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UA puts fraternities back on right track.

BLAME IF ON BLUTO BLUTARSKY. He was the "pledgemaster" played by John Belushi in the 1978 movie "Animal House."

Through that immensely popular low-budget film, Belushi and his buds branded fraternities as bastions of beer drinking and bad grades. And the label stuck.

The decade that followed saw an increase in popularity of fraternities on college campuses nationwide, and it appears many of the new pledges had seen the movie. Hazing and heavy drinking were high on the agenda. Going to class was more of an afterthought.

After hitting a record of about 400,000 undergraduates in 1990, fraternity membership has dropped by an estimated 30 percent at American colleges. Across the country, many chapters have shut down because they've lost the members they needed for financial support.

The story is similar at the University of Arkansas. The number of new fraternity members at the UA dropped by 18 percent between 1991 and 2002. Between 1990 and 1999, the number of UA fraternities decreased from 21 to 16 and sororities dropped from 12 to 10.

Kappa Alpha closed its UA chapter. And Sigma Alpha Epsilon, historically one of the strongest fraternities at the university, was on probation for the past year because of an alleged hazing incident involving a muddy basement floor and broken beer bottles. If that's not bad enough, the SAEs also need at least $1 million to renovate their 49-year-old building.

To incoming freshmen, decrepit old frat houses don't look so good when compared to new dormitories and apartments.

Freshmen are a more diverse group now than they were in previous decades. Many of them don't want to be associated with a system that has the reputation for hazing, excessive drinking and poor academic performance.

But UA administrators are trying to change the fraternity system and its reputation.

Task Force

John White, chancellor of the UA's Fayetteville campus, formed The Task Force on the Enhancement of Greek Life last year to come up with solutions for the university's fraternities, in particular.

From 1991 to 2002, UA sororities saw membership increase 18 percent. (See graphic, Page 15.) Sororities appear to be stronger nationwide than fraternities. Historically, sorority women at the UA have had a culture of scholarship and service, with no hazing. Chi Omega, one of the strongest national sororities, was founded at the UA in 1895.

So, with men's fraternities in mind, the task force came up with 20 recommendations. Many of them had to do with recruitment of pledges -- potential members who typically go through a semester trial period before initiation.

Hazing is forbidden, but there has been debate in the past over what amounts to hazing. In the task force report, anything causing "mental or physical stress and/or embarrassment" is considered hazing. Hazing had already been defined that way in the UA's Student Code of Conduct.

Traditionally, UA fraternities have used verbal abuse to test the pledges' commitment to the group. Sort of an "if they can put up with this, they're one of us" kind of attitude. Also, fraternities have a history of using pledges as janitors to clean the houses. Apparently, that could be considered hazing under the new rules if the house members aren't also helping. The boot-camp era appears to be over for UA fraternities.

The biggest change from the recommendations is that pledges won't be allowed to live in fraternity houses beginning in fall of 2004. The pledges must live in a UA dormitory for their first academic year. The task force hopes that will put the kibosh on irresponsible freshman behavior.

"That helps eliminate hazing," said Scott Walter, director of Greek Life Operations for the UA. "People don't have 24-hour access to [the pledges], and it changes the dynamics of the house if you have only sophomores, juniors and seniors in there."

"What we could determine is a lot of parents didn't like sending their sons up here to live in a motel until they pledged and moved into a fraternity house," said. David Gearhart, vice chancellor for. university advancement and chairman of the Greek life task force. "Basically, we're hoping the houses will move away from a lot of the things that are considered hazing.

For some students, Gearhart said, Greek life can be "a healthy, good experience." Most fraternities require pledges to attend study hail and keep their grades up, he said.

"I believe [fraternities] can be a real positive influence on a student if they're done right and they're clean, safe environments," he said. "And that's what we're trying to do."

Gearhart said Old Miss turned its fraternity system around, and membership is up. He said the UA plans to do the same thing.

Brian Hemphill, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, said it will take two years to implement all of the recommendations.

"We're really taking it one stage at. a time," he said.

"It's not going to be an easy change," Walter said. "It's going to be a rough next year and a half."

"We really want men coming into the Greek community that view scholarship, leadership and service as the components of that experience," Hemphill said.

When most fraternities were founded a century ago, that was their mission, Hemphill said. It wasn't until later in the 20th century that partying became the focus of many fraternities.

Gearhart and Walter were both members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon -- Gearhart at Westminster College in Missouri and Walter at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Hemphill was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. at St. Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C.

Fraternity Heritage

White said implementation of the task force recommendations will strengthen the UA's fraternities. White, who was a Sigma Nu at the UA, said fraternities have a rich history in Fayetteville.

Many distinguished Arkansans were fraternity members at the UA, including Rob Walton, chairman of the board of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., (Lambda Chi Alpha) and John Tyson, chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods Inc. (Phi Delta Theta).

Fraternities have a "wonderful history and heritage" at the UA, Gearhart said. "I believe it can continue in that vein with some tweaking," he added.

