Greek Life Is Recruiting For Manpower, Not Character Or Talent. Here’s Why:

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0.4% of applicants to open a Chick-Fil-A restaurant are accepted by the chain. More than 20,000 people apply annually, and the Chick-Fil-A headquarters selects just 75-80. That is a crazy level of selectivity, but it’s worth it.

Chick-Fil-A stores outperform competitor stores in annual revenue even though all Chick-Fil-A stores are closed on Sunday, and the company charges significantly less to new franchise owners to get their stores up and running – a clear demonstration of their trust for their chosen candidates.

What makes Chick-Fil-A so special?

Values – Selectivity – Trust

Three words regularly cited in the fraternity and sorority lexicon, but almost completely absent in practice. We talk up a storm about our shared values, even though we know most students don’t join for that reason. We tout our selectivity, noting that campus leaders and academics join fraternities and sororities and outperform their peers, even though we demand inclusivity and, at many institutions, celebrate 100% “bid placement” (more on that later.)

We refer to undergraduate chapters as self-governing and brag nationally about student leadership, though undergraduate chapters are expertly micromanaged and chapter presidents may directly report to several entities or individuals. 

Across the board we fail to practice what we preach, and so it should only be obvious that our students suffer as a result.

Recruitment is the best means to change a chapter. A chapter’s membership turns over roughly every four years, and so the best way to change its culture, and to brighten or darken its future, is through the recruitment of new members capable of instituting new practices.

I’ve already given advice to chapters on some basic standards and expectations to improve the quality of their membership, and so consider this post a message to all fraternity/sorority professionals, advisers, college administrators and parents.

Department Store Fraternities

In a critique of the National Panhellenic Council (NPC), the governing body for 26 women’s fraternities and sororities, I noted that the organization has monopolized social Greek-letter clubs for women, and that it has effectively prevented any sorority from growing to national or regional prominence within the past half-century.

That same concern applies, albeit to a lesser extent, to men’s fraternities of the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference (NIC) as well as fraternities and sororities of the National Pan-Hellenic Conference (NPHC). Other umbrella groups are newer, and consist of newer organizations, so I’m cautiously optimistic that the point of this post may not yet apply – but it should still serve as a warning.

What began as thousands of local movements at college campuses across the country have become factory-processed organizations churning out “You Can Be A Leader Too!” programs. In a pyramid-scheme-styled setup, organizations impose productive expectations on their collegiate chapters, which then impose those expectations on students. Funds are collected from the students and alumni to put on programs which reach a fraction of the membership, and those programs designed for wider outreach are understandably lower quality.

In order to churn out the most service hours, the most dollars raised for charity, the most leadership positions held and the most students attending programs, chapters are encouraged to grow, sometimes to excessive heights of 150-300 members.

The result of the centralization of the fraternity experience is that local fraternities are almost non-existent in 2018, even though they were the fuel behind our organizations’ growth and transformation into regional and national powerhouses throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Professionals and administrators at colleges and universities play favoritism to national organizations and work against the establishment of local organizations without a specific, perhaps social-justice-oriented cause. (Even in that case, there are already dozens of culturally-based social fraternities and several LGBTQ-oriented fraternities – “why set up a new one?” will be a question many students face)

Manpower Needed

Because competition from upstart organizations is essentially non-existent, the national groups cooperatively compete in a variety of previously mentioned categories: service hours, program attendance, fundraising, philanthropic donations, etc.

Look at your fraternity’s or sorority’s chapter resources and take note of the number of recommended executive board and chairman positions – they can exceed 30 positions just to accomplish the expected work of the organization or the fraternity/sorority community at a particular school! As a result, chapters must grow or maintain a sizable membership of 35 or more members just to field the recommended team of executive board and chairman positions.

What are the problems fraternity chapters face? Apathy, Debt, Relationship Violence, Substance Abuse, Hazing/Risk Management

Knowing those problems, we manage to ignore the fact that we are driving our chapters toward being less selective. In catering to our uniform expectations of social fraternities, we make our fraternity communities less diverse and less appealing to a wider demographic of student. We can’t be considered selective if 80% of a campus wants nothing to do with us in the first place.

Forced Inclusivity Is Incompatible With Our Mantras

I’m all for there being as few barriers to the fraternity experience as possible, but perhaps our goals are incompatible. We try to restrict the number of fraternities at any given institution because each must maintain a sizable membership to complete all that we ask of them, and so rather than encouraging students to establish groups if they don’t find one they like, our expectations compel chapters to prioritize manpower.

A campus with 5, 10 or 20 fraternities will be encouraged to extend invitations to as many interested students as possible. You may regularly hear fraternity/sorority advisers touting that the organizations at their school extended bids to 100% (or nearly 100%) of those who participated in rush or recruitment.

That’s not really anything to brag about. It means that the chapters at a particular school accept almost anyone who seeks them out for membership. It means that there is very little “recruitment” going on and very much “rush.” It is the most terrible quality of formal recruitment processes, and that’s not mentioning how unnatural and ineffective those processes are in creating values-driven chapters. 

Be More Like Chick-Fil-A

Some of us may dislike Chick-Fil-A specifically because of their chosen values – that’s fine, there are plenty of other restaurants. Still, it’s hard to ignore that they make great food, provide excellent service to their customers, and have a successful model that has tens of thousands of people lining up for a few dozen positions each year.

If we want to set new standards for college students, recruit exceptional leaders, and graduate them into successful alumni, perhaps we should focus less on our laundry lists and 100% bid acceptance and focus instead on a diverse fraternity and sorority community comprised of smaller chapters, doing fewer things, but doing those things very well.

Perhaps we should orient recruitment away from who can get the biggest class and toward who can find the brightest, most talented, most driven students on campus. Perhaps we should be more careful in selecting at which schools we establish new chapters and perhaps those schools should be a little less wary of new fraternities popping up to meet the needs of students who don’t fit elsewhere. Perhaps the ebbs and flows of local and national fraternity chapters would be less dramatic if our expectations weren’t so unnecessarily geared toward churning out positive-publicity programs.

If our goal is to be exceptional, we can’t simply pretend that the 10% of members we talk about all the time are a true reflection of what we are. People are dying, and teaching hazing prevention to a bunch of guys who don’t otherwise care is a less brilliant solution that encouraging chapters not to recruit people who don’t care – size be damned.

This isn’t to suggest we accept just 0.4% of all applicants, or that chapters are capped at 10 or 20 men – but that we taper our expectations in order to better mitigate our risks without investing millions of dollars into ineffective programs, chapter re-organizations, and closures. So why don’t we start by celebrating when a fraternity community has an acceptance rate of 75%, then aim for 50%, and then work toward a 35% acceptance rate?

Celebrate when every fraternity man and woman on a campus achieves a 3.0 GPA, not when half hit below a 2.5 and the rest work hard enough to bring the average to a respectable level. Celebrate when there are more fraternities offering unique opportunities to a variety of men, rather than a few mega-chapters offering similar experiences to a limited demographic of student. There is logic in the strategy of “shrink to grow.”

Maybe the 21st Century is a time to focus on incubating the great minds, great artists, great statesmen and great innovators of future generations, rather than some weak promise to make anyone better as long as they make 8 easy payments of $XXX over 4 years.