It's time for fraternities to die

It's time for fraternities to die. Before you cease reading, close your browser, and begin attacking my character, intelligence, or sanity (or all three) via social media, please hear me out.

For those of you who are not the "true believers" of the fraternal movement, you can probably cite any number of reasons for fraternities (and sororities) to go away. The most recent example is an article from the Atlantic, but you also could look up statistics about alcohol, hazing, or sexual assault in fraternal organizations, or you could save yourself a lot of time by just Googling "TFM".


It is possible to come up with any number of reasons for fraternities to go away, but the reason I offer you has little to do with any of those.

That reason is that we are not delivering on our mission.

Where It All Starts… and Ends

The core mission at the heart of all fraternities and sororities is to make men better men, and to make women better women, and that mission doesn't necessarily begin and end with our members.

Do our individual student success stories characterize only the exceptional students, or do they also describe the experiences of all of our members, including the average and below average students? Do I dare suggest that the success stories we tell should be true for all students?

Do our assessments and measurements account for the preparation and potential of the students we recruit (input variables), or only what those students achieve (output variables)? If students who join fraternities and sororities are better prepared for college success, shouldn't we expect higher outcomes? More than that, given our lofty purposes, shouldn't we expect the highest possible outcomes?

How do we account for the countless students who leave our organizations after four years and no longer claim affiliation with our organizations, saying "I was a member of..."? What about those who leave after three, two, or even one year? Isn't the most basic tenet of fraternity and sorority membership that it is a lifelong commitment?

Not to mention the types of behavior that are in direct opposition to our founding values.

Pointing Fingers

Let's be clear. This is not an individual member issue, as chapters frequently claim. This is a not an individual chapter issue, as student leaders often claim. This is not a campus issue, as inter/national staff members sometimes claim. And this is not an inter/national organizational issue, as campus professionals sometimes claim.

This is a "we're all in the same boat" issue, and steering that boat is like steering the Titanic. A chapter is only as good as its least committed member. A campus is only as good as its least engaged chapter. An inter/national organization is only as good as its least responsible chapter. And our movement is only as strong as the collaboration that exists among every one of its stakeholders at every single level.

The question I'm left with is, "Have any of the immeasurable resources we've poured into assessment, operations, personal development programs, and risk management made a significant difference, or do our challenges, obstacles, and problems multiply as rapidly as the resources we direct at them?"

The Definition of Insanity is...

The article from the Atlantic demonstrates that fundamental change is needed. The structures and the systems that support the fraternal movement have to be examined, evaluated, and if necessary, replaced. The movement needs collaborative and collective leadership, absent the organizational lines and structures that hold back true collaboration.

"If you do what you've always done you'll get what you've always gotten." -Tony Robbins

The fraternal movement and its disparate parties have taken some steps, including some very big and very bold steps, but has the story changed?

The issues we face are systemic issues, but we continue to answer them with fractured, isolated, and territorial responses, campus by campus, organization by organization. If our problems are systemic, they cannot be met with a piecemeal solution.

Our solutions must transcend the boundaries and limitations of the current system.

The movement is not in need of a leader insomuch as it is a rebirth, which means it's time for fraternities to die, at least as they exist today.

“The snake which cannot shed its skin must perish.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Winning Big by Losing

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson demonstrated a true commitment to their organization's values, risking everything in order to live up to those values.

In the space of a few days starting Sept. 29, 1982, seven people died in the Chicago area after taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol, the painkiller that was the drugmaker's best-selling product.

Marketers predicted that the Tylenol brand, which accounted for 17 percent of the company's net income in 1981, would never recover from the sabotage. But only two months later, Tylenol was headed back to the market, this time in tamper-proof packaging and bolstered by an extensive media campaign. A year later, its share of the $1.2 billion analgesic market, which had plunged to 7 percent from 37 percent following the poisoning, had climbed back to 30 percent.

What set apart Johnson & Johnson's handling of the crisis from others? It placed consumers first by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules from store shelves and offering replacement product in the safer tablet form free of charge.

"Before 1982, nobody ever recalled anything," said Albert Tortorella, a managing director at Burson-Marsteller Inc., the New York public relations firm that advised Johnson & Johnson. "Companies often fiddle while Rome burns."

When the makers of Tylenol were facing a decision to minimize their losses or to live their values at all costs, they shut it down. They didn't just pull from the local shelves in the Chicago area, they pulled their product nationwide.

Can you imagine that level of conviction and courage existing in the leadership of fraternities and sororities?

I can, and I wonder...

Do the current policies, practices, and structures facilitate the future of the fraternal movement?

Or are they impeding it?