"Greek life has played a significant role at the University of Arkansas" White said via e-mail. "An amazingly large fraction of student body presidents have come through the UA Greek system. Greek houses have also fared well in academic competitions year-in and year-out. Greek organizations have also been leaders in community service.

"Unfortunately, Greek successes in academics, campus leadership, and service roles have been overshadowed by a few unfortunate incidents. The latter caused some to conclude that Greek organizations were overly emphasizing social life."

"The social aspect is always going to be part of it," Walter said. "But you don't want that to be the priority. You still get people who want to join a fraternity for partying. But we want that to be No.7 or 8 on the list with academics and public service at the top."

Walter said drinking in common areas of fraternities, like living rooms and backyards, has been forbidden since 1959. But over the years, many fraternities have done it anyway. The university is trying to enforce that law now. Only students who are 21 are allowed to drink, and they must imbibe in their fraternity room.

Walter said fraternity camaraderie can be emphasized without centering the culture around alcohol.

Donor Dilemma

A major problem at the UA and other colleges nationwide is that donations to fraternities and sororities aren't eligible for income-tax deductions.

The Greek houses are classified as social organizations by the Internal Revenue Service and are governed by 501(c)(7) not-for-profit rules.

The UA, however, is a tax-exempt state institution, so donations to the university are tax deductible.

The UA is currently looking at a plan where donations could be made to the university, and alumni could request that the money be earmarked for a particular Greek house. The UA would try to work with donors to see that the money goes where they want it to go.

A problem with that plan is that two UA fraternities (Kappa Sigma and FarmHouse) own their houses and the land, and four other fraternities have 99year leases on their houses. (See chart, Page 14.) The IRS says a 99-year lease is tantamount to ownership. So for those six fraternities, donations for maintenance, upkeep and refurbishment of those houses wouldn't be tax deductible, according to the task force report.

So UA officials are trying to talk fraternity members and alumni into shortening the length of their leases, preferably to five years. But some of the fraternity alumni don't trust the UA administration. If the lease comes up for renewal every five years, they believe it will be easier for the UA to evict them for some minor transgression. The UA took over the Delta Gamma and Phi Mu houses on Maple Street when those sororities shut down, but the university had majority ownership of those houses.

"I think there are some people who don't want shorter leases because they fear the university will have more power over them," Gearhart said.

But if the Greeks don't change the leases, they won't be able to get the tax deductions, which make it more affordable to do much-needed renovations.

Ownership of the Greek houses is a bit confusing. In many cases, the fraternity owns the house and the UA owns the land underneath it. In other cases, the UA also owns part of the house.

"There is a friendly dispute on the whole issue of ownership," Gearhart said "You're talking about something that was set up 75 years ago. Those people aren't around now. A lot of this [information] has been lost over a period of time. I don't think it really matters a lot as long as the houses are under control -- have a semblance of control."

Gearhart said donations to fraternities on campus aren't currently monitored by the UA unless funds are for scholarships.

Over the years, the four fraternities who have raised the most private money from alumni are Kappa Sigma, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Chi. But those numbers aren't available to the public.

UA House History

When soldiers returned to Fayetteville from World War II, the UA didn't have enough housing to accommodate all of the new students who wanted to attend college on the GI Bill.

So the UA built temporary barracks on the front lawn of Old Main and worked out a bond issue with the state Legislature to build fraternity houses to serve as dormitories.

Many of those houses -- including Lambda Chi Alpha, Sigma Nu, Pi Kappa Alpha and Zeta Tau Alpha -- were completed in 1950. The next decade saw construction of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house in 1954, sorority Delta Delta Delta in 1954 and Phi Delta Theta in 1958.

Fraternities were very popular in the 1950s but declined during the Vietnam War. They experienced a resurgence m the Reagan-era 1980s.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon is getting ready for the renovation of its 49-year-old house on Stadium Drive. Edward Prewitt, a financial consultant with A.G. Edwards & Sons in Fayetteville who serves as the SAE chapter adviser, said it will cost at least $1 million to bring the house up to snuff. Sigma Chi spent about $2 million to renovate its house on Maple Street a few years ago.

"We're going to spend whatever we need to spend to meet the needs of men living on campus," Prewitt said. "We have new dorms being built. We want to be comparable to those living standards. It's not 1954 anymore."

"A lot of these houses had deteriorated," Gearbart said. "We didn't feel they were safe environments."

The SAEs have had other problems besides the house. The fraternity was put on probation for the 2002-2003 school year after UA police responded to a call in February 2002 and found pledges covered in mud in the basement of the frat house. Some of the pledges were apparently bleeding from cuts they received from a broken beer bottle as they tried to scrub the muddy floor.

