- IMPORTANCE OF PHILANTHROPY
- CALIFORNIA TRAGEDY $100,000,000 LAWSUIT
- RELATIONSHIP STATEMENTS: AN EFFORT TO FACILITATE A RELATIONSHIP?
- ENFORCEMENT OF TRADEMARKS
- STUDENT RECORDS -- PRIVATE OR NOT?
Newsletter > November 2002 > "RELATIONSHIP STATEMENTS: AN EFFORT TO FACILITATE A RELATIONSHIP?"
RELATIONSHIP STATEMENTS: AN EFFORT TO FACILITATE A RELATIONSHIP?
Holiday Hart McKiernan
Ms. McKiernan is the Executive Director and General Counsel of Alpha Chi Omega. She recently served on a four-member committee created by the Fraternity Executives Association (FEA) to study efforts to define the relationship between the Greek community and academic institutions. Other members of the Committee included Mark Anderson,.a Sigma Chi and FEA member; Arthur Hoge, Past President of Phi Delta Theta, representing the National lnterfraternity Conference (NIC); and Jean Scott, former Grand President of Pi Beta Phi and Past Chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Ms. McKiernan’s article reflects her own opinions, not necessarily those of the Committee, its members or the organizations the members represent.
Relationship statements are not merely a phenomenon of the late twentieth century. Universities and Greek organizations have repeatedly attempted to formally articulate what mutual expectations and rights exist between a host institution and Greek organizations. This symbiotic relationship between an institution and the Greek community is quite unique. Greek organizations were formed within the context of higher education. Greek organizations were founded as students discovered that the classroom alone did not provide a complete education. Social fraternities were to be the complement to or extension of the academic mission of the institution.
[Almost 65 years ago, the Association of American Colleges and the National Interfraternity Conference published a joint statement outlining the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of the college, chapter and its members.]
Throughout the 1900’s, attempts were made to capture in writing the factors of this relationship. As early as 1938, there were efforts to define this unique relationship between a host institution and the Greek organizations on the campus. This article will provide an overview of the efforts that have been made to outline the relationship. Following the historical perspective will be comments concerning the environment in which higher education is today. It is critical that Greek organizations form a relationship with higher education. The future of the Greek organizations depends on there being shared responsibility and accountability.
In 1938, a document titled, “A Definition of the Reciprocal Relations between College and Fraternity,” was adopted by the Association of American Colleges and the National Interfraternity Conference. This document was an effort to outline the reciprocal rights and responsibilities among the college, the chapter and the individual member. The document acknowledges that fraternities need to be considered for their educational usefulness, not only the administrative benefit fraternities provide the institution by housing university students in their facilities. This 1938 document sets the tone: best practices involve formulating accepted standards between the institution and the Greek organizations. This approach continues through today.
In 1964, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (“NASPA”) published a statement endorsed and supported by the National Interfraternity Conference (“NIC”), the National Panhellenic Conference (“NPC”) and the Fraternity Executives Association (“FEA”). The statement reads, “The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators recognizes that there are a number of problems connected with the current practices and procedures regarding college fraternities and national fraternity discipline. We reaffirm the clear recognition that colleges and universities are ultimately responsible in all matters of student discipline and we recognize the right of any national fraternity office to take disciplinary action with regard to a local chapter.”
