The NIC Pledged to Restore Trust & Confidence in the Conference 6 Years Ago. It Has Failed

Written By Nik Koulogeorge

Published

Nov. 1, 2021

Updated

Nov. 21, 2021

Tagged

NIC North American Interfraternity Conference Interfraternal Politics
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Attachments

NIC 2.0 Commission Letter to Members | NIC (2015)

NIC Constitution and Bylaws | NIC (2020)

Petition & Legislation Guide | FM Resource

On November 1, 2015, the North-American Interfraternity Conference's "NIC 2.0 Commission" shared a report defining a new path forward for the conference. The 2.0 initiative followed the publication of a whitepaper that listed a variety of complaints that member fraternities held of the NIC. Some complaints included a lack of funds, the perpetuation of Total Frat Move-style culture on social media, and relentless pressure from the press and media. Parts of the report were explained in this article on Huffington Post. The 11-page letter preceding the report is attached to this article along with the NIC's current Constitution and Bylaws (I will update the attachment if I get access to the full report).

I was working for my fraternity in 2015 when Jud Horras spoke to our staff and took questions regarding NIC 2.0. (The question I asked at the time was if IFC members would have some sort of vote on NIC matters, go figure). It has now been six years since the commission released its report and kicked off NIC 2.0. No plan is perfect, and no plan can predict the future, so things were bound to change between 2015 and 2021. That said, there are two things I hope you will remember as you read this article:

  1. The stated purpose of the organizational re-design was to "restore trust and confidence in the conference" (p.1 - original emphasis)

  2. The letter makes a note that NIC standards would encourage a "race to the top" by focusing on performance, rather than "minimum standards." (p.7)

Trust, confidence, and performance. These are the measures of success for NIC 2.0. How are things fairing? Let's explore.

The image seen 'round the fraternity world

If you were at an inter/national fraternity event in 2015, then you were almost certainly exposed to this image. It was widely used to sell the fraternal world on the NIC 2.0 mission. I will not comment on every aspect of the image, but it provides a simple overview of what was promised at the time. There are five "priorities" listed along the left-hand side. One of the biggest changes to the NIC's structure and its mission was to increase its campus-level involvement with fraternity organizations (see: Campus Ground Game and Education). You might notice references to Focus Campuses in the image and throughout the letter. These paved the way for what we now know as the "Campus Support Model."

How the NIC's governing structure and Governing Council are described in the plan:

Dues for all members were increased to $405 per chapter*, but fraternities would not be charged for more than 192 chapters. Organizations would receive one vote per chapter up to 192 chapters at NIC meetings. The 2.0 plan also created the Governing Council, which has powers to write and control NIC policy, to review the performance of the NIC's CEO, and to assess fees.

A fraternity can earn its spot on the governing council in a few ways. The first is a payment threshold, which started at $50,000 in FY17 and topped out at $100,000 per year starting in FY21 (which ended August 2021). If your fraternity paid at least $100,000 to the NIC last year, it was guaranteed a spot on the Governing Council. Fraternities are also awarded "credits" for using NIC services, which can help to earn them a spot on the Council. Finally, there are several rotating seats on the Council for smaller fraternities (similar to the United Nations Security Council). A current list of Governing Council members can be found on this page of the NIC website.

*The dues rate may have changed since NIC 2.0 was enacted. A source shared that the NIC reduced its rate by as much as 40% in early 2020. This was shortly after the departure of SigEp in fall 2019 and concerns over how the NIC was billing non-member fraternity chapters as a part of its Campus Support Model (which it revised later that year). I am not sure if the reduction was temporary or if it applied to all NIC members.

The promises of NIC 2.0

The commission's letter is written as an FAQ, and a question on page 7 reads, "How will NIC 2.0 impact my fraternity?" I would argue that this section includes the boldest promises of the entire document because these assertions were entirely outside of the NIC's control. The first three points suggest that member fraternities will:

  • have more influence on campus culture through joint efforts to enforce Standards and enact positive change

  • spend less time dealing with the vast amount of local fraternity community situations (i.e., recognition agreements, system-wide actions, local actions that don’t comply with NIC Standards, etc.)

