In 1999, challenges that continue to impact Greek organizations today were starting to emerge on college campuses across the country. Universities, as well as fraternity leaders and members, were concerned about the effects of the rise in drinking, hazing and apathy among fraternity men. Even then, SigEp leaders knew that to solve these problems, we would have to lead from the front and “reinvent fraternity,” as Order of the Golden Heart recipient and Past Grand President Frank J. Ruck, Michigan ’46, put it.
Discussions on the best way to confront these challenges led to the creation of the Ruck Leadership Institute. The program, designed to equip brothers with the skills to lead cultural changes in their chapters and beyond, was born out of a meeting of the Balanced Man Development Committee shortly after the death of its chairman — the institute’s namesake. The committee believed that if the Balanced Man Program — still in its early stages at the time — took off, a different kind of fraternity man would emerge: one who would seek out personal growth, respect his brothers as equals and be a leader in his community.
Two of the committee members, Jay Hurt, Davidson ’88, and John Hartman, Missouri ’61, felt that if they could spend a few days inspiring SigEp’s best and brightest to implement the Balanced Man Program in their chapters, this vision of a different fraternity man and a different fraternity would become a reality.
“We have a real opportunity to take bright young men and equip them with the skills to go back to their campuses and develop and lead a very positive fraternity experience,” said Hurt. “Frank’s legacy lives on in the actions and leadership and lives of Ruck scholars, and that’s a pretty fitting way to honor him.”
Twenty years ago, the pair drew up plans for the first Ruck Leadership Institute on the backs of napkins and envelopes.
“It was an experiment, different than anything SigEp had ever tried and unique in the fraternity world,” said SigEp CEO Brian Warren, Virginia ’04, as he reflected on the program’s origins while addressing this year’s Ruck scholars at the program’s closing session.
That first institute was attended by 20 scholars and focused on how to bring the BMP to life using activities that would be both developmental and fun for brothers. Since then, the curriculum has evolved to focus on the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” co-authored by Barry Posner, California-Santa Barbara ’70. Yet, the core purpose of the program has always remained the same — “teaching the few to impact the many.”
The 20th Ruck Leadership Institute, held this June, brought nearly 150 SigEp undergraduates to Richmond, Virginia, and in its two decades has made an indelible impact on more than 2,500 brothers.
At Ruck, facilitators lead small groups of undergraduates in meaningful conversation, fostering mentoring relationships that continue for years. Hartman and Hurt were the original facilitators, and at this year’s program were celebrated for their role in founding Ruck with a proclamation from the National Board of Directors. Additionally, in honor of the 20th anniversary, more than half of this year’s 17 facilitators were past Ruck scholars themselves.
“A leader’s success is in his ability to inspire others to share his cause,” said Hartman, who at 81, returns to Richmond every summer to serve as a Ruck facilitator. “That sentiment is not only lacking on campuses, but in every place, and it’s what we try to instill at Ruck.”
The program has had a significant ripple effect on campuses and communities across the country as past scholars use its teachings to make positive change in their chapters and years later in their workplaces, community organizations and families. In SigEp, they often become chapter presidents, student directors on the National Board, regional directors and, after graduation, seek out volunteer roles to give back to the Fraternity.
“The deep friendships I gained with Ruck scholars and program facilitators continue to this day, and the leadership practices from the program have helped me navigate numerous situations in my career,” said Zar Toolan, Columbia ’01, a wealth management executive and 2000 Ruck scholar. “Ruck is an experience that has paid dividends for nearly two decades.”
In addition to Jay Hurt’s many contributions to the Ruck Leadership Institute, he is matching every dollar raised for the future of Ruck. Brothers and friends wishing to honor the legacy of the program and secure its future can do so at sigep.org/ruck20.