Fraternity Founders Were Rule-Breaking Teenagers – Not Saintly Prophets

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More than one hundred years ago the American college was a place to learn, nothing more.

Strict oversight threatened immediate expulsion to those who so much as violated a curfew without explicit consent. Those women who attended were walled off from their male counterparts, sometimes as far as to build a moat around their dormitories (UPenn).

Students didn’t visit a campus to compare one quad to another. The list of amenities was one-deep, a bachelor’s degree, and it had enough value to be worth a careful attitude.

It’s 2015, and colleges are competing for which has the best cafeteria, gloating as if some investment in green buildings or a high-end recreation center will make up for the joke that are even the most prestigious of four-year degrees.

Institutions have plenty of rules, breaking any number of which will award one with another chance, a true test to prepare students for a cut-throat world in which those who don’t adapt fail to move up. (Don’t worry kids; that cut-throat world will soon coddle you no matter how many rules you break or inept you are at your job.)

Then we have the college fraternity. Perhaps of any group of students, fraternities and sororities have changed the least, and so has their endless battle with college and university administrations. Lured by the wealth of alumni, but hesitant to lose funds in an era where schools don’t produce enough value to maintain themselves, our young men and women face constant pressure to follow uniquely specific and strict expectations or lose their right to associate.

That threat is more possible now than ever, given the above-mentioned funding issue. The vast majority of alumni a college turns out are certainly more worthless in terms of decision-making than they were just 30 years ago.

In an effort to combat this threat we urge students to re-align their chapters to their values (well, the values that we choose for them to value) and be like our founders. The founders, as we paint it, were respectful, dignified, saintly, rule-abiding citizens who offered nothing but benefit to their university communities.


It wasn’t the 50’s or 70’s or 90’s that made fraternities the whipping boy of college administrators; it was the very point that each organization was founded.

The truth is that your founders wanted to hang out, but weren’t allowed to, so they did it in secret. If they weren’t banned from hanging out, they were certainly banned from “socializing” and so their public affiliations were secret opportunities to swallow the equivalent of an 1850’s jaeger-bomb away from the watchful eyes of the professors (who often lived on campus with the students).

It’s likely true that our founders were more dignified than our current members. They were likely not in the business of multiple deaths a year and some may have not resorted to hazing. They took their classes seriously and would never attend a lecture in jeans or sweat pants.

The problem with fraternity men and women today may not be that they alone are worse people than our founders, but that our policy stance hasn’t changed as much as our lack of enthusiasm in sticking to it.

There are far too many things rewarding colleges and universities with prestigious rankings, federal money and a misplaced sense of student empowerment for an institution to take seriously its rules. Think about it: students would be expelled for falling below an A-B average or socializing without the institution’s authority; our colleges are trying to get more on-campus housing, not expel a bunch of people.

My complaint about our “leader’s” inability to follow-through with rules runs pretty deep, so let me better explain via three small examples:

Restoring Order In Chapter Meetings

When I had become chapter president, the rule was that one had three strikes before he was removed from a chapter meeting. What that meant was that a brother could do two stupid things, then would be expected to leave the chapter meeting after the third.

I immediately saw the ridiculousness of this rule. Oftentimes those brothers who were removed from chapter did so as a grand gesture or joke, slowing the meeting down and counter-acting any forward progress as far as becoming a group of respectable gentlemen. We cut the rule down to two strikes in the case of a genuine slip up.

What that meant was that if someone broke the rule, a cell phone ringing, slipping a curse into an impassioned talk, etc., he was excused once, then removed the next time. For those we felt were deliberately breaking the rule, we removed them from the meeting immediately. Order was restored.

Restoring Our Dues Collection

I also became president right around the time our chapter was $18,000 in debt to our headquarters, which was about what we collected in dues per semester. The treasurer reduced our budget by 80% and we began focusing intently on collecting dues.

Our alumni were called in to hold expulsion hearings for anyone over a certain amount, knowing that our student brothers would likely give the men a pass. We also instituted rules that automatically referred for expulsion those seniors in danger of graduating with debt to the chapter. We didn’t have any trouble collecting dues that fall term, order was restored.

Bringing Value Back to Lavalieres.

The running joke was that a brother who lavaliered his significant other was cursed to break up with said partner within the year. It happened every time.

“I know what we say about it, but I’m really serious about this one guys.” Break Up. I kid you not, the couples that stayed together through and beyond college were those that avoided the dreaded exchanging of a necklace.

We got the chapter to vote on a new rule: If one was to lavaliere (what we call “giving your letters”) his counterpart, he was not allowed to wear the fraternity’s letters until he graduated. Suddenly men weighed the option of throwing a necklace at the love of their life against being unable to wear the letters himself. Order was restored.

In each of these cases we looked at what we had in place, realized it was coddling people or downright encouraging them to act like idiots, and adjusted how we went about our business. No one should pull their pants down during a chapter meeting and have another strike before being removed. . . sorry Johnny Six Pack.

If we want our college men and women to be like our founders, they already are. Unfortunately, higher education has been baited away from holding their students accountable. Appearing as if every student gets an amazing education is more important than giving those students who respect their institution an education.

Don’t give a whole chapter a list of sanctions when a student messes up. Expel him; teach him that life doesn’t allow you to be a drag on others’ development. Perhaps if we took seriously our expectations of students at the college administrator level, we wouldn’t build up to issues that end up in entire chapters being shut down.

Fraternities and sororities have always existed in spite of university rules. Why is it then that we do a better job of enforcing them than the colleges and universities themselves?