Thoughts on USC's Suspension of Fraternity Recruitment

Here are some thoughts on the current situation at the University of South Carolina regarding fraternity recruitment. If you are unaware of the situation, you can read about it here. The University of South Carolina has suspended fraternity recruitment because of a series of alcohol-related incidents already this semester. I want to preface these thoughts by saying that I’m fully aware I am an outsider to this. I only know and can react to what I’ve read. I’m sure all sides are trying their best.  

Yet, there are three truths in life: death, taxes, and that 18-22 year-olds don’t like being told what to do. I understand why the University felt they needed to act, and why they felt they needed to act swiftly. I really don’t mind the decision, since it seems as though that community needs to step back and re-assess itself.

There is also something to be said about the courage of this decision.  Backlash was certain.  I always admire people and organizations strong enough to put their hand up and say “enough.” I have nothing against the administrators because I’m sure they believe they are doing the right thing.  

I only wish the decision had been made differently. I only wish it was the students who were the ones saying “enough.” And I think it could have been.

The students need to change their behavior. There needs to be no alcohol in the recruitment process, and the emphasis on alcohol in fraternity life needs to be diminished. Those goals are noble and need to be pursued. However, I’ve seen too many situations where the process to try and achieve goals such as these is a heavy-handed, top-down, parent-child approach. And it never seems to work.

Why are we surprised about the student reaction? Sure - some of their responses have been immature, but when people feel cornered or dismissed, they fight back. And often without logic.  

According to reports, university administrators had told student leaders in the Spring that things needed to change.  Fair enough. What if they had instead worked with the Fraternity Council to form a group of staff/students to develop a strategic plan for alcohol-free recruitment? In my few years working with fraternities and sororities, I haven’t really seen the Dean Wormer approach of “shape up or else” work very well. Although it is used extensively.

Again, this doesn’t mean the university shouldn’t have acted, or set high expectations for the fraternities. But if they wanted results - if they wanted a change in behavior - those expectations could have been matched with more guidance and support.  

Also, according to reports, fraternities were informed of this decision by email. Do any of us like being given hard news by impersonal means?  Hosting a meeting with leaders to tell them in person would have been better.  They could have given the leaders the tools to communicate the decision back to their members (even though some still wouldn’t have used them).

The students need to grow up and take ownership for this problem. They know it was there, and they’ve been asleep at the wheel.  Because of that, they have deferred much of their power over to the university administrators. The Fraternity Council should be ashamed of itself for how invisible it appears to be. However, if progress in this situation is for the students to take ownership again, I’m cynical the current course of events will get us there.

I can still remember my perspective as a fraternity undergraduate. I wanted us to captain our own ship, not just ride on one that was built for us.  

It seems that as Greek professionals and university administrators get further away from the undergraduate years, they become more and more amazed that the students just don’t get it. It’s like we’ve all pulled up rocking chairs on the front porch and are taking turns saying, “these kids today!”  These kids today aren’t very different from kids their age across time. They will do the right thing, once they believe it’s the right thing to do. They will also respond better to their peers rather than the town elders from Footloose.

There is defiance in the DNA of fraternities that goes all the way back to our founding. This has caused the relationship between us and our host institutions to be perpetually strained. That will probably never change. However, our approach as alumni and administrators can.

It will be interesting to watch this as it goes forward. I hope to see the Fraternity Council respond as partners in this problem and take a very active role in its solution. I also hope to see them regarded as such by the university administrators.  

Am I seeing this incorrectly?  Feel free to comment below.


  1. The IFC can't respond as a partner - they don't exist on campus!

  2. You are correct...they are called the Fraternity Council. Same thing. However, I made corrections in the post. Thanks-

  3. This is a very well written article and it does hit a huge issue in the Greek community.

    I'm a chapter adviser at a Florida university and it's very difficult to work with the undergrads to understand the dangers they face. Often I've attempted to stress to them to remember why they're brothers, and that their reason for existing isn't alcohol.

    On the same token, after a turbulent summer of violations, they're beginning understand why the right thing is the right thing, and that they are capable of rushing without using alcohol and parties as the anchor.

