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Newsletter > January 2023 > "Greek Life Revitalization Report"
Greek Life Revitalization Report
Timothy M. Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
Northern Illinois University, located in DeKalb, Illinois, had seen its student population decline from a high of 18,200 in the 1990’s, to 11,834 in the 2020-21 school year. Greek life on the campus, in that same period, had declined even more drastically, from approximately 2,500 members to 691 members.
In what can only be described as an unusual, but very welcome, move in this period when Greek life is under such criticism, Dr. Lisa C. Freeman, the University’s President, established a Presidential Task Force on the revitalization of Greek life.
President Freeman’s charge in creating the Task Force noted that:
A healthy and vibrant Greek community is an important aspect of a residential campus and is consistent with NIU’s desire for students to build communities and support one another in our University.
The Task Force, composed of a mix of students, alumni, and University representatives, along with a community member from Opportunity DeKalb, issued its final 32-page Report in November.
The Report begins by recognizing that the challenges faced by both the University and the NIU Greek live community are “not dissimilar from challenges faced by many Greek life communities at other regional, comprehensive universities: declining enrollment, shifting demographics and a shift to a compliance/risk management mind-set within the fraternity/sorority community.” The Task Force does not shy away from recognizing that “the reputation of Greek systems across the nation has been called into serious question with incidents of rampant alcohol and drug abuse, racism, sexual misconduct, and hazing that resulted in harm and loss of life.” But it goes on to recognize the enormous potential Greek life has to benefit students and the University.
Specifically, it emphasizes the opportunity to benefit from five shared values identified by the chapter presidents and the leadership of the four Greek councils on campus—the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and the Panhellenic Conference (PHC). Those shared values are service, scholarship, siblinghood, leadership, and cultural awareness.
The Report clearly states the expectations and assumptions of the Task Force. Included among its eight expectations are a desire to ensure that Greek life on campus should be “open to all students regardless of race, religious affiliation, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, physical disability and other characteristics protected by state or federal law.” Additionally, the University should continue to “vigorously embrace its students’ rights to the legitimate freedom of expression, speech and association” while recognizing that the Student Code of Conduct represents the bare minimum of acceptable behavior and expects Greek life’s commitment to adhere to a higher standard of behavior, “not because they are required to do so, but because a commitment to a values-based Greek life dictates it.”
The report carefully analyzes the governance and organization of Greek life on campus, identifies core themes, and makes fifty-six specific recommendations in areas such as recruitment, housing, alumni, university policies and procedures, and in safety, accountability, wellness, and service. Included in those recommendations is both an increase in the staffing in the University’s Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) Office, as well as a specific recommendation that that office “must move away from a mindset focused solely on policy compliance and embrace a philosophy of support and advocacy for all Greek councils and chapters.” Toward that end, it recognizes that doing so requires “a shift from the significant level of time and effort spent on issues related to policy enforcement, event registration, and compliance, to issues related to chapter coaching/support, community visibility, and community health.” It goes on to add that a strategic plan for that Office should prioritize “personal relationships with chapter leaders, community health, and community growth, as well as intentional partnerships with chapter advisors, national headquarters, alumni, and other stakeholders.” The Report recognizes that “the University currently has no distinct written procedures for how allegations of misconduct involving registered student organizations will be investigated and adjudicated beyond the Code of Student Conduct.” As a result, as the Report states “the process lacks clarity and consistency and is viewed as overly punitive.” It recognizes instead that the University should “develop a separate policy outlining how allegations of misconduct involving registered student organizations will be investigated and adjudicated.”
The Report specifically recommends the University stop requiring additional insurance from fraternities and sororities. It notes that no other type of student organization has that requirement and, as a result, the requirement is “unfair and unreasonable.”
Greek life itself is held to a high standard, as noted in its conduct expectations. And it specifically notes, for example, that “the Task Force learned that fraternity chapters have GPAs lower than the rest of the student population (that is not the case for sorority chapters).” The Report makes a series of recommendations, starting with the general statement that “the fraternities should recommit to their shared community value of scholarship: the prioritizing and planning of, and responsibility for, high academic achievement as members and chapters.”
The Report is careful to include specific recommendations for assisting NPHCD and MCG organizations.
Even over the course of the year that the Task Force did its work, and before the final report was issued, the task force had a positive impact on campus. For example, three years ago, the University had committed to the establishment of an NPHC Yard that would recognize the importance of the Divine Nine, historically African-American Greek organizations. It was a promise long unfulfilled, but the Task Force, by responding to the NPHC concerns, convinced the University to fulfill that promise. Consequently, the NPHC Yard was finally completed in time for Homecoming in October 2022.
Similarly, when the Task Force learned that the Delta Zeta National Housing Foundation (“DZ”) had placed its NIU chapter house on the market, the Task Force worked with DZ and the University to reverse that decision. According to the Report, “the DZ house was taken off the market and the local DZ chapter moved back into the house for the 2022-2023 school year. The local chapter had a strong spring and fall rush and is well on its way to returning to viability.”
Overall, the Report offers a balanced approach to the need to revitalize Greek life on campus. It does so, recognizing that the Greek community has to be a part of that effort and held to high standards. Critically, what makes this Report uniquely deserving of attention, is its recommendation that a university’s relationship with Greek life is not just enforcement and discipline; it really is a partnership.
 Siblinghood is defined by the Report as “the process of providing equitable resources, opportunities and creating an inclusive environment for co-existing in harmony and appreciation of each other while holding each other accountable.”