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10 Questions with Dr. Roy W. Baker

bakerDr. Roy Baker is the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Penn State. We had a chance to ask him some questions about his career, Greek life as a whole, and his thoughts on the future.

1. Why did you decide to come to Penn State, of all the schools, after Syracuse?
Penn State has one of the largest Greek systems in the country. When they actually advertised the position, the position had a component in it that Greek Directors all over the country don’t have, and that is fund-raising. The title of the position when I took it was Director of Greek Life in Advancement. They were looking for someone who had significant experience in fraternity and sorority life, but they were also looking for someone that could help the various Alumni house corporations in creating their capital campaigns. I had a lot of experience in that area from my work at Bucknell. I was at Bucknell for 6 years, so I was attracted to the position. I also had known that the University had been working on the Greek Pride Initiative for a number of years and supposedly it was in place and functioning. That’s when I thought it might be a great time to be a part of the Penn State Greek system. Also, why would you not want to work at Penn State? What a great place!

2. You mentioned the Greek Pride initiative. How do you feel Penn State Greeks are doing with this initiative?
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re where we should be. We’re almost at 2010 and when I arrived, 2 years ago, what I found was that the students didn’t have a clue about the program, and that was a little surprising to me. By the time the program was actually finished and launched, I had been told everybody had bought into it and accepted it. There were a number of  chapters of excellence that had already been named. So I thought ‘Wow, things at Penn State are in really good shape!’ But they weren’t, in reality. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why. It’s not a bad thing; any time a college or university creates a strategic plan for the fraternity/sorority community, the first thing you gotta do is have a relationship with the Alumni. Alumni are crucial to this program.

Actually, there are four pieces: obviously the students are a huge piece, the alumni, the national/international headquarters, and of course, the University. And we got to work together to create a plan that will work at Penn State. I don’t think that, when this plan was created, the students or the alumni were properly engaged (before the plan the was created, as well). I created a plan just like this at Bucknell and it’s working today. I was actually invited over there a couple weeks ago, to be a speaker at one of the fraternity’s celebration, and it was kind of neat when the alumni said to me, “We’d like to talk you about ‘The Plan for Prominence’.” And when I got there and I was talking to the students, they were just telling me all the good things about ‘The Plan for Prominence’ and why it works so well at Bucknell. I was there for 6 years, but we didn’t create the plan until my 4th year. Because the first  the three years I did what I’m doing here, and that is developing relationships with the alumni, and of course planting seeds. The students understand that we’re going to have to do this, but we’re not going to it today. We’re going to, as the students called it, “take some baby steps” to get to a place where we’re ready to create a true quality Greek Pride Initiative. So when I got here, the students didn’t know about the program, the presidents didn’t know about the program, the alumni weren’t happy about the program, and there were chapters of excellence that had already been named while, they shouldn’t have been named or given that honor.

But that’s okay, I don’t mean to be overly critical. It’s a first step. It didn’t have any components in it like philanthropy or community service. Meanwhile, I’m thinking ‘Wow, how could you not have that? That’s what you all do’. It’s better than nothing at this point, but I think that we all recognize that now it’s time to do something and we need to develop some plans to do that. The students, to my delight, are not opposed to it. It won’t be something that was just created and then thrown up on the website and then not be thought about at all.

There’s much more after the jump.

3. How satisfied have you been with improvements in the Greek System that have happened?
I’m very, very satisfied. I mean, how can you not be? One of the things I had been told, when I got to Penn State, was that I had these misperceptions about the job and Penn State. When I took the job I got some emails from students that were not very kind. I also had gotten word that alumni heard that I had closed Greek systems all over the country, and they thought I had been hired to do that here. I got calls from national headquarters that would ask me why I would come here. When I got here, I didn’t just immediately step in and start doing stuff. I kind of started listening, started talking to kids, talking to alums, and reaching out. I could get this feeling when I met with people of ‘What’s the motive here?’. My point was that I never really had a motive, I was just simply trying to do something that hadn’t been done in a long time. And that was develop some relationships with the alums and especially, student leaders.

What I learned really fast here, by just watching, was this Greek System is doing some pretty amazing things, but they didn’t know it because nobody had told them. I’ll never forget my first big experience at Penn State was Greek Sing. I was asked to be the advisor to Greek Sing, and I said, ‘Sure!’. And every time I would go to a meeting, there was nothing for me to do. I remember, ‘Wow, this is amazing! These kids are really taking this thing seriously.” They do a really good job of protecting the integrity of Greek Sing. Then I would go to the dress rehearsals, and there would be nothing for me to do. I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool! This show’s going to be amazing!” I was excited to see how this program worked out. When I saw the performance, I was just floored; to see that many men and women, singing up on stage, dancing, doing something for scholarships.

