Monday, February 26, 2007

CLA Bloomington, Indiana: Welcome to IU

The Bloomington CLA was hosted at the Indiana Memorial Union, Hotel & Conference Center on the campus of Indiana University. Other than a bit of confusion realizing that our hotel was right on campus, this CLA proved to be a nice change of pace. There was more than one comment on the activity in the union and the beautiful architecture. Due to a recent snowfall, earlier that week, of nearly 8” of snow throughout the Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan region, turnout on Friday night was extremely low, at nearly 70 people present for the CLA kickoff. The looming weather and a healthy underestimate of travel time to IU played a distinguishing role. Attendance numbers slowly increased throughout the night and capped off around 200 to 210 attendees. You could audibly hear a collective sigh of relief from the tense faculty as the crowd filled in. Tired and hungry brothers proved tough to motivate on Friday night, and morale was low, but many brothers pushed on through the Chapter Plan / Buchanan cup exercise to close out the sessions on Friday night.

There were a number of notable volunteers present for the weekend. National Board of Directors member, and chair of the National Committee on Volunteers, Phil Cox, was proud to host CLA at his home chapter at IU (Indiana SEC / IN Beta). National Leadership Committee members, Tom Barton and Ron Binder, as well as National Committee on Volunteers member Steve Taylor were in attendance. Other faculty in attendance included Kathy Johnston (Director of Risk Management), Craig Templeton (Executive Director), District Governors Marcus Robinson (Ohio) and Sam Moschelli (Michigan), Dr. Rick St. John (OGH), Dave Bertorello (Past Staff), Shawn Dalgleish, John Milliken, Jason Cherish (HQ Staff), Steven Kolanowski, and rounding it out were the two region’s Regional Directors and a number of soon to be RD’s. Cameos were made by Director of Operations, Chris Minnis, and Director of Volunteers, Gary Huff, as he continued his whirlwind tour of every CLA across the country.

Gary held court Friday night in the Distinguished Alumni Room of the union where he met with about 25 of the volunteers that were present. Phil Cox explained the progress of the National Committee on Volunteers, and Gary spelled out the next steps. Gary showed everyone an example of one on-line training module that highlighted the high points of forming a corporation followed by a tour of www.sigepfoundation.org. (Sign up now for membership if you haven’t already). Gary then explained that there will be 100 trainers across the country that will be making the rounds to every AVC, every other year, to train and update on the local level. One of the next steps is implementing the training programs in a number of varying test markets to gauge its success, and work out the kinks. You can bet that everyone wanted to be in the test market. Gary finished things off with an excited discussion of issues that volunteers brought forth at the conclusion of the meeting, while NCV member Steve Taylor sat inconspicuously in the back taking notes on what the customer had to say. Volunteers ended the discussion leaving with one of their own personal volunteer goals clearly stated as well as gaining another volunteer from a different chapter as a follow-up mentor. As stated in some of our previous CLA reports, the volunteer track was vague. District Governors took some of this time and time during the chapter planning session to meet with their district’s volunteers and help to map out the best path for them at CLA.

The staff did its best to turn the weekend around from a dismal Friday night to an exciting Saturday. It was overheard that there was a combined 300 CLA’s between all the faculty members in attendance. This proved beneficial to a successful Saturday set of sessions. As the day moved forward our brothers proved inquisitive, engaged, and excited. Decorum was business casual until ritual, but many wore suits all day. I guess you can expect that type of thing at a CLA where you have at least 14 Buchanan Cup chapters. Shawn Dalgleish’s Presidents session had great interaction as they produced three full flip chart pages of ideas to leave with. After in-depth conversations about Standards Board and conduct, the Chaplain’s session with Dr. St. John took an innovative approach and combined the afternoon session with the Ritual Team’s practice session, which proved beneficial to all. Chaplain’s also gained some tips and tricks from the unofficial Balanced Man Program Chaplain’s Guide, an adaptation of the 1970’s & 80’s version of the Chaplain’s Guide, that has been circling around some CLA’s. It’s is filled full of underutilized ceremonies, standards board nuances, and ritual insights that can be incorporated with the different phases. A high energy Member Development session led by John Milliken merged with a productive Programming session let by Steve Taylor. The big take away was to kill two birds with one stone and tie your membership development events into your programming and not have separate calendars. A poll was taken of various event ideas each chapter uses, and classified under a number of different categories. Ideas were shared from around the room, with an interesting outcome. Here’s a tally of the ideas in each category:

Civic & Servic (6)
Social (4)
Leadership/professional development (2)
Health & Wellness (2)
Cultural (2)
Academic (1)
Ritual/values (0)

I think this tally in itself speaks volumes about what chapters are taking away as the focus of the fraternity. Is it really becoming SigEp Inc? Have we lost sight of two of the most fundamental components of a fraternity? The fact that this cross section of our chapters tallied a total of ZERO events for Ritual/values utilized above and beyond our typical ritual requirements is eye opening. Even the goal of that which we seek, the graduation diploma, Academics, only had one event worth mentioning. We’re in this together, why does academic success need to be solely on the individual when, as a chapter, we have the means as a group to pull together and take it to a whole new level? It is arguable that if there is a focus on the last two items above, then the other 5 will take care of themselves. I have a great appreciation for all of the above listed areas of focus, and am grateful for the things I’ve learned throughout the Leadership Continuum track. SigEp is leading the charge in the rebirth and validity of Greek life back onto our campuses and it is doing so by becoming a “partner in higher education”. We’re also leading the way in the nationwide fraternity g.p.a., and the Balanced Man Scholarship is our key. We’re finding smarter, and more motivated, active men. Let’s not let the BMS be our only academic event. Utilize the Residential Learning Community program, and if you can’t become one, dissect it and incorporate as many pieces as you can. The other take away from all of this is that the last two items, Ritual and Academics, are just so embedded into a typical chapter’s life, and programmed by HQ and volunteers, that the things they do for those are just ingrained in the chapter psyche and that they just don’t realize they’re doing some cutting edge things. I hope this is the take away, but I fear it is somewhere in between.

The Bloomington CLA finished out on a high note. There was little to no attrition in the final Hot Topic sessions. In fact, they were packed to the gills. The Ritual team from Valparaiso conducted an excellent Epsilon Rite of Passage as they initiated Michael Chown from the Indiana SEC chapter at Indiana University. The Ritual Discussion led by Sam Moschelli turned into an exciting and thought provoking session as our younger members gave their interpretation of the symbolism and meaning found in the keynote of our fraternity located on our chapter charters and membership certificates. Ron Binder and Phil Cox closed out the evening with equally entertaining speeches at dinner. Ron’s “mom” called while he was up at the podium and we all got to listen in on the weekend recap to his mother. “Mom…don’t call it a Frat.” It was entertaining to say the least. Phil left us all with a bit of history about Indiana Memorial Union. It turns out that this location was the first to host a Regional Leadership Academy for SigEp 40 years ago, outside of the ones held in Richmond. Late into the evening, undergraduates were still asking advice and questions to faculty and volunteers, email addresses were traded, and thank you hand shakes were abundant.

My final thoughts on this year’s sessions of CLA, was that the volunteer track was in an off year. With the National Leadership Committee and National Committee on Volunteers still figuring out the track for volunteer training, this year was left in transition, to the displeasure of many. Well trained and cohesive faculty can make or break the experience, and in Bloomington’s case, I think it worked. I suspect that next year there will be a new look to what volunteers will be doing at CLA. Hopefully, this year did not discourage too many alumni.

And that’s your news from the underground. I am the Superintendent.