Interfraternity Council to fine chapters for underperforming pledges

By Sabrina Romano / Staff Writer

Mick Bauer, a member of Delta Tau Delta, said his fraternity keeps an Excel spreadsheet that lists the names of the brothers, their majors and the classes that they would be capable of tutoring.

Bauer said that the academic chair created the spreadsheet last year, but the brothers keep it updated. He also noted that the involvement of his brothers in his academic career extended beyond just grades. 

“Older brothers who are engineers helped me with class selection,” Bauer said.

While fraternities like Delta Tau Delta already help new members academically, a new policy for social fraternities will put more pressure on chapters to maintain members’ grades. Interfraternity Council, the governing body for the 19 social fraternities at Pitt, instituted a policy this semester in which it will fine chapters whose freshmen pledges have low grade point averages.

The average GPA of fraternity men is 3.024, while the average for all male Pitt students is 3.042, according to senior Zach Patton, the president of the council.

Summer Rothrock, Pitt’s assistant director of leadership development and Greek affairs, said in an email that her office does not release information about individual Greek organizations’ GPAs.

Because of what Patton claims is the below-average GPA among fraternity members, Patton said the council will fine chapters for each freshman pledge whose GPA falls below 2.5 to create more of an incentive to focus on academics.

The council will require each chapter to pay $20 per freshman GPA for each tenth of a point below 2.5. For example, a chapter with two pledges who earned GPAs of 2.3 would owe the IFC an $80 fine.

Patton drafted this policy, which all chapters in the Interfraternity Council must follow, at the end of last fall semester when he became president. 

The council’s board members and chapter presidents revised the policy before it was passed unanimously last spring. 

Patton said he is not sure how much money the new policy will generate.

If this policy had been enacted last spring semester, chapters would have paid $300 in fines, according to Patton. 

Patton was speaking hypothetically because the freshman pledges during the spring semester are no longer in their first semester at Pitt and, therefore, are not included in the policy.

“These numbers are skewed because the pledge classes are about a quarter of the size, and there are no first-semester pledges,” Patton said in an email. 

Patton said the policy only concerns first-semester freshman fraternity pledges because they have not yet earned grades at Pitt. He said this policy will encourage chapter leaders to ensure that freshman pledges do not earn below a 2.5 GPA during their first semester with the fraternity.

Matthew Richardson, the coordinator for fraternity and sorority life at Pitt, said freshmen are impressionable.

“Habits, good or bad, tend to start in freshman year,” he said. “As a council, we can mandate new member education,” Richardson said.

Although it is unclear how much money the council will collect in fines at the end of this semester, Patton said the council plans to spend the money from the fines on academic programming. The policy requires the three chapters with the lowest GPAs to participate in this programming. 

The council’s board, not chapter presidents, will be in charge of determining how the money is spent.

Rothrock said she hopes the policy will help to raise the average GPA of fraternity members.

“It is a good initiative for the Interfraternity Council to work as a governing body with its member chapters to place high standards on academic achievement,” she said in an email.

Pat O’Donnell, the president of Delta Chi fraternity, said the council can’t create a sweeping policy all at once, so the new policy is a good starting point.  

“We are starting with the young members because they are the future of their chapter,” O’Donnell said.

Although Patton said he wants to see fraternity members improve academically, he said that not all fraternities have below-average grades.

“There are some houses which have an average GPA well above Pitt’s male average GPA,” Patton said. 

He added that the three highest average GPAs of individual chapters are 3.24, 3.35 and 3.42. Patton would not identify which fraternities he was referring to.

Gary Pike, a researcher at Indiana University in Indianapolis, published a study in 2003 for which he surveyed 6,782 male and female students at 15 U.S. universities. Of these students, 16 percent were members of fraternities and sororities.

First-year Greek students who responded to Pike’s survey said they found their college’s faculty, staff and other students generally more supportive when compared to the non-Greek students who were surveyed. Pike reported no significant differences in how Greeks and non-Greeks answered questions about their own academic development.

Even before new council policy took effect, social fraternities already mandated group study sessions for new brothers. 

Bauer, a freshman, said he chose to go Greek during his first semester at Pitt because he expects the classes for his engineering major to get progressively more difficult. 

He had mandatory study hours from Monday to Thursday during his pledge process, which lasted from the middle of September to the middle of November.

Like Bauer, other freshman pledges use other members of their fraternities as an academic resource.

Nathan Watt, a freshman member of Sigma Chi, said he spends time studying with his fraternity brothers.

When Watt and other pledges were confused about economics, a brother explained the concepts to them. He said it was like having a private recitation for him and the other pledges.

“I like asking [brothers] for help rather than a [teaching assistant] because I know them,” Watt said.