The Dear Colleague Letter sent out under Barack Obama’s Department of Education can be credited with inspiring thousands of conference programs along with an equal number of defamation lawsuits against universities.
Regardless of one’s opinion of the letter, it did demonstrate an extension of the relationship between the federal government and higher education – one many likely support, but which comes with risk.
Formal recognition of fraternities by their host colleges/universities has benefits – access to campus facilities and college/university-hired support staff among them. Those are good things, and yet tying the destiny of the Fraternity/Sorority World to the plight of higher education ties it further to the specific and unique expectations of higher education institutions within government.
Many colleges and universities are accepting federal
money credit (The U.S. is in debt) in the form of federal aid to students or via educational grants. The proposed REACH Act, which aims to address hazing by reporting it, would be a requirement imposed on colleges and universities which receive federal funding.
Were the law to apply to every institution regardless of funding it could be considered unconstitutional, but making it a condition of federal funding is how it, and the Dear Colleague Letter, tie the hands of cash-hungry administrations by threatening to cancel their line of credit.
Many of the issues facing higher education are in some ways dealt with through a form of federal bribery and coercion. Fraternities and sororities are mostly free of federal funding, unless one or two receive grants of some form, but our insistence on university recognition makes our chapters direct components of the college or university.
There are greater concerns with that formal relationship beyond finding a spare room on campus (which should be an opportunity for any student anyway).
As we’ve seen at The University of Virginia, University of Central Florida, Harvard University and Penn State University, among others, college and university administrations pass off many of the issues facing the students they recruit onto fraternities. We can simultaneously play the role of partner and scapegoat all at once. Some ban fraternity communities. Some punish students of all single-gender organizations as if they are one mindless mass. Some simply push fraternities to absorb some of the cost of the education required in federal mandates.
NO NEED TO BURN BRIDGES.
Severing direct affiliation with colleges and universities does not mean severing relationships. Fraternity staffs and volunteers can still very easily collaborate with campus-hired professionals. In some cases, as is the case with UC: Boulder’s Inter-Fraternity Council, among others, the chapters may themselves hire a professional to manage and advise their community.
It also does not mean that fraternities sever relationships with college and university administrations. Instead, it makes the two equals. It allows us to operate independently, to address our issues independently, and to collaborate with colleges and universities on addressing mutual challenges. It also clears up the question of governance: who is responsible for which areas of student life?
Better yet, being open to operating without “university recognition” may enable our organizations to better focus on the community around the campus, would serve as a bargaining chip equal to a university pulling recognition of a chapter, and would allow fraternities to maintain university recognition in places where there is a mutual interest in maintaining a Greek Life community.
Many fraternities presently operate unrecognized chapters here and there (and there and there and there for some other fraternities). In many if not most of these cases, the greatest issue with these chapters is just that: they are unrecognized – they operate without the bureaucratic compliance standards of the school and with no well-documented change in behavior.
(Underground chapters, operating without university OR fraternity recognition are a different fall into a unique category)
WHERE SHOULD WE RE-FOCUS OUR ATTENTION?
I’m glad you asked: Parents & Guardians
Rather than worry about campuses making it difficult to operate as a fraternity, grow as a fraternity or dissuade students from joining by quietly increasing the cost of fraternity/sorority membership (which applies to [inter]national headquarters, too), we can work with parents to address our greatest issues and make a difference in the world. How?
Hazing/Alcohol/Sexual Assault – Parents should be more greatly involved in the new member process of their sons and daughters. Facilitating more communication between chapters and parents or advisors may help build a better relationship with the fraternity, an understanding of its policies and their child’s chapter’s performance. Is the disappointment of a 25-year old advisor more impactful on a young man’s decision to brutally haze another man or assault a man or woman than those individuals’ parents or siblings? I doubt it.
Lobbying & Information Sharing – Fraternities should be more like FIRE – partnering with parents and students to help address issues related to their rights.
We can take this a step further; however, and help parents and students make informed decisions regarding their choice of school (by providing the very statistics our Congress seeks to impose via REACH Act) and in assisting parents and students in organizing to make changes, such as tuition freezes, changes to course offerings and ethical use of donor funds.
A Better Educated Public – Many men and women who join fraternities and sororities follow in the footsteps of those who raised them, and many others are either first generation college students or have parents who never joined a fraternity/sorority. The reason gossip columns like The Rolling Stone or Washington Post are able to effectively slander fraternities is because few outside of fraternities have reason to defend our mysterious, secretive societies.
Heck, colleges and universities throw fraternities under the bus as often as the Rolling Stone and we are their “partners”! There are hundreds of thousands of parents of fraternity men and women, and better engaging them and helping them achieve their educational goals is a certain way to create a well-educated block of citizens immunized against click-bait headlines and publicity stunt policies.