Understanding Purpose

For nearly a century following the publication of the constitution the Fraternity flourished, growing in members and achievements. However, by the 1990s history seemed to be repeating itself, as Beta Theta Pi and other fraternities again struggled to prove their relevance, this time on competitive college campuses. Universities began to be less tolerant of fraternities that did not live their values or add to the academic mission of the institution. Parents began to take a greater interest in the campus involvement of their children. Students themselves became extremely selective in where they chose to allocate their time with jobs, internships and graduate school admissions on the line. Beta Theta Pi needed a response to this emerging call for relevance.

Statistics proved that the Fraternity was not beyond reproach with dwindling membership, frequent risk management problems and poor scholarship. These symptoms all appeared to stem from a basic lack of knowledge by its members and application of the Fraternity’s purpose. Former General Secretary Richard R. (Misty) Shoop, Denison ‘41, pinpointed the problem, “. . . we see chapters which have lost touch with our ritual and with our Code. We have members who are Betas in name only, never having been initiated in conformance with the initiation ritual. Unless we are to disintegrate gradually into a loose federation of otherwise ‘local’ fraternities we must place greater importance within our chapters on perpetuating the ritual of our Fraternity and on educating new members in our traditions and history.”

Beta Theta Pi’s response was the Men of Principle initiative in 1997. Fraternity leadership attempted to tackle the issue head on with a new public restatement of the principles and obligations in modern terms — the Mission, Vision and Goals. However, more was needed to improve the Fraternity than a mere republication of its objects. The Initiative’s philosophy became the centerpiece for expansions, and for many chapters, in recruitment and member education. This has met with great success by recruiting men who first believe in the values of the Fraternity and then share bonds of friendship with like-minded men.

Further, as part of the Men of Principle initiative, the Fraternity developed numerous leadership development programs aimed at facilitating increased values-based discussions and empowering undergraduate leaders to improve their chapters. Many of these programs feature in-depth sessions about the Ritual of Beta Theta Pi – a key component to facilitating a greater understanding of the Fraternity’s purpose.

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