Written By Nik Koulogeorge
Feb. 6, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023
My first day as a recruiter for my national fraternity was 20 June 2011. The next week, I attended a professional conference for fraternity "field staff." It was there that I learned how to "deal" with campus-based fraternity/sorority professionals (the people who advise fraternity/sorority student councils at colleges). This is the familiar relationship between inter/national fraternity professionals and their campus-based peers: negotiation. During my time as a fraternity professional, there was a general movement to build a functional relationship between the two sides.
Much of the need for a functional relationship between fraternities and college administrators stemmed from the costs associated with risk management (hazing, alcohol, sex, etc.). So, fraternity leaders tried to erect policies and procedures to better manage undergraduate chapters and they committed to working more closely with universities when investigating risk incidents. An emphasis was placed on university recognition, and the desire to avoid the ire of a college administrator led many fraternities to assume a "junior partner" status. The fraternity's existence was considered valid so long as it was recognized. In some organizations, losing university recognition is reason enough to close a collegiate chapter.
There were always organizations that went against this grain, but the general consensus was that recognition from a university was worth the subservient role. Then, as should have been expected, college administrators took advantage of the imbalance. A great example can be observed in the changes to fraternity expansion. What was once a relatively laissez faire affair became a choreographed imitation of the white sorority courtship process - costing fraternities thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of staff time for the chance (just a chance) to establish a recognized chapter 2-5 years in the future.
I sensed this tide would turn against colleges in 2015 (let me pat myself on the back for that one). It's more than the expensive courtship process. Major universities routinely and indefinitely suspend all fraternity/sorority activities due to a single incident connected to members of a single chapter.     This was all made worse after 2017 when several deaths tied to alleged hazing activities intensified the public's interest in college fraternities. University administrators were facing calls to crack down on Greek Life. Fraternity leaders would grumble and complain to one another, but rarely, if ever, publicly stated the case that the suspensions were illogical and unfair.
Still, fraternities are expressions of speech as old as our national republic, and they can't go too long (or suffer too much) without a little rebellion. As universities grew bolder in their willingness to target fraternity organizations - even so far as taking policy advice from "Abolish Greek Life" student groups - fraternities finally called their bluff. For years, large organizations like Kappa Sigma or Pi Kappa Alpha operated unrecognized chapters without suffering much on a practical level.
As schools implemented stricter recruitment/affiliation policies, fraternities worked together to allow their local chapters to disaffiliate from their host schools and to join "independent" interfraternity councils. This subtle policy change resulted in coordinated disaffiliations at West Virginia (2018), the University of Michigan (2018), Nevada-Reno (2019), Duke (2021), and the University of Southern California (2022), among others. Hell, even NPC sororities, the model example of campus/national collaboration, have started disaffiliating from colleges. Consider the bluff of "university recognition" called. Unrecognized chapters, although still not the preferred path for most inter/national fraternities, are no longer taboo.
Let's assume that fraternities are better off if they are not targeted by university administrators. Let us also accept the proven reality that fraternities can exist and thrive without recognition. Colleges routinely warn that unaffiliated chapters would lose access to reservable spaces on campus or university-provided educational programming. Unsurprisingly, operating independently of a university does not mean operating without access to educational programming or standards, as demonstrated by the Durham (Duke) Independent Interfraternity Council.
As of right now, this still affects a minority of fraternity chapters and campuses, but this rate of disaffiliation, with permission from inter/national fraternity offices, would be considered a "doomsday" scenario among Greek Life professionals in 2013/2014. Furthermore, I imagine that it would take more than a simple reversal of bad policies to mend ties where they've been broken, and I hope that fraternity leaders are willing to ask for more of their university partners.
Specifically, schools need to treat all student organizations equally and stop targeting fraternities.
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