Exercise: Reforming A Typical Fraternity/Sorority “Standards of Excellence” Checklist

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

I post often about Checklist Leadership, how it distracts students from developing worthwhile chapter identities, how it encourages less selective recruitment, and how it fails on its promise of churning out leaders (read: good decision-makers) after college. 

All that said, the only example of a reformed “standards” setup has been references to the changes my team at Delta Sig made to our Accreditation to reduce the number of “mandatory” items from 35 to 10 and to allow for greater freedom of choice for chapters to choose what they are recognized for.

Today I am testing out an exercise where I look at a fraternity/sorority campus community’s “Standards of Excellence” packet and suggest changes in line with greater self-government and niche development. 

SJSU made their Standards of Excellence publicly available and easily found via a Google search (Thank you SJSU!), so we will be using theirs as a template. It is just as bloated and complex as the vast majority of campus/fraternity/sorority checklists, and so many of these suggestions will likely apply to your school/organization as well.

Below, you will find the SJSU Standards of Excellence along with two suggested sets of revisions. 

Revisions Set 1 – Better Time Management – Objectives:

  • Reduce the amount of time chapter officers spend putting together submissions
  • Reduce the amount of time campus professionals and volunteers spend grading submissions (sometimes there are so many packets and so many items within each packet that campus professionals reach out to one another to help grade each others’ packets. . . for real – I’ve volunteered for 3 friends). 

Revisions Set 2 – Better Overall Outcomes & Management – Objectives:

  • The focus of submitted items is based on helping chapters find effective ways to address their goals and concerns
  • Point qualifications are eliminated, instead, several items are selected as “Mandatory” and the rest are effectively used to help chapters define their niche and to determine any awards.

For the purpose of set 2, the “mandatory” items are those which typically contribute to a chapter’s closure – Retaining/growing membership – Risk Management – Financial Stability. Items related to those will be considered “mandatory.”

Keep in mind that SJSU requires that a chapter score a 1,300 to be “in good standing.” The issue is in the way the points are (or are not) weighted to stress the importance of what a chapter needs to function vs. what looks nice in a press release. I don’t care about your press release, I care about the outcomes of your fraternity experiences.

The Standards are presented in galleries. Feel free to click the images to get a better look. 

Here we go!

“Scholarship” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Require an academic plan only if the chapter fails to meet the criteria in numbers 4, 5, 6, & 7 and make this a bonus item.  (Academic plans can be copied from the internet and you need to focus your attention on the workings of chapters with poor planning. If they need help than inquire with their advisers, national office or other chapters for assistance, but a plan alone is worthless.)
  • No suggestions for #2 & #3 – I’m not sure if there is another way to get this information, but at least it’s just bonus points. . . which goes to say that it’s ultimately irrelevant (See: Set 2)
  • Combine #’s 4& 5 and Combine #’s 6 & 7 – The way they are currently set up means that chapters with strong GPA’s score well in numbers 4 & 6 and may get bonus points in 5 & 7, and that chapters with low GPA’s score well in 5 & 7 if they improve, but the room for improvement for high-performing chapters is limited, and so you’re selling them short. 
  • With newly combined 4/5 & 6/7, include or statements: An example: 20 points if the chapter meets/exceeds the All Campus GPA (why are you limiting them to being better than their gender? That’s silly) OR Chapter’s overall GPA (stop separating new members from initiates) improves by 0.15 or better OR Chapter maintains an overall GPA above a 3.0. 

“Scholarship” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • The only mandatory items should be their GPA performance.
  • If the chapter underperforms then they should be required to take part in academic consultations the following year and submit their academic criteria and initiatives (read: not a “plan”).
  • There should be one common set of standards for all members (new and initiated) based on their GPA and whether it meets a universal standard for the chapter. 

“Chapter Education” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • The Event Confirmation Form should be held on file and should include an agenda and the other requested information. There is no reason for a separate submission – chapters will just summarize things to meet the criteria.
  • New Member Education Plan – Given the number of points here, and that chapters are required to reach 1,300 points to be in “good standing” I’d just recommend chapters copy & paste any new member education plan resource they can find on the internet to save them some time. The ones that write stuff up just to meet these points are likely doing that anyway. 
  • 3, 4 & 5 are completed by staff, no suggestions here

“Chapter Education” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • Scrap the required elements of the Chapter Retreat. Request all other information as a part of the Event Confirmation Form & advise accordingly. – Remember: We’re going for something qualitative.  Take note of red flags and address them, don’t make the haystack too large so that you miss red flags.
  • Scrap the required elements of the New Member Education Plan: Instead, require that it abide by all campus and fraternity policies, or mandate that all chapters adopt certain requirements in their NME plan. You can still require that it be submitted, but use this as an opportunity to make sure it meets a simple, minimum standard – then offer suggestions for improvement. 
  • New Member Workshops & GREAT Sessions: I can’t comment on the standards themselves, but I would not make the “New Member Workshops” mandatory for the chapter to be in good standing – I might suggest that the expectation be that new members do not continue with their membership until they pass the required elements with an 80% or higher. As for the GREAT Sessions – Why stop at 80%? Just go to 100% and offer an excused absence policy. It’ll only take 20% of a chapter missing risk management information to get it shut down.