But the probation ended in May, and the fraternity will be able to recruit pledges again this fall.
New Members at UA Greek Houses

 Fraternities Sororities

1991 282 292
1992 295 330
1993 280 304
1994 243 364
1995 223 356
1996 236 355
1997 288 323
1998 251 370
1999 235 348
2000 323 350
2001 247 327
2002 231 345

Source: University of Arkansas.

Note: Table made from bar graph

A-List Alumni

Here's a sampling of some prominent University of Arkansas alumni who
were in fraternities

Alum Affiliation

Rob Walton Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Jim Walton Arvest Bank Group Inc.
John Tyson Tyson Foods Inc.
Gart George George's Inc.
B. Alan Sugg UA System
Wayne Garrison J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.
Scott Ford Alltell Corp.
Jerry Jones Dallas Cowboys
John Paul Hammerschmidt U.S. Congress
David Pryor U.S. Senate

Alum Position Fraternity

Rob Walton chairman Lambda Chi Alpha
Jim Walton chairman Lambda Chi Alpha
John Tyson chairman and CEO Phi Delta Theta
Gart George CEO Pi Kappa Alpha
B. Alan Sugg president Sigma Chi
Wayne Garrison chairman Phi Delta Theta
Scott Ford CEO Sigma Chi
Jerry Jones owner Kappa Sigma
John Paul Hammerschmidt retired Pi Kappa Alpha
David Pryor retired Sigma Alpha Episilon

Source: UA alumni


RELATED ARTICLE: UA Greek Houses

FIXER UPPER: Sigma Chi recently completed a $2 million renovation to its house on Maple Street in Fayetteville.

1. Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) (NA)

10 N. Garland Ave.

Square feet: NA

Lease: 5 years

Value: $612,000

Expires: 2007

2. Sigma Alpha Epsilon (1954)

110 Stadium Drive

Square feet: 20,643

Lease: 99 years

Value: $1,437,000

Expires: 2083

3. Lambda Chi Alpha (1950)

120 Stadium Drive

Square feet: 21,741

Lease: 99 years

Value: $1,514,000

Expires: 2098

4. Phi Delta Theta (1958)

108 Stadium Drive

Square feet: 17,743

Lease: 99 years

Value: $1,235,000.

Expires: NA

5. Alpha Phi Alpha (1960s)

1425 Markham Road

Square feet: 3,500

Lease: None

Value: $194,000

Expires: NA

6. Alpha Gamma Rho (1967)

459 N. Razorback Road

Square feet: 14,000

Lease: 99 years

Value: $975,000

Expires: 2095

7. Chi Omega * (1935)

940 W. Maple St.

Square feet: 19,692

Lease: None

Value: $1,060,150

Expires: NA

8. Alpha Delta Pi (1938)

519 N. Oakland Ave.

Square feet: 20,507

Lease: 99 years

Value: $1,760,000

Expires: 2091

9. Zeta Tau Alpha (1950)

530 N. Oakland Ave.

Square feet: 22,426

Lease: None

Value: $1,562,000

Expires: NA

10. Delta Delta Delta * (1954)

920W. Maple St.

Square feet: 22,680

Lease: None

Value: $2,134,000

Expires: NA

11. Kappa Kappa Gamma * (1940)

800 W. Maple St.

Square feet: 22,770

Lease: None

Value: $1,489,600

Expires: NA

12. Sigma Chi (1965)

618 W. Maple St.

Square feet: 22,976

Lease: 25 years

Value: $2,652,000

Expires: 2019

13. Pi Beta Phi * (1965)

502 W. Maple St.

Square feet: 20,036

Lease: None

Value: $1,551,250

Expires: NA

14. Kappa Delta * (NA)

404 W. Maple St.

Square feet: NA

Lease: None

Value: $608,820

Expires: NA

15. FarmHouse * (1930s)

346 N. Arkansas Ave.

Square feet: 10,000

Lease: None

Value: $561,000

Expires: NA

16. Sigma Nu ** (1950)

348 Arkansas. Ave.

Square feet: 21,259

Lease: None

Value: $1,480,000

Expires: NA

17. Pi Kappa Alpha (1950)

320 N. Arkansas Ave.

Square feet: 16,647

Lease: 99 years

Value: $1,159,000

Expires: 2080

18. Kappa Sigma * (1931)

320 N. Arkansas Ave.

Square feet: 29,068

Lease: None

Value: $1,180,200

Expires: NA

(Year built) * These houses appear to be owned by the Greek organization. In all the other cases, the University of Arkansas owns the land and frequently has a financial interest in the house itself, but the fraternity could own the house. The amounts include the value of land.

** This house is currently being used for overflow housing at the UA. But Sigma Nu has the option to renvoate it and move back in. Seven UA fraternities and two sororities currently don't have houses.

NA - Information not available.

Source: University of Arkansas, Washington County Assessor's Office and fraternity alumni (in the case of FarmHouse).
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Title Annotation:University of Arkansas
Comment:UA puts fraternities back on right track.(University of Arkansas)
Author:Bowden, Bill
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jun 9, 2003
Words:2720
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