Category Archives: greek advisors

How Econ 101 Teaches us to Eliminate Hazing

With the best of intentions, Greek life professionals are quick to cite that tragic example as chief justification for eliminating hazing.  But does this actually work?

Tragic examples of hazing-related deaths provide compelling reasons to eliminate pernicious hazing.  Unfortunately, however, these tragic examples based on emotion alone only have a fleeting effect.  When the tragic memory fades, it’s back to business as usual.  What’s more, eliminating only the life-threatening activities isn’t good enough, for the seemingly harmless “boys being boys” hazing inevitably escalates over time.

In other words, referencing the tragic hazing death does not motivate most people to eliminate, for example, house chores or running errands for brothers.  The personal servitude model of candidate education seems harmless on the surface but it sows the seeds for more dangerous hazing later down the road.

So how can Greek life professionals effectively reason against the arbitrary activities that many people regard as harmless?  One possible answer lies in one of the tenets of basic economics: opportunity cost.

The opportunity cost of hazing

If you’ve ever taken an intro to economics course, your first lecture was probably about opportunity cost–the relationship between scarcity and choice.  The cost of a choice is everything else we could have done with that time or money.  We face trade offs in our choices every single day:

By attending college we forgo the money we could have earned working full time.

By attending Thursday’s happy hour we forgo the time we could have spent studying for Friday’s midterm.

By playing video games for hours we forgo the time we could have spent writing a family member or calling an old friend.

Like individuals, fraternities also make decisions on allocating scarce resources.  In essence, opportunity cost helps us identify the best use of our most valuable resource: time.

Aside from freak accidents, house chores and other forms of personal servitude don’t pose much risk for personal injury or death.  But there’s an equally compelling reason to eliminate the arbitrary activities along with the more dangerous ones: they’re an utter waste of time.

Think of all the time-wasters many chapters accept as given:

All that time wasted memorizing Sigma Nu history (most of which is forgotten after initiation) could have been spent studying for midterms or participating in another campus organization.  (No, memorizing Sigma Nu history isn’t necessarily a waste of time.  See “Sigma Nu History Isn’t Just for Candidates“)

All that time wasted cleaning the house after brothers trashed it the night before could have been spent participating in community service projects, studying, calling home, etc.

And the examples could go on forever…

Sigma Nu was founded and still exists today for a specific purpose: To prepare ethical leaders for society.  The aforementioned activities may not be dangerous but they’re just as ill-advised.  Why?  Because they rob our candidates of precious time that could have been spent more productively.


Ignore the Outsider’s Advice at Your Peril

Here’s a recent conversation I overheard between a collegiate officer and one of my esteemed colleagues:

Collegian: We can’t just stop recruiting with alcohol.  We wouldn’t be able to compete with the other elite chapters on our campus.  Everyone does it and we have to keep up.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you there were other chapters recruiting without alcohol that are not only getting by but are excelling more than any other chapter on campus?

Collegian: That may work some places but it could never work here.  It’s different here at _______ University.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you that we recruited the men to start this very chapter without alcohol?  (And did quite well I might add.)

Collegian: Wait, hold on.  Where are you from?

HQ Staff Member: I grew up and attended school in the ______ region of the country.

Collegian: See, that explains everything.  Things are different here in the ________.  There’s just no way you could understand how things work if you’re not from here.

So goes the conversation, so predictable in its nature, that every Greek Life professional has had many times over with their student leaders.  Here is what the well-intentioned collegian really means:

TRANSLATION:  I don’t care if recruiting with alcohol attracts members who are causing us to fail.  I would rather continue to fail than accept information from an outsider.  I’ve made up my mind and I’m so stubborn and arrogant that no amount of contrary evidence is going to change my decision.

Sometimes it’s natural to be skeptical of outsiders, but eventually we all learn the hard way that automatically dismissing outsider’s advice makes us one step closer to failure.  A brief mention of two historical figures shows that outsiders can teach us more about ourselves than we ever imagined.

