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Report from the Greeks
It was inspired by a fear of being left behind. What resulted is something that could be way out front. "The 21st Century Report on an Ivy League Greek System" -- an ambitious, comprehensive examination of and blueprint for Greek life at the University and beyond -- was released in December by Penn's three Greek umbrella organizations: the Interfraternity Council (IFC), Panhellenic Council, and Bicultural InterGreek Council (BIG-C). It puts heavy emphasis on academics and community service, and while it doesn't ignore the social aspects that are "fundamental" to Greek life, its proposals for things like faculty affiliations with chapters, "diversifying social activities," "sensitivity," and "non-alcoholic programming" could, if implemented, go a long way toward erasing the Animal House image that many people have of the Greek system.
The 41-page report was released in December, nine months and a lot of feedback-processing after the preliminary report came out.
Illustration by Susan Farrington
The three co-authors -- Joshua Gottheimer, C'97, president of the IFC; Jessica Schreck, C'97, president of the Panhellenic Council; and George Holt, W'97, president of the BIG-C -- noted in their introductory letter to the University community that the Greek system "seeks to meet the demands of both history and progress" as Penn "enters its next metamorphosis." On campus, the report was received enthusiastically. Dr. Judith Rodin, CW'66, president of the University, called it a "wonderful initiative that is very much in line with University goals," while Dr. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, vice provost for university life, said it would help "define, for Penn and the nation, possibilities and promises for 21st century Greek life." McCoullum also praised the "unprecedented" amount of cooperation between the three organizations.
Dr. Stanley Chodorow, the provost, said he was "delighted that the Greeks have formulated their own plan, because they will be much more committed to it than a plan that was imposed on them, and that their plan looks to the University's 21st Century Project as a model." The report, he added, "is consistent with what we are trying to do for all undergraduates.... We are treating the Greeks as one of Penn's residential options, so it is critical that this option relate to the other options we offer and will offer."
A little over a year ago, Gottheimer, Schreck, and Holt -- along with many members of their organizations -- shared an apprehension that Greek life was, in Gottheimer's words, "in danger at the University" and was not figuring in the plans being put together by the new administration of Rodin and Chodorow. So they decided to take a step back "and do a very thorough self-study on who we are and what is Greek life," Gottheimer recalls. "Basically, this really forced us to speak with each other, look within, and really take a look at what was going on nationwide.... We wanted it to be a model -- and it has become one, not just for Penn but nationwide. Our reports have been distributed to hundreds of Greek organizations and advisors around the country. I've already spoken to a few national meetings. We'll continue to do presentations -- selling everyone on the merits of our system."
The three organizations currently represent 37 fraternities and 12 sororities, and their combined membership of approximately 3,100 students amounts to almost a third of the undergraduate population at Penn. The IFC and the Panhellenic Council each claim about 1,500-1,600 members, while some 65 students belong to the four chapters of the BIG-C.
The plan's 10 "cornerstones" are: academics, community service, new-member education, community partnership, security, social enrichment, alumni relations, technology, sensitivity, and -- last but by no means least -- implementation. Given the report's length and the overlapping nature of the three organizations' plans, it's not possible to list all or even most of the points raised by each organization. In its academic section, for example, the IFC plan states that all chapters must, by September 1, select a faculty advisor who will fulfill the following roles:

"maintain a social relationship with chapter officers, undergraduate chapter membership, and the alumni sponsoring group of the fraternity";

serve as the chapter's liaison with Penn's academic community;

"advise and assist the chapter officers in developing and implementing educational programs which broaden the students' living/learning experience at the University";

"counsel and assist the chapter officers in developing and implementing chapter programs and activities which are supportive of the University's academic mission and goals";

"encourage the chapter officers and alumni advisors in establishing and promoting a chapter environment and programs which enhance individual academic achievement and support an individual chapter's local/national scholarship standards."

In addition, the report recommends that all IFC chapters hold at least one faculty tea each academic year in their chapter houses, which should be open to the University community; that they host at least one faculty lecture in each of their houses as part of the Greek Lecture Series; that individual chapters focus on specific academic pursuits each semester; that all chapters invite a member of the faculty to dine at their house at least once a month; and that the number of "seminar-style classes" held in fraternity houses be increased.
None of this will be easy, as Schreck noted when discussing the Panhellenic Council's plans to increase faculty affiliation: "It's going to take initiative for Greek members to go to faculty members and explain who they are, what their goals are, what their system stands for. But the truth is that they're students before they're Greek members. Academics are already a top priority."
Schreck said that her organization will also offer grants to Greek individuals or groups that present an "academically innovative research proposal," to be reviewed by a committee. It will also keep members apprised of research projects via its Web site; "compile the academic data of all Panhellenic chapters and ... present them to the University community"; and use its newsletter to "disseminate academic projects, achievements, and other scholastic opportunities."
"We're doing top-notch academic programming and service work," says Schreck. "If anything, we're overprogramming sisters. That was a fear."
The academic plan of the BIG-C, which already has a minimum-grade requirement of 2.5 for all of its members, includes developing "time- and stress-management workshops" to help improve study habits, and recognizing the chapter and the individual with the highest GPA.
By working closely with the Academic Support Department of the University, "we will be able to raise the academic standard of our organizations," the plan notes.
"My personal hope for all of this," says Schreck, "is that the entire University community can start putting aside the association of Greeks and social events. I'm proud of the social aspects of the Greek system, but there's so much more to all three umbrella organizations. It's really been an injustice in past years to have ignored all of the positive attributes of the Greek system."
"We're not destroying the fundamentals," adds Gottheimer. "We're building traditions of mentorship and brotherhood and social life, and building on these and other dynamics.... Social life is incredibly important, but being responsible is even more important. We don't want to eliminate social life; just be more responsible about it."
Gottheimer pointed out that his organization and the University administration recently reached an agreement in which fraternities will no longer collect a cover charge from students who attend parties where alcohol is served -- a practice that is illegal under state and local laws -- but will develop an alternative fundraising mechanism instead.
On the whole, said Gottheimer, the administration's response to the report has been "terrific," adding: "It's amazing how much attention we've been able to get from the upper administration. The provost, President Rodin -- they realize what we're trying to do here is be a part of administrative planning. If we did not take the time to take the first step, then we would have failed, and we would have deserved to not be a significant part of University planning. But we took the first step, and the University was very receptive to it. We want to give them a Greek system to be proud of. I think that's our biggest goal -- to be a partner with the University and not a detractor from its goals."


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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 6/23/97