Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fraternity Expansion: Take a Number

Submitted by a staff member at a men's fraternity.  Edited slightly with permission.


A young man enters his freshman year of college ready and excited for the adventure ahead of him.  He has anxiously waited for this day, hearing fond memories from his father about his days as a fraternity man; days that forever changed his life.  The young man’s father has introduced him to his brothers, taken him to chapter alumni events and even bought him a t-shirt with his organizational letters.  He is a legacy.

The young man is accepted to a different state institution than his father, and his father’s organization is not represented on campus.  He signs up for fall recruitment with an open-mind and visits all of the chapters on campus.  Frustrated with the chapter members’ interest in alcohol and the lack of brotherhood, he drops out.  The semester continues and the young man makes several good friends through his residence hall, getting involved with student government and participating in intramurals.  

During winter break, a friend attending a different university shares he is pledging a fraternity and will be a founding father.  Curious about his experience, the young man e-mails his friend and learns more about the process.  He is first intrigued, and then enthusiastic.  Could he start his own fraternity?  What a great opportunity and a great tribute to his father.

As soon as he returns for the spring semester he quickly recruits 15 men from his residence hall, student government and his intramural team.  His friend told him that he would need at least 20 guys to be taken seriously by the IFC.

By February, he has set up a meeting with the campus fraternity and sorority advisor.  He has downloaded the IFC constitution, as well as information from his father’s fraternity website about expansion.  He and the two other “soon-to-be-founding-fathers “ walk into the advisor’s office organized and prepared.

Through their conversation they learn that another fraternity just colonized on campus.  The advisor informs the men that there is an order of when fraternities are able to colonize on campus.  If they want to join a fraternity, they can join the new colony or one of the existing chapters.  The students leave the office deflated, discouraged and frustrated. 

The young man calls his father and lets him know that he isn’t allowed to start the new fraternity, despite their best efforts.  Even worse, he won’t be able to carry on the fraternal legacy.

Flash back more than a hundred years.  A young man decides to go to college in a rural farm community.  He is the first in his family to attend college and very intimidated by the size of the buildings, the demanding professors and the academic expectations.  However, he finds solace in the conversations and debate that occurs between him and his friends each evening.

This man, like so many men and women, were told by their higher education institution that literary societies were not permitted.  The institutions had regulations and policies they must abide by.  Sound familiar?  However, they persevered and established a tradition of fraternal excellence that has spanned more than 150 years.

So why is it today we are still battling limitations on our freedom to associate with host institutions?

Policies and regulations are much tighter than they were 15 years ago when it comes to expansion, and include: 
  • Scheduling fraternity expansion 5 to 10 years out.
  • Requiring scholarships and financial contributions to local governing councils.
  • Imposing regulations on colonies that aren’t required of other fraternities and sororities.
  • Headquarters courting campus professionals to ensure their selection during expansion.

All under the auspices of fairness, balance, and control.

And because of that, have we let the needs and desires of existing groups (including their fear of competition) trump the needs and desires of unaffiliated students?

Have we accepted that notion that all fraternities are the same?  That it doesn’t matter which ones exist on a given campus – only how many?  That one fraternity can’t offer anything different than another? 

Is it acceptable that fraternal organizations are expected to invest $3000 - $6000 per campus to “present” to a group of undergraduate leaders and campus professionals on why they should be “allowed” a place on that campus? You better send the executive director as well!

If the intention in doing all of this is to “change the culture or our communities”, is it working?

Why do we have Interfraternity Councils that have become the roadblocks to fraternity expansion, taking over for the authoritarian administrators of yesterday?   What might our founder’s say? 

Times have changed, but the limits on our ability to associate haven’t.  The troubling thing is that the regulators have become IFCs and professionals who believe in the fraternity movement.  Just at their own pace it seems.

In the past, staring in the face of opposition meant looking in the eyes of headmasters and professors who resisted anything they couldn’t control.  Now, in many ways, the face of opposition we are staring at is our own.


[This staff member wished to remain anonymous, ironically enough, so that the fraternity's expansion efforts wouldn't be harmed]


5 comments:

  1. Great story, John. Thanks for sharing.

    I think the present state of expansion & freedom of association can be characterized as a struggle at best.

    Headquarters and interested students' perspectives are certainly valid. Students should have the freedom to associate. Campuses should be viewed as welcoming to fraternities.

    However, stemming from my experience and particularly from my current position overseeing a very quickly growing Greek community (34% last year) is that as a private university, we must reserve the right to choose which outside organizations we allow to operate a franchise on our campus. Greek Life is also only one of my professional responsibilities. In the last year we've recognized two additional NPHC chapters, lost an NIC colony, added an NPC sorority through extension, and recognized a new NIC colony. In order to give the IFC and Panhellenic chapters what they need, I've had to give NPHC advisement to our Director of Multicultural Student Services, who is not Greek. I simply didn't have the time to dedicate to their specific needs.

