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Newsletter > January 2003 > "RELATIONSHIP STATEMENTS ARKANSAS STYLE — NO WOMEN NEEDED"
RELATIONSHIP STATEMENTS ARKANSAS STYLE — NO WOMEN NEEDED
Timothy M. Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
Relationship statements or expectation documents developed by universities are frequently a mixed bag. Many of the standards these documents seek to implement are in and of themselves innocuous and do not necessarily place major new impositions on the fraternity groups sought to be regulated. Some standards essentially incorporate by reference the expectation that, like all other student groups, fraternities and sororities are expected to abide by laws related to alcohol, drugs and hazing. These are reasonable expectations which, when applied equally to Greeks and non-Greeks, should not create a significant legitimate controversy.
Other regulations or standards can be very intrusive, attempting to define what constitutes a “good” fraternity or sorority on the basis of whether or not an organization meets as frequently as the university fraternity advisor thinks is a good idea or whether they invite faculty members to dinner often enough or even how the chapter handles its financial accounting. Some of these kinds of regulations may in and of themselves be good ideas, but are they necessarily ideas which each fraternity and sorority should be required to adopt? The question becomes who should make decisions on the internal functioning of a private membership group like a sorority chapter?
The development of standards documents or relationship statements or expectations is, at times, done exclusively by university administrators and at other times with the input and advice from students, faculty and alums of the institution.
One recent bad example of how to include student input comes from the University of Arkansas. This past fall, the Task Force for the Enhancement of Greek Life issued recommendations to the University Chancellor. While the introductory paragraph to that document suggests that it was specifically developed to deal primarily with fraternities – as opposed to sororities the University is now seeking to apply the document and its recommendations to sororities as well as to fraternities. What makes this particularly unusual is that while there was student involvement, the University included representatives of only men’s groups. Thirteen men’s fraternities were represented on the task force by an advisor and/or the chapter president. The IFC had its own three representatives on the task force. In addition, the task force included representatives from the Board of Trustees, the Alumni Association and the University administration. The make-up of the task force included a total of 35 people, including 26 fraternity representatives (all of whom were male). There were only three female members, all from the University administration.
Such an imbalance of representation does little to encourage cooperation between a strong and healthy sorority system at the University of Arkansas and the University administration. It also may very well be a violation of Title IX,1 the federal law requiring that female students have equal opportunity to that of their male counterparts. Title IX has frequently been discussed in the context of equal access for women to intercollegiate athletic activities. It states, in part:
“No person … shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
The University of Arkansas certainly receives federal financial assistance. The membership practices of social fraternities or sororities are by statute exempt from the prohibitions of Title IX. That exemption, however, does not extend to a University’s decision to exclude women from participation on a task force which is designing regulations to apply to female organizations while granting men such participation. The opportunity for equal participation and benefit was not provided by the University of Arkansas on its Task Force for the Enhancement of Greek Life.
Under these circumstances, it would not be surprising if the sororities resist the implementation of rules designed by exclusively male students as “enhancements to Greek life dealing … in particular, with the men’s fraternity system.”2
1 20 USCS 1681 et seq.
2 Recommendations to Chancellor John A. White, University of Arkansas, from the Task Force for the Enhancement of Greek Life, Fall 2002. p. 1, 2nd sentence.