How Professionalization Ruined Fraternities

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In 1899 a group of men were barred from joining any of the fraternities together at the College of the City of New York (CCNY now CUNY).

They were of mixed descent; some were Christian and some Jewish, and no fraternity offered membership to both. They decided, on their own, as a group aged as young as 16 years old, to create Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity.

From that conversation a national fraternity, now with more than 100 chapters and 115,000 initiates, was born. There wasn’t a grand strategic plan to spark that growth. Some men at Columbia desired to affiliate, then men at NYU and so on.

There were no academic advisors, no Fraternity & Sorority Life Coordinators, no headquarters staff and no FIPG. There was only a group of men committed to making a difference.

“The railroad still stood; his battle to build it had dissolved into a legend, because people preferred not to understand it or believe it possible”

– Atlas Shrugged

In 2014 the national fraternities and sororities established through dozens of moments similar to that which was just described are too guided by a plan for something better, but it didn’t come about quite as organically.

When fraternity and sorority chapters chose to value power over principle the unique world built by movements like that at CCNY were shattered in favor of drugs, trashy parties and military-esque hazing.

Headquarters teams, designed to promote the growth of the message of these founding groups, and higher education responded by regulating things previously ignored, creating leadership programs and driving to pack their members’ calendars so full of expectations as to leave no time for mischief.

It doesn’t seem to have worked, and if physics is to be believed it could simply be that every force is met with an equal and opposite force. Our chapters’ extremism in social functions was met with extremism in our regulations followed by extremism in their underground backlash (TFM) and so on.

“We have the wolf by the ear and can neither hold him nor safely let him go.”

– Thomas Jefferson

When I speak with professionals in our field they mention that we are fighting the good fight. The world is not like it was in 1899 and so fraternities and sororities need to adjust to our time. . .

That is something I can’t really buy into. Nothing we do is like what our founders and early members did, but we paint over all of these new initiatives with the claim that we are returning to the values of our founding members.

In fact, the only thing that I see has changed in fraternity and sorority life since the creation of our organizations is the professionalization of fraternity and sorority life.

Think of education. Do most decisions surrounding spending and education revolve around teachers and zip codes or students? People will always say students, but high schools being required to have a physical library with at least 1,500 physical books and a full-time librarian staff in the age of the internet and e-books seems to benefit publishers and librarians more than students.

Our response was to increase the number of things our chapters must do. That, in turn, required that we train our chapter officers more regularly on what to do. It also meant that in order to accomplish our desired goals, chapters needed to increase in size and add more chairmen positions. Our headquarters and university-level staffs also grew and in an attempt to legitimize their profession “standardized” excellence, requiring further growth and expenditures all around.

In doing all of that, the focus of fraternity shifted from lifelong membership to “do a bunch of stuff in college, burn out, and relax as an alumnus.” We then get upset and worry about alumni retention when we are the ones turning them off in the first place.

Suddenly, joining a fraternity was less about joining an association of like-minded men and more about padding a resume with half-baked philanthropy events. What we do today is of convenience, fear and a widespread lack of leadership.

“Young people are not raw material. . . they are not play things”

– Ron Paul

I can’t remember a time when a hard decision has been made (at the headquarters or institutional level) where the decision-maker hasn’t labeled said decision as some unpreventable response to a circumstance. No one earns respect by pinning the blame on another; it’s why everyone hates almost every politician in Washington D.C.

So you’ve had a few bad expansions. Why cut off options with all 50 other fraternities regardless of their track record? Unless 70% of your men are in a fraternity you have not hit market saturation and your students are not “opposed” to expansion, just the way you’ve gone about it.

So your website doesn’t work that well. You can blame the host for being too slow, expensive and terrible, or you can blame yourself for doing too narrow a search and not jumping ship after repeated warning signs. Your students want you to have a website, just not in the way you went about it.

“You must welcome defeat as a way to make you stronger”

– Robert Greene

Our founders were men and women of action. They saw a climate that needed something new, something fresh and something centered around like-minded people and they created fraternities and sororities to address the causes.

My founders didn’t just split their group up and join different fraternities. They made Delta Sigma Phi for men of all backgrounds, religions and creeds. Does that sound like men enslaved to circumstance?

The most relevant, bold and applause-worthy thing we can do at this moment is to return to the fundamentals of fraternity, not mask radical change in the comfort of the past via “The Fraternal Values Movement.”

Fraternity and sorority are, in my opinion, the most recognized way for a college student to tap into a network of like-minded people. That’s why they are called social and professional fraternities, not clubs. We already know this, we tout it all the time, but what percentage of your member dues go toward association-style benefits?

I’d be encouraged if more organizations created entrepreneurial grants, gave loans to their student members for college and made donations to institutions. I’d love our organizations to pool our networks together and build nationwide career fairs. I’d love for us to get the smartest Greeks together to share ideas with our members and publicly on the web. I’d love for us to monetize the skills of our membership pool, if only to provide that pool with more benefits.

I don’t care about the rest. Our founders didn’t care about the rest. No one else in America cares about the rest. So why are we doing it? Are we afraid that what our founders wanted wasn’t moral enough? Does returning to a founders’ vision mean slapping their words on our circumstance?