SDSU May Replace Trees with Paid Friends and Frat Conformity

My alma mater is committing a double fault, proposing an expansion of housing that not only threatens trees (you know how I feel about trees) but buys into the false idea that expanding Greek fraternities is good for the university:

Greek life is growing at South Dakota State University, and officials are eyeing a pristine swath of trees for more fraternity houses.

But this is no ordinary forest. The arbors in this corner of campus are a carefully assembled collection of tree species, paid for by donors and planted for academic purposes.

“It’s no different than a museum, and it should have the same kind of protection,” said Norm Evers, a retired horticulture instructor for SDSU.

Evers, 77, designed the 45-acre arboretum decades ago [Patrick Anderson, “Arboretum Could Become SDSUS Frats,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.04.27].

SDSU, you’re going to tear up something designed by the venerable Norm Evers just to promulgate the idea that a successful university experience hinges on buying your friends with membership dues and submission to initiation and groupthink? Dear alma mater, have you lost your sense of science, history, and respect?

Associate VP of student affairs Doug Wermedal says the university can build around the trees or even spend some money to move them. But is it worth the effort? SDSU Alpha Gamma Rho house boss Dan Larson tells that Sioux Falls paper (Anderson’s words) “He thinks a stronger Greek presence would help the university impress high school graduates, looking for the right fit.” But why not let the kids who are impressed by Greek life and conformity go to USD and focus on drawing scholars impressed by more substantive university programs?

Anderson reports the “Greek Village” expansion project still needs approval from the Commissioner of School and Public Lands Ryan Brunner (Delta Chi) and Governor Dennis Daugaard (Lambda Chi Alpha).

27 Responses to SDSU May Replace Trees with Paid Friends and Frat Conformity

  1. “But why not let the kids who are impressed by Greek life and conformity go to USD and focus on drawing scholars impressed by more substantive university programs?” This was exactly my thought on the issue. The lack of Greek life was actually a draw to SDSU. From my understanding, there does not seem to be a problem drawing students to the school. Numbers seem to be pretty good right now.

  2. Bud Fetterley

    i hope they come to their senses. How could anyone think this is a good idea? Hmm, let’s see. On the one hand, we could keep these venerable old trees with a beautiful green space and focus on academic accomplishment…. Or we could tear the trees down to build exclusionary party houses. So hard to decide.

  3. Nick Nemec

    I’m not an SDSU grad, are they talking about McCrory Garden?

  4. Paul Seamans

    Why do Greek Houses need to all be in the same area. At one time the frat houses for SDSM&T were spread all over Rapid City (maybe they still are). Leave McCrory Gardens as it is.

  5. Richard Schriever

    My personal experience at USD was greatly enhanced – and continues to be of benefit to me – by being part of an independent (non-Greek) group living “community”. 5 bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room and studio space above a downtown store. Then another effort on an old farm house, same size residence. In each case we “residents” took what was a run-down unused space and rehabbed it over the summer for school-year use. No “dues”, no “house mother” – paid our own rent and utilities, and grocery bills, worked out our own problems, cooked and cleaned ourselves. Maybe rather than the Greek-life cookie cutters, our esteemed institutions of higher instruction could support those sorts of efforts.

  6. Remembering the SD kids I knew that were looking at colleges many specifically chose SDSU among the big two because it did not have the Greek scene that USD had. The impression they had was that if you were not in the Greek system you were a nobody and then there was the stratification within the Greek system. SDSU and the smaller state colleges at the time just seemed to have a more inclusive environment.

  7. Daniel Buresh

    Now, I’ll play devils advocate so we can look at the positives. Camaraderie and brotherhood. Long-term relationship development. Large community involvement and support. Diversity and much more social interaction. It has been found that greek students have higher GPA’s. They have a chance to try out leadership. Greek students are more likely to graduate college. Greek students are less hostile to women, which may be contributed to the mandatory sexual assault, consent, and alcohol abuse classes they are forced to attend.( Greek life helps fight loneliness and depression among students who are now away from their families. Greek students report higher numbers for being prepared for life after college. Greek students find a much greater support network when they do encounter problems. Greek students also find themselves safer. Networking and opportunity.

  8. Daniel,

    There are numerous college organizations to join, build friendships, life skills, with whatever interests you have including the career path you are focused on and even a chance to grow in your faith. A group of us founded two organizations that didn’t exist previously. This college now called a university did not have a Greek system.

    I’m not saying the entire Greek system is bad. One important variable I believe is the makeup or chemistry of that particular campus.

    The positives you mentioned that can happen in Greek life but it can also happen on a campus without a Greek system.

