The University recognizes 48 social greek organizations. Approximately 20 percent of the UA undergraduate student population
is a member of a greek organization. Fraternities and sororities are more than social clubs, however. A healthy spirit of
competition among the different fraternities and sororities encourages members to excel in every aspect of college life. Greek
individual and group grade point averages are regularly equal to or higer than those of the general student body. Additionally,
greek groups often engaged in extensive philanthropy and charitable activities. Three governing boards oversee the operations of
the greek organizations: the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the Panhellenic Association, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council
(NPHC).For the most part, however, Alabama's fraternities and sororites are segregrated, with the IFC and Panhellenic Association
forming the "white Greek system" and the NPHC forming the "minority Greek system." Whether this segregation is "voluntary" or
"forced" is a matter of debate. However, integration of the greek system is slowly occuring. Gamma Phi Beta, a "white sorority"
admitted its first black member in fall 2003.
Alabama is often described as a place where one can experience an "small college" atmosphere with "big university" amenities.
And though the Alabama community is a peaceful and cohesive one for the most part, a thorn in the side of the University's pysche
is the sometimes-tense relationship between the Greek community and non-Greek, "independent" community.This divide most often flares up during the school's annual Student Government Association (SGA) elections. Historically, the
SGA is been dominated the so-called "white greek system." A purported secretive group called the Machine, supposedly the local chapter of the secret
society Theta Nu Epsilon, which is similar to the infamous Skull and
Bones at Yale University is said to control the SGA
elections.According to newspaper accounts and a documentary produced by the university shown on public television, the Machine has a
long tradition at the university, dating back to its founding in 1914 by the late U.S.
Senator Lister Hill, who also founded the Jasons Men's
Senior Honorary and who served as the SGA's first president. Initially, only select fraternities were members; sororities were
not offered membership until the 1970s. To this day, not all greek letter organizations have been offered membership, and it is
believed that over the years, some fraternities and sororities that were members have had their memberships revoked. It is
believed that 90% of those who are put up for SGA office by the Machine go on
to political careers in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana. Alleged members include former
Alabama Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley, former Alabama
Governor Don Siegelman, and
current U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.Futhermore, SGA elections have been marred by violent assaults and death threats in the past, resulting in an FBI investigation, and turnout among independents remains low because of apathy. A Machine candidate
is guaranteed several thousand votes, thus ensuring victory. Machine-backed candidates have won all but seven races for the SGA
presidency since 1914, including wins against former Alabama Gov. George Wallace (a non-Machine candidate).