  4. I can totally understand a University wanting to control alcohol-related deaths. Its such a horrible thing, and also a preventable one. You can't keep college kids from drinking, but you can do something to curb the hazing component, which is present in most cases of alcohol related deaths.

    However, from a legal standpoint, it seems that the university is discriminating against the fraternities in particular, and violating their basic freedom to assemble, no? This is a public institution, and the 1st amendment grants Fraternities undeniable rights, so I can't imagine this being the case for very long at USC, or becoming a widespread situation at other public schools, especially if USC is legally required to allow fraternities to continue recruitment. This isn't from the article, but just thinking outside the box, how has the university dealt with the problem of alcohol incidents outside the Fraternity/Sorority circle? ...are clubs like the ski club, crew club, Young Republicans or College Dems, allowed to recruit? There may be an issue there. It sounds like USC is trying to do something good, but just missed some serious legal considerations.

  5. Does it feel a little ridiculous talking about the need to move toward dry recruitment in 2011? I mean, seriously. It's hard to believe that something most of the country dealt with in 1990 is up for discussion at the largest university in South Carolina in 2011 (and clearly at Chapel Hill, also).

  6. T.J - don't disagree that it's ridiculous. But, I would question if we ever really made a move toward dry recruitment (beyond rhetoric and official statements).

  7. I appreciate that you aren't playing the blame card entirely on the chapters and recognize that no group of college students is going to want to change something they view as fun based off of an email sent from the "evil" administration. Our campus also struggles with rush violations in one way shape or form in the days between Freshman orientation starting and actual rush weekend, and I think that purely punitive action without having some sort of discussion about why the violations were wrong is a bit broken.

    My biggest complaint about the University's decision is that they acted against ALL the fraternities, not just the ones breaking the rules. Granted, in all likelihood they were breaking the rules and just didn't get caught. (A not too unreasonable guess) But perhaps they didn't break any rules? How is that going to encourage them to want to work with the University? It would seem to me that they would think "Well, we did what they wanted us to do, but they punished us anyway, so why should we listen to them?". I understand that they felt the need for a strong message to be sent, but I don't think punishing people that (theoretically) didn't do anything wrong is not the way to go about it.

  8. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are about what is going on at Princeton -

    Different situation, but stemming from a similar place.

  9. The University admissions office approved and welcomed every pot-head, coke-head, and hazer (from high school) and strong drinker - Department of Health, Washington DC says that drug use -- for those that do it-- begins at between 13 and 14 years old. Now no one believes the University deliberatly admitted those candidate/applicants. What is interesting is the double standard --- for instance -- do you EVER hear of drinking in the University dorms? NO of course not, Do you ever hear of drug use in the dorms? NO of course not. so what happens whey they catch thos offe3nders -- and there are a lot of them NOTHING really -- a letter to "stop that" , or a talk from the dorm manager -- and life goes on. Close the dorm for a year? Are you kidding??? We must get used to the double standard of the Universities --

  10. Good job John. The thought occured to me (as I transition more to an advisor role) that this would infuriate me if I was on the housing board for one of those chapters.

    Have you seen those houses in their Greek park? They're amazing, large, and all pretty new. I dint know the details fully, but I imagine the university owns the land and the chapters built the houses (at a high cost).

    So back to the advisor, he's got to make sure the mortgage is paid and now may have 25-40% less revenue next year. This could cripple them. A conspiracy theorist might wonder if there is incentive to re-acquire the land. "We gave them this land, had to take it back, and now we're forced to construct an large income producing parking garage or res hall."

    I would be irate if I had to come up with a huge downpayment, develop a payment strategy, and had a huge percentage of my income ripped away. Especially If they didn't communicate with me and my fellow advisors. Especially via email.

  11. The challenge today, versus when us "old guys" were in college, is the 21 year old drinking age. It is clear that universities will no longer tolerate chapters that facilitate underage drinking. They have the power, and we'll either change or they'll make us go away. ...I believe we can make a difference in young men's lives, so I vote we change.