Sigma Alpha Epsilon Announces Historic Change for membership experience

EVANSTON, IL – Sigma Alpha Epsilon, under the leadership and direction of the Supreme Council, has made a historic decision that will realign the Fraternity to produce the original member’s experience that our Founding Fathers envisioned. This change will adopt a method, practice and policy that treat all members equally and fairly and strive for a continuous development of our members throughout their lives. Effective March 9, 2014, new-member (pledge) programming will be eliminated completely from our operations, and the classification of new member (pledge) will no longer exist. All chapters and colonies will be required to implement this important change.

Our Supreme Council decided to enact this change between conventions in order to protect Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s future and to eliminate a class structure between our new members and our active members. As an important historical reference, the concept of pledging did not exist in Noble Leslie DeVotie’s original Ritual and Constitution. What we understand today as the new-member (pledge) program was not adopted by the Fraternity until the years following World War II.

The new True Gentleman Experience will enhance the educational and leadership experience of our members and build upon their development during each year of their collegiate tenure. The Supreme Council unanimously supports the program in order to ensure a more positive, meaningful membership for our collegiate members and alumni. From the moment a man joins Sigma Alpha Epsilon, he should take personal ownership of his Fraternity and play an active role in our future.

Under the program, chapters and colonies may continue to recruit prospective members as they do currently. When they extend a bid, the college man who accepts the invitation will become a collegiate member. He will be required to accept our Scope of Association Agreement and complete the Carson Starkey Membership Certification Program. Furthermore, every member will be expected to meet our membership requirements and expectations and, should he fail to do so, our Fraternity Laws provide the means to suspend or remove his membership.

The education of our members will shift from a new-member (pledge) term to a holistic educational period in which members learn about the Fraternity’s values, mission, creed and history and develop personally over the course of their collegiate tenure. In addition, the goal is to provide the skills necessary for our members to excel in the professional world once they graduate. The New-Member Educator or Pledge Educator will be replaced with a Member Educator, who will be responsible for the oversight of educational initiatives for his fellow members.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s leadership understands that the implementation of the True Gentleman Experience will provide challenges as it is incorporated throughout our Realm. However, this change will strengthen our Fraternity, create highly positive opportunities to redefine membership, attract prospective members who otherwise might not join and lead the way among Greek-letter organizations as we recommit ourselves to our Founding Fathers’ original concepts and return to their intent for membership in the Fraternity.

CLICK HERE to view and/or download the True Gentleman Experience.

Below we’ve answered some of the biggest questions that people may have about the True Gentleman Experience. Click on the plus (+) sign next to each question to see the answers

What are we supposed to do with our new members (pledges) or neophytes on March 9?

Because the True Gentleman Experience is being enacted on March 9, any uninitiated members must be initiated as brothers within 48 hours, or by March 11. Special exceptions, such as groups on spring break, will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Beginning March 9, there will be no delineation of collegiate membership, as detailed below. Colony new members (pledges) will become colony active members, but colony members will not be initiated until their charter has been approved and have been installed during the installation ceremony.

What happens to any bids we extend or to any men who join after March 9?

Under the True Gentleman Experience, men who accept the invitation to join Sigma Alpha Epsilon will have 96 hours (4 days) during which the chapter reports them to the Fraternity Service Center and during which the newly signed member must create an account and complete both the Scope of Association Agreement and the Carson Starkey Member Certification Program. Then, his initiation fee will be due within ten (10) days of his Initiation Ceremony.

Explain this 96-hour period after we extend a bid. What does that mean?

Our chapters and colonies will continue to maintain their own ability to meet and recruit prospective members. The 96-hour timeframe allows the chapter or colony — as well as the prospective new member — four (4) days to complete the requirements for membership, such as the creation of a account, the Scope of Association Agreement and the Carson Starkey Member Certification Program. That time period also allows either party a flexible period if the man decides not to join or if the chapter members change their mind about the bid. The clock begins from the time a man accepts his bid. In the case of campuses that dictate a formal bid period, the clock begins with the school’s deadline.

For example, if your chapter recruits during the summer, has a university-mandated formal recruitment period in August and a deadline to extend bids by September 1, the 96 hours starts with the September 1 deadline. However, there can be no activities or events in which newly signed members must prove their worth, complete tasks or any other recreation or notion of “pledging” their commitment to the Fraternity.