  • have more opportunities for growth through improved recruitment support and expansion opportunities

Do fraternities have more influence on campus culture today than they did in 2015? Well, Abolish Greek Life campaigns have convinced several universities to toughen their restrictions on fraternity recruitment. One recent example is Duke University. In that case, the unaffiliated members of Abolish Greek Life at Duke, not member fraternities of the NIC, worked with university administrators to craft restrictive recruitment policies. Furthermore, students are protesting fraternity organizations from Massachusetts to Southern California. The NIC has made few public statements about these protests or the Abolish Greek Life movement. If the NIC did comment, it was only after students damaged property or broke into fraternity houses, and its words held little weight with students, university administrators, or the media. (see: Swarthmore)

Then there is the promise that member fraternities would spend less time dealing with local fraternity community situations. Fraternity executives are called to meetings just about every time a school halts activities or imposes recruitment restrictions. In some cases, individual fraternity staff members, not the NIC staff, have taken the lead to establish independent Inter-Fraternity Councils and to recruit advisors for these councils. There have been dozens of "system-wide actions" since the creation of NIC 2.0. Both the University of Missouri and Virginia Commonwealth University halted fraternity activities in the fall 2021 term, six years after the NIC promised to address the issue. Aside from successful and collective NIC/NPC legal action against Harvard, the conference has either not challenged any other school on its recognition policies or has not publicized such efforts.

Has the NIC fulfilled its promise to establish a robust public relations campaign "disputing fraternity stereotypes" and "reframing the narrative"? Search "fraternity" in Google News or on Twitter and see for yourself. The NIC is only in the news if it is responding to a hazing incident or included in a story related to the passage of a new anti-hazing law. The rest of the news (as of fall 2021) seems to be dedicated to fraternities violating school policies, being banned, or being protested. Has the NIC developed "synergistic partnerships" with higher education? Given the number of newly "independent" IFCs, the regularity of system-wide actions against fraternities, and the refusal of university administrators to defend fraternity organizations in the face of Abolish Greek Life movements and break-ins, my guess is "no."

Promises of Accountability, Transparency, and Self-Government

The "Accountability" questions start on page 6 of the letter. Two questions and many answers fall under that section, and I will list them here as they were written in the letter:

  1. Why are the NIC Standards and accountability measures changing?

    1. The NIC is moving from “do you have a certain policy; yes/no” standards to performance-based expectations that encourage a race to the top rather than minimum policy-based expectations.

    2. The new Standards will allow members to choose how to best operate their organization to achieve success.

    3. The new Standards focus on protecting the rights of fraternities as well as embracing the responsibilities for member fraternities. The Commission worked very hard to develop a balance of both.

  2. How can I be sure that the NIC is going to enforce its new Standards?

    1. The new Standards measure what matters (i.e., how you perform rather than whether you have a particular policy).

    2. Because they have been streamlined, the new Standards will be easier to understand and enforce.

    3. Performance of NIC Standards will be publicly displayed via the new technology initiatives outlined in the NIC 2.0 business plan. NIC 2.0 Commission Report 1.2 NIC 2.0 Frequently Asked Questions

    4. The NIC 2.0 business plan dedicates ample resources to transparency and Standards enforcement.

NIC members adopted new "Alcohol & Drug Guidelines" in 2018 which required all NIC member fraternities to revise their respective policies by September 1, 2019. The "guidelines" do not "allow members to choose how to best operate their organization." They are specific policies targeted at undergraduate chapters. Are these not "minimum policy-based expectations"? Where are the performance-based standards? The NIC also enacted "Baseline Health & Safety Programming" for members. These, too, are not "performance-based expectations;" they are "minimum policy-based expectations" describing the types of educational programming that NIC member fraternities must provide.

Check out the third point under the second question (2-3). Is the NIC publicly displaying its members' performance of NIC standards? No. Nowhere on the NIC's public website is there a public display of NIC member fraternities' performance against its standards. Even the website for the NIC's "Anti-Hazing Coalition," which fights for federal legislation to require that schools manage public sites listing all hazing policy violations, lacks this kind of data. Where is the "transparency" promised in the fourth point (2-4)?

Has the NIC succeeded in its mission to restore trust and confidence?

