Study: UF's Greek life in need of overhaul

A 33-page report details the shortfalls of sororities and fraternities at UF.


Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 31, 2005 at 11:54 p.m.

A University of Florida-commissioned study of fraternities and sororities on campus concludes that "the system is clearly not meeting its potential."

Fueling Greek reputations are high-profile problems - alcohol-related deaths, fights, hazing, unruly parties. And these darker tales of the goings-on of Greek life at UF have become prevalent in recent years.

UF Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin faced an example of the system breaking down firsthand within two weeks of her arrival at UF last fall.

Reports emerged that several members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity jumped some football players at a late-night party. The two groups subsequently faced a standoff broken up by former football Coach Ron Zook, who some believe contributed to the problem by confronting the fraternity members in what became a much-publicized incident.

"I walked into a few issues that were pending," Telles-Irvin said. "I wanted a second opinion."

She sought professional advice from Ron Binder of Bowling Green State University and Damien Duchamp of Indiana State University - nationally known experts in Greek life. The two spent three days on campus in March interviewing staff, Greek members and alumni. They provided their findings to the university in late June.

Overall, the 33-page report explains that UF fraternities and sororities aren't held accountable for their actions and that the university hasn't put adequate resources into building strong fraternity and sorority programs.

The university doesn't track graduation and retention rates of fraternity and sorority members, so UF is unable to say if the groups positively or negatively influence the educational experience at UF.

Nationwide fraternity and sorority membership increased retention at universities by 28 percent, according to a study by the Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

The university does monitor grade-point averages of members, and as a whole the system pulls in grades comparable with the university average. In the fall of 2004, the all-Greek GPA was 3.141, while the university-wide average was 3.195.

But numerous fraternities and sororities fall short.

Delta Tau Delta fraternity, for example, brought home only a 2.375 GPA in the fall of 2004.

The 36 members of the sorority Sigma Kappa earned a GPA of 2.498 during the same period. The scores of some smaller groups of 10 or fewer members dropped well-below 2.5 - the required GPA for fraternities and sororities.

To encourage fraternities and sororities to place a greater emphasis on education, UF administrators say they are considering raising the grade requirement to a 3.0, which is a B average, said Christopher Bullins, UF's director of Greek Life.

He's a Kappa Alpha alumnus from Eastern Kentucky, who joined UF last summer after coordinating Greek activities at the University of Arizona.

"I saw a lot of potential to make some changes that would be long lasting," Bullins said last week. "I knew coming in here there were some things I wanted to tackle."

One of the main goals, he said, is to find ways for fraternities and sororities to focus less on socializing and more on those principles on which they were founded in the first place: scholarship, leadership, service and community.

"The Greek life experience has become tainted with higher and higher risk behavior, and that has tainted what the experience should be."

At the top of the fix list is creating a clean, safe environment for those students living in Greek-owned houses so that the atmosphere is conducive to learning. Nearly 1,400 students associated with Greek organizations live in a group-owned home.

That promises to be a major challenge.

The study unveiled some troubling facts.

The fraternity and sorority houses in general were found to be substandard. It does not give specific examples of which houses have the biggest problems.

"Currently, the Greek facilities at the university are inadequate, unsafe, out-of-date and generally unattractive with some exceptions," the report states.

Most structures were built 40 to 50 years ago and upkeep primarily depends on the undergraduates living there. The houses are woefully in need of repairs, Bullins said.

Telles-Irvin, through her own investigations, learned that 18 fraternity and sorority houses lacked sprinkler systems - a serious concern considering recent deaths on campuses around the country from fires.

In May, she asked the UF Foundation, the university's fund-raising arm, for a $1.2 million loan to expedite upgrades to the fire protection systems on the houses needing them.

Those should be installed before the fall of 2006.

Following up on some of the health and safety concerns expressed in the report, Bullins learned last week that five fraternities and sororities' kitchens have failed health department inspections during the past three years.

UF, which has not been privy to this information in the past, will now receive all reports from the health department.

The university is considering partnering with the fraternities and sororities to oversee maintenance and ensure kitchens are up to par, he said.

UF also plans to hire additional staff to help broaden programming and advising for the Greek system.

Greek members are likely to embrace the changes, said John Dicks, president of the Interfraternity Council that represents 24 fraternities.

"I don't think there is anything in the report that we didn't already know," Dicks said last week.

"What I got out of the report is that you've got organizations that traditionally get blamed for a lot of bad stuff but they don't have the resources from the university to really do the kinds of things they want us to do," Dicks said.

A plan of action to increase leadership opportunities for members, improve communication between groups and with the university and encourage increased participation by alumni is being created based on a slew of suggestions offered by the consultants. Some pieces of that could be implemented as early as this fall.

But the start of the annual Greek recruitment ritual called rush has already begun. Potential pledges check out different fraternities and sororities even as the group's members size them up.

A thunderstorm Friday pushed a casual meet-and-greet barbecue planned for the front lawn of the Sigma Chi fraternity house at the University of Florida inside to the ground floor of the group's split-level house on fraternity row.

Members, alumni and potential pledges chatted politely between bites of burgers in what is an example of the collegial beginning of membership in a fraternity or sorority. They are organizations where lifelong friendships blossom and burgeoning leaders test their skills.

"We're looking for men of good character," said Cameron MacMillan, Sigma Chi's recruitment chairman.

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.

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