Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Greek system must improve to survive

Jerry Miller, of Miami University of Ohio, reflects on a career spent advising Greek organizations.

When I began here, fraternities attracted men who were leaders on campus, including those in Associated Student Government (ASG), The Miami Student, the Miami University Student Foundation (MUSF) and several varsity sports. Each fraternity had a member of Miami’s faculty as an advisor, a chapter advisor and, until the late ‘70s, a housemother. Advisors’ meetings saw attendance of 80 percent or more of the fraternities. Unfortunately, hazing was fairly prevalent.

In the mid-90s, fraternity life began to take a downward spiral, one from which it has yet to return. From 1995 to 2010, many fraternities received disciplinary sanctions, mostly from the Office of Judicial Affairs (now the Office of Student Ethics and Conflict Resolution). Many of these sanctions included suspension of the chapter for up to three years, with the reasons ranging from hazing, theft, drugs, vandalism and underage drinking — irresponsible and unacceptable behavior.

More important, though, is the fact that fraternities strayed widely from their core values. They became near-sighted rather than far-sighted — the present was more important than the future. “How can I satisfy my wants and desires today without being concerned about negative spillovers?” Many of the quality men previously attracted to the fraternity system began to reject it, and rightly so. The fraternities that used to see 300 men queuing up each night during formal recruitment to meet active members saw their numbers dwindle. Again, appropriately so.
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I have reflected and asked myself, “What has happened to the fraternity system?” I am an economist, not a sociologist or psychologist; I can simply make observations and theorize. Here they are. (Please note these are generalizations, NOT applicable to everyone and every fraternity. They are, however, quite prevalent.)

  • 1. Students have changed. They arrive with a strong sense of entitlement, “I deserve it because I am special. The rules of common decency and respect for others don’t apply to me.” This fact is reflected in their attitudes and actions, and often in their lack of commitment if or when they join fraternities.
  • 2. There has been an increasing lack of respect for what belongs to others. Have you walked into a fraternity house recently? Have you read the reports about off-campus events after fraternity men leave? Recently graduated alumni return and destroy property. Off-duty police have had to be hired to protect some fraternity houses during alumni weekends. What has happened to respect and responsibility?
  • 3. There has been a lack of role models for the men in fraternities. Some advisers have shirked their responsibilities. Where there is a strong, local advisory group, there is a strong fraternity.
  • 4. Fraternity men responsible for inappropriate actions have not been held fully and consistently responsible. In certain fraternities, there has been an all-too-pervasive culture of immaturity with few or no consequences.
  • 5. Fraternities no longer know the distinction between ritual and tradition; these terms have merged into one.
  • 6. Helicopter parents try to externalize the blame for their sons’ transgressions and lack of cleanliness of the fraternity houses.
  • 7. With the new second-year live-in requirement, fraternity houses are remaining half-filled, mainly with sophomores, as few juniors and seniors are willing to be live-in role models.
  • 8. There is often a “code of silence” when it comes to discussions with the advisors.
There is much more in the full text of the article.