The Guidelined Dead—Chico State and the Greek system.
I’ve written before about Chico State and the “nuclear option” they used in response to repeated misconduct in the Greek community. Their rebuilding plan following this was released on Valentine’s Day and outlines guidelines that “must be agreed to” by the end of February in order to grant the Greek chapters recognition. In doing so, Chico State attempts to present a reasonable response to both protect itself and also allow the Greek tradition to continue. In actuality, what they do with rigid definitions and intractable minimum responses, is demonstrate a hostility to Greek life. What this does is diffuse the potential student and alumni response to shutting down the chapters while setting the stage to do just that- a practice becoming more common across the country.
I am in no way saying that fraternities and sororities that engage in severe hazing or other serious violations should be protected or immune from consequence. On the contrary, in presentations on next step risk management I talk about how certain activities are never worth the risk and will and should result in a chapter being shut down by the school or national organization. My issue is not that Chico felt the need to respond to what they believed was unacceptable conduct. The issue is that these conditions essentially ensure the end of Greek life, and will allow them to blame the students for that end.
In Chico’s plan, they essentially make anything that happens where 2 or more Greeks live together a chapter event, and any violations that happen at that “event” have a mandatory minimum consequence of a one-semester suspension. This means 2 sophomore roommates in a dorm that have friends from home over are now automatically a fraternity event. No other evidence or intention to do so is needed. This may not be and uncommon “standard,” but where it exists there is some allowances for reasonableness in both determination and response. Here there is neither.
The agreement uses all the language that a Greek community would want like “self-governance” and “student development” while paying lip service to the “rich and significant contributions to the quality of its student life.” However, when you look at the expectations you will see that those articulated principles are made meaningless with the way they define chapter activity and mandate the school’s response. They use the ideals of most chapters-that they are leaders living to higher standards-as an excuse to set unreasonable standards ensuring non-compliance in the future. Greek membership is treated as little more than an interest group (like chess club or Chinese dance) with no real regard for the fact that the lifetime commitment of being Greek means meaningful personal dedication to ideas that both support and surpass those of the university.
Do not be surprised when this draconian “agreement” eliminates cooperation between chapters and the school administration in an attempt to actually improve their chapter. Why would chapter leadership admit any problem when doing so appears to mean that they will be suspended for at least one semester? I am sure the response from Chico State would be “we wouldn’t do that, and of course we’re going to be reasonable” but there is nothing in the new provisions that suggests that anything other than 100% compliant behavior of 100% of the members will allow a chapter to continue to exist. While I think it would be a mistake, I firmly believe that each college and university has the absolute right to abolish Greek life. If they have reached a point where they believe the risks of having a Greek presence is not worth the reward (student retention, academic achievement, alumni donations, etc.) then they should shut it down. However, they should have the courage in their convictions to do so cleanly and openly.
Instead we are seeing campuses across the country doing what they can to make Greek life so untenable that students will either choose not to join or will invariably be the architects of their own demise. One need look no further to Trinity college forcing all Greek organizations to be co-educational, or the University of Central Florida beginning down this same road to get a glimpse of what’s ahead. I hope that students remember that leadership means both demanding good behavior from the people you lead, and also standing up against injustice when it surfaces.
Good luck to the chapters at Chico State. They’re going to need it.