  9. Daniel,

    The negative impression many would get from the Greek system is that it was exclusionary or exclusive where a non Greek campus was more inclusive. That impression was sometimes reinforced by those pretentious classmates that we were stuck with in the k-12 that attended that particular university with the goal of getting into the Greek system and they certainly did. :)

    Perhaps it’s a matter of finding one’s own niche within the Greek system depending on the size of that University and again the make up of that particular campus but then there is the concern of stratification within the Greek system which could be looked at as a negative.

  10. Nick Nemec

    I’m not going to get into a meaningless argument about the merits of fraternity membership. But are they talking about removing part of McCrory Garden? If so, screw that, McCrory is one of the gems of Brookings. If more frats want to set up at SDSU let them buy up some of the slum lord controlled student rentals, tear them down, and build a new house on an existing residential lot.

  11. Daniel Buresh

    Lynn, I’m not saying greek life is the only way to achieve those things. In a conversation that only contained negativity towards Greek life, I was simply going to provide the other side, or positive aspects. That is all.

  12. Paul Seamans

    I agree with Nick, if he Greeks want to build then let them build elsewhere. When I used to come back to the campus for the fall term the first thing that greeted me when I pulled into Brookings was McCrory Gardens. Don’t mess with it.

  13. Don Coyote

    It doesn’t appear that it would encroach on McCrory Gardens but only extend 20th Ave into the Arboretum in the NW corner. Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity already encroaches on this corner and as the article stated this area is minimally maintained. A quick look at Google Earth shows that only a minimal number of trees would be disturbed if they just punch through a stand to an open space to the north. Unfortunately the Argus article seems to be lacking on details.

  14. Bud, that’s an interesting way to frame the choice: inclusionary public space vs. exclusionary private space.

    Nick, Don’s got the geography right: the arboretum under discussion is adjacent to but not part of McCrory Gardens. See this map:,-96.7730984,17z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0x3f11b806ceb659db

  15. Joan Brown

    The thing with Fraternities and Sororities is that they do like to party hardy. When they get that close to McCrory Gardens there is bound to be damage done to the park. I don’t think these high class(thinking) groups are a necessity to education. That being said one of my cousins donated the cottage that is in McCrory Gardens and you can bet your bottom dollar that if any more frats get that close to the park, adding more partying that cottage will end up being damaged.

  16. Deb Geelsdottir

    Looking at the map, thanks Cory, via Google satellite view, am I right that there are 4 frats, including the beautiful Farmhouse? No sororities? Or are they elsewhere on campus?

    There is space for several buildings next to that massive and ugly parking lot northwest of the frats. It’s nerd nearby. Build a good quality walking and biking trail between the two locations. Very few trees would have to go and SDSU could uphold its agricultural foundation by preserving green space, rather than destroying it.

    The new Greek houses would still have lovely gardens at their rear, and plenty of parking readily available.


    BTW, I think Greek life has pluses and minuses. They’re simply too elitist for my sensibilities.

  17. Nick, this is not part of McCrory, per se. However, it joins McCrory.

    Many mature ponderosa pine trees were bulldozed recently in the vicinity of the shrine to First Premier, aka the new stadium.

    Note that they quote Doug Wermedal as an offset to Norm Evers. Is there any evidence the Wermedal has ever planted anything, let alone kept it alive for decades? He says they can build around the trees. Apparently, they’ve found a new way to build footings. Usually they have to cut tree roots. Around residence halls, they have removed trees to keep folk from hiding in them to commit some imagined malfeasance. Will the same apply to frat houses. Take a look at the landscaping around the existing frat houses. Not many trees there.

    Horticulture at SDSU is dead, done, gone. And the trees don’t generate cash, like students, Greek and non-Greek.

    Norm is 77. Sharp as a tack. But they’re waiting patiently for him to be gone.

  18. Nick Nemec

    One of the neatest things about the football field was the mature trees blocking the wind along the north end zone, it was a shame they had to go. I’ll stand by my previous statement, the frats are private clubs and as such shouldn’t get state land for their houses. Let them go on the public market someplace around town and buy a house to rehab or demo and rebuild. There are plenty of ratty rentals in Brookings.

  19. Kathy Gustafson

    Several points in no particular order.

    The master plan is sacrosanct. Except when it isn’t. Master Plan The proposed frat houses will be in the area designated as the reflecting pool of the Folly Frolic and perhaps to the east as well.

    The University has fenced McCrory and will begin charging admission May 18. This lovely place that has been free and open public space for 50 years is now privatized. Limited funds was given as the major rationale but the University absolutely refused to consider any other funding options and did not approach the City of Brookings or its residents for assistance. “But the arboretum is still free,” they’re quick to point out. Now they’re chipping away at that.