In 1985, a joint statement was prepared and issued by the NIC, NPC, AFA and FEA This document sets forth the recommended criteria for the components of a cooperative statement that would exist between the host institution and the Greek system. The document states that the colleges and universities are responsible for setting and enunciating the expectations of students. This 1985 statement suggests that there is much that the host institution can do to determine the character and nature of its fraternity system. It is further stated that colleges and universities can foster an environment in which fraternities can make a contribution to the individual and to the group growth. Suggested mutual expectations to be contained within a cooperative statement include the following:
- Academic achievement;
- Service to campus and community;
- Respect for human worth and dignity;
- Commitment to and participation in institutional governance;
- Support and promotion of the institution;
- Leadership development;
- Inculcation of citizenship obligations;
- Individual and group responsibility;
- Fiscal responsibility of the chapter;
- Responsible membership selection and education;
- Fraternity ideals;
- Advisory services to which students and student organizations are entitled by virtue of their registration and recognition with the institution;
- The rights of the organization to peaceably assemble;
- The rights of privacy of members and the organization as specified in the Higher Education Act of 1965;
- All other rights of the members of the organization as granted by Congress; and
- Such additional topics as may be directly related to the unique features of the host institution
The 1985 statement suggests that the institution and the fraternity establish mutually agreeable expectations for chapter performance. Further, agreement should be reached between the institution and the fraternity on the procedures to be followed and action to be taken upon failure of the chapter to meet these expectations. It is suggested that the best approach to situations involving chapter underachievement involves mutual and shared processes on the part of the host institution and the general fraternity. This 1985 document further sets forth a process for the formulation and development of a statement of relationship. It suggests that there be a wide range of groups represented in the formation of this policy. Further, it suggests that the final approval of the document should be given by a body appropriate to the institution. The relationship statement once formulated should be effective for a set period of time. The statement should be reviewed periodically and renewed in the same manner as the formulation of the original statement by representatives of all constituencies in order to retain its relevance in the institutional community. The 1985 statement more explicitly outlines what was stated in 1938: mutual standards and expectations are critical to success.
In addition to statements that were issued by several organizations jointly, there also have been statements issued by individual organizations supporting a shared sense of accountability. These individual position statements have been released by the American Council on Education and the presidents of the National Panhellenic Conference member organizations.
In 1990, the American Council on Education (“ACE”) released the ACE paper from the Office on Self-Regulation Initiatives entitled, “Greek Organizations on the College Campus: Guidelines for Institutional Action.” The recommendations that are contained within the ACE paper support an activist approach for institutions. These recommendations indicate a liability concern that institutions must enforce all existing policies to minimize liability. But the recommendations do more than formulate a legal position. The drafters suggest that it is an educationally sound practice to take an active stance in promoting responsible behavior by all members of the campus community. The paper sets forth the following thirteen recommended institutional strategies:
- Base institutional recognition of Greek organizations on performance;
- Institutions should develop a set of standards for their Greek organizations and explicit sanctions for failure to meet those standards;
- Require a minimum grade point average for students to apply for or maintain active membership status in a Greek organization;
- Conduct regular reviews of the relationship of the institution with its Greek system to determine how best to align Greek organizations with the institution’s educational goals;
- Establish policies and actively enforce penalties for hazing violations;
- Designate an institutional officer with the responsibility of overseeing the performance of Greek organizations;
- Establish standards for supervision of campus chapters. Encourage faculty and staff to serve as advisers to Greek organizations by providing appropriate institutional rewards;
- Develop educational strategies and performance criteria to eliminate discriminatory behavior toward women, handicapped individuals, and racial and ethnic minority group members;
- Provide educational programs for members of Greek organizations on alcohol and other substance abuse;
- Assess the rush process in the context of the institution’s educational goals and other programs and services … Defer rushing until at least the second term of the freshman year or later;
- Encourage Greek organizations to eliminate pledge status as a requirement for institutional recognition or support;
- Require all chapters to have adequate liability insurance. Each chapter should submit evidence of insurance protection (including an indemnification of the host institution) sufficient to cover potential losses; and
- Establish standards for the fraternity and sorority houses regarding health and safety of all residents and guests.
In 1999, the presidents of the 26 women’s fraternities created a document entitled “Standards of Conduct.” This document outlines obligations and expectations of women’s fraternities. The Standards of Conduct document outlines the obligations the chapter owes to the institution as being in these categories:
- Compliance with laws and policies;
- Programming; and
The Obligations of the University to Chapters included:
- Autonomy of membership selection practices;
- Each Chapter to discipline in accordance with its procedural fairness practices; and
- University to contact national organization with concerns about the Chapter.
