Through my travels across the country I’ve encountered many an Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC). At my last count, I’ve had run ins with at least thirty.
There are some differences in how the councils are governed, run or how much a Fraternity/Sorority Advisor (FSA) has contributed to either of those things, but when speaking with average fraternity men and women of an institution, most use the words “useless,” “powerless,” “stupid,” or “resumé-builder” to describe their local IFC. I’m going to stick with a less offensive “underwhelming” for my own broad and subjective assessment.
The design of an IFC is much like that of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in that it is largely de-regulated and mostly serves as an association to serve the common needs of the member groups.
So how is the NIC an organization with a powerful lobbying presence, fantastic developmental programs for students such as UIFI and IMPACT and a membership of more than 70 organizations (even NPHC and NALFO organizations!) and a typical IFC an “irrelevant, powerless resumé-builder” if they follow the same basic design?
I probably don’t have a solid or scientifically-supported answer, but experience has given me four thoughts on the matter. . . Keep in mind most of these, including the activities of fraternity and sorority chapters are mere assumptions. I don’t work or live on a campus, so who’s to say if any of these are actually the case.
1.The Role of an IFC is Misunderstood/Abused
The purpose of any association is to serve the common needs of its members; most IFCs spend 1/2 the year organizing “formal rush” and the other half of the year voting on awards, customizing t-shirts, attending conferences and helping with “Greek Week.” (assuming some other neglected student group hasn’t gotten there first)
Any business model in which a company relies on an outside body entirely to find its customers (Potential New Members or PNMs in this case) is idiotic. It boggles my mind that so many fraternity men study business and yet have the most minimal understanding of common business logic and an even lesser understanding of how an association works. The quote was never “If you build a house, splatter it in Greek letters and hole up inside, they will come.”
An IFC should be publicizing the good and significant things chapters do, it should demonstrate the power of the fraternity alumni network (perhaps by sponsoring career fairs) and it should organize programs to benefit fraternity members.
That last point doesn’t mean hiring Nik Koulogeorge to drag on about how fraternities suck; I mean legitimate life skills that every modern gentleman needs. Since when was it healthy for an association to set up programs that were disdained by the entirety of its membership? (I fully blame we, the fraternity/sorority professionals, for giving IFCs a false sense of freedom to put on the programs we desire. When was the last time your IFC consulted average fraternity men before hiring a professional speaker?)
2.Fraternity Chapters Lack Legitimate Brands
Did I mention how it boggles my mind that so many fraternity men are business majors with little to no understanding of public relations and sales?
Without individual member strength, a confederation is at best a collection of mediocre friends. Any chapter that says they have a legitimate brand shouldn’t hide their name behind a Corona or Southern Tide logo on their next rush shirt.
I don’t consider flashy graphics, some verbiage about being awesome and the word “values” thrown on everything from hats to blogs a brand. The American Red Cross doesn’t get a solid reputation or brand from the inverted Swiss flag; it gets a reputation and brand by saving, maintaining and rebuilding lives and centering all it does on saving, maintaining and rebuilding those lives.
The lack of organizational self-esteem can be seen in the fact that chapters are so desperate for someone to save them from their irrelevance that they place, as mentioned in point #1, their most vital action, the recruitment of new members, into the hands of an organization their members regularly refer to as irrelevant or powerless. Two permits do not equal a license; two crummy chapters don’t equal a healthy community or council.
Still need convincing? Consider that Chick-Fil-A, a company which recruits store owners through its Christian-oriented corporate philosophy in the same way we encourage our chapters to recruit using our values, will have 10k-25k individuals applying to run one of 60-70 new locations annually. The only line longer than a dozen men to join a fraternity usually smells like Vegas Bombs.
3.Catch Twenty-Two: We Don’t Trust Fraternity Men
If the fraternity men, administration, FSAs and national organizations don’t trust an IFC to actually make decisions on behalf of the membership, is there any respect left for them to effectively do anything?
Our IFCs are handicapped by the very people hired to support them. They cannot govern their member chapters without the trust of the chapters, but how can they earn such trust without the respect of the very schools they are affiliated with?
My thought is that we avoid allowing these councils to do their jobs (pointed out as #1) because we keep overrunning them with jobs we want them to do, but don’t trust them to do such as “rush” and judicial hearings. For some ambitious students and FSAs, an IFC serving in an advocacy role just isn’t enough.
If you think your IFC is trusted with judicial hearings note that at many if not most institutions those hearings are typically reviewed and altered by some other judiciary/administrative body, and in many cases the IFC isn’t given the opportunity for judicial deliberation at all!
4.Sorority Councils Taint Our Idea of “Success”
A major lack of trust may come from the fact that people keep comparing sorority structures with fraternity structures as if these organizations are just two peas in a pod. Let’s turn to simple history on this one:
Most fraternities, sororities and conferences were created and developed independent of each other. They should be treated as if this were the case.
Sorority women organized, formed the NPC and Panhellenic councils on every campus and chose some sort of socialist, “put on a mask for a week to get to total,” recruitment system that we think “works” because sorority chapters are so huge and don’t make the news as often. (We all ignore the fact that there are typically fewer sororities than fraternities on a campus, typically more women than men on a campus, about 1/3 the number of sororities in the NPC compared to fraternities in the NIC and that adding a new sorority to a campus seems about as labor-intensive as explaining Common Core mathematics to a child. The women also likely drink and haze in secrecy or at social functions at a rate equal to that of the men, but have convenient rules about hosting events that allow them to scurry out the door with enough time to avoid double-secret probation [yes that’s a thing])
Unfortunately for the women out there already burdened with the “green book of death,” the fraternities in your IFC are not governed by NPC rules and so should not suffer the same dreadful fate. If IFCs loosely follow the de-regulated structure of the NIC, and the NIC has found success in advocating for the real benefits of fraternity/sorority, creating a diverse and fantastic set of programs and serving as a group open to a wide variety of organizations, shouldn’t your IFCs emulate those strategies to significance?
My point is that what a Panhellenic Council does should not be a model for an Inter-Fraternity Council because they are composed of organizations that fall under completely different national structures. As collaborative as the NIC and NPC are, they could not be more different in design and action; our IFCs and PHCs fall under that same reality.
In all, the problem is not so much that an Inter-Fraternity Council lacks significance or is inefficiently designed as it is that there are unrealistic expectations of these councils to perform things they are not structured or intended to do. As demonstrated by the NIC, a confederation-style association can still be very effective.
When IFCs understand their role, when fraternity chapters get some business sense, when trust is given to that understood role and when we stop comparing Mars to Venus, we’ll likely have some motion in the direction of significance. This requires reflection on all of our parts: chapter members, IFC board members and professionals serving in higher education.