It can sound cliché at times, but Phi Kappa Psi leaders have often said that behind every great chapter is a group of dedicated alumni. It is how our organization was founded, evolved and operates 160 years later. Even with a growing national operating budget and staff, a majority of the work done within Phi Kappa Psi is carried out by our members on a local level.
When it comes to our chapters, the concept of undergraduate control has often been a unique characteristic of our organization. This carries all the way to the top, but there is also a common thread that holds that undergraduate activity together: alumni. From the advisors helping to teach and guide new members through the proper ways to organize a chapter, to the national president overseeing the priorities and future of the organization, alumni take ownership of their fraternity to assure it stays on the proper course. This ownership was on display over the past few years in Texas, where our Lone Star state Alpha chapter at the University of Texas has had a turnaround that is due largely to the centralization of a powerful alumni base.
During the early part of the last decade the active chapter was at 120 members and the goal was building a large new house. Architectural plans were completed and brothers began selecting new rooms to live in. A subsequent move into an old sorority house led to additional construction needs and the chapter was un-housed for a year. By the spring of 2009, many of the disillusioned undergraduates had quit, leaving about 45 men (mostly freshman and sophomores) to run the chapter.
At Founders Day in 2009 nine alumni brothers, who were fearful of chapter failure, joined the alumni boards and immediately began recruiting other alumni brothers of all eras to get involved. Three years later there is a core of about 30 alumni brothers, from a 50-year range, that are on the boards or actively volunteering in other ways.
One of the new alumni board members, Bryan Muecke Texas '75 states, "We had to show the young members how a chapter should function and help them rebuild the infrastructure - how the committees are set-up and function, responsibilities of officers. Moreover, their idea of recruitment was just throwing parties; we have worked with them for three years and they are finally starting to understand that recruitment is about building friendships and that it doesn't have to be expensive."
According to house board member Kelly Fish Texas '77, "Probably one of the toughest things we found was the jadedness and distrust that many undergraduates had for the alumni when we showed up. I was appalled but it was understandable considering what they had been through. It's taken a few years of alumni working shoulder-to-shoulder with the undergrads to regain their trust."
To help the chapter become stronger and more accountable, the alumni helped to institute two major changes. The first involved partnering with a third-party billing website to improve collections and financial responsibility. The second, and more important, step was getting the chapter to move to a controlled, six-week pledge education program, away from one semester.
"A six-week time frame allows new members to focus on finishing the semester strong with plenty of time to study and complete class projects" Fish said. "It addresses hazing by obviously reducing the window of opportunity, but, more importantly, we used it as an occasion to change the attitude to winning respect of the pledges by helping them to get quickly integrated into the Fraternity. We are confident that hazing is no longer an issue at Texas Alpha but we must be in constant conversation about it with actives and pledges so that it won't creep back in."
The chapter is now at 85 brothers and hopes to be over 100 by next fall. Brother Fish concludes, "The turnaround is the direct result of brothers from all eras coming together as one. We have made tremendous progress but we still have a ways to go."
Update: With another year of the new 6-week program in place, this past fall's new member class had a 3.02 cumulative GPA, up from 2.75 for the previous year's class. The alumni attribute that improvement to the shortened educational period, allowing for the proper focus to be placed on success in the classroom.
Can our chapters operate and exist without alumni support? Yes. The real question is can they sustain activity at a high-quality level without the consistency and guidance that alumni provide. This factors-in not just the advisors, but the alumni corporation that can bridge the present with the future in terms of alumni relations and housing.
Ask yourself, 'Can I be doing more to give back to a chapter that gave me so much?'
We are fortunate to have an alumni base of dedicated volunteers, but the fact is that less than two-percent of all living Phi Psi alumni are engaged in a volunteer position. In a month where we celebrate the founding of Phi Kappa Psi, what better way to honor the volunteerism of our Founding Fathers than by giving back of your time to a local chapter? You can dramatically impact the life of a student and set the course of Phi Kappa Psi moving forward.
To get more involved and find the best alumni volunteer fit for you, please contact our Director of Alumni Services.