UO Greek students improve grades.
Students in the 21 fraternities and sororities at the University of Oregon got their highest grades in decades during winter term, earning a 3.1 combined grade-point average that puts them on par with the rest of the UO's undergraduates - the first time that's happened in more than 20 years.
Greek grades climbed 0.17 of a point over fall term compared with 0.03 of a point for undergraduates as a whole, according to the UO Panhellenic Council. University and chapter officials believe the improvement is evidence that a renewed emphasis on scholarship and service by Greek houses is working.
"I definitely think that as an overall trend we are on the upward swing," said Kara Merrill, vice president for scholarship for the Panhellenic Council and a member of Pi Beta Phi.
While Greek organizations have taken the initiative to improve, UO President Dave Frohnmayer also has pushed changes in Greek culture. In fall 2002, he imposed an alcohol ban at all university-affiliated fraternities and made a number of once-voluntary standards mandatory.
Included in those was a requirement that individual fraternities and sororities have grades equal to the overall undergraduate average for men and women, respectively, or that they show continued progress toward that goal.
In the fall term grade report, undergraduate men had a 2.96 GPA and women had a 3.16, marks equaled by the Greek chapters. Three of the nine sororities met or exceeded the women's average, and six of the 12 fraternities beat the men's average, Merrill said.
About 1,300 students belong to Greek chapters at the UO, out of a total undergraduate enrollment of 16,000.
Frohnmayer said he was heartened by the improvement and believes it heralds a shift in how Greek organizations are regarded.
"For the moment, these numbers are powerful enough that they do not lie to us," he said. "There really has been a significant turnaround in behavior, in focus and in seriousness of purpose."
Shelley Sutherland, director of the UO's Greek Life office, said she has seen signs that chapters are taking scholarship more seriously. Where most houses used to do little more than hold an unsupervised "study hour" once a day, most now offer better-organized study periods, have set up study partners and provide more help to freshmen who typically struggle in their first year of college.
More students are coming to the university with higher grades and test scores, and she said chapters realize that to recruit new members they must show those students - and their parents - that Greek life and academic success are compatible.
She also noted a newfound pride in the improved academics that should help carry the trend into the future.
"I'm confident that they will continue to do good on their grades," she said. "I think they're enjoying the success and the feeling of doing better and improving."
Jason Breaux, chapter president of Delta Sigma Phi, said he thinks chapters are paying more attention to how they're perceived by the public as well as by potential pledges and their parents.
"I have sensed an overall greater emphasis on responsibility," he said. "That includes risk management as well as holding each person to high academic standards."
In another sign that the initiative is working, Sutherland said the four fraternities that already have live-in adult managers - a new requirement all chapters must meet by fall 2005 - also had the highest grades last term.
Neither Sutherland nor Frohnmayer believe that every house is following every rule, any more than students in every residence hall or off-campus neighborhood are. But Frohnmayer believes that the emphasis on scholarship is creating momentum that will keep the Greek system on the right track.
"There were some who were reluctant to embark on this thing, not because it wasn't the right thing but because they were afraid they would fail," he said. "I think what they've seen is they can succeed and have a good time doing it."
MAKING THE GRADE
Leading the grades list:
Pi Beta Phi sorority: 3.41 chapter GPA
Kappa Delta sorority: 3.28
Chi Omega sorority: 3.21
Delta Sigma Phi fraternity: 3.16
Beta Theta Pi fraternity: 3.12
Sigma Chi fraternity: 3.09