Take philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, author of bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  Rand, originally named Alisa Rosenbaum, grew up in communist Russia and eventually emigrated to the United States.  Surely a woman raised in such an authoritarian, collectivist culture could never be qualified to write novels about capitalism and individualism.  Who in their right mind would listen to her?  To the contrary, many would argue that this outsider (putting aside her controversies for this particular example) has taught us more about our way of life than any homegrown American philosopher or economist.

Or what about Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French politico best known for his work Democracy in America.  Born and educated in France, Tocqueville traveled the United States providing an outsider’s perspective on the American way of life.  Widely regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of his time, Tocqueville is still quoted in speeches by American politicians to this day.

Consider this example that hits closer to home.  Out of all of our excellent College of Chapters facilitators, the majority of whom are initiated Knights, the female facilitators are often the most effective.  Mindy Sopher, Kristin Morgan, Lindsay Grifford, Krystal Clark, and Kayte Sexton Fry–to name a few–are revered by College of Chapters participants by week’s end.  Hardly outsiders, these women understand our organization as well if not better than we do.

Our founding principle of Truth is often confused with honesty, an equally important virtue to be sure.  However, in the context of Sigma Nu’s founding, Truth is more closely associated with seeking sound information to make the most informed decisions possible.  It calls for the willingness to abandon a false paradigm even if it might be psychologically painful.  Seeking the Truth encompasses the process by which we make good decisions, including the consideration of all viewpoints even if it means swallowing our pride and listening to a perceived outsider.

Five Musts For Leaders

Another great post over at the Washington Post leadership blog:

1. Be present and accessible. More than usual. More than ever. Helps a lot to be seen. “Management by Walking Around,” as Peters and Waterman wrote almost 30 years ago, is more critical now than ever before. C.P. Snow wrote in the late 50s that leaders “must never absent themselves during times of crisis.” Be there. Now. Visible.

Perhaps this advice applies more to the closed-door office manager who never gets any ‘facetime’ with the employees.  But this applies to fraternity officers too.  The beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to finally rid your chapter of some questionable traditions.  Simply being present in a different way can make a big difference.

2. Communicate obsessively about:

— The challenges facing the organization and a frank and clear, step-by-step on what must be done.

— The fact that we’re all in this together, that our fates are correlated and that the only route to success is more transparency and more collaboration.

— What’s important — often forgotten, even in good times.

It’s so easy for chapter officers to get consumed by the day-to-day activities: submitting paperwork to the student activities office, completing annual reports, preparing for meetings and the list goes on.  But don’t forget about the important-but-not-urgent matters.  For instance, clarifying the vision and strategic goals of your chapter and including the members in this process.  Is it written down?  Posted in the chapter home?  Talked about at every meeting?

4. You are not alone. Abandon that susceptible ego, the dangerous delusion, that you alone can solve the problem or invent new strategies that will, with one wave of the wand, guarantee future success, that asking for help isn’t, er, manly.

There’s a common denominator between excellent chapters: they have excellent chapter advisors (and they actually utilize them).  It might be tough for some officers to admit, but you can’t do everything yourself.  So beginning this week, call your chapter advisors and invite them to lunch.  Stop by your Greek advisor’s office and say hello.  Tell them what’s going on and ask for some advice.

#4 Continued:

You have to quickly identify trusted colleagues within and others, outside the cocoon of the C-suite, for their advice. During crises, the tendency of top management is to circle the wagons.You must have a network of mavens and others whose experience and expertise can make a huge difference?

Sometimes people make mistakes, crises happen.  In such cases circling the wagons is one of the worst things you can do (remember, even excellent chapters make mistakes from time to time.  The difference is that they actually utilize their resources).  Don’t wait around for someone else–school administrators or the General Fraternity–to fix a problem for you.  Greek Life professionals are resources, not babysitters.  If you seek our advice to change something, we’ll drop everything to help.

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