Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Montana Sig Eps Remodel for Academics

Fraternity ditches basement bar in hopes of pumping up GPA
Story by Lauren Russell,Montana Kaimin

The basement bar of Sigma Phi Epsilon is getting a facelift.

Within the first two weeks of school last fall, out came the bar and beer pong table and up went fresh paint, the first step in a transformation from party headquarters to study central.

The idea for a new study area developed when the men of Sigma Phi Epsilon decided to trade in their beer pong cups for calculators as part of an effort to increase the cumulative GPA of the 32 members to a 3.0. The recently studious “Sig Eps” achieved a 2.89 GPA last fall, their highest since 2003 and the highest of the five fraternities.

According to Lyndon Matthews, a sophomore and vice president of communications for the chapter, Sigma Phi Epsilon’s poor academic performance in the past four years began eliciting pressure from the national headquarters, which encourages its chapters to maintain a 3.0 or higher.

The chapter hasn’t had a 3.0 since 2003, and in 2004 the average dipped to a 2.1.

The lowest point in the house’s academic history, said Matthews, came two years ago when almost half of the members had to be removed for poor academic performance. The fraternity found itself with twelve members and intense pressure from the national organization to increase enrollment and bring up grades or face being shut down.

“Everybody knew the bar couldn’t be if we were going to stay a house,” Matthews said.
In addition to being an important step in improving house academic standards, Chapter President Blake Battle said that getting rid of the bar became a necessity when the house was issued multiple fire safety citations in 2005 for having only one exit from their bar.

“It was a breaking point for us,” Battle said. “I’d be lying if I said that pressure from nationals was the only reason we changed, but it gave us a reason to tell everyone to go in this direction.”
In addition to achieving a 3.0 cumulative GPA, Matthews said that Sigma Phi Epsilon is also striving to achieve a national distinction as a residential learning community, which would provide the chapter grants for educational equipment and the opportunity for a class to be taught at the house.

Kael Melanson, a junior in zoology, said that the minimal emphasis on academics in the house contributed in part to his poor grades his first two years at UM. For him, the new focus is working. He earned a 3.0 last semester.

Matthews attributes much of the chapter turnaround to more stringent recruiting practices.
“We’ve started recruiting members based on traits like striving for academic excellence, instead of guys who just want to party or guys who are cool,” Matthews said.

According to Emily Yaksitch, the Greek Life Advisor, the fraternity system follows the same academic procedures as the university in terms of academics, which states that a student must have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 to be in good standing. But, she said the Greeks recognize academics as the highest priority of each chapter and encourage members to meet or exceed the UM requirement.

Sigma Phi Epsilon is now ranked third in GPA in the Greek system, Yaksitch said. The sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma has the highest with a 3.09.

Currently, the undergraduate cumulative average for all students during fall semester was 2.94. The all-Greek average was a 2.77, Yaksitch said.

“There is a reality that we still have a lot of work ahead of us to meet the undergraduate average, but we’re finding that we are growing, both in enrollment numbers and academic standing,” Yaksitch said.

Yaksitch said she hopes a recent initiative to provide each chapter with a faculty advisor, who would act as a liaison and mentor, will help build a better academic relationship between the Greek system and the university. This program, if implemented, will take effect by the end of spring semester.

So far, no other fraternities are giving up their bars in pursuit of academic excellence, but Matthews hinted that the fun isn’t totally over at Sigma Phi Epsilon.

“I wouldn’t say that we’ll never have a party but there will never be a party in there,” Matthews said.