It seems as if the primary responsibility of most fraternity advisers, advisors, and consultants is to enforce rules. Call it another side effect of ED Delegation Syndrome.
Let's make sense of those terms. Technically, "advisor" and "adviser" mean the same thing and both are correct. For this post, we will pretend that there are volunteer advisers and professional advisors. A volunteer adviser may work with a chapter of her fraternity. A professional advisor may be employed by a college or fraternity council to advise all groups. That also fits with how Americans generally perceive and use the terms.
Finally, fraternity consultants are those lucky few who work for a fraternity or sorority administrative office. Before COVID-19, they traveled from chapter to chapter offering sage advice to students of about the same age. I once wrote a post about why we don't need fraternity consultants. While we may not all agree with the points in that article, we can agree that a pandemic-conscious world makes my ideas sound better.
The Future of Fraternity
The future is always a mystery. That mystery is more terrifying when the present is uncertain. The present feels - if anything - uncertain. There seems to be no consensus about how we as a species are meant to handle the coronavirus. To top that off, it's an election year and the two big teams' infighting makes this pandemic feel like Armageddon. There will be a point where things get better, but there is a good chance that many of the digital adaptations made over the past few months will stick. We should prepare for that reality.
As fraternities stand today, most low-level leaders in fraternities are simply a form of rule police. They may be the police for an inter/national fraternity or a college campus, but their main job is to make sure the edicts from the top are followed at the bottom. It's common in many organizations, but has little to do with the literal role and responsibility of an "adviser," "advisor," or "consultant."
What could be the role of volunteer advisers, professional advisors, and fraternity consultants in a member-centric, tech-ready future?
Consent is bigger than sex. Great adviser-advisee relationships are born out of consent. That applies to each of these categories, but particularly to the volunteer advisers of any fraternity organization.
Students should know where their adviser stands on certain issues, and their relationship should be re-defined with each new executive board or adviser. The purpose of an adviser is to offer contextual, trustworthy advice. So, delegating rule-enforcement authority to advisers picks away at the potential trust.
In any case, the role of a volunteer adviser is to provide support on a particular topic. Because topics of importance shift from year to year for any organization, so too should a variety of advisers be kept on hand. Getting rid of many of the "checks" fraternity organizations place on advisers (namely, authority to enforce policies) would make them better voting delegates (if applicable) and more trustworthy advocates for the needs of student members.
Council & Community "Advisors"
I don't think consent matters less when it comes to inter-fraternal communities and councils. Whether the inter-fraternity adviser is hired by a college or by one or more inter-fraternal councils, the student members should have a stake and say in the agreement.
Many Fraternity/Sorority Professionals complain that they are not prioritized or taken seriously by their college administrators. If we want to unlock the potential for an inter-fraternal advisor, we must break them away from being rule police, too. The simplest way to ensure this is that councils/organizations hire professional advisors directly. Their role in the community is negotiated with the members, and the councils maintain the "self-government" we claim they have.
This would allow for professional growth and specialization unlike what we've seen in the FSL field of work today. A small team of advisors may be hired to work with several, small fraternity/sorority communities. The best professional fraternity advisors can build a reputation for understanding how a variety of organizations work. Working for the largest fraternity communities (or the largest collection of communities) would require suitable knowledge in each chapter, its joining process, its unique mission, etc.
The role of a traditional professional fraternity or sorority consultant is confusing. It is an outdated, professionalized version of what most organizations did in the early 1900s. (Maybe earlier!) "Consultants" are still a suitable investment of fraternity dollars, but we should leave the day-to-day advice to the advisors on the ground. As for changes to the administrative staff of a fraternity/sorority:
First, build up your customer/member service channels. Namely, fraternities with multiple consultants should trade at least one for a person who facilitates and answers questions on social media and via email. When I want to get in touch with an airline, I message them on Twitter. It should be that easy to get quick advice from a friend club.
Second, consultants need to specialize in a topic. Let the chapter and their advisers focus on whether or not they've done all they need to do to win your trinkets and trophies. If you hire a young man out of college who wants to be a professional recruiter, then let his job at the fraternity's office be an extension of his job training. Send him to the best recruitment workshops and let him create resources and workshops for chapters.
So, the only real suggestion here is to separate the logistical aspects of membership (how fraternities work, where to find a form, when something is due) from the aspirational aspects of membership (how do I recruit, lead, or intervene better). Consistent, digital customer service is something students expect. Targeted, expert, accessible advice is something modern students expect. They are paying tens of thousands of dollars for a few days of in-person consulting. So give them the option as to what type of consulting they receive.
In a member-centric fraternity organization or community, an adviser and students agree to work together. Professional advisors are paid and applauded for their knowledge and experience with a variety of fraternity/sorority organizations. Consultants at a fraternity's administrative office offer targeted, competent support where it's needed, and answering questions quickly and efficiently becomes a priority.
Like service and education, we can inject choice into the process of advising and consulting fraternity students. Differentiating between an advisory/consultant position and an authoritative/compliance position will eliminate many overlaps in the various, overlapping layers of Greek Life. If we encourage choice and consent then we can engage with and treat students like adults paying for a service. It is the "fraternity" way to do things.
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