and his brother, Eugene, were founding fathers of Phi Psi in 1920. These influential and generous men were badge number two and three, respectively, and set the foundation for Phi Psi’s grand history here at OU. The wood paneled formal study room at the fraternity house is also named after the Catletts and it does, indeed, smell of rich mahogany.
NASA astronaut, Dr. Owen Kay Garriott, was initiated into Phi Psi in 1949. Garriott’s first spaceflight was the Skylab 3 mission in 1973. That flight set a world record of 60 days in space, doubling the previous record. His endeavors in the field of engineering show the brothers, today, that even men from Oklahoma can reach the stars.
Paul Gadd was initiated in 1986 and, upon graduation, took his talents to Hollywood. He got his first big break as an associate producer on the show 24. Currently, he is the executive producer on AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is watched ritualistically after chapter each Sunday. Brother Gadd has come a long way from shooting Phi Psi’s recruitment videos back in the 80s.
Currently, Phi Psi has 32 active brothers and a member GPA of 3.12, with a 13-man spring pledge class. Phi Psi has two National Merit Scholars, two President’s Community Scholars, two President’s Leadership Class Members, a Conoco-Phillips Scholarship award winner, CAC and UPB members and a national officer in its ranks. The fraternity is very active with the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma City and enjoys teaming up with the sororities on campus to help the kids of OKC.
Now, Phi Psi faces a challenge that they have little control over. Since 1964, the University of Oklahoma has owned the property the chapter house is built on and the fraternity has had a lease agreement with the University. As any great college grows, it requires more land to build academic buildings or residence housing. Next door to the north, Zarrow Hall was recently built and, across the street, major renovation is underway on other university buildings.
It appears that 720 Elm is next on OU’s radar. After residing on this property since the 1960s, our time here is coming to a close. The university has recently decided not to renew the lease, nor will they provide an opportunity for any future negotiations, giving the fraternity a mere five months to find new accommodations for 32 brothers and a place to continue chapter operations. This is sad and an additional stress for the brotherhood on top of the typical pressures of college life. Being forced out of the chapter house has no effect on the charter, nationally or locally, for and is not due to any volition of campus policy or regulations. The fraternity will continue operations and keep growing, as it has in recent years.
The National Executive Director of Phi Kappa Psi, Shawn Collinsworth, made a supportive statement affirming that, “Phi Kappa Psi has a very proud history and tradition at the University of Oklahoma. Nearly 1,400 members have been initiated into the chapter. Over the past several years, the local alumni and undergraduate membership have enjoyed immense improvements in the chapter. Furthermore, the chapter continues to be good partners with campus administration, following all campus policies.”
There is something funny about a rivalry that makes us strive harder to be the best men and women that we can possibly be. However, every once in a while we can put aside our problems with one another for the benefit of the Greek community as a whole. Phi Psi president Kevin Copeland has reached out to the presidents of all the other IFC and Panhellenic chapter presidents. He states, “In the near century that Phi Kappa Psi has been at OU, we have played a pivotal part in the OU community. The connections and partnerships that we have made with the other Greek organizations on campus have made the community stronger. The recent decision by the university not to renew our lease is no doubt one that we, along with many other IFC chapters, see as unfit and inconsiderate. It’s very comforting to see the Greek community rally behind us when we need it most. United we stand as Greeks, regardless of the letters we wear. We are proud to be Phi Psis and will always be Sooners, regardless of the decision made by the university.”
The chapter's capital campaign has raised money from the donations of alumni for a new facility to build a new chapter house by 2020. In the meantime, Phi Psi wishes to remain at 720 Elm with a long term lease commitment to allow the fraternity to continue normal chapter operations and make progress here at OU. Phi Kappa Psi will remain at the University of Oklahoma for years to come, as it has since 1920, whether or not it resides at 720 Elm. Phi Psi simply asks the Greek community to speak out, as you see fit, in support of their efforts to have a fighting chance to grow as a fraternity of gentlemen.