By ERIC JOONDEPH/Montana State News
Matthew Caires, dean of students at Montana State University, is kind, driven and enthusiastic in all walks of life. He moved to Bozeman not only because of the wonderful opportunity he was offered as dean of students here at MSU, but also everything he loved to do outdoors was all short commute away.
Caires worked at University of Wyoming, a land grant school, for 10 years where he received his doctorate. He attended Washington State University and earned his master’s degree from University of Vermont. It’s important to note that all 3 schools are land grant universities.
“I’m a product of land grant experience,” he says.
Caires knew deep down he wanted to be a dean of students at a campus well-known for its academics, student body and leadership. But, he carefully decided where he wanted to live and work. He wanted to be closer to his family since he grew up in north Idaho. Caires mentions a good dean is always available, meaning you don’t have much travel time, which is why he picked Bozeman – the outdoor activity and beautiful weather doesn’t warrant regular travel. Lastly, he wanted to work at a land grant school as he described MSU as “home run.”
When Caires became a part of Montana State University, he came in with goals and aspirations for the school. But after some time, he realized what he thought he was going to be doing isn’t what he is actually doing.
“When I started here I was amazed at how many things were going really well, and a handful of things desperately needed to be done differently.”
He spent much of his time when he initially started fixing things that were neglected and helping his office “move into the 21st century.” His goal was to transform his office into technologically functioning workspace, instead of clustered paperwork filing.
“When I started everything was done with paper and the office was filled with filing cabinets, I told my co-workers this must be done differently; this is something we got away from 20 years ago.”
Caires is a very well liked person, but part of that changed with the suspension two fraternities in the fall of 2013. He began to notice that the two fraternities disliked him but it didn’t really catch his eye until a year later during an IRA chair meeting where students asked him, “Why do you hate the fraternities?”
He holds the fraternities to a high standard, but people have asked him, “why do you treat fraternities differently than other groups?” His answer was simple:
“Fraternities are different; you’re a lifelong member; they take an oath, and I will not hold them to standards that they didn’t agree to hold themselves too.”
Members regard being in a fraternity as something to be enthusiastically proud of, but when other people find out it can result in instant judgment.
“Out of the students who will react negatively to that, you don’t want them associated with you. The ones that react positively to that, there’s a spot for you,” said Caires.
“Mark my words, Darwin was right, five years from now some fraternities might not make it.”
According to the Guardian, last year three sexual assaults were reported at one Texas fraternity within just one month. There is much pressure on Greek life currently all over the country, and the easy answer from people is to ban the Greek system. But that isn’t Caires’s answer.
“My answer has always been for 15 years now that I’ve been in this work, is if you have fraternities it’s the universities job to make them the best, safest academic experience that you can have. I am not in favor of shutting them down but rather in favor of making them better,” said Caires.
Caires enjoys MSU’s Greek life because of the willingness to be powerful leaders, strong community service and diligent organizations. Ever since the tragedy of the two fraternities in the fall of 2013, Caires has been working very closely with the fraternity presidents to not only get to know them on a personal basis but also to help them move on from their mistakes and make their house a better and safer place.
His goals for Greek life moving forward are all chapters above all men’s or the all women’s grade point averages, all chapters contributing community service and philanthropy at a level higher than any other student organization, fun and safe environments where people can enjoy themselves and consume alcohol in a safe, legal and responsibly way, and lastly, that graduation and retention rates that are consistently above the rest of the student body.
According to Addiction Center, Harvard published a study on their website that said four out of five fraternity and sorority members are binge drinkers. In comparison, other research suggests two out of five college students overall are regular binge drinkers.
“I expect the students to get better grades, to graduate faster, to contribute to do service to make the place better and ultimately have a good time socially.” said Caires.
As to how he is regarded around campus: “I think I’ve learned in this world 25 percent of the people are going to love you, 25 percent of the people are going to hate you, and 50 percent of the people are not really going to care.” said Caires.
“I’ve been hired to do a job, and it’s a very difficult job. I deal with some of the hardest things the university has to deal with,” said Caires.
MSU President Waded Cruzado plays a huge role in the life of Matt Caires at MSU. He views her as a mentor, a leader who is willing to take on tough issues – to him, leadership is courage. It takes courage to make hard decisions when people will either like you for it or poke fun at you.
A big part of Caires’s job as Dean of students is making students feel safe and successful by rewriting student policy code. This year, Caires was able to help rewrite MSU’s sexual misconduct policy.
“One of the rights students have is to live and to learn in an environment that’s fundamentally safe. There’s needs we have as human beings; food, shelter, warmth. You can’t learn if you don’t feel safe.”
One of Matt’s favorite jobs is to enforce policy and put it to practice.
– Edited by Andy Lindberg