The Logic of Fraternity Expansion
Justin Kirk, Delta Upsilon Fraternity
Jeremiah Shinn, Boise State University
The processes and philosophies surrounding fraternity expansion continue to elicit emotional reactions and rigid stances among campus and headquarters professionals alike. Even when broached during an otherwise lighthearted conversation among colleagues, this topic packs an emotional punch and can be polarizing. During the past five to seven years, we have explored this topic from every angle and have arrived at a singular, irrefutable conclusion: The disconnected conversation surrounding fraternity expansion is an issue of flawed logic. While everyone believes they are absolutely right, we’ve discovered that in fact, both campus and headquarters professionals are consistently wrong in their approach to this conversation. It is not our intention to outline a point-by-point solution to the men’s expansion problem in 1000 words or less but instead to offer some brief observations as fodder for a larger debate. We have outlined six items that are indicative of the flawed logic of fraternity expansion and anticipate and welcome disagreement on all fronts.
How campus professionals contribute to the problem (Shinn):
In our quest to make the expansion process seem thorough, we have asked that headquarters submit reams of peripheral and irrelevant information for us to half-heartedly review during an unsystematic process with very few objective measures for selection of a fraternity. Further, we ask that they transport several staff members or volunteers to our campus, with glossy brochures and brightly colored banners in tow, to entertain a disinterested group of fraternity men for an afternoon. This same group of disinterested fraternity men will then cast an arbitrary and mostly uninformed vote (this will be explored below). The funds that we ask fraternities to spend on the expansion “dog and pony” show could be better used to offset the cost of closing bad chapters, service others, or even create cutting-edge leadership curriculum. As campus professionals, we are to blame for a significant amount of waste at the headquarters level.
Not “Being Ready”
A common refrain from campus based fraternity/sorority advisors is that their campus is “not ready” for expansion. This abstract stance is rarely grounded in any empirical reality and is generally not representative of progressive thinking. As long as there are chapters on a campus that are not functioning at a high level, that campus is ready for a new organization that WILL function at a high level. Until each chapter on a campus is able to attract the best and brightest men, that campus is ready for a new organization that can. Not being ready for fraternity is a poor excuse.
It is rare that either of us would advocate for anything other than unfettered student self-governance and for student leaders assuming complete ownership and responsibility for creating a positive and productive fraternity/sorority community. While students should absolutely be involved in conversations related to expansion, they generally lack the knowledge, experience, context or incentive to choose consistently the organizations that are best positioned to “push the envelope” on campus. It has been our experience that students are content to base decisions on trivial matters such as what a friend on another campus has to say about the organization or which famous alumni the fraternity has on its roll as opposed to substantive matters related to student learning or civic engagement. Further, few are interested in welcoming an organization of men that will elevate expectations for all chapters on campus. Student involvement in the process is important, but we should not leave the most important decisions to be made by the least informed stakeholders.
How headquarters professionals contribute to the problem (Kirk):
Rights & Responsibilities
Just because an organization can expand doesn’t mean it should expand. The North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) has a standard of open expansion. It is grounded in the rights provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution for students to associate and assemble freely, and I fully support this standard. But with every right, there comes responsibility. Organizations argue for our right to expand and ask for few to no restrictions. However, we rarely think of our responsibilities. We have a responsibility to create an environment that will support the growth, learning, and development of the men recruited. We have a responsibility to recruit and train an advisory board and a responsibility to lead the election and training of new officers. We have a responsibility to provide ongoing nurturing and support throughout the establishment of the chapter. If we are unable to fulfill these responsibilities, we have failed a group of students and deserve to have our “right” questioned.
Issue of Capacity
Fraternities face a great challenge when it comes to allocating scarce resources to accomplish extensive strategic plans. There are tough decisions to be made. I believe the best indicator for judging an organization is how well it delivers on its mission. Delta Upsilon’s mission is “to build better men through our four founding principles,” and most fraternal organizations share something similar. I would offer that no men’s organization has the capacity to do more than three to four cold start expansions in a year, along with adding a couple interest groups, and at the same time provide excellent chapter service, cutting-edge programs, training for volunteers and alumni, and responsiveness to risk management incidents without sacrificing quality in these areas. We simply do not have the capacity. In fact, the most aggressive expansion plans will require neglecting one of the above areas, which are vital to delivering on our mission. I don’t know of an organization whose mission is to “grow exponentially.” If we continue to emphasize expansion over quality of experience, our higher education partners will rightfully question whether our organizations are relevant to their institutions.
Pulse vs. Partnership
Organizations often lack purpose in selecting campuses for expansion. If an interested group of students calls, it is as if the bat phone has rung and the expansion coordinator needs to be on a plane the next day to hand out bids and start a group. Just because students express an interest in an organization doesn’t mean that fraternity is a good fit for the campus. We must resist the temptation to add a notch to the chapter roll quickly and spend time establishing a partnership with the university and evaluating the opportunity through established strategic criteria.
As a profession, we must decide whether our expansion-related policies and practices will continue to be based on flawed logic. Our current approach is rooted in the “worst case scenario” and has been “we’re right, you’re wrong.” Fraternity expansion is, but doesn’t have to be, a contentious issue. We must elevate the discourse to a place where we are collectively making decisions on our common hopes for advancing the fraternity experience. It is our hope that these points will prompt honest conversation leading to a reasoned approach to fraternity expansion.