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James Koval
The Alabama Chronicle

[Due to the truncated copy of this article, some of the content is missing along the left margins. The locations of this missing or incomplete content are marked with brackets.]

After 68 Years The "Group" Still Rules Campus

Introduction: It has been almost 15 years since the [last] Machine expose was printed in the Crimson White. At that time in 1968 Machine members gave the [CW] a thorough description of the Machine and its activities. This academic year 1982-83 Machine members have again come forward and spoken out [about] the workings of the Machine and who its current members are.

This fall certain Machine members became [disillusioned] with the organization and gave the CW a [] concerning SGA President Tom Campbell’s [apology] before the Machine for appointing John Bolus [as] executive assistant. The story by Barry Woodham [] covered the Machine’s selection of candidates for [] three SGA executive offices including Mike Land for SGA president, Alan Franco for SGA vice-president and Allison O’Neill for SGA treasurer.

When we at The Alabama Madman expressed an [interest] in doing a publication that would again expose [the] Machine and update the University community on [their] activities, we were contacted by a member of the Machine. This person is responsible for much of the [] information included here. Other information [was] gathered from University administrators, from current and former SGA leaders and from the Machine exposes in the Crimson White in 1961 and [].

Everything included here is true and can be proven [in a] court of law. All opinions and speculations are [clearly] marked as such. To point out the accuracy of [our] Machine source we should note that in November, [before] sign-up for SGA elections began, we were given [a list] of the available SGA seats that noted which fraternities and sororities would be fielding candidates for these seats. After obtaining the list of [names] from the SGA elections committee in January [we matched] the names to the different fraternities and sororities on our list and discovered our source was 100% correct. For example, where we were told the Chi Omegas would be running a girl for women’s dorm […we] now find Heidi Conn, a Chi Omega, running for women’s dorm senator.

It is hoped this publication will educate the current University community about the Machine and provide a basis for monitoring the organization in years to come. The names of our sources are not given because it was agreed we would not print them.

Readers should note at points in this publication the names “the Group,” “Theta Nu Epsilon,” and the “the Men of One” will be used interchangeably since they are all synonymous with the Machine.


What is the Machine?: The Machine is a secret political organization at the University whose members select and support candidates for all possible SGA and IFC/Panhellenic offices and all possible school offices each year. The Machine also controls much of the selection process for campus honoraries. Machine members encourage fraternity brothers and sorority sisters currently in campus honoraries (such as ODK) to vote in other members of Machine houses.

The Machine was founded by Lister Hill in 1914 as the local chapter of Theta Nu Epsilon, a national fraternal organization then. Its purpose, as now, was to promote its candidates for student offices on campus. At some time in its history, the local chapter of Theta Nu Epsilon was outlawed by the University but it went underground and stayed intact. Members began calling the organization “the Group.” Outsiders began calling it the Machine.

For most of its history, girls were not allowed in the Group. In the 1970s, when sorority girls began posing a political threat and when the independent population of the University began increasing, sororities were invited to join the Group.

Also, to offset the growing independent vote, more fraternities were invited to join.

Today the Machine is made up of 16 fraternities and eight sororities. It controls approximately 2400 votes, its highest number to date.

The Machine has produced several outstanding leaders in state and national politics since 1914 including Lister Hill and John Sparkman, both U.S. Senators, and Don Don Siegelman, the current Secretary of State in Alabama. Some former Machine members are currently serving as administrators here at the University although not enough evidence had been gathered at press time to legally name them.

The Machine has always controlled campus politics. Some independent candidates have beaten the Machine in recent years including Cleo Thomas (SGA President 1976) and Jerry Devaney (SGA President 1978). Independent victories have been far apart. No overall sweep by independents has ever taken place at Alabama. The potential for a sweep Thursday, upon examination of the current ballot exists for the first time in years.


Membership: There are currently 16 fraternities [and] eight sororities in the Machine. Of the 24 houses [each] has one junior and one senior representative. The [junior] member serves as an apprentice attending meetings with the senior member or filling in when the [senior] member cannot attend.

