When criticizing the Greek System, put blame where it belongs

While it is fashionable to criticize U.S. fraternities and sororities, some colleges and universities are doing more than chastising their Greeks.
By: | Issue: August, 2016
June 22, 2016

Fraternity brothers on spring break—what image immediately comes to mind? Picture this instead: golf-ball sized blisters, swollen feet, strained muscles and determination to help others. Thirty-one members of Troy University’s Alpha Tau Omega Chapter dedicated their spring break to walking 128 miles to raise money to aid wounded military veterans. I met with them on day three of their six-day march from Troy, Ala., to Panama City Beach, Fla. I contrasted this group of unselfish undergraduates with the prevailing image of the spoiled frat boy, which dominates media nationwide.

While it is fashionable to criticize U.S. fraternities and sororities, some colleges and universities are doing more than chastising their Greeks. According to researchers at Bloomberg Business, 133 Greek chapters were shut down, suspended or otherwise punished during the spring of 2015 following alleged offenses.

As a university chancellor I believe there is no place for hazing, physical abuse, racial slurs or mistreatment of other students among our Greeks. But to call for abolition of the system, as some are doing, is wrongheaded and shortsighted.

Full disclosure: I am a member of a fraternity, and I benefited greatly from the experience. I made lifelong friends, developed leadership skills, and learned the importance of civic engagement and service to others. Thus, when I became Chancellor of Troy University in 1989 I expected the best from our Greeks—and I have not been disappointed.

The collective grade point average of our Greeks has topped the all-student body average every term since I arrived at TROY. Over the last decade, our Greeks have logged far more than 250,000 service hours and raised more than $750,000 for charity. Local agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, Child Advocacy Center and the American Cancer Society, and national charities such as the Wounded Warrior project, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and Make-A-Wish Foundation have benefitted from our Greek System’s largesse. I am also proud that the vast majority of our Greek chapters practice diversity. Fourteen of our 20 fraternity and sorority chapters have integrated racially and initiated international students. This culture of inclusion evolved naturally—without the force or influence of university administration.

No system is perfect. We have imposed sanctions upon some chapters and one fraternity was banned outright, but the Greek System at TROY remains a tremendous asset. Greeks compose about 20 percent of the students at our Troy campus, but hold about 50 percent of campus leadership positions. They account for a significant percentage of student government participants, admissions tour guides and freshman orientation leaders. Additionally, Greeks are members of our marching band, athletic teams, newspaper and yearbook staffs, and special-interest clubs.

Success with our Greek System is the result of high expectations and mature advisement from our student services staff professionals and, even more importantly, the alumni leadership of our Greek chapters. Keeping the lines of communication open with the national offices of Greek organizations aids this effort. From my vantage point, I believe that most young men and women will rise to the standard expected of them—if these expectations and the consequences for not meeting them are clearly defined. In the U. S. Marine Corps we believed you must “inspect what you expect.”

The bottom line is this: the responsibility for success or failure is shared. I believe that university administrators must share the blame with their students when high-profile negative incidents involving fraternities come to light. Put another way, it’s a fundamental tenet of leadership that when an employee is fired for poor performance, the manager must bear some of the burden of failure.

The answer to the recent bad news involving college Greeks is not to ban a system that has produced leaders at all levels for almost 175 years. The administrative teams at each university, from the president’s office to the student leadership, hold the keys to success by demanding excellence and expecting nothing less. At the risk of incurring the wrath of my English faculty by mangling Shakespeare, “The fault, dear colleagues, is not (entirely) in our students, but in ourselves.”

At colleges and universities we shape futures. We shape minds. I hope we’re shaping value systems as well. Indeed, the Greek System plays a key role in this process. Our charge should be to further strengthen this system that serves universities well.

Jack Hawkins, Jr., is chancellor of Troy University.