What does this historical perspective provide for us today? It appears that the best thinking on higher education has consistently maintained that the Greek system can be an asset to the higher education environment of the host institution. However, there is institutional frustration that Greek organizations are unwilling, or unable, to live up to their standards. Because of this frustration, those in higher education have suggested that the university set forth expectations and hold the Greek system accountable for those expectations.
What should Greek organizations do? Should there be efforts to resist Relationship Statements? It seems prudent at this time for Greek organizations to embrace the expectation process.
[Statements developed in a collaborative manner generally have recognized the rights of both the educational institution and fraternities and sororities far more successfully than those statements which one entity attempts to impose on the other.]
Collaboration for a Relationship
Although Greek organizations have emphasized protection of the right to associate, today’s legal climate is not embracing of such an emphasis. It can be argued that in today’s legal climate, Greek organizations need to be both aware of association rights and the issues, but also be proactive in supporting the establishment of expectations by host institutions. Institutions are demanding it. The demand for a defined relationship is consistent with the historically symbiotic relationship that has existed between the host institution and Greek organizations. Historically Greek organizations, through their various trade associations and umbrella organizations, have been very willing to acknowledge that the university has a fundamental role in defining the relationship and in setting expectations of what the Greek system should provide. Based on this history it would seem unwise to articulate now that the university should not play a role in establishing what those expectations should in fact be.
But more than history suggests that it is critical to document the relationship between the institution and Greek organizations. In April of 2002, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (“NIAAA”) released a report entitled “A Call to Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges.” This report makes the formation of mutual expectations and strategies even more paramount. The NIAAA report identifies campus populations that are at risk for high-risk alcohol use. Populations that are identified include first year students, athletes, and members of fraternities and sororities. Institutions are clearly now on notice that strategies must be implemented to address the needs of these high-risk populations. Based on the NIAAA report alone, it can be anticipated that institutions will become more involved in formulating expectations for Greek organizations.
Greek organizations need to take the lead in establishing a relationship with the university. Greek leadership should be proactive in formulating strategies that address the NIAAA report. But, even with a proactive approach, what if the university does not wish to enter into a relationship with the Greek organizations? Greek leadership should not conclude that any hesitancy on the part of the institution is because the institution supports the constitutional right of the Greeks to associate. Rather, it can be argued that this lack of formalizing a relationship is more indicative of the institutional response of the university attempting to distance itself from the Greek organizations. This distance is to insulate the institution from responsibility for liability due to member conduct. Although such a tactic most likely will not provide the insularity the institution wishes to achieve, it should not be comforting to Greek organizations that an institutional strategy is to avoid establishing a documented relationship.
Clearly, a list of standards does not a relationship make. Looking to the 1985 Statement or the Ace Paper is informative as to what issues should be included in a relationship document., but the challenge is in crafting a relationship with mutual expectations that include both accountability and enforcement provisions. That relationship agreement may require more of Greek organizations than organizations have in some cases required of themselves. The relationship should not be unilateral, but rather should be one of a shared responsibility. Further, there most definitely are some things that Greek organizations should protect – specifically the right to be single gender and the right to keep the ritual confidential. Little else should be unable to be discussed.
[The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (“NIAAA”) reports that:
- 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die every year as a result of hazardous drinking
- 500,000 suffer unintentional injuries under the influence of alcohol
- 600,000 are assaulted by fellow drinking students
- 70,000 are sexually assaulted
Figures published in “A Call To Action: Changing the Culture of Drinking at U.S. Colleges, April 2002.” The study is available at www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.]
The Greeks need to collaborate, to participate and to support the host institutions in defining their relationships with the Greek system and protecting that relationship. This may not be easy to achieve. Some institutions are creating relationship documents without Greek organization representation. Some institutions are choosing to eliminate their Greek systems and provide alternative avenues for social gathering. However, many institutions want the Greek system to be a vital component of the campus environment. A relationship statement can be the tool that provides the structure for the relationship, the method for accountability and enforcement, and the template for bringing about proactive change.