It’s a tough job being a University President, or any high-level administrator for that case. Your decisions are always scrutinized and judged, much of the time without all of the facts. And that’s exactly what I’m about to do.
Three high-profile incidents involving college fraternities and sororities happened recently at three significant universities. In each case, university administrators took action. One of the decisions I applauded, one caused me concern, and one made my blood boil. That gave me the idea to grade the actions of the primary university officials involved in each case. This is entirely subjective. I’m sure these are all pleasant people and I’m trying to judge only their actions in these matters.
I also understand that if we were grading the chapters themselves, the IFCs, Panhellenics, or National Headquarters, they would likely be as low or lower. But, this is about the administrators who chose the spotlight by making very public decisions.
I would be very interested in your own grades, and the reasons behind them. Here we go…
University of South Carolina
The Call: Suspended fraternity recruitment almost immediately after it began, citing issues with underage alcohol consumption.
The Decider: Associate VP for Student Affairs, Jerry Brewer
What he did right:
- Took a bold step that woke everybody up.
- Held forums to listen directly to student concerns.
- Made the recruitment ban temporary for most of the chapters.
What he did wrong:
- Forgot that student ownership of an issue starts with acceptance and buy-in, not heavy-handed discipline.
- In statements, sounded adversarial and condescending - an approach that is not going to get students or alumni to root for him.
- Has failed to acknowledge cultural forces that impact the issue. Will we ever see him suspend tailgating on football Saturdays?
Bottom-Line: Change needed to happen, but the top-down approach will likely mean results will be scarce.
The Call: End pledging starting in 2012 and replace with better recruitment system.
The Decider: University President, David Skorton
What he did right:
- I believe he’s right on the issue, since not only can fraternities and sororities survive just fine without pledging, it has been holding us back from recruitment practices that will launch us into the next era.
- He set forward the vision, and then empowered students to develop the means.
- He recognizes the value of the fraternity experience, and wants to see it grow and modernize.
What he did wrong:
- His approach to the issue is too hazing-centric. Of course, he was reacting to a student death. However, pledging should be removed for other reasons as well, including the role it plays in creating cultures of apathy in Greek-letter organizations.
- He could have empowered the students before going public, thereby not putting students on the defensive or in a reactionary mode.
- How much better would his op-ed in the New York Times have been if it had been co-written by the IFC/Fraternity Council President?
The Bottom-Line: If fraternity and sorority leaders accept the call to action, this could be the moment when their Greek system begins to rocket skyward.
The Call: Ban freshmen students from joining fraternities and sororities.
The Decider: University President, Shirley M. Tilghman
What she did right:
- Enlisted a committee, including student representatives, to study the issue before taking the action.
What she did wrong:
- Her comments, as well as those of her other administrators, make it sound as though she thinks 18-19 year-olds have the decision-making ability of a loaf of bread.
- In a letter, she channeled her inner Dean Wormer by stating that the trustees "if necessary, would be sympathetic to taking even stronger steps." Tough talk to college students = lighter fluid on a BBQ pit.
- Because Princeton doesn’t officially recognize fraternities and sororities, she is basically telling students: Hey freshmen, you’re not allowed to join these things we don’t recognize at all until you’re sophomores. Understand? (This is the Ivy League, correct?)
- She is aligning with helicopter parents and others who believe that the best way to prepare young adults for life is to seal them in a clear plastic hamster ball.
The Bottom-Line: Eventually, the fraternities and sororities will realize that they do not need university recognition to be successful and become community-based organizations. If so, watch them grow.