A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
April 14, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 7

 

Consultant Brought in to Evaluate Greek Life

Kassidy Warren, Michelle Dobin, and Tom Jelke during a Greek life meeting.

During the week of March 21–25, a consultant hired by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs visited the campus to evaluate the current status of Greek life at CSU, Chico. Tom Jelke, founder and president of T. Jelke Solutions Inc. in Miami, spent the week talking with about 360 students, faculty, staff, and community members.

“I found that most people are ready for a change and want to do what they can,” said Jelke. “Most of the student leaders I’ve talked to are chomping at the bit to make change, change the reputation of fraternities here, develop their members in a better way. That does not mean that that change initiative will not meet with resistance—it will. But usually, the closer you are to a crisis, the easier it is to overcome that resistance and take the hard-line stance and say, I understand that you are upset, but we have to make this move and we’re moving forward.”

Jelke has been working with fraternities and sororities for about 15 years in different capacities: as an undergraduate, an alum, a staff member for his national fraternity, and a staff member for different universities. He has a PhD in higher education from Indiana University, and his dissertation, “A Cross-Case Analysis of Greek Systems Perceived to be High Performing,” involved evaluating Greek organizations at different campuses, some of which later hired him as a consultant. In 2001, he started a consulting firm, which he said is unique in its 70-percent focus on Greek life. Jelke has been to about 160 campuses, but CSU, Chico is the first in California.

On Feb. 3, the day after Matthew Carrington died of water intoxication while pledging Chi Tau, Greek life program coordinator Connie Huyck called Jelke. “I think the University’s timing has been right on the mark,” said Jelke. “If there is a crisis, it’s usually six months to a year later that universities bring me in. The fact that they brought me in this soon helps my ability to influence change.”

Jelke’s evaluation of a university’s Greek culture involves asking fraternity and sorority leaders and members questions about their operations and their needs for support. He also talks with people outside the Greek system in order to get a well-rounded perspective of the situation, he said. “For example, it’s important to talk to students who aren’t Greek and ask them, ‘Why aren’t you joining? What’s keeping you away from that?’ We ask faculty members, ‘What is your perception of what is going on? How can the faculty be a part of the change?’ ”

Jelke’s report, due in mid April will offer recommendations for the Greek community. “I say, here are the expectations that you should have. And if groups aren’t doing these things, you should be heavy handed on how you deal with them.”

The issue is, said Jelke, that Greeks swear that they will be better than the average student. “Fraternities and sororities, when they are operating like they are supposed to be, are one of the greatest leadership development opportunities for students on a campus,” he said. “They are good for students academically, good for students as citizens. It’s good for the alma mater because students tend to stay in school and graduate on time. They become better alumni. When the core values of the organization get corrupted, it’s usually because what the organization is supposed to be about has been replaced with alcohol or hazing or drugs as the main focus. We try to put them down a path back to their core values.”

Jelke is on a year-long contract with CSU, Chico. The University has begun a variety of efforts, including forming task forces to tackle the issues of hazing, alcohol and drug abuse, safety in campus neighborhoods, faculty/staff impact on student culture, and new student transitions to college life.

–Marion Harmon