Campus Bureaucracy: Why Fraternities May Soon Perish – Part 1

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Forget all of the shnazzy “we are awesome” #GreekLife videos you’ve seen; fraternity is in trouble. We are not impressing the world around us and it is clear that said world is tired of dealing with our half-hearted attempts to change. I should take that back; the attempts are not half-hearted, but perhaps a little. . . dim? tired? brain-drained?

My biggest concern for the future of my current profession is not alcohol or sexual assault, but the suffocating bureaucracy that has snuffed out the vibrant flame that fraternity was created to provide.

It takes place in many forms and in many places, but with this set of posts I’d like to draw additional thought to the unfailing ability for those of us who consider ourselves experts of fraternity and sorority to destroy a culture/field/lifestyle under the guise of offering professional assistance.

Let’s start with colleges and universities.

If you have read this site you already know that my shtick is providing an opinion of restraint to the professions associated with fraternity and sorority.

We often approach a troubling situation with good intentions and inefficient or poorly thought-out plans. That doesn’t make any of us bad people, but it can certainly make for a bad student experience.

This mess begins with the value of leadership within the modern fraternity and sorority experience.

In the early days, our organizations were nothing more than young men and women expressing their right to associate.

Those intense bonds often lasted beyond college and developed into longstanding and wide-reaching networks. Men, who were part of a fraternity, would be elected to higher office or serve as a powerful leader at a private organization.

 

In order to better sell our membership to potential members, we began to explain our value by referencing powerful alumni who had at one point joined our ranks as fraternity men and who had since become great leaders. The same can be said for sororities.

It’s natural then that we would come to value leadership and attempt to instill the best practices of leadership into undergraduate fraternity men and women in the hopes that they would graduate college, quickly climb the ranks and add further value to our biggest selling points: our networks.

Then people over-analyzed leadership, as we tend to do. Folks began studying it and earning college degrees in “leadership.” To be clear, I believe that you can study and know what makes a good leader, but I don’t believe you can effectively teach those practices without having practiced them yourself.

After all, the first “practice” of leadership, according to Kouzes and Posner, the experts, is “Model the Way.”

All it takes is a highlighter and annoyingly bubbly attitude

 

Let me be even clearer: Most of us, perhaps myself included, have not had enough practice being leaders to effectively teach leadership and it shows.

How often has a fraternity or sorority professional gotten their fraternity or sorority community to partake in some process, be it educational or operational, without some form of coercion? I’ll answer that: It’s very rare.

We threaten to pull university recognition if a group doesn’t live up to our expectations of them.

Those expectations can be anything from completing enough service hours to completing some form of training to paying dues to the governing council of which a fraternity or sorority is a member.

We are very bad at leading, and very good at threatening student leaders with a smile on our face and some moral argument about values and oaths.

This brings me to Greek Life Fees.

I can go on and on (and on) about each of the little things Greek Life professionals do which I think are non-sensical and ineffective. They include:

. . . but Greek Life Fees just seem to wrap everything up into one pretty, coercive and expensive little bow. Kind of like the ones I make!

The Peacock - Purple & Peacock Patterned Tie
Coming to a K-Mart near you.

 

What is wrong with Greek Life Fees? Ehh, let’s start with what’s right about them. For those of you who don’t know, many institutions are strapped for cash.

Chances are your institution spent students’ tuitions (which are often government subsidies in disguise which is often unpaid for national debt in disguise) on rock walls and fancy cafeterias and forgot to hire Student Affairs (or Life) staff. . . .

So instead of making their professionals feel valued by saying something like, “Hey, we are going to stop putting rock walls all over campus and hire you a friend,” college and university administrations are saying, “Those kids who join fraternities have money, right?”  

Seriously though, the intent of Greek Life Fees is typically with the hope of creating a better and safer experience for fraternity students. Students who join fraternities and sororities would be charged an additional fee to cover the cost of hiring staff to advise, to educate, or to hold accountable the men and women who join those organizations.

Sounds neat.

 How often has a fraternity or sorority professional gotten their fraternity or sorority community to partake in some process, be it educational or operational, without some form of coercion?

What could go wrong with a mandatory fee charged to any man or woman who chooses to join a club if it will pay for positions that have little data to prove their effectiveness except for that data brought up through studies from those who are receiving paychecks due to similar mandatory fees?

Well, to start, these schools are likely to hire recent college graduates with little real-world professional or leadership experiences (1-3 years). Go ahead, deny it. Although the concept of these new professional positions sound great, the positions are only as good as those hired into them.

Now imagine you are a student (if you are a student, imagine you are another, nameless student). Would you want to pay $17-$100 on top of your dues to hire someone if you do not have the explicit right to fire them if or when they are ineffective in their work?

Would you choose to pay an additional $17-$100 if the people who determined whether or not those hired to these newly financed positions were the people hired into those positions and paid due to that additional $17-$100?

Answer: People who wouldn’t get duped by Miss Cleo did not raise their hand.

The fact of the matter is, regardless of all the good that could come out of Greek Life Fees, so long as they are not student-driven, so long as they are targeted only to a group of students who join a specific type of club, they are nothing more than bureaucracy.

What is the poor man’s definition of bureaucracy? It is a system in which those who pay have no choice in the use of their money, even if it negatively affects the payers.

What is really annoying about Greek Life Fees is that they add to the cost of the fraternity and sorority experience. In fact, most things that we claim will make fraternity and sorority better add to the cost of the fraternity/sorority experience.

I give half-hearted claps to the fact that Greek Life Fees are at least an effort to put the price tag out in the open. That said, let’s not forget that bureaucracy does a great job of slowing processes down. Let us also not forget that time is money. . . Damn! The hidden costs are back!

We cannot grow the fraternity and sorority experience and make it less elitist if we are adding to the cost of that experience.

I have encountered far too many students and chapters riddled with debt to give the Fraternity Man Stamp of Approval (highly coveted) for an arbitrary fee used to hire unproven positions without those students explicit approval and consent of the fees, the employees, and the continuation of both.

I believe that Greek Life Fees, particularly those that near the triple-digits, will have a dampening effect on our fraternities and sororities’ ability to recruit students. That’s stupid, stupid self-inflicted wound.

We cannot grow the fraternity and sorority experience and make it less elitist if we are adding to the cost of that experience

Consider the addition of a new/returning fraternity to your campus. Sororities can typically draw huge crowds of women when they establish a new chapter. I don’t foresee a major problem there, but most fraternities struggle to average 30 or 40 founding fathers at major state institutions as-is.

How would any of us convince a young man, previously disinterested in fraternities, to take a chance and start one while paying national dues, chapter dues, IFC dues, whatever invisible fees exist and a $100 Greek Life Fee on top of all that?

Read: a Greek Life Fee will be charged to many young men who had purposely avoided Greek Life at their institution except for the opportunity to start their own chapter. I can already hear the haunting footsteps of potential founding fathers walking away from a discussion table.

In summary:

  • We have enough problems within fraternity and sorority life.
  • Students are likely better equipped to deal with those problems than we give them credit for.
  • Bureaucracy and red-tape are like bandaids on a malignant tumor.

Part 2 of this post will focus on National Fraternity and Sorority organizations (including trade associations).