A “Higher Standard” Is A Personal Commitment. (Why Fraternities Are Leaving WVU)

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Different people have different standards, sure, but the world’s obsession with holding some people to a higher standard than others is regressive and causes tension in society. It leads to what young ones call “cancel culture,” and it basically means that anyone who disagrees with you can be “cancelled.”

Let’s build up this argument bit by bit. First, the common definition of a Standard. 

Standard: (1) (n.) something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.

Dictionary.com

A standard is consensual and applies equally across the board. Society has attempted to establish common standards since the dawn of civilization. The Ten Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and Kouze’s & Posner’s Five Exemplary Practices of Leadership are what we would consider attempts at standardization. They are broad, and they are generally considered valuable to society and at the individual level.

The 1st Amendment

The freedom of speech, religion, expression and association are inalienable (meaning they are inseparable from your human existence) rights held by each individual. That goes to say that each individual is allowed to adopt their own belief system so long as it does not infringe on the standard that everyone else is entitled to that same right.

Social tension arises when a person’s belief system is not applied equally across the board. We see this in politics all the time:

We have one standard of a member of our own political party or someone who speaks in favor of our political party and a different standard for members of other political parties or who position themselves as our opponents.

The two major political parties have impossibly positioned themselves opposite of one another on every fathomable “issue.” The only “standard” is to beat the opponent – which is why a Democrat in Indiana can get re-elected by bragging that he votes with Trump 62% of the time, but a Democrat in California would be disowned for such commentary – that lack of national identity applies to the Republicans as well. (see: House Liberty Caucus)

We have one standard for a singer/rapper we like and a different standard for a singer/songwriter we see as our fave’s rival or enemy. We have one standard for the CEO of Apple and an entirely different standard for the CEO of Comcast. The list goes on and on. 

What this variation in the application of our standards does is generate resentment. Some people don’t understand why we only say “Black Lives Matter” or “Believe Women” because they want the standards to be uniform. Some people don’t understand why we say “All Lives Matter” or “Believe Everyone” because they believe that some are afforded more “passes” than others and that the standards should be uniform. 

At the end of the day, the majority on either side are arguing in favor the same exact thing, but their alignment with different parties requires that we find a way to disagree even when we are vying for a common answer to the same question: Why do we give passes to some people and hold others brutally accountable?

Let’s pivot to fraternities. 

Each fraternity may have its own standards and expectations. One fraternity may wish to grow to the largest possible size – another to achieve the highest possible grades – another to volunteer more than the others – etc.

To then apply one person’s, or a single group of peoples’, standards on the whole of a fraternity community should be a cause for concern because it limits the ability of those people to associate as they wish. That is not to suggest that there be no rules related to fraternity chapters, but why do those rules need to be different than any other student organization?

Wouldn’t every student organization benefit from “alcohol-free” programming?

If not (take a beer-tasting club, for example), then why hold some students and organizations to different standards at the university level where a common code of conduct is meant to apply to all students? Discriminate in which students you accept to your university – not how your staff treats them once they are enrolled. (discriminate meaning “choose” within the boundaries of the law. . .)

A lawsuit was recently settled between “Young Americans for Liberty at UC Berkeley” and the school. The club was denied recognition because its mission was determined to be too similar to that of other organizations at the institution. When threatened with a lawsuit the University leadership chose to change its policy to be neutral toward the mission statements of student organizations.

Leaders in the fraternity and sorority space can learn something from this outcome – as the same issue recently presented itself among organizations with Greek-letter names at WVU [2]. It should not be difficult to understand why some fraternities established an independent IFC at WVU (read: “not difficult to understand” does not mean you must agree with it).

Many organizational leaders were unconvinced that deferring recruitment to the spring term was fit to be a universal standard and some fraternities severed formal ties with the University as a result of this and other differences of opinion. It was considered too technical or targeted to be broadly enforced. After all, deferred recruitment imposed by a university administrator could be interpreted as an admission that fraternities are detrimental to the development of a student and that literally any other club is not.

Worse for those who fear underground fraternities: What if students became creative with the way they established fraternities? What if a “German Club” operates exactly like a fraternity in secret, but isn’t held to any of the standards of the IFC? There would be an “underground fraternity” with recognition by a school (unless they are caught or someone gets hurt).

The issue is not that fraternity members wish to be regressive heathens who kill their own members. The issue is that some students are held to different standards than others, that many are aware of it, that they are pushing against those policies, and that we are responding by disparaging people as if they were simply regressive heathens determined to kill their own members.

That is why I advocate in favor of a simpler set of standards and greater personal attention to fraternity chapters. [3]

This doesn’t only apply to college communities; it applies to national organizations (from which several chapters have disaffiliated over the past year or two) and it applies to umbrella organizations (several fraternities have left the NIC over the years, for example).

In each of those cases, the chapters or fraternities are disparaged by the “pro-recognition” professionals in the field, because we don’t actually care about standards, we just want our way of thinking, talking and being to win over whatever puts itself into opposition. (see: Higher Ed professional Facebook group’s response to SigEp at U.Chicago’s disaffiliation or the social media reaction to Kappa Sigma’s national video which *GASP* didn’t include men doing community service).

I regularly hear fraternity/sorority professionals wax on at association meetings that we aren’t given the respect, freedom, or funding that we deserve. . . Well, how can we expect that level of respect when we deny it to our student members?


Revised 10/2018 – Text referring to the implementation of a deferred recruitment process at WVU and The University of Pittsburgh and their exclusive connection to any one professional were removed as they inaccurately conflated correlation with causation. Enjoy!

Questions or Thoughts?