In addition to house representatives, membership is [comprised] of ex-officio member. These include the SGA President, SGA vice-president and SGA treasurer [(when] Machine elected) and also the IFC President [and] Panhellenic president (always Machine elected). The president, vice-president and treasurer of the Machine are elected from among the senior house representatives.

[It] is a new rule that if a house’s representatives miss [more] than two meetings in a semester the house is automatically kicked out of the Machine.

Downstairs: A house is said to be “downstairs” in the Machine when it has been invited in as an independent member for one year or when it is a full voting [house.] A person is said to be “downstairs” when [he or] she is the senior or junior member representing a [house.]

The Men of One: As a special note, the greek letters [of] Theta Nu Epsilon, TNE, most nearly spell the [word] ‘one’. At times members of the Machine are [referred] to as “The Men of One.”


[The] Machine Meeting Agenda: The Machine usually [meets] on Sunday nights most often in recent history at [the] Kappa Sigma, Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu or ZBT house. [The] agenda of the meetings is as follows:

[] House Bills — Each house pays $200 per [semester] or $400 per year to stay in the Machine. The [first] order of business is checking to see which houses [are paid] up and which are not.

[] Roll Call — If a house registers two no-shows in [a semester] (both senior and junior members miss the [] meeting) the house is automatically kicked out.

[] Machine Roll call is taken to evaluate which [houses] are present.

[] Machine Business — Some of the business [members] discuss includes selecting the candidates for [SGA] offices and planning their campaigns (the [primary] function of the Machine), making changes in [the] Machine constitution, controlling voting in [campus honoraries], and taking disciplinary action against [a member] house for violations.

[] SGA Business — The SGA executive officers [give updates] on their activities. The SGA president [will mention] problems he is having and how members [can help]. He may have an SGA chairmanship open [and will] encourage members to tell their fraternity and sorority members to go out for it.

[The] SGA vice-president will give a legislative [update when] there is an important bill coming up in the SGA [, and] he will tell the Machine members how their [] SGA senators are expected to vote. This [] is why so many important bills pass the SGA [senate] with little or no discussion. The Machine [senators] have a majority and have already been [instructed on] how to vote.

[The SGA] treasurer may give an update on how [much money] the SGA has left to spend or deal with [any other] financial aspect of the SGA.

[IFC]/Panhellenic Business — The IFC and [Panhellenic] presidents will make announcements and [mention any] problems they may be having and how the [Machine members] can help. Also at this time IFC/Panhellenic [] may be discussed. The Machine always [decides] who the IFC and Panhellenic officers will be.


[Machine membership]: As it evolves, houses drop out or [are thrown out] of the Machine and other houses [can become new] or reinstated members.

To become a member an outside house must first be [invited to] join by the current machine members. A [new house] comes downstairs as a non-voting or independent house for one year. An independent house sends only one representative to Machine meetings. After one year there is a vote by the current members, who have evaluated the independent house’s performance that year, to decide whether to let the independent house come “downstairs” as a full voting house. The members must vote unanimously for the new house to become a full voting member. If the vote is not unanimous, the new house is kicked out.

Initiation Ceremony; Each house representative must be initiated into the Machine before coming downstairs. Machine members wear black hoods similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. They first give the history of Theta Nu Epsilon (the Machine) to the representative and then make him/her take an oath of secrecy. Third they teach the representative to say “the Group” when referring to the Machine. In fact, it is mostly people on the outside who refer to the Group , i.e. Theta Nu Epsilon, as the Machine. Fourth the new representative is taught the motto of Theta Nu Epsilon: LITTLE IS KNOWN AND WHAT IS KNOWN IS KEPT SECRET.

MACHINE BUSINESS: Choosing The Candidate For Office

The immediate purpose of the Machine is to maintain control of the SGA by running candidates for as many of the available SGA offices and school offices as possible. To explain the voting procedure it is first necessary to point out the following:

1) The ex-officio members of the Machine, the SGA president, SGA vice-president, SGA treasurer, IFC president and Panhellenic president do not vote for candidates — only policy issues.

