Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Should Fraternity/Sorority Life Offices Be Housed on Campus? (Or: The Island of Misfit SA Professionals)

Last week, I (Gentry) posted a blog exploring why more professionals did not pursue fraternity/sorority advising as a career, laying out why I thought we should place more emphasis on fraternity/sorority advising as a profession and suggesting a model by which that could occur.

Our basic premise is this: if more high-quality, experienced professionals stayed involved in F/S advising later into their careers, the entire fraternity/sorority experience would be elevated and improved. In the current model, however, f/s advisors are underpaid, overworked and work in largely under-resourced and understaffed offices.  It will take both salary raises and proper staffing and support in order for more f/s advising professionals to see a director position as a career destination and not just a stopping point. Why would someone choose to work the grueling schedule of an f/s advisor, dealing with all of the drama, politics, late nights and weekends when they could go work as a director of student leadership programs or a director of service learning programs or a director of student conduct and have a normal schedule without all of the BS?  Even if we boost the pay of our directors, the jobs will still be difficult to fill with seasoned professionals because most people actually enjoy having a life outside of work. After a few years of “student affairs martyrdom,” most people set their sights on family or personal interests.  Our current model does not allow for that.

This week’s post explores one of the other challenges facing f/s advising as a profession – specifically, where within a division of student affairs f/s life is placed.

We like to think of f/s advising offices as the student affairs equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. We don’t really fit in anywhere, and we wind up being stuck in the oddest of places.

Why does this matter?

It matters because the philosophy, work, expectations and opportunities for advancement will differ depending on where the f/s life office is housed on campus. And most of the current models do not sufficiently and adequately support the unique needs of f/s advisors, and do not provide adequate opportunities for professional development.

So, we are going to dissect the four existing models, discuss the pros and cons of each, and then present an alternative model that we think would best suit our institutions, our professional growth and, perhaps most importantly, the experiences of our students.

The Four Existing Models

The Student Activities Model
On many campuses, f/s life is a component of a larger student activities/student programming office. We really see this as the least desirous of the three models – in such a format, f/s life is just one of many “student activities” at which to be programmed. In our experience, supervisors in this area are often hesitant to recognize the unique role of the f/s advisor or the unique needs of an f/s community. The f/s advisor in this model is a “program advisor” much like the advisor to a campus activities board, and their roles are generally watered down to the point of council advising and planning leadership programs.  These models often inhibit innovation, as f/s advisors must scrap for scarce resources among other campus programs and other organizations. Often, this model results in f/s life receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to dollars for campus programs, because f/s programs rarely apply to the entire campus, and are thus less likely to be funded.

The Housing/Residence Life Model
On a growing number of campuses, f/s advising has found itself nested within University housing. As more and more campuses have moved towards university-owned, on-campus f/s housing models, this structure has become more prevalent. Of the four existing models, we think this one is probably the best. The model often involves live-in facility directors/managers, acting as additional “boots on the ground” with the ability to directly impact the residential culture of a f/s community. This model provides some benefit - as auxiliaries, housing departments are often well-funded and allow for appropriate levels of staffing and funding for programs. On the downside, this model nests f/s advising within a larger unit not especially aware of the unique needs of the f/s community or its advisor. Under this model, f/s housing is generally viewed no differently than other campus housing options – beds to be filled, residents to be managed. By spending so much time and energy on the residential components of membership, the f/s advisor is often drawn away from important work related to real culture change. In addition, this model provides the f/s advisor with little opportunity for upward mobility. Let’s face it – most f/s advisors are just not “housing people,” and have little desire or opportunity to move up within the housing model. Advisors in these systems are often required to move laterally in order to have any real opportunity for advancement. While this model has its perks, it is far from ideal.

The Dean of Students Model
The most common model we see, and the one to which we both trace our roots, is the model in which f/s advising is nested within a dean of students office.  In this model, the director of f/s life often reports to the dean or an associate dean, and is often lumped together with student conduct and campus BIT/Care teams.  To repeat – f/s life is lumped in with student conduct. Are we the only ones who have a problem with that? No? OK, good.  This model often places the f/s advisor as the chief Greek student conduct officer, leading the charge on hazing investigations and adjudicating organizational misconduct. As a result, this model makes it difficult for the f/s advisor to develop trust and rapport with student leaders. In the DOS model, the f/s advisor is often seen as “the heavy” and not as an advocate for the community. They often spend more time investigating hazing or Title IX cases than they spend working with students on culture change, developing and assessing programs, or cultivating relationships with key stakeholders. On the plus side, this model probably offers the best opportunities for professional development and advancement. Many f/s advisors go on to assume those associate dean roles and eventually work their way up the student affairs ladder. But, again, the model is far from ideal.

The Stand-Alone Model
In some cases, f/s advising is not nested within a larger structure. In this model, the director of f/s life often reports to the AVP or VP of student affairs. This is likely the least common of the four models, and may exist for several reasons:  1) The high-risk environment fosters a need for a direct line to the VP, 2) the institution is small enough where a more decentralized approach is appropriate, or 3) The AVP/VP has a special or vested interest in the f/s community. This model may be limited because it could propagate a silo approach to administering the office, where the director becomes insularly, fights to retain control of their resources, and is seen as less collaborative in the eyes of their peers. On the plus side, this model has the direct attention of senior administration, and probability greater access to funding because requests are made directly to the highest level administrators.