What will happen to the $85 new-member fee and the $225 initiation fee? Are those fees going to be the same?

Any man who joins Sigma Alpha Epsilon will be required to pay an initiation fee of $310 within ten (10) days after his Initiation Ceremony. We realize that some chapters and individuals may have personal situations that prevent them from paying the full amount, and the Fraternity Service Center — specifically the Member Services Department — can work with chapters on a payment plan or installments.

Does the Supreme Council have the authority to amend Fraternity Laws when the convention is not in session?

The Fraternity Laws of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity delineates the duties of the Supreme Council in Title IV, Section 21. Specifically, subsection A states that the Council “represent the Fraternity Convention in the interval between sessions.” The definition of the word represent is important in this analysis. Statutory construction would dictate that you give meaning to each word of the statute or, in this case, Fraternity Laws. It is also important to note that Fraternity Laws require the Eminent Supreme Archon to “interpret, construe, and enforce the Fraternity Laws and the orders of the Fraternity Convention and of the Supreme Council, and for such purposes he may issue such orders as may be necessary (Title III, Section 18B4).

The common definition of the word represent can be found from many sources. Black’s Law Dictionary – 5th Edition defines represent: “To represent a person is to stand in his place; to speak or act with authority on behalf of such person; to supply his place; to act as his substitute or agent.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines represent as well: “6a(1): to take the place of in some respect (2): to act in the place of or for usu. by legal right b: to serve esp. in a legislative body by delegated authority usu. resulting from election.”

These definitions clearly support the common usage of the word represent as used in The Fraternity Laws of Sigma Alpha Epsilon to vest the authority of the Fraternity Convention with the Supreme Council when the convention is not in session, which would include the authority to amend the laws of the Fraternity.

Does this mean that we have to change everything or that more changes will be imposed upon us?

Not at all. Chapters and colonies should operate as normal by continuing to conduct chapter meetings, recruitment, community-service events, social events, retreats and any other number of activities that are based on our expectations. Nothing changes about those opportunities, which already should involve the entire membership.

Are you making this change as a result of bad publicity?

The bad publicity Sigma Alpha Epsilon has received is challenging and regretful because we know that some of our groups have great new-member (pledge) programs and do the right thing. At the same time, we have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience. Furthermore, we have endured a painful number of chapter closings as a result of hazing. Research shows that hazing, which hides in the dark, causes members to lie. At the recent Eminent Archon Institute, our chapter leaders voiced their chief complaint: damage to our national reputation is making it difficult for them to operate.

But the attack on our image is not the sole motivating factor behind the changes. The Supreme Council believes the time is now to embrace change in the way our groups operate in order to ensure our future success. And now is the time to lead the way among Greek-letter organizations. As a result, we may very well turn bad publicity into a positive, proactive image. We are making this change because it’s the right thing to do and because we firmly believe in returning to what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

What happens if the chapter doesn’t want to make this change?

Each chapter and its members will need to make a decision: do they embrace this change and accept the challenge, or do they wish to deviate from the policies and expectations spelled out by the national organization? We realize change is not easy, but your leadership is charged with protecting the future of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and ensuring its success. Your alumni members worked hard to build and maintain your chapter, so you have been given a gift. We don’t want our collegiate members to jeopardize what others have created for them. If we find that the chapter is treating its newest members as second-class citizens, the chapter will be closed.

What do we call the new members (pledges)?

They are members, or more specifically collegiate members, from day one, and once they are initiated, they are brothers. Then, once they graduate, just as brothers do, they are classified as alumni members.

If we get rid of pledging, there will be no motivation to join.

The motivation to join Sigma Alpha Epsilon has always been, and should always be, to align with “The True Gentleman,” our mission and principles and the desire to better oneself through personal, professional and leadership development — not because a pledge wants to “earn” his membership through means that aren’t approved by the national organization or programs that do not fulfill our mission and teachings. Being a new member in any fraternity should never be about servitude, memorizing obscure facts or enduring any physical challenge.

Recruitment is going to be tougher, if not impossible.

