Penn State Boosts Fraternity Research. We Need Competitive Research.

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Penn State announced that it would soon be housing The Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research – currently located at Indiana University at Bloomington since 1979.

The news may capture our attention for its link to Timothy J Piazza, for whom the center is to be named, but the news – that which affects our future – is the multi-million dollar investment into research of fraternities and sororities by institutions of higher education. 

That is great news for the Center, composed of many caring contributors to the fraternity|sorority professional world, but it makes me wonder about other fraternity research. 

Fraternity organizations are always conducting research and investing in associated consulting support. In the rare chance that such information is made public, or shared with elected leaders or members of the organization, it is typically done so through a press release with little raw data to back up the claims or decisions being made.

Greek-letter organizations are vocally intent on utilizing data to make decisions, but one must wonder how any organization can be held to that claim without being able to analyze the data themselves? Sharing research data and consulting outcomes publicly opens an organization up for scrutiny, but it also creates opportunities for those who care to offer alternative, possibly better solutions.

An example of what I mean is the press release linked above – which was shared by most fraternity accounts – after some people put out some research suggesting that fraternities hurt students academic success.

There is nothing wrong with rebutting information with better information, but it establishes greater trust for that data to be available for others to look through and confirm – which was not the case for those interested in where that dollar figure came from.

Fraternities and sororities, which already do so much to study the dynamics of friend clubbing, must determine a way to better compile and share that data now that investment into fraternity research has so lopsidedly favored one source.

Real academic debate is hard to accomplish when fraternities partially fund research projects and repeat one another’s mistakes.  That sounds like a drag because it kind of is, but as much as the NIC staff and fraternity administrators will benefit from the data of one another, so too will the thousands of voting delegates, committees, and councils of fraternity organizations.

Better research is an objective of the restructure and increased investment into the NIC, so we can hope that a broader sampling of information is provided to members or the masses. We benefit when we can compare data between studies and studies between institutions.

I recall a session from a fraternity leadership program (or several), where students worked through a case study which told the story of Johnson & Johnson’s recall of Tylenol – a move which saved the Tylenol brand and established public trust in its parent company, J&J. How do fraternity leaders and volunteers measure up to that expectation of our students?

The Center for Fraternity & Sorority Research shares a wide range of research with insights into the fraternity world, and its growth is good for the fraternity|sorority world. Fraternities, too, are investing in research to make data-driven decisions, but those decisions make more sense when more raw data is accessible.

Verify that decisions are driven by data by expecting the data behind the decisions.