Frank Shea ’72
The phrase “publish or perish” is well known in the academic world, and describes the potentially adverse consequences of not writing frequently enough. Although I do not think my position as St. Elmo’s Alumni President is in jeopardy, I will confess that it has been too long (almost 2 years) since we last published a newsletter, and for this I apologize. Sam Sisto did a good job of summarizing the 2012-13 school year, which like most years had its highlights and disappointments. The attrition following RUSH was certainly one of the major disappointments, and was quite surprising given the intense focus that the recruiting process receives from both members and the Board of Directors. I think the problem this year may have been the lack of a thorough vetting process during the final stage of RUSH. Some of the pledges who dropped out cited their parents’ concern about the impact of membership on academics, or their general discomfort with the recent negative publicity surrounding the fraternity system. These are issues that the members need to address more directly with rushees in the future, and next year’s RUSH Chairman, Griffin Horter ‘15, agrees that parental attitudes must be part of the conversation. But in spite of the lower numbers this year, Elmo’s membership remains strong, and is at an appropriate level given the physical limitations of the building itself.
The one other area that was a problem this year was the occasional damage to the House resulting from some of the larger parties. In many ways St. Elmo is a victim of its own success, and 130 Madison Lane has become THE destination of choice in the late night party circuit. The members have been unsuccessful in limiting attendance, with too many troublemakers gaining entry. The undergraduates have promised to reduce attendance in the future and to hire more security. The Alumni Board, in turn, will be imposing much tougher financial penalties for damages, and will seek to hold individuals accountable for their destructive behavior. St. Elmo Hall is by no means unique in facing problems like this, as excessive drinking and unruly behavior at parties have unfortunately become quite common at UVA. But the Board is determined to address these problems much more aggressively in the future, and to try to instill a greater respect for the House – and sense of ownership – among its members.
On the positive side, Elmos continue to be very involved with important organizations and activities on Grounds, such as Madison House, Inter- Fraternity Council, University Judiciary Committee, and the Sigma Alpha Lambda National Leadership Organization. Many members are consistently on the Dean’s List, reflecting a serious attitude toward academics shared by the Brotherhood. In fact, in the 2012 Fall Semester, the GPA of the Elmo brothers was 3.36, placing it 6th among the 29 fraternities at UVA. It’s also interesting to note that the aggregate GPA for all the fraternities was 3.23, exceeding the average for the all-male student population at the University. It’s clear that membership in a fraternity is not incompatible with academic excellence, and that St. Elmo attracts young men who are smart, motivated and committed to community service.
Another positive aspect of St. Elmo Hall is our financial condition, which remains strong. As Alumni Treasurer Hal Rodriguez indicates in his report, the House operated on a breakeven basis this past year, and is expected to do so again in 2013-2014. The St. Elmo Capital Fund, established during our Centennial Reunion five years ago, has performed well, and has benefited from the peer-beating returns of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company. We have taken a conservative approach to debt management, and have used the strong markets as an opportunity to reduce and consolidate our debt. Our Alumni have been very generous to St. Elmo over the years, and we take very seriously our role as stewards of their donations.
I’d like to say a few words about the status of the Greek System at UVA. Over the past few years there have been several incidents of hazing on Grounds that have justifiably raised the level of concern among the Administration, parents and student organizations. The University has expressed a zero-tolerance policy toward such behavior, and has become increasingly proactive and aggressive in dealing with actions of fraternity members that are viewed as harmful or potentially risky. You may have heard that the Dean of Students, Allen Groves, will be holding a “summit meeting” this fall with undergraduate and Alumni representatives of all the fraternities, along with officials from the national organizations. The purpose will be to address what the University regards as the “negative culture” that pervades the fraternity system. As Dean Groves said in a recent letter: “While we remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing the positive aspects of fraternities, we cannot and will not tolerate hazing or high risk alcohol consumption at the University of Virginia.”
