Opening the Envelope–How Students Can Protect Themselves When Working With Administration
When I was in law school I took a negotiations course taught by Professor Charles Craver. In it he told us that the best way to win a negotiation is to have your opponent negotiate against himself. As an example he said that when he bought a new car he went to each dealer of that car and told them to write down their best price and put it in a sealed envelope. At the end of the day, he told them that he would open the envelopes and whoever had the lowest price would sell a car. The point was the salesmen would try to determine the lowest a competitor would go and then try and beat it to make the sale. One salesman would sell a car, but the real winner was Craver.
When student organizations respond to administration concerns, they are the salesmen in the scenario. The administration can say “we have a zero tolerance for hazing. You, the Greek community, need to do something about it or we will!”
So the Greek leaders, exemplifying self-governance, sit down and hash out a plan to combat hazing (something that every single IFC/NPC/NPHC/MGC is already doing) and restore administrative confidence. Once that’s done, the plan is submitted and there are usually some concessions of autonomy in an attempt to retain what they think they can and get themselves out of the spotlight. The administration then takes the plan, reads it, and says something vague about being impressed by the work done. Then he or she says that they agree with the concessions part but that some work was going to have to be done on the other parts. In other words, we appreciate all the stuff you gave up, now we want you to give up more.
This does not happen because administrators are intent on harming Greek life (usually.) It happens because these students think they’re problem solving and thus are responding to what they think the administration wants through research and compromise, but the administration is treating it like a negotiation, and the initial plan/report is their offer in the envelope. To the administrator it isn’t an action plan, but rather the “first offer.” (Lesson 2 was you never accept the first offer.)
I know the Fraternity and Sorority Life Task Force at Tennessee released a report last week and that schools like Central Florida are taking hard looks at Greek life. I believe that if there is a systemic issue that it should be addressed, but I don’t think students should accidentally give up the farm to do so. So if you are working on an issue at the “request” of administration try to do the following:
- Nail down the specific concerns, with examples. Do not address more than you have to.
- Make sure any report makes includes information about comparable groups (e.g. Greek life on other campuses, residential life on your campus) to help add perspective.
- Connect any concessions made with the benefits given so that rejecting a benefit takes the concessions off the table.
If you keep in mind that you’re in a negotiation and not in a partnership, you will protect yourself and your community much better. Remember, the car dealership made out (school), Craver made out (administrator), and only the salesman was worse off.
Have you had a similar or completely different experience? Tell us your story!