    I have no particular feelings pro or con on the Greek system and I can understand the desire to have the houses grouped but why establish frat row where there is no room for expansion. SDSU recently took out a whole block of residences on 8th Street and put in a parking lot? Couldn’t that have been designated Greek Village? Or how about east of the Performing Arts Center? That area is test plots now.

    Bob Klein, I have to agree with you about horticulture marginalized at SDSU. It’s been folded into the Plant Science department and it seems to me that the only plants worthy of study and research now are the Roundup Ready ones. It’s a sad progression from the work of Niels Ebbesen Hansen.

    Horticulture faculty have been eliminated from the management structure of McCrory. The operations manager is not a horticulturist or plant scientist. The focus of McCrory has shifted from academic study, research, and extension to revenue generation.

    Take a look at that McCrory master plan. It’s REALLY nice. But I fear a master plan behind the master plan. Back when McCrory and the arboretum were established that area was all farmland. Brookings basically ended at 17th Ave. The the town and university have both grown a lot since then.

    McCrory and the arboretum occupy land with tremendous commercial potential. Greek Village will only increase that potential. The arboretum has been minimally maintained. I have seen no activity indicating establishment of any of the lovely features described in the master plan. If McCrory fails to generate revenue equal to and above it’s requirements (and I don’t see how it possibly can), the University can write it off. Voila! Seventy acres available for development.

  20. Kathy Gustafson

    “The university no longer uses the arboretum like it used to, and the land targeted for development is “minimally maintained,” said Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences.”

    And there you have it in a nutshell. Horticulture and forestry studies are no longer important enough to use this established teaching tool.

  21. “minimally maintained”—and that’s the university’s fault, right? The university could choose tomorrow to increase the maintenance and other activity in the arboretum.

  22. Bob, how on earth can SDSU, our land grant university, devalue horticulture? Are not our plant and animal science programs among our reasons for being, a distinguishing selling point that will draw students to SDSU for studies they can find nowhere else in South Dakota?

  23. Nick Nemec

    It’s a shame that park land is expected to pay for itself. Imagine if New York City demanded that Central Park pay for its upkeep with admission fees. Attendance would drop and fees would have to continually increase to meet costs. Eventually bits and pieces would be carved off and the greatest public park in the world would cease to exist.

    Parks shouldn’t have to turn a profit. Their value comes in ways that are harder to monetize. A city with well maintained and free parks is a nicer place to live, crime is lower in a nice place than in a crappy place. Parks are good for the soul, they give the people of the area a place to roam and contemplate life. McCrory Gardens and the Arboretum, since all the species were identified, gave those of us wanting to plant trees an opportunity to see what grows well and what they will look like when mature. In short they are a place to dream.

  24. No doubt, Nick. Parks exist specifically because they don’t pay for themselves, and we can’t expect any private entity to maintain some open green space, open to everyone, out of the goodness of its heart. Parks perfectly fulfill Adam Smith’s criterion that government provide the public goods that the free market cannot or will not provide due to the absence of profit. Good government (and good public institutions like SDSU) maintain parks for the public welfare, not to balance any ledger.

  25. Kathy Gustafson

    Nick, your analogy to Central Park is spot on. McCrory is a botanical garden not a park. That’s the bludgeon Chicoine used when we objected to admission fees. “The University can’t be expected to provide a free park for the city.”

    As a free botanical garden, McCrory has enticed thousands over the past 50 years. Those people came to stroll, to explore, to investigate, and just plain relax. Many of those people became avid supporters who donated money and sponsored benches and other features.

    The summer before last, after the Visitor Center opened, they closed the west parking lot. I drive past McCrory frequently and noticed a significant drop in visitation. Now there’s a fence around the Gardens and a fee for entrance. Those who support the Gardens now discovered it because it was free before.

    As a general rule, event centers generate money but rarely profit. I don’t see how they can book enough wedding receptions and tours to support, let alone expand or improve, the Gardens.

    I say again that the University adamantly refused to consider any other funding options though many were suggested. Chicione turned his back on McCrory’s 50-year tradition as public space. He thumbed his nose at the city that has supported the Gardens and the University. He shut out the people who sponsored benches and plantings in memory of loved ones now gone.

    McCrory is not longer a teaching and extension tool. It’s now a commodity to be exploited.

  26. That’s greatly disappointing, Kathy. I guess we alumni will have to organize a push to subsidize free admission to McCrory Gardens for the full year. I can live with the university charging us for their ice cream. McCrory should have remained a pleasant flower garden for the entire city to enjoy.

  27. Deb Geelsdottir

    Parks are very important amenities in any city. As urbanization picks up momentum, green spaces are even more essential. The fact that Brookings’ growth is so readily apparent is a clear indication that now is exactly the time that to preserve the parks and create more. Concrete is not a draw for a young, vibrant workforce.