2) Each house has one vote for each available position.

3) Only the senior members may get and make commitments for their houses.

4) This is the second year there has been an open roll call vote in the Machine.

If a house wants an available SGA office, the house representative will campaign among the other Machine members and seek commitments from them to vote for the representative’s house to receive the position. In exchange, the house representative will make commitments to other Machine members to vote for their houses to receive other SGA offices.

For example, if the KA’s want one of the C&BA senate seats, the KA representative will seek commitments from the other Machine representatives to vote KA for one of the available seats. The KA representative may agree with the Sigma Nu representative to vote Sigma Nu for a seat the Sigma Nu’s want, if the Sigma Nu representative will vote KA for one for one C&BA seat. The KA will continue to get and make commitments until he has enough for his house to win the C&BA seat.

Since the vote is by open roll call now, the KA representative will be able to see that all the members who committed to KA vote KA.

When the actual voting occurs, the house winning the most votes from the membership for an office wins that office.

At the end of the meeting, the house representative will let the Machine president know the actual name of the candidate if his/her house has won an office. It is important to note this is usually the first time a candidate’s name is mentioned.

Our source in the Machine said when Machine members are getting and making commitments, names are almost never mentioned. To return to the example, if the Sigma Nu representative committed to KA for the C&BA seat, he would probably not know or care who the KA candidate was until the Machine ballot came out.

Qualifications, our source pointed out, have absolutely nothing to do with a person’s getting on the Machine ballot. In the SGA executive races qualifications may matter some but it is still which members can get the most commitments for their houses to win.

Deals are primary in securing and making commitments, according to our source. No one gets “screwed over” in the Machine. If a house does not win the offices it wanted, it is either because a) the house has nothing to bargain with besides its vote or b) the Machine representative for the house did not hustle and get enough commitments to win the offices.

For example, the Delta Tau Delta and Lambda Chi Alpha houses are weak in the Machine now because they have nothing to bargain with except their vote. No houses owe them favors. According to our source, part of getting commitments consists of calling in favors and committing to “owe a house a favor.”

A house may be owed a favor because it’s Machine representative came through for another house in a tight voting situation.

To illustrate, if the KA representative commits to a weak house like Delta Tau Delta for an office, he may change his vote if a house he owes a favor to also wants that office. Only in this case could a house be said to be “screwed over.” And even in this case it is Delta Tau Delta’s fault for letting their house become weak. If KA owed DTD a favor, chances are good the KA representative would not switch his vote. If he did, he would have to face the DTD representative after the roll call vote and would lose the trust of that fraternity. Later, if the KA representative needed DTD to come through for him, he would have no chance.

Our source said the most common reason a house loses an office is the house representative does not secure enough commitments to win the office. Ray Pate, a Delta Chi, nearly lost his C&BA senate seat by one or two votes because the Delta Chi Machine representative, Walt Gilmer, did not hustle and secure a safe number of commitments to Delta Chi for the seat.

Those Machine representatives who lost offices for their houses because they did not hustle enough for commitments will report back to their houses and declare the Machine “screwed over” the house. Since the other leaders in the house were not at the meeting, they believe the representative.

Once the Machine ballot is determined, the Machine members return to their houses and encourage or instruct their actives to vote for the Machine candidates. This is usually done in chapter meeting.

As mentioned in the CW expose in 1961 and still true today is the fact when there are independents and independent greeks opposing Machine candidates, Machine representatives will tell their actives that the opposing candidates are anti-greek. And voting for the “anti-greek” candidates would be bad for the house.

Several Machine houses require their actives to vote and fine them if they do not. Known fines range from $10-$50. This is one main reason greek voter turnout is so high. According to several sources in Machine houses, the actives “couldn’t care less about elections.” The fines are necessary to get actives to vote.

The Machine candidates win because voter apathy, which would probably be just as prevalent among greeks as it is among independents, is ruled out in Machine houses.