So what kind of model is best? Here is our best guess.

The Experiential Learning Model
To the best of our knowledge, the Experiential Learning Model does not explicitly exist within a student affairs divisional organization. It is possible that at some campuses, clusters of units reporting to an executive director or AVP are arranged with some of the proposed units—but not all. We see this model as being proactive, and organizing the f/s advising role and its community around other offices that facilitate the key components of our experience.  After all, aren’t f/s communities supposed to be learning laboratories?  Aren’t fraternities and sororities really a model for experiential learning?  We think they are, and it makes sense to organize them in a manner that best deploys strategic collaboration. Let’s face it – it is easier to collaborate with the offices that are around the meeting table each week when those office share core things in common.

We propose the following units comprise the experiential learning cluster in a division of student affairs.  Next to each identified unit, a brief rationale for their inclusion is presented. The cluster probably makes the most sense to be overseen by an executive director, or an AVP, of student affairs.

* Leadership programs – at the crux of what we teach members of our community is leadership. On many campuses, there is an office that coordinates general student body leadership. Imagine the opportunities related to synergizing the tremendous amount of time, energy and resources that go into the arena of leadership development with the office that delivers co-curricular opportunities for the general student body.

* Community or civic engagement/Volunteer programs – On many campuses, fraternities and sororities took pride in the community service and philanthropic giving that members participate in. Imagine the opportunities to reinforce this message when members have greater collaboration with the office that may coordinate service learning courses, the AMERICORPS program, and alternative break/service immersion experiences, to name a few.

* Student government association – As the voice of the student body, this group often disburses student funds, develops and implements policy to improve the student experience. That same ‘governing’ nature is found within f/s programs (if one thinks of the umbrella campus councils as mini-SGAs).   Imagine the opportunities to advocate for the f/s community experience to the student leadership that controls the purse strings, and develops policies that affect the entire student body.

* Career services –We like to think of the “alumni networking” aspect of the f/s experience as one of our biggest unfulfilled promises. We tout the success of our alumni, and some members generally believe that Greek alumni, or alumni from their organization, will help get them a job. But how often do we really reach out to these businesspeople, and how do we really cultivate those relationships? Imagine the opportunities to deliver on the promises associated with career and professional readiness when we are at the table with the entity that cultivates employer relationships and offers career and professional readiness preparation.

* F/s advising – Now imagine how the role of the f/s advisor, and the experience of the community, are holistically changed when different people are around the leadership table, and a greater access and collaboration is made in the foci of career/graduate school readiness, leadership development, service and community engagement, and access to student overall governance. What does that say about our community?  What does it leave one to conclude about our values, or the expected outcomes of the experience?   Such a model would provide a framework to improve the professional development of fraternity and sorority advisors, providing natural collaboration with key units with similar missions, and would allow f/s advisors to focus more on learning outcomes and less on facilities, conduct, and/or programming.

But is this model possible?  Why not?  The reorganization of a university hierarchies and structures happens all of the time.  How do we normally manage reorganization?  Why do we normally reorganize?  We contend sometimes units fall in certain models because senior administrators once oversaw that role, and perhaps got promoted and wanted to take it with them.  Is that the most effective model?  Probably not. When those people are gone, then what?  How often is the effectiveness of a division’s organizational structure actually evaluated?  Sometimes units get moved around because of people, either in conflict with one another, or a manager trying to obtain valuable career experience by overseeing certain programs, or a manager looking to avoid headaches by dodging certain programs.

This model is different because it does not advocate for the gerrymandering of division units based on people, but rather on expected outcomes.  If we want Greek Life to deliver on its promises to develop leaders, promote charity and service to mankind, develop a sense of accountability, create social change, and prepare our young men and women to be productive scholars or employees upon graduation, then we need to be strategic about who is at the table and the structures in place to make that happen.

One could easily refute these assertion by suggesting that a reorganization of these units is not needed; what, alternatively, is needed is just more collaboration with those offices. While collaboration is at the heart of our argument, lets face it:  It’s just easier to work with people whom you see more regularly.  When you’re attending the weekly or biweekly director’s meeting that is called by the AVP, that is the opportunity to inform those colleagues of the successes, challenges, and upcoming events of the f/s community.  Likewise, you also have the knowledge of what’s going on in your colleagues’ shops.  By putting these units under the same area, with a constant focus on experiential learning, we can provide intentionality to our efforts in promoting collaboration among these units and focusing our energy and efforts around transforming the fraternity/sorority experience into the premier experiential learning opportunity available for students on a college campus.

Written with special guest co-blogger, Joshua Schutts.


  1. Great set of thoughts. I think you're spot on with the limitations that each oversight model has; as someone who's been in the DoS model and student activities model, both limit the broader scope of FSL as a developmental experience (rather than being the police officer or "fun-and-games" person).

    I really appreciate the idea of putting FSL in with other experiential learning professionals. It would require a rethinking, I think, for some professionals to actually claim their space as educators, but it would certainly push us to a certain set of ideals. While some might say that we should "bloom where we're planted", this idea of reorganizing and shifting oversight could lend itself to better and easier focus and emphasis on the experiential learning piece. "Silo-ing" in student affairs does affect the priorities of the work we do, regardless of if we're willing to admit it or not.

    Great post!


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