After 37 years of working for the University’s Office of Greek Life, Director of Greek Life Mary Beth Seiler confirmed her plans to retire this year in an interview with The Michigan Daily on Jan. 19.
Seiler shared in an interview the challenges and successes of Greek life during her time as director, acknowledging the negative media attention and difficulties faced by the community over the past year, but overall praising the current and future state of Greek life.
Last winter, the University’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu caused thousands of dollars worth of damage at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich, prompting significant scrutiny on Greek life at the University. Members from other University Greek life chapters also vandalized Boyne Highlands, a ski resort in Harbor Springs, Mich.
Seiler said though such incidents of destructive behavior stem from individuals’ actions, they ultimately reflect on the organization as a whole.
“This past year has been uniquely challenging,” Seiler said. “It became difficult at times to maneuver that and figure out the best way to proceed.”
She said the incident was a wakeup call for everyone, and emphasized the ways Greek life has developed positively since the incident, including a 30-member task force which was created over the summer by former Greek life leaders to reinforce the values of the Greek community, such as brotherhood and sisterhood, leadership and service.
The task force began conducting research and benchmarking to evaluate possible improvements to the Greek life on campus. The group plans to share their recommendations at the end of this semester.
In an interview with the Daily on Friday, University President Mark Schlissel emphasized the importance of the Greek life task force, as well as other restorative efforts initiated since the Treetops incident last year.
“The whole community was sort of carrying this black eye that came from essentially inexcusable behavior driven by alcohol and other substances, and I think it was a real cold water on the face moment for our community,” Schlissel said. “It’s forced many people to pay attention who previously haven’t been paying close enough attention.”
In an e-mail interview, immediate past Panhellenic Association council president Maddy Walsh, a business senior, said she admires Seilers’ patience and hard work as director of Michigan Greek Life.
“It’s hard to imagine having the patience to work with 18-21 year olds for 37 years,” Walsh wrote, “but she treats every stressed out college student with the respect, care, and time that she would give her own family.”
Walsh is on the search committee to replace Seiler, so she declined to comment on what she hopes for in a new director.
Schlissel noted that though he has no direct involvement in the appointment of the new director of Greek life — E. Royster Harper, vice president of student life, is overseeing the search committee — he remains invested in the process.
“It is an area that I care about,” Schlissel said. “Hopefully we’ll get somebody who is excited about Greek life and wants to help it thrive by helping us and helping the students involved minimize this risk behavior.”
Walsh added that Seiler successfully engaged with such important issues within Greek Life within this past year as the ski trip incidents, sexual misconduct on campus and diversity initiatives.
“With Mary Beth by our side, my board was able to move our community beyond the incidents of ski trip, strengthen our partnership with SAPAC, improve our new member education program, and focus on Diversity and Inclusion within the four councils,” she wrote.
Through the task force, Seiler said as a community, Greek life continues to take steps toward improvement moving forward.
“In Greek life, we’re constantly looking at our issues and our problems and trying to figure out what we can do to better address them,” Seiler said. “We’re always looking at ways to make things better.”
Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones noted in an e-mail interview that Seiler was recognized this past December at the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors for her role as the longest serving Greek Life professional in the country. The University has also started an endowed leadership development fund for Greek Life that was named in her honor.
Jones said the search process for a new director, which is set to be completed in mid-April, will be largely student-led.
“The consistent engagement of strong student self governance and leadership of the community will continue to support the new director” Jones wrote. “Student voice and engagement in the search process is also essential. The search committee has strong student participation that will help ensure the best outcome possible for filling this important role.”