The letter warns fraternities considering leaving the NIC that doing so before the implementation of NIC 2.0 would be "very short-sighted and not helpful to the people trying to enact positive change." On the final page of the letter, a question addresses "free riders" (the fraternities that benefit from the NIC's advocacy work without paying NIC dues). The commission wrote, "The new NIC CEO will be instructed to engage all non-NIC fraternities before implementing any measure to ensure our interfraternal colleagues are given ample opportunity to support the new and exciting NIC." How did that work out? Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity left the NIC that same year. Since NIC 2.0 went into effect, the number of fraternities affiliated with the conference dropped from 73 in 2015 to 57 as of today.

Between the NIC's Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2019, revenue increased by 119%. This addressed one of the concerns noted in the whitepaper: That the NIC was underfunded and could not attract "top talent." But revenue fell by about 30% in the Fiscal Year 2020 (which ended August 2020). This was likely due to a decline in the number of NIC member fraternities paying dues and the aforementioned dues rate reduction. Interestingly, "Campus Support Programs" surpassed member dues as the largest contributor to the NIC's budget in FY20. That means that although IFC members do not receive a vote on NIC matters, they are now directly contributing more to the NIC than the inter/national fraternity organizations on its Governing Council.

The NIC does not appear to be in imminent trouble as it was able to significantly reduce expenses. This may be due in part to travel restrictions and remote work related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Salary expenses were cut by 33% in FY20 compared to FY19 except for Jud Horras, the CEO who kicked off "2.0." His pay increased 38% to $421,416 in FY20. Yes, the man tasked with recruiting non-NIC fraternities to return to the conference ended up presiding over a 22% decline in membership and got a significant raise/bonus as punishment. To put that into perspective, the American Red Cross paid its CEO $738,000 in its FY19 with revenue of $2.8 billion. The NIC brings in 0.085% of the revenue of the Red Cross and pays its CEO 57% of the salary of the Red Cross.

(Jud is a pleasant person, but his compensation accounted for 17% of the NIC's FY20 revenue. That's ridiculous. Furthermore, replacing Jud, or any individual staff member is not the answer and it is not what I suggest. Another CEO from the Governing Council will fill his spot, treat his pay as precedent, and things will continue as they are but with a fresh face. The issue is the lack of accountability and transparency - see next section)

It should be obvious that the NIC has restored neither trust nor confidence in itself among its most important stakeholders: its member fraternities. You do not need to know much else about the NIC 2.0 plans or how the conference is performing against its promises. The fact that so many organizations have left the NIC says it all. Still, one would not get that impression without digging into the details as I have attempted to do here.

Is the NIC the best we can do? Has your fraternity even explained why it is still a member?

The NIC may review and revise its 2.0 plans, but that might be too much to ask. Many fraternities, including my own, cling to the NIC either out of tradition or because their leaders believe it is the only relevant vehicle for interfraternalism (which is not true). No one likes to admit failure or defeat, but we fraternity men supposedly hold ourselves to higher standards.

If your fraternity is a NIC member

  • Consider organizing legislation, a resolution, a petition, or an email campaign to ask your Executive Director or inter/national officers to publish a cost-benefit analysis of NIC membership. Get as many members from as many chapters and age groups as possible to endorse or sign on to your request. At a minimum, the cost-benefit analysis should answer the following questions:

    • How much does your fraternity pay in NIC dues?

    • What objective services or benefits are they getting out of NIC membership?

    • What would be the cost of such services if your fraternity were not a NIC member (with examples from non-NIC fraternities)?

    • How can members express their opinions on NIC matters before your fraternity votes on those matters at NIC meetings?

If your IFC pays into the Campus Support Model

  • Consider a similar campaign - perhaps collaborating with other IFCs in your region - to request a vote on NIC matters or at least access to NIC meeting minutes.

Withhold your IFC dues and any payments to the NIC until you receive a sufficient answer in writing. If they cannot allow you a vote (even a symbolic vote or straw poll/unofficial vote), force them to explain their position. You will not be punished for refusing to pay, the NIC does not have that authority.

There is no reason for your chapter, inter/national fraternity, or IFC to continue rewarding the NIC with complacency and financial support.


Update 11/11/21: This story was updated to clarify that the NIC CEO was "paid" $421,416, and that not all of that amount was his "salary." The NIC distributed a letter/memo to its member fraternities clarifying Jud's compensation and addressing other concerns with this article. I have not yet received access to this letter.


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