In return, we ask, “Why?” If you are truly attracting the right type of man — the kind who wants to exemplify “The True Gentleman,” take his own initiative to better fellow man, improve himself through experience and serve as a friend for life — then why would he avoid Sigma Alpha Epsilon now? Feedback has shown us that prospective members fail to join fraternities because they do not want to be hazed, assaulted, abused or bullied in order to “earn” membership. Those perceptions started when fraternities deviated from their original intent and as a result of decades of incidents that have given the Greek-letter system a tarnished, stereotypical reputation.

The new-member (pledge) period exists in order for new members (pledges) to prove their worthiness.

This concept or notion is a complete myth. When much is required of a new-member (pledge) class but not the active chapter members, the new members (pledges) learn only that they don’t have to do anything once they get initiated. In addition, we stress unity of the entire chapter, not of the new-member (pledge) class. The chapter has the power to determine which prospective members are worthy of membership through the process of recruitment. It should extend bids only to prospective members who meet our criteria for membership and who will exemplify our teachings — not just to any college man for the purpose of numbers. Consider this fact, too: Our Fraternity has a Past Eminent Supreme Archon, Past Eminent Supreme Recorder, Province Archons, staff members and advisers who joined as non-student initiates, meaning they did not have a new-member (pledge) program and were never considered pledges. Their commitment and leadership is no less important.

What about new-member (pledge) education, the New-Member (Pledge) Educator and all the things they need to know to be a member?

Learning is a lifetime process, and it should never stop. We are resurrecting elements of our organization as our Founding Fathers envisioned it and adapting it to fit with current times. Within this change, the Pledge Educator will evolve into the Member Educator, and he will be responsible for overseeing the education of all members.

What about The Phoenix? Is it going to disappear completely now?

Not at all. The Phoenix is a guide for members when they first join Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and that purpose has never changed since it was first published. The book contains a wealth of information about our history, our governance, our primary goals and mission and various resources. The Member Educator should use it as the primary guide for his educational training.

What about the new-member (pledge) class experience?

We acknowledge that many groups maintain a positive experience for their new members and that the experience may be beneficial to the development of members on some campuses. Unfortunately, the instances of programs that do not follow suit outweigh the ones that do. From day one, members should be treated as equals because you are asking those men to join to be your brothers. You will still be making friends, and your experiences should occur together as a chapter, not as individual classes of members.

I don’t see how my chapter and its members will get on board with this.

You are not alone with this concern since no change is easy. The Supreme Council, Fraternity Service Center staff and volunteer leadership are here to support you in your efforts. We will provide you with the help you need to make these changes in your chapter. As leaders, you are being asked to lead and to make hard choices that implement a large change. Will it be easy? No. However your efforts will help to make Sigma Alpha Epsilon the leader in the Greek-letter world again.

What about our local traditions?

Local traditions may be valuable as a supplement to our membership program, as long as they are consistent with our Ritual, Fraternity Laws and Minerva’s Shield. They must always promote safe and positive experiences. We believe in good traditions, not ones that fail to reflect and burnish our overarching mission, values and creed.

We are a colony, so what does this change mean for us?

As a colony, you are working to operate just like a chapter, so all of these changes apply to you. Just like our chapters, you will not have new members or a new-member process. You are expected to meet the same requirements for initiating your colony new members (pledges) so that they are colony active members. From an educational standpoint, you will have the same requirements, and your members will need to meet the same standards as initiated members as detailed in the True Gentleman Experience. Your Coordinators of Extension will be following up with you with regard to they relate specifically to colonies.

Will colony members be initiated once they join a colony?

No, colony members will remain colony members, but there will be no delineation or classification between colony new members and colony active members. Once a colony has been approved for a charter, and once the installation ceremony has taken place, they will be initiated as brothers into our Order.

Getting rid of the current structure (new member [pledge] vs. brother) is going to create a lack of respect and apathy.

We disagree. In fact, changing the structure should help prevent apathy that comes as a result of new members’ being “burnt out” by the time they get initiated, especially if they were the only group required to do the work of the chapter. Certainly, we believe membership is a privilege, not a right, and that our letters and the brothers’ badge must be earned. But the membership experience is challenge enough if a member approaches it correctly. Learning and exercising leadership, scholarship and service are just three examples of the challenges we present our members in pursuit of personal development. And juggling fraternity membership with academics, the most important aspect to college life, or other activities is no easy deal.