    I'm trying to build a strong national model Greek community and I wholly believe that must be controlled - especially when personnel resources are only part-time. Greek Life advising is only done when I have time after overseeing our student conduct process. Fraternity expansion should not be like the deli line as described above, but there should be some checks from the university on the organization and whether they can adequately support an additional group. At some schools that's an additional 150 students.

    I'm of the philosophy that I'd rather have 4 strong 30-man chapters than 8 struggling 15-man chapters.

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  2. As a campus-based professional, I agree with SOME of this. I think that new groups bring a lot to the campus community and campus professionals should not expect scholarships or courting or have different expectations of colonies than chapters. However, I do believe many campuses get a bad response from some HQs when they ask them to wait. Expansion should be a strategic partnership set up for the success of the organization, the campus and the students.

    I have had national organization expansion directors tell me if they have 3 interested men on a campus, they will start a chapter no matter what the campus thinks. That is not right either. I have seen other organizations show up for 2 weeks, recruit 7 freshmen (on a campus with average chapter size of 60) and then leave them to figure it out. That didn't work either. I have also seen a rechartered chapter get shut down in 2 years because they went back to hazing in that short amount of time.

    On the other side, I have also seen 2 national organization work collaboratively with a campus to determine the best time to come to a campus to be successful. I have seen national groups come in an have a chapter as top in the nation as soon as it starts (and stays that way for years). I have seen an IFC that supports expansion and took an active approach in seeking out organizations to expand (one almost every 2 years!) I have seen success but it is truly a partnership and not pointing fingers at each other and telling each other what they must do or allow. Campuses have plans (most are good, some suck I will say) but if HQ and campuses took time to communicate about those plans, I think we could see each others perspectives and make expansion work.

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  3. We also have to think about resources. Some national organizations provide tons of support during the expansion/colonization process and others do not. As an overtaxed campus-based professional, it is not always feasible to support more than a certain number of new groups at one time unless then national organization provides support and guidance as well. Let me tell you, I was working with 4 colonies and 2 new culturally-based groups last fall and it is A LOT of work without the support of great national staff. We were lucky we had those groups or it would not have been possible.

    I also don't agree that we can compare founding a chapter today to our founders creating our organizations 100+ years ago. The college environment was different. Students were not allowed to form any organizations. Today students are encouraged and begged to be engaged and involved on campus. Then they might have had one organization to choose from. Today campuses have 10, 15, 20 or more Greek-letter organizations and over 300 student organizations.

    I agree with expansion because it engages more students, challenges the community, creates diversity, and offers opportunities for more students to find their place. But I think it needs to be strategic for the national group and the campus and supported. Not just planting a flag and moving on to the next campus.

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  4. Being a member of a sorority at University of Louisiana of Lafayette, I can somewhat relate to the challenges the young man in the passage came in contact with. I was a member of NPC (Panhellenic Council at UL) for 2 years, serving on the executive committee. We have 8 national fraternities at ULL and one in the process of being colonized. Also, there are 5 national sororities on my campus. It has been an issue within the past 2 years with the immense growth rate among the sororities. Being that there are only 5, the expansion process has been brought to the attention of Panhellenic Council. Now, with NPC it is very different, I'd say, with the expansion process. Recently within the past 3 years IFC on my campus has brought in two new national fraternities. By serving as a member of the expansion committee for UL sororities, I know first hand that the process of bringing a new sorority onto campus is not in the slightest bit easy. A packet is sent to all the national sororities including everything the University and Greek Life has to offer at ULL. Also, the national sororities interested are able to set up an appointment to visit the school. Those interested send a packet back of everything that national sorority has to offer, hoping they'll be able to evolve on campus. Now, with the recent economy conditions the problem we have been having is that many national sororities do not have the money or local alumnae to colonize on our campus (this also includes building a house). The number in our recruitment intake is growing and our chapter total is reaching its max. I do hope for my campus that a national sorority takes into mind all that my amazing University and Greek Life has to offer, in hopes for expanding our sorority life.

    With Rajin Cajun Pride,
    Megan Parenti
    University of Louisiana Lafayette

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  5. If a campus has clubs for each of Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, and the Greens come along and want to start a club, would any campus require them to make a presentation to the other three clubs to get permission?

    If there were already a half dozen "recognized" Protestant congregations for students, and the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were struggling to survive, would any campus tell the Methodists they couldn't start a new group because the existing groups were not all strong enough?

    If there were already a German, French and Spanish club, and there were students wanting to start Chinese, Arabic and Portuguese clubs, would the existing clubs and the college administration sit down together to decide whether any of the new clubs would be allowed and, if so, which, when and, if more than one, in what order?

    Would any campus allow a ski club to veto the start of a snowboarding club?

    The answer to all of these is: "Of course, not, silly!"

    So why do we not think of treating fraternities and sororities this way as lunacy? I submit that it is simply because we have inherited a mindset from decades past about the way it's been done, and the people to whom this gives power are loathe to give it up.

    Interfraternally,

    Greg Hauser
    Past President, The NIC and The Delta Chi Fraternity

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