I then started asking to be invited to come to fraternity/sorority meetings. I said to them, “I want to tell you what I thought I was going find [at Penn State] and know what I did find.” So I told them all the ugly things I thought I’d find, but then told them to good things I found, instead. I said, “Do you all realize how good you really are?” The students’ faces, at those meetings, were priceless. I would get emails the next day. Tons of emails just saying “Thanks for coming” or “We didn’t expect you to say what you did”.

4. What’s a typical day like for the Greek Life Director here at Penn State?
That’s a really good question because there is no such thing as “typical”. Things are different from day to day. One of the first things I do before I go to bed is check my email, just to see if there has been issue or something has popped up. I’ll go on Onward State or on The Daily Collegian’s website to see if anything has been posted that I may not know about. My life has a lot of meetings. Whether it be staff meetings, or meetings with fraternities, presidents of chapters, sometimes with alums, and a lot of meetings with national headquarters staff that come to Penn State to visit. Some days and some weeks, I’m putting out fires. I’ll be collecting information regarding the situation. This way I could share accurate information with my boss, and the University, and the alums, and the national headquarters.

One of the things I’ve tried to do here at Penn State is meet with students who get into trouble, who are members of the fraternity/sorority community. When I tell people that they think, “My gosh, you must be really busy!” and I say, “I’m not that busy.” See, kids will make mistakes, just like I did in college, and I want to have that conversation. When they come I’ll tell them that; I’ll say, “This is not judicial or disciplinary. This is me just trying to help you understand that this not a behavior you should be doing as a member. Because you took an oath, etc. etc….” The kids I meet with don’t normally expect that. The guys will even tell me that. I think at first when I came to Penn State, I was a little more “in your face” at those meetings. But I’ve kind of backed off because that’s not what I want to be doing. I just want to raise their awareness and be supportive.

5. How did you come into the position of ‘Greek Life Director’? Is that something you’ve pursued your whole life?
Haha, oh no no no. My career began in Housing & Residence Life. I was the director of Housing & Residence Life at several schools. At those schools, because I was Greek, I was usually given Greek Life. They were usually small Greek Life programs, so they didn’t take up a lot of time. But Bucknell was my first position, in higher education, that was purely Greek Life. It was a really interesting experience for me because I had never really done that. While I was at Bucknell, they ended up buying out fraternity houses. Because I had done Housing, they were usually given to me to manage. We renovated them and basically ran them, furnished them, and took care of them. I had a really positive experience at Bucknell and I’m so glad I did because I probably would have gotten out of Greek Life all together. I mean, yeah, there were rocky times but overall, I had a really positive experience.

When I created the Plan for Prominence [at Bucknell] I felt like that was all I could do. I felt that I couldn’t really challenge myself more. So I ended up leaving for a while. I actually became a Vice President for Student Affairs at a small school in North Carolina and I absolutely hated it. I just did not like the experience at a school without Greek Life. At that point, I realized how badly I missed and how much I enjoyed working with fraternities and sororities, even though they were very challenging at times. The college basically said, “We don’t want a Greek system.” So I left after 1 year and eventually went to Syracuse.

I went to Syracuse as Associate Dean of Students. I wasn’t the Director of Greek Life, directly. Greek Life reported to me but I was in charge of student activities; the graduate student association, the student government, fraternity/sorority life, and a number of other little things. After 2 years, the Vice President did some reorganization and he realized Greeks needed more attention so he asked me if I’d focus specifically on fraternity/sorority life. I said, “Sure! I’d love to.” So I fell back into my role in Greek Life. But while I was Associate Dean of Students, I did a lot of work with Greeks. They had, I believe, 45 chapters up there and had some problems. But when Penn State advertised the position, I felt that I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, so I applied.

6. Have you noticed any regressions in Greek System since you’ve been here that you’d like to improve on?
None whatsoever. Every semester that I’ve been here it just gets better and better. I want to be clear about something too. There’s a tremendous misconception that I run the Greek System. I really don’t. I mean, I’m the Director of the Office of Fraternity/Sorority Life. I’m not the dictator or the czar for Greek life at Penn State; I’m the adviser to the IFC. Obviously I’m the adviser to all four councils, and I have staff that work with me on that. One of my challenges is that when I want something to happen, I can’t just wave the magic wand and say “Alright, that’s the way it is.” I have to go to the governing councils and sell it to them. Then they have to take it to the presidents who vote on it. This isn’t Burger King, I don’t get to have it my own way. Obviously, that would frustrate me a little bit because at a private school, it’s so different. Here at Penn State, all of these properties are off campus and belong to organizations that I don’t have any authority over.

The University, for example, could withdraw recognition of those organizations, but if they did and IFC didn’t, boy that would be ugly wouldn’t it? When I got to Syracuse I had that in my hands. I had two organizations that were recognized by their nationals, but not by the university. Before I left, they both became recognized by the university and are both doing very well. But here, some days it’s frustrating because you know what’s best, but the students will say, “No.” And I just have to say, “Okay, that’s fine.” I can’t be angry at them, I’ll just talk to them about it again at a later time. I need to accept that.