“Chapter Finance” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Accounting Procedures sound nice, but vary from treasurer to treasurer in practice – Request instead that the chapter provide proof of a zero-balance to its national office (if applicable), it’s landlord (if applicable) and the university (if applicable). If it owes any debts, THEN request that it submit its accounting practices, tools used, and any plan to recover the missing debt. Make this item a Bonus item (but mandatory for chapters in debt)
  • Budget – Why? This stuff can be made up. The members need to know how their money is spent – it’s their money. 
  • Council Dues – The school/council should have on file which chapters owe debts. If there is a disagreement then require that the chapter provide receipts. 
  • University Funding – This should ultimately be eliminated, as it shouldn’t help a chapter get an award BECAUSE it utilized university funding. 
  • Apply the logic of University Debt to the rest of this section

“Chapter Finance” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • The only mandatory item should be that the chapter owes no debts to the above-mentioned parties if applicable (national office, landlord, council, university). If the chapter owes no debts then all should be well. 
  • Perhaps it’d be helpful to request that information at the end of the fall term and then again at the end of the spring. If there is an issue at the end of the fall, then require that the chapter submit an accounting plan/budget/etc. as a part of this end-of-year packet. Let the adviser handle the rest. 

“Chapter Management” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Advisor Relations can be handled with a phone call from the Campus Professional. The only reason this shouldn’t be the case is if the Campus Professional cannot be trusted, in which case they should be fired. A 2 minute phone call running through that checklist means time saved writing, reading, and storing the “letter.”

“Chapter Management” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • If the chapter must abide by the school’s code of conduct then why require a separate one?
  • Dates & Deadlines Compliance: Recognition paperwork should determine if a chapter is recognized, not a loss of 5 “points.” Hazing agreements should determine if a chapter can recruit members, not a loss of 5 “points.” . . . Catch my drift? Give your deadlines more meaning than a point deduction. 
  • Conduct/Policy Compliance Should Inform the rest of this section – Chapters with violations fail. Chapters without violations do not. Chapters with violations are required to submit relevant material or take part in other requirements (Say for example the GREAT Sessions). 
  • Meeting Attendance – Meetings do not indicate whether a chapter is successful. Limit the chapter’s voting rights or file a complaint with an HQ or adviser if a President fails to attend meetings, but don’t assume that a lack of attendance means a chapter is a failure. Make your meetings worth attending.

“Community” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Public Relations – Irrelevant. Screenshots of what? Everything they’ve posted? Pay attention to the chapter’s website and social media and flag anything inappropriate and address it then. Then “deduct points” if they receive a flag. What if a chapter has 10 members? You think managing a website and Facebook account are more important than meeting potential members face to face? It’s not. 
  • Campus Life, Alumni Involvement, Family Involvement – Event Confirmation forms (as previously mentioned) should be on file and marked off a checklist when they take place by the staff. 
  • Greek Community Relations – This information should all be kept by the staff and council officers – they should all be bonus points. 
  • Interaction with other chapters – Event form should already be on file. 

“Community” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • None of these should be mandatory outright. Instead, the chapter should be required to choose 3-5 out of the 9 to complete for points toward winning awards (not toward recognition).
  • What is the goal of public relations and newsletters and why are they separate? A better way of putting this might be to combine them and then to explain how they promote their vision through their communication channels. 
  • Eliminate the service requirement of 60% attendance for 3 hours – A 60% at a 3 hour road cleanup is not the same as 60% at a 3 hour Habitat build, but they’d both be worth 50 points. Some chapters don’t care about this, so require that they host 2 events and explain the outcome of those events (50 pints of blood donated, 40 miles of road cleaned, 350 bedpans changed at the hospital, etc.)
  • Should an event where alumni meet and talk with parents count for both categories? If not already, then yes.

“Leadership” Revisions (Set 1: Time Sensitivity)

  • Event Confirmation Forms should already be on file. 
  • External Leadership Programs can mostly be confirmed by the council representatives or staff grading the packets. The chapter should receive a list of confirmed attendees and then be required to submit additional information if they don’t meet the 10% requirement.

“Leadership” Revisions (Set 2: Qualitative Reform)

  • Transition Meetings: Keep the Confirmation Form – Require an Agenda along with the 3-5 items the chapter would like to focus on in the “Community” section rather than some bloated explanation of every thing they talked about. . . Let’s get to the outcomes and what the campus staff should be expecting to work with the chapter on for the following year. Chop! Chop!
  • Campus Involvement/Leadership: Back in 2007/2008 our chapter made up the German Club on campus. They took over all 5 of the leadership positions and they’d watch a German film once each semester. More is required of a Chapter President than just about any other “President” on a college campus, and that doesn’t count toward this? Unnecessary. A fraternity experience is a worthwhile experience, stop demanding that student leaders overexert themselves. Otherwise this should simply be another optional submission under “Community” if it has nothing to do with the chapter itself
  • There are elements of this which are unfair and unnecessary. The quality and instructions taught at each of the listed leadership programs (not including what may be provided by a chapter’s [inter]national organization – if applicable) will vary greatly, as will what each student takes away. Make this an optional submission under “Community.” 
  • Actually. . . just combine all of this with “Community” and move “Transition Meetings” to “Chapter Management”

The requirement of a binder is from 1980. Fraternity/Sorority staff could save everyone time (themselves included!) by calling the respective advisers and offices to the confirm the information requested here – assuming they are trusted to check boxes on a list. 

The rest can be provided via binder, but why not open up the opportunity of a video (along with a written transcript)? Why do they need to meet with a staff member to help complete the packet? Is the packet more important than the outcomes? No. It isn’t. I answered that for you. 

These are just one person’s recommendations to streamline, simplify, and add importance to one school’s admittedly representative “Standards of Excellence” program. 

In all honesty, I’d rather they scrap all of this (and any “Fraternity/Sorority of the Year” award), require that a chapter abide by all university policies for all student organizations, and then advise each chapter in submitting whatever packet they need to submit to their national/international organization. 

Completing 2 packets in a year is silly, and one of the BEST FRATERNITY/SORORITY ADVISERS I KNOW uses/used the above method. Have a great weekend!