Lehigh University, founded in 1865, is recognized as one of the most prestigious technical and engineering institutions in the land. It also offers degrees in a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate curricula, including business and liberal arts. Located on a pretty campus in the heart of Eastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh University, albeit a comparatively small University, hosts an unusually large number of fraternities, most of which occupy beautiful homes on a University-sponsored Fraternity Row. Additionally, the University administration is extremely pro-fraternity and extends valuable help to the member groups in housing and in other ways. Such involvement could be a double-edged sword, as will be seen later.
While visiting the Epsilon Kappa (Tulane) Chapter in the Fall of 1964, this writer was approached by one of its members, Joel Picker, '66, with the information that his cousin, Jeffrey Picker, was one of the founding members of a local fraternity at Lehigh University which sought national affiliation. On his return to the Central Office in New York, this writer lost no time in making contact with the group, which was known as Tau Alpha Kappa. He was invited to visit them at his convenience. Shortly thereafter he repaired to Bethlehem, where he found a group of 20 students occupying a dilapidated frame house rented from the University. Aside from desiring to have TEP represented at such a fine institution, this writer could not help but be immensely impressed with the extraordinary quality of each member of this fledgling fraternity. He was also impressed with what they had been able to do on their own, without guidance, in a few months.
Above all, the group desired to be non-denominational, as this was the main purpose of their organizing. They stressed that all the fraternities at Lehigh restricted memberships along their own religious or racial lines, and they would have none of it. To confirm this principle, they boasted that although a majority of their members were Jewish, almost every other religion was represented in the remaining members. Their president, Gregory O'Brien, was of course an Irish Catholic. In every respect this group was worth having, and it appeared that they returned the sentiment, being extremely impressed with TEP's credentials. It seemed that all that remained was for the group to sign a petition, and they would become a TEP colony.
Unfortunately, the University administration, in the person of the Dean of Men, determined otherwise. During a courtesy call the following morning, he declared that Tau Alpha Kappa would not be permitted to affiliate in any way with a national "for the foreseeable future." He did state that the TEP National could help the embryo Tau Alpha Kappa, but under no circumstances could there be any formal association with TEP National. The Tau Alpha Kappa members were of course disappointed, but they vowed to continue, and when this writer offered assistance, they gladly accepted. This assistance took the form of "how to" manuals in every phase of chapter operations, along with the TEP standard accounting system. This writer even drew up a ritual for the new fraternity to use in initiating its future members. Even more significant, this writer prevailed on Brother Richard Roberts, Epsilon Eta (Drexel) '61, an associate professor of engineering at the University, to become Tau Alpha Kappa's Faculty Advisor.
In the years that followed, TEP Central Office staff members visited Tau Alpha Kappa on a regular basis. Tau Alpha Kappa received virtually every benefit of TEP chapterhood, without being obligated. During that period, Tau Alpha Kappa grew in membership and campus respect. It outgrew its original tiny, dilapidated house and was able to prevail on the University administration to allow it to lease a much larger house the University also owned on Warren Square.
So much had Tau Alpha Kappa become part of the TEP family that in both the 1965 and 1967 TEP Conventions, the group sent representatives to participate in the deliberations. Additionally, Brother Roberts was the guest of the Grand Council at the 1967 Grossinger Convention. Tau Alpha Kappa increasingly became a TEP chapter, in every way but in name!
Early in the fall of each school year, Tau Alpha Kappa, through the good offices of Advisor Roberts, would formally petition the University administration for permission to go national. Invariably, the petition would be denied. Routinely, with little hope for change, application was again made at the opening of the 1967-68 school year. To everyone's astonishment, the Dean relented but he set guidelines for Tau Alpha Kappa to follow in selecting a national. First and foremost, the Dean dictated Tau Alpha Kappa had to interview at least six nationals, after which the group would be free to make its selection. Second, the administration reserved to itself the right to monitor this procedure and to suggest nationals to be interviewed.
