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Nov 11, 2013 02:32 PM EST

Alabama's Greek System Is Expanding At A Record Pace

The growing enrollment at the University of Alabama, which went from around 20,000 students in 2003 to nearly 35,000 this fall, is just one of many reasons why the size of Greek societies and the grandeur of their mansions have also risen significantly over the last decade, The Huffington Post reported.

The long tradition of fraternities and sororities and their deepening financial infrastructures have also contributed to a Greek-centric atmosphere on the southern campus that has some optimistic and others concerned.

With over 7,200 fraternity and sorority members, Alabama has the nation's largest Greek system, according to one study, and it spends like it. According to a report by The Associated Press, Alabama social societies have shed over $210 million dollars on building renovations over the last decade.

They finance operations through the school, which sells them bonds that are eventually paid for by private housing groups sponsored by Greek alumni, The Huff Post reported. Other universities have used a smiliar method, but none to the same scale as Alabama and no other public universities (according to self-reports) in the state, The Huff Post reported.

"I certainly think it's a win-win for everyone," said alumnae Jennifer Meehan of Gamma Phi Beta, who heads one such housing corporation. Meehan sees the larger and more comfortable living arrangements as a benefit to current and past Greek-lifers while providing more living choices for a growing student body.

Her society is currently building a $12 million, 40,000-square-foot home. Eleven houses have been built since 2005; 10 more have been renovated,a according to The Huff Post.

"We've had record numbers. We had the largest new-member class in the country," Meehan, who's also a lawyer in South Carolina, said. "We really think this will be a home away from home."

Others worry that the grand structures feed into a powerful system that doesn't always use its influence for the public good.

"Are we building more infrastructure to create the same thought processes, the same sense of power and control as in the past?" said Francis Viselli, whose family lost its restaurant business in 1989 when an alliance of sororities and fraternities boycotted the place after Viselli's son ran against a Greek-backed candidate.

The Alabama Greek system has been criticized recently for racist recruiting policies, which became evident this year when more blacks joined traditionally-white fraternities following school-mandated policy changes, and for allegations that it improperly influenced a school board election when a former student body president won, according to The Huff Post. 

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