Keynote by Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94

Susan H. Murphy '73, PhD '94 is Vice President for Student and Academic Services of Cornell University, a post she has held since 1994. Under her direction are academic support, campus life, the dean of students, Greek life, international students, career services, public service, religious affairs, athletics and physical education, health services, and the Cornell Commitment. Dr. Murphy is a member of Pi Beta Phi and is an ardent supporter of fraternities and sororities on campus.

Thank you very much and welcome everybody, and thank you for the honor of joining in this fabulous celebration. Having heard Doc’s invocation, I'm not so sure you haven't already had your keynote address [laughter]. I wish we had it recorded Doc, because when those who are our critics wonder why a system such as the fraternity and sorority system exists, I'd love to play the tape of what we just had you remind us. [applause] And as you indicated, there may be a variety of beliefs in this room, similar to yours or different from yours, but I think we all might say it's a miracle that our chapters and the leadership of 18- and 19- and 20-year olds thrive as they do, no matter your religious belief. So thank you for the guidance you provide, and thank you for the upper hand that keeps that miracle going year after year.

A centennial celebration for any organization is extraordinary, but particularly when you think about a group of people who come together voluntarily, in this case a fraternity, that it has survived and indeed thrived over a hundred years. I didn't know a thing about Mug and Jug until tonight, but one can imagine that those men who gathered a hundred years ago had no idea what Cornell University would look like and would value a hundred years later. They were trying to create an organization for themselves and position it during their their time. But in their values and in their mission they created a strong structure such that this organization could thrive and evolve and emerge as a leadership organization one hundred years later.

I've had the wonderful good fortune of sitting at the table among alumni of the '60s who really broke the ground of changing the clauses that defined membership in Lambda Chi Alpha at the national level, so that it could reflect what Cornell was like in the 1960s, and allows it to be like what Cornell is like in 2013, a hundred years later. And there are chapters now back on the campus, I am pleased to say, that had to leave Cornell because Cornell held to its founding values of “any person in any study”— all religions, both genders, any economic background, any or no faith, international/national, racial/ethnic diversity— that's what this institution did from the day it opened its doors. And it found itself in this quandary in the '60s of having a variety of organizations that were critical to the housing of its students, critical to the leadership opportunities of its students, that had values that were antithetical to its principles. And Lambda Chi should be very proud of the leadership role it took. It didn't take Cornell University to take the action they did later in the 1960s to articulate what had to happen. Lambda Chi and Omicron chapter led the way to do that on its own. So that's one example of your leadership, and you should feel very proud of that, and remember that heritage because it has continued, and I hope it will, in Doc’s words, lead to the future.

This is one of the very early chapters now in the 1970s that took the concept of pledging and ended that vocabulary, and moved to a concept of “associate member.” Now, there will be some who say that is semantics only, and the shenanigans that occurred before 1972 continued after 1972, but I do think there’s a lot of power in the words that we use. And so for the chapter to say that we are no longer upon invitation having “pledges” but rather welcoming “associate members” is a huge difference. And so when in 2011 David Skorton, the 12th president of Cornell, challenges the Greek organizations to “end pledging as we know it,” in some ways he's hearkening back to what Lambda Chi did in 1972. And he's calling upon this generation of students to be the leaders that Lambda Chis were in the 1960s and the 1970s— to effect change in an organization not only here on this campus, but frankly nationally.

Any of us who are Greek— and particularly those who come back to events like this, we obviously have a positive predisposition to our Greek experience— know what a difference this made to us in our undergraduate time. I just spent the weekend with my Cornell Pi Phi roommate, having played hooky with her last week— because she's now retired and I'm not— in which she invited me to join her in the member-guest golf tournament. I thought, “Great, it'll be a wonderful way to spend a weekend,” only to discover that when you’re retired you can do those things on Wednesdays and Thursdays. [laughter] So when I reminded her that I was still working, her comment was, “So?” So I took a couple days off last week, and I went to play golf with my Pi Phi roommate. [applause]

She and I and four other Pi Phis who spanned three class years— in this Cornell family we all tell our ages, so I'm '73, we have some '72, some '74— we have vacationed together now for 33 years with our partners and our families and now our grandchildren, because that's the friendship that emerged for us at 330 Triphammer Road in the same way that you are experiencing and reliving that friendship of 125 Edgemoor. There is something about the small environment— the home, that Doc reminded us— we create, the leadership opportunities that are possible in these smaller communities that create a very special connection to our alma mater— not in place of our connection to Cornell, but amplifying that connection to Cornell through our Lambda Chi or our Pi Phi or whatever experience it might be.

These organizations, as Doc reminded us, were here the day we opened our doors. Andrew Dickson White was a member of several fraternities, actually (something you can't do today). He didn't believe in building residence halls because it thought would be a bad idea to have a lot of 18-year-olds living together. How prescient he was. [laughter] But even in 1868, students who came to Cornell University wanted to come together to create communities and so on our opening day we had a handful of fraternities, and it was not long after that that sororities, starting with Kappa Alpha Theta I believe, came onto the campus.

So there is a long long history at Cornell of the fraternity and sorority system. Most of it is proud, but we all know that not all of it is proud: the changes that needed to occur about restrictive clauses, the changes that needed to occur when you took the lead in associate membership, the challenge that David Skorton is giving to this generation to end pledging as we know it and truly, truly root out hazing— because there is no place for the belittling, demeaning, never mind physical violence that can occur, when we call these people our brothers and our sisters. [applause] So while there are many students on campus today who would not believe what Mike said when he introduced me as a strong supporter of the Greek system, and certainly would not believe that my treasured colleague who does such fabulous work for us, Travis Apgar, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living— Travis, raise your hand. [applause] Travis is a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon. And our Dean of Students, Kent Hubbell, a member of Alpha Delta Phi. We have three individuals in leadership positions, all of whom had Greek experiences— and are proud to say we are still members of those Greek communities.

Sometimes the reason we say what we say and do what we do is because we hold our family to very high standards. And that's the message that we're trying to convey, that for this set of organizations who have been at Cornell University since our opening day, places like Lambda Chi Alpha that have been here for a hundred years, they need to be here forever. They need to be here for the second one hundred years of Lambda Chi. [applause] It is so vitally important for you to come together, to share the terrific history that you have, to renew those incredible friendships face-to-face— not just across the miles, and through the Internet, to invest in your future as you are doing both in the physical plant and in the mentoring of the next generation, and frankly do what we do in our families which is hold them to high standards. And sometimes that's making some tough decisions. I hope that every chapter at Cornell will do what this chapter has done. You remind yourselves of your founding values, and Ralph was good enough to list them for me, and I want to just read them for you in case you can't recite them by memory after a long weekend of partying. [laughter]

Seven Core Values, which is a leadership development vision for this particular fraternity: they're called the True Brother Values of loyalty, duty, respect, service and stewardship, honor, integrity, personal courage. If we all are successful in this chapter and across the system to take those values and truly live them, there's no question in my mind that the fraternity and sorority system will continue to be the leaders that they have been at Cornell. You can look across our Board of Trustees and count by the handful many handfuls those leaders who are active in the fraternity or sorority system when they were undergraduates. It's no surprise. These values guide you in your professional lives, they guide you I'm sure in your personal lives, they guide you in your brotherhood with Lambda Chi. May they continue to guide the next generation of Lambda Chis so that the next generation can also be here to celebrate a hundred years and our Greek system, both fraternities and sororities, thrive for the years to come.

Thank you for making the very special effort to come back and celebrate the centennial. You owe yourself a huge round of applause for your investment at Cornell and Lambda Chi and in the future of our undergraduates. Thank you very much.