In the weeks that followed, Tau Alpha Kappa religiously adhered to the Dean's guidelines. On completing the six interviews, including one that the Dean had recommended, the members of the group not surprisingly chose TEP by an overwhelming majority. The Dean was notified, but a strange thing happened: he insisted that the officers of Tau Alpha Kappa, together with its Advisor, Roberts, meet with him in his office.
The meeting became a stormy one when the Dean announced that he was disallowing Tau Alpha Kappa’s vote for TEP and that he believed the national he recommended should be selected. There was much vitriolic argument, and the group pointed out the Dean’s intervention was unfair and undemocratic. When this brought no result, Brother Roberts angrily announced that he would blast this monstrous injustice across the campus, and if necessary take it to the courts. With this outburst, the Dean seemingly backed down, by stating he would consult his associates before making a decision. That decision was announced the following morning—the Dean gave his blessing to Tau Alpha Kappa's choice of TEP for affiliation. An unwholesome confrontation had been averted!
Arrangements were hastily made for an installation. On Nov. 5, 1967, Tau Alpha Kappa at long last became a TEP chapter, in ceremonies conducted by a ritual team from Epsilon Eta Chapter at Drexel. Not only were the undergraduates initiated, but 24 alumni – including most of the original founders of Tau Alpha Kappa — returned to Bethlehem to take the oath of brotherhood in TEP. Later that evening, at a banquet 'held in the Bethlehem Hotel and in the presence of dignitaries including the Dean of Men and local TEP Alumni, Consul Erwin Cooper presented the charter to 93rd chapter of the Fraternity. The undergraduate charter members were Richard E. Jacobs, Mark Heutlinger, Arthur Sohcot, Jeffrey Picker, Robert Hand, William R. Davis Jr., Thomas G. Roth, Paul Mendelsohn, Mark Horowitz, Kenneth C. Meyer, Roger Straus, Robert Bevilacqua, Charles M. Prager, Gary K. Edwards, Ira 0. Feinberg, Howard D. Jacob, Paul M, Jacobs, Dennis Schell and Daniel Greenburg.
With hardly a pause after the installation, Tau Alpha Kappa continued to amaze its contemporaries on campus. Almost all of them were ensconced in beautiful, modern properties on Fraternity Row, while Tau Alpha Kappa had to be content with its nondescript, converted duplex home on Warren Square. Nevertheless, the chapter more than held its own in membership acquisition and interfraternity competition. Even during the "dog years" of the Vietnam War protest movement, Tau Alpha Kappa's progress, through remarkably good leadership, was not interrupted in the slightest. This occurred even while many other fraternities at Lehigh suffered the pangs that were so familiar on most college campuses throughout the nation in that era.
The membership rarely exceeded 40 men, including the usual 10- to 15-man pledge classes well into the late 1970s. But the chapter kept its house always full, and through careful management was able to make annual improvements in its less than imposing property. Tau Alpha Kappa marked its first milestone in November of 1977, when it invited its alumni to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of chapterhood in TEP. More than 50 alumni, including several original Founders, gathered in Bethlehem for a week of partying that included the traditional Lehigh-Lafayette football game. It was a nostalgic reunion for the alumni, and they were proud of what the chapter had accomplished in the years since they left the campus.
The following year Tau Alpha Kappa pledged its largest class of freshmen, and the chapter made its first major housing improvement to provide accommodations for the expanded membership. With the Central Office's blessing and a substantial loan from the TEP Foundation Inc. in the form of a mortgage, the chapter acquired a property on the other side of Warren Square that could accommodate upwards of 10 men. With the acquisition of this annex, the chapter set its sights on a larger brotherhood, and in the years that have followed Tau Alpha Kappa's membership has grown accordingly.
In 1978 Brother Richard Roberts, who had been Tau Alpha Kappa's Faculty Advisor since establishment and who had played such an important role in the transition of the group from local to national status, regretfully resigned as Advisor due to his heavy workload at the University. In his place, Brother Alvin Cohen, '55, a former Chancellor of his chapter at George Washington University and a professor of economics at Lehigh University, was appointed. He continues to serve as Faculty Advisor to this day.
The History of Tau Epsilon Phi