Is the Era of Big Greek Government Upon Us?

I wonder which of the following feels more like progress to you:  the day in which the fraternity movement relies on a strong centralized power structure to keep it accountable to what it promotes and stands for,  or the day in which all fraternity organizations are committed and responsible enough to manage their own affairs and hold their own chapters accountable to their own values and ideals?  Which of those scenarios lie closer to your ideal? 

And, based upon your ideal, how would you assess this moment in our history?

For me, I come from the Ayn Rand school that teaches that if every individual lived to their highest potential, everything else takes care of itself.  It’s a lofty ideal, but I choose to support initiatives that bring us closer to that, not push us further away.

If every national fraternity lived to its own highest ideal, then our movement is healthy and progressive.  We’re not there yet, but let’s take actions with the assumption that we want to get there.

What are some signs that we’re moving away from this ideal?  The creation of bigger
unifying structures, for one.  It’s a natural inclination in times of crisis to want some big overarching structure to take the wheel.  For example, during the Great Depression, government grew substantially because we trusted it would make things better.  When we are fearful, we put too much trust in heroes.  Our belief that a crisis is too big to handle causes us to place irrational faith in institutions. 

Fraternity and sorority life could be in a crisis moment.  It’s hard to tell.  Membership doesn’t seem to be affected yet, but public perception continues to sink faster than my beloved Browns playoff hopes (yes I do realize it’s only the preseason).  At the minimum, many fraternity and sorority national leaders believe this to be a crisis moment.  This has led to increased involvement in Washington DC, leadership changes in umbrella organizations like the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and talk of a new organization to supplant the NIC.

It’s a great tradition in fraternity and sorority life that when all else fails, let’s just make another organization.

“Big government” in fraternity life is not a new phenomenon.  I  heard a speech from Jeff Cufaude many years ago in which he quipped that most fraternity board members are probably small-government conservatives in their political ideology but more than willing to let their national organizations become centralized and controlling institutions.  Chapter shenanigans over the years have led to the policy manuals getting thicker, not slimmer.  The NIC unified around standards that member organizations were tasked to enforce.  For better or worse, these standards imposed a way of being on these groups.

If we were choosing three words to describe the last 3 decades of fraternity life, I nominate “Thou Shalt Not.”

Fraternity leaders are exploring a new initiative – possibly a new trade association – called the Interfraternal Collaboration Effort, or ICE.  There are many new strategies being discussed in this effort and many smart people involved.  I’m far enough removed to pass proper judgment on if ICE has the right approach.  As an observation, ICE is different from the NIC is a very apparent way.  It’s more. 

It wants to do more, staff more, involve itself on campuses more,  spend more, and cost more. 

Thus, here we are in a moment of crisis and one answer seems to be to consolidate at the top.  To put more into the tip of the pyramid.  To put money behind probably the biggest centralized effort in the history of our movement.   

Hey – this could work.  But do you know what else could?

How about national fraternities having the guts to hold their own chapters accountable to their own standards.  To have the courage to pull more charters, even from those elite institutions with the influential alumni.  To take a stand about what it means to be a member of the organization and stick with it even when it hurts the bottom line to do so.  

Before the leaders of our national organizations put even greater resources into a unified structure, they ought to ensure that their own house is in order as much as possible.  After all, a unifying structure shouldn’t exist to clean up your fraternity’s mess. 

Outsourcing the individual responsibility each fraternity has to manage the behavior and experience of its own members is about as far away from progress as I can imagine.  I suppose you could say we’ve already been moving down that road by expecting campus personnel to enforce our own standards.

I’m not na├»ve.  I understand that there is frustration in the Greek world and it’s searching for a solution.  And there are some central efforts needed to protect fraternities and sororities from dangers like campus’s enacting all-Greek suspensions.

I would favor a solution in which the vast majority of responsibility falls to individual national groups to address their own issues, complimented by a small and lean association that does a few things very well.  In any discussion about new or renewed umbrella organizations going forward, I hope someone is advocating for that ratio.

Fraternity and sorority chapters should understand a very important thing: your Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council are not there to solve your problems.  That’s why you are there.  Handing the keys over to an umbrella entity to make your experience safe, healthy, and significant is like expecting your church to make you holy.  The church can provide a forum for education and reflection, but it’s ultimately your decision to behave in the appropriate way.

Your personal experience, your chapter’s success, and your organization’s destiny still lie in your hands.  Seize it.  And don’t give it away.


  1. In the early days of the Internet and search engines, there was a game that people played to try to come up with a combination of words that produced exactly one "hit" from a search inquiry. As of this morning "Interfraternal Collaboration Effort" is a winner. Your article is the first on the Internet with those words, in that order. This tells me that this effort has been kept really quiet so far. (Thanks for bringing it in to the open.)

    I fully agree that a key is your comment - "How about national fraternities having the guts to hold their own chapters accountable to their own standards." I recently saw some comments from a webinar that indicated that new TKE Exec. Director Donnie Aldrich was taking that approach. I hope that is the case.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I agree with your assessment, but take it a bit further. Much in the way that the reduction of participation in civil society at the local level has led to growth in govt at the federal level, so too has reduction of alumni members' participation led to increases in the power of nation fraternity organizations. When alumni participate, support, encourage, advise, and oversee local collegiate chapters, they are better able to influence and shape the culture of the local chapters.

    I serve as a New Member Adviser for a local collegiate chapter that has a strong committee of alumnae advisers and see this first-hand. The women work closely with their advisers and we loop in our HQ as necessary (usually for advice on odd situations or, more frequently, as an FYI).

    In chapters where advisers and alumnae volunteers are scare or generally not involved, I see much more interfering from the national organization and a corresponding poor response from the collegians. As an adviser, my officer looks to me to support her in the tough decisions she has to make, and I know my support helps her set the tone for the chapter's New Member program and also for the way initiated sisters treat New Members.

    National organizations do a poor job of recruiting and retaining fraternity volunteers. Often they rely on a select few who burn out quickly or fail at important tasks because they have no other local support. National organizations would be much better served by engaging local alumni of all ages to support and influence collegiate chapters.

    The salvation and renaissance of Greek Life will not come from Yet Another National Committee. It will come from fraternity members of all ages choosing to save our organizations from the ground up.

  3. Fascinating. I would argue that NPC, which has much more oversight and actual governance ability than the NIC, has been HUGELY successful in assisting with the turnaround of the sorority community -- to the point that many CPCs are seeing explosive growth in numbers and can't expand fast enough to keep up. We've seen a decrease in hazing and alcohol-related issues, partially because the liability is shifted to the men's groups, which they accept, but also because the groups stood together in banning alcohol from their residences. Perhaps it's not a function of the size of the central organization, so much as the purpose -- if the NIC actually governed (with due respect for the sovereignty of the member organizations) instead of positing as a trade group, perhaps more progress would be made.

  4. I believe I'm reading in this post what I too see, but see it happening at the IHQ level -that THEY want to consolidate power and decision making, and in doing so, are on the one hand putting local chapters out on their own limb, to fall or fly, and on the other hand, attempting to cut out regional and local volunteers which *could* bring much value across chapters, to align values and practices. Instead, in a grab for more power, there's a closing of the inner circle who then dictate from IHQ. aka writing manuals that never get read.