We will have a lot of members who go inactive, quit or just don’t come around anymore.

Those possibilities are regrettable, and we know change is not easy. But if your chapter or colony has a large number of members who fit into that category, you do not have the type of members who stand for what we stand for. If they are involved in Sigma Alpha Epsilon only to come to social events or new-member (pledge) activities, they never were — and likely never will be — Brother Heroes. Experience also shows us that these particular members create the most risk for our organization. Conversely, a good brother understands the need to take initiative when faced with adversity.

Alumni aren’t going to support us anymore because we won’t be able to relate to their experience.

We realize that some alumni may not agree with this change, and we believe that is unfortunate. The alumni portion of membership is much longer than the collegiate one, and we would like to expand our alumni participation throughout the country, not alienate it. We firmly believe the True Gentleman Experience will re-engage alumni who have not been involved because they read about hazing allegations or deaths, found out about the closure of their chapter or did not have a good new-member (pledge) experience.

You say you’re recommitting to our original values, but they had pledges back at the beginning. Newton Nash Clements is the prime example.

Brother Clements may have been classified as a “pledge” depending on your interpretation of history, but nowhere in Noble Leslie DeVotie’s original Constitution and Ritual was reference made to a “pledge” or to “pledging.” In fact, here’s an important historical reference. The term “pledge” first appeared in Fraternity Laws in 1914, and during the Fraternity Convention in 1945, a period of pledge training was formally adopted by the Fraternity. Some of our most prominent members — the Founding Fathers, the Bunting brothers, Billy Levere and Judge Alfred K. Nippert — never were pledges and never had a pledge term. The concept would have been foreign to them. Through the years, our ceremonies and nomenclature were revised as times changed and as the concept of “pledging” was introduced.

The newest members who join will know our Ritual too quickly.

Yes, certainly they will know it more quickly than they do in present practice, whether they have been initiated or search online to figure out our secrets. But they will not know it any more quickly than Newton Nash Clements, Harry Bunting or Billy Levere did. Although we are categorized as a social college fraternity, we are a values-based organization, and our values should drive our organization much more prominently. And the connotation of “social fraternity” is often misinterpreted in today’s society. It does not mean “a fraternity that organizes social events.” Rather, our Founding Fathers used the term in reference for man’s need to be a social being, to interact with those around him, and of course our teachings and our Ritual make that point clear.

We will end up getting a lot of members who don’t fit or don’t belong in the Fraternity.

The reality is that most chapters have members who fit precisely those descriptions now, yet nobody does anything to solve the problem or to remove them and their membership. And any concept that the new-member (pledge) program weeds out the men who don’t deserve membership is flawed. The True Gentleman Experience reinforces the importance of recruitment. Our members should not extend a bid to just any college man; they should extend it only after they deem him worthy of joining Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The prospective member earns his rights when he receives a bid — the same concept that obtained during our founding. The bid should hold more value than ever before, and receiving a bid should be one of the most prestigious and honoring invitations for a man on his campus.

This change forces us to initiate our members before we receive their grades.

Due to some college or university mandates, a number of our groups already initiate new members (pledges) before they receive their grades. If a member does not meet the initiation requirement, Fraternity Laws already detail the process to discipline or suspend the member until proper scholarship is maintained.

Will this change lower our health-and-safety fee?

Health-and-safety fees are based on a variety of factors, but with a long-term reduction in incidents, eventually we should see a reduction in the rate. Just as in any other type of insurance, reducing risk and, more importantly, reducing actual incidents and resulting claims, help to secure a lower rate.

This is going to make us radically different from everyone else on campus. No one will want to join a group where you don’t have to prove yourself.

“Different” is not inferior or bad. In fact, you may be surprised at how you’ll earn the respect and admiration of prospective members and the administrators in your institution, as well as others. See yourselves as leaders! Regardless of how well your chapter runs its programming, the public has a preconceived notion of what fraternity membership entails. If you state from day one that you are a full member — full rights to vote, full buy-in, knowledge of the Ritual — you will see a higher quality of man choose to join Sigma Alpha Epsilon over other groups on campus. They often do not join fraternities because they believe the stereotypes to be true and believe that they will be subjected to hazing, harm or other peril.


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