Although the “devil is in the details”, it’s apparent that the University is very serious about instituting changes, and that fraternities will be under a lot of pressure over the next few years. Some fraternities may resist these changes, and it’s not inconceivable that some could fold, especially the ones with ineffectual alumni boards. But I think St. Elmo should thrive in this uncertain environment. Although our undergraduates are certainly not all angels, they have avoided serious problems the past several years, and are in very good standing with the University. These are high-caliber young men who recognize that changes are coming, and that higher standards of personal responsibility will be expected of them in the future. St. Elmo Hall will continue to enjoy a pre-eminent position on Grounds, by virtue of its strong undergraduate membership, the active involvement of the Alumni Board, and the traditional loyalty and support of its 780 Alumni.
The major event of this coming year, of course, is St. Elmo’s 105th Anniversary Reunion in early November. You should have received both email and print announcements of the Reunion, as well as a recent e-blast listing the Schedule of Events. During the early part of the year the Board was busy recruiting Class Representatives, who hopefully have been contacting their classmates and “talking up” the Reunion. Although the official Registration process will not begin until July, there will be periodic updates before then, via print mailings, emails and our website. In the meantime, Alumni who are planning to attend and need hotel rooms are strongly encouraged to make their reservations soon.
We are using the occasion of our 105th Reunion to take advantage of the Alumni Association’s recent upgrading of the websites of all the fraternities under contract, including St. Elmo Hall. If you’ve logged onto our website recently (www.stelmohall.com) you’ll notice a “new look”, with many more features. Our new website will allow us to post much more interesting and varied content on a regular basis. During this time leading up to the Reunion, we’ll be including important information regarding events and venues, as well as “Hoo’s Coming” updates and news from our Alumni. Going forward we hope to update our website frequently with Undergraduate news and features, Alumni postings, pictures and links to other University websites. While communicating with the “Elmo Nation” has always been important, we now have the tools to do so in a more timely and relevant manner. And as always, if you have any comments or suggestions, I hope you’ll contact me (email@example.com) or Kate Redding (firstname.lastname@example.org), who is the Assistant Director of Alumni Interest Groups.
One final bit of news: As part of our 105th Anniversary Reunion, the Alumni Board has approved a $500,000 Capital Campaign, which we are calling the
St. Elmo Hall Leadership Challenge
Complete details of the Campaign will be sent in early July, but to summarize, our goal will be to raise funds for the following projects and programs:
St. Elmo Hall Renovations $250,000
Jefferson Trust 150,000
Rotunda Restoration 100,000
The St. Elmo Hall renovations will consist primarily of an extensive remodeling of the kitchen, adjacent bathroom and storage rooms, with the work expected to be done during the summer of 2014. This project will also entail the transition of our Meal Plan from a vendor delivery-based system to a resident chef system, which existed at the House until the mid 2000’s. It is hoped that restoring the chef-prepared, sit-down food service will help improve the culture of the House by fostering a stronger sense of brotherhood at meals. While our efforts might be regarded as trying to “turn back the clock”, I think most Alumni would look back at the mealtime experience as being very important in the building of friendships and establishing a strong, unified Brotherhood. The current undergraduates feel that such a change would be desirable, and are supportive of our proposal. As part of an overall renovation of the kitchen and dining area, improvements would also be made to the glass double doors and outside landing. These doors and the outside staircase are the primary entry and exit points during parties, and need to be made safer and more secure.
The other half of our overall goal of $500,000 is for two important initiatives of the University. Hopefully most of you remember the $100,000 donation we made to the Jefferson Trust as part of our Centennial Celebration in 2008. Very briefly, the Jefferson Trust, which was founded in 2004, is an unrestricted endowment administered by the Alumni Association. The Trust makes grants to groups and programs around the University, which because of budgetary constraints don’t get the funding they deserve. Last year the Trust gave out grants totaling more than $500,000, from an endowment of almost $18 Million. They hope to double these numbers over the next several years. With our initial donation of $100,000, St. Elmo Hall earned a seat on the Jefferson Trust’s Board of Trustees until 2015, and longtime Alumni Director Phil Nesmith has ably filled this position. With an additional commitment of $150,000, our trusteeship would become permanent, a worthwhile objective given the prominence on Grounds that the Trust has achieved. St. Elmo Hall continues to be the only fraternity to support this important initiative.