People think that the IFC does everything I ask them to do. What they forget is that the IFC is comprised of fraternities, not just the executive board. The executive board can’t just make their own policies, they need to go get permission from their constituents. Don’t think that I’m in charge here, I’m really not. I’m in charge of this office. Luckily, for me, the students have been very accommodating.  They go with me sometimes, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, numbers are up (recruitment, grades, philanthropy, etc.). Situations that are ugly are down, even though they don’t look like they are. The borough is not complaining constantly about fraternities downtown. It’s just the opposite.

I’ll be honest; the four governing councils we’ve had for 2009 are the best councils I’ve had ever, in my career. It’s at a place where I have to keep up with them, instead of them having to keep up with me (which is the way it was at other schools). The students here are just amazing. We’ve got presidents that, when they leave office, I worry. I worry, “How will someone be able to replace them?” But someone always does! It’s a pretty interesting place, here. No regressions whatsoever. We have stumbles, we’re going to, but it’s not the end of the world. Overall, I’m not unhappy at all.

7. Do you feel that you were more “hands-on” with the Greek system at Syracuse than you are here at Penn State?
Oh, absolutely! If “hands-on” to you means “more involved in creating policies and procedures”, then absolutely. Having worked at private schools and then coming here was a big adjustment. I did have to realize that this is a state school. Properties are off campus. I don’t have any authority over those properties. I can’t even set foot on those properties unless I’m invited. I respect that. I don’t drive around, downtown, in the middle of the night, looking for someone doing something. The expectation of the institution is very different. I was expected, at Syracuse, to be a different kind of administrator. But here I’m not. I have a little extra time to spend on more productive things.

I also know that I’ve got a solid IFC that will hold chapters accountable and will not just ignore any type of crisis or situation we may have that might happen downtown. I don’t want to take any credit for that, I want to take credit for empowering our students and developing student leaders. If the IFC chooses to do something I want them to do, that’s okay. I’m not always right. People have to realize that I don’t think I’m always right, I’m just taking my knowledge of Greek life and my experiences (as a member of a fraternity) and my professional experience and I’m looking at this system saying, “What about this? How do you think we could do this differently?” My first semester we brought in 470 new men to the greek system and I said to the Greeks, “How’s that working out for you, guys? Guys are not joining this Greek system because of something. Nobody knows what it is.” Then the next Fall, we brought in 800+ guys. That’s still not stellar for a campus of this size, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Let’s constantly be evaluating. Let’s change it every year to make it better. Not just change for “change’s” sake but let’s make it better. I challenge the IFC all the time and I know that I drive them crazy sometimes, but this particular IFC and PHC and MGC and NPHC, my gosh, they walk in and challenge themselves (and me at some times). I’m pretty pleased with them.

8. How different, do you feel, Greek Life is now than when you were an active member in college?
Well, you could drink at 18…..and that’s huge. Absolutely huge. Your generation and my generation are so different (at the college age) because technology, now, is so different. This is not a criticism, just an observation, but you all are so over the top because you have grown up with technology that if it doesn’t just blow you out of the water, if you don’t have the iPhone, the other phones aren’t worth it. Because that’s the best phone out there. To be carrying around an LG you’re like “Eh…one day, I’ll have an iPhone.” And that’s the way your Greek life experience is.

We would have ten kegs tapped 24/7 but nobody was down there doing keg stands and funneling beer and playing beer pong. I partied hard, I really did, I partied like a rock star. We were drinking great alcohol and chasing it with beer. It was so different. When I’m home with my high school/college friends, we talk about this a great deal. It’s a great conversation. For instance, fundraising. The current generation is so over the top that people would get upset if you didn’t raise some-odd million dollars. To us, that would have been a phenomenon. Everything was just viewed so differently back then.

9. How often do you come in contact with Greeks outside the IFC/PHC?
Considering the big program we have here, not as often as I’d like……..

10. If you could address every Penn State Greek right now, what would you say?
I want fraternity men and sorority women to understand how great they are and what a great system we have. The reason they don’t get a lot of recognition from external stakeholders is because we haven’t gotten a handle on our social lives. All the good that happens in this Greek system just gets overshadowed by our lack of risk management. The negative aspects overshadow the great aspects (property treatment, risk management). The public only remembers the bad for some reason….

Onward State signature question: If you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
No doubt I’d be a T-rex. I mean, they’re huge! They’re dominant! They have no enemies, I don’t think. They’re not afraid to take a stand. And that’s me. I do it for the right intentions. Everything he does is based off survival. He’s like the King.

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About the Author

Dennis

Dennis is a rising junior majoring in IST with a minor in Supply Chain. Outside the classroom, Dennis is an ITS Lab Consultant, a member of the Penn State Blue Band Drumline, and the current President of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity. Check out his website at www.DennisSiller.com

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