The third objective of our Campaign is raising $100,000 for the Rotunda Restoration. I’m sure you are well aware of this project, which is the highest visibility and single most important capital priority at the University. The project is expected to cost $50 Million, with the Commonwealth paying about $27 Million. The balance is expected to come from various private sources, including $20 Million from a group of 200 donors being called the “U200”. Each of these donors, who will be recognized on a permanent plaque in the Rotunda, is committing $100,000 or more to the project, payable over five years. To date the U200 has over 55 donors, including commitments from TILKA and Eli Banana. As with the Jefferson Trust, St. Elmo Hall would be the only fraternity to give its support, although the University hopes that our leadership would inspire donations from other houses. Also like the Jefferson Trust, St. Elmo would be acting as a conduit, aggregating donations from our Alumni and earning recognition and appreciation from the University for doing so.
So this is the broad outline of our Campaign. The funds we hope to raise for the House will directly benefit St. Elmo by helping to improve the style and substance of our meal service, as well as enhancing the safety and security of the House during parties. On the other hand, our fundraising on behalf of the Jefferson Trust and Rotunda Restoration directly helps the University, but it also provides an indirect benefit to St. Elmo Hall. We have a longstanding tradition of philanthropy at UVA, and have undoubtedly been among the most generous contributors for generations. Probably the most prominent example of this is the St. Elmo Jefferson Scholarship, which was established almost 25 years ago with $250,000 and which has grown to almost $1,000,000. Along the way the Scholarship has funded the UVA education of many outstanding young men and women. I think we’d all agree that our reputation for philanthropy has served us well, and has helped St. Elmo earn and retain its pre-eminent standing on Grounds. Our support of the Jefferson Trust and Rotunda Restoration continues this tradition. And as the outlook for the Greek System becomes a bit uncertain, the University will be looking to a handful of elite fraternities to provide leadership. St. Elmo will be one of them.
As I said, the St. Elmo Hall Leadership Challenge will not be launched until the summer, and is not intended to be the centerpiece of the upcoming Reunion, as the Second Century Campaign was five years ago. Quite frankly, with the markets doing so well, this is a good time to be raising money, and we think our Campaign goals for both St. Elmo and the University are reasonable. Also, I can assure you that barring an unforeseen crisis at the House, we will not be in “campaign mode” at our next Reunion in 2018, if for no other reason than the fact that the University will be in the middle of its Bicentennial Campaign, and who wants to get in front of that steamroller! So this is it for the foreseeable future, and we’re hoping that the objectives of this Campaign will resonate with all our Alumni. We do realize, however, that we can’t necessarily depend on our older Alumni (1950s) as much as we have in the past. Many of these gentlemen have made significant donations to St. Elmo over the past 30 years, particularly to the Second Century Campaign, and we are very grateful for their loyalty and generosity. And so we need to expand our donor base in the hope that more of our younger Alumni will begin to take a leadership role. This group might also include Alumni who graduated in the last 10-15 years, and who perhaps haven’t been in a position before to support the House. And finally, we plan to solicit the parents of the current members, in the belief that “having skin in the game” is good motivation for the undergraduates.
Campaign material will be mailed in July, and we hope that you will give careful consideration to our proposal. But most of all we hope that you’re planning to attend the Reunion this fall. St. Elmo is doing well, and in spite of the misstep this past RUSH, we remain one of the most highly respected and popular houses on Grounds. Please plan on joining old and new friends in Charlottesville from November 1-3, to enjoy an event-filled weekend and to celebrate our Fraternity’s success.
I look forward to seeing you there.