January 2018 Presidents Call – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: Is it too late to have a track for Social Chairs at ROT? It seems like these are officers that should get additional training on alcohol issues.
A: Unfortunately, yes. However, we are developing other programming for social chairs and already have multiple touch points with them. The logic is rather than target one person per chapter, we are striving to broaden our reach, which is why we are targeting 8-10 members per chapter at ROT.
Q: How many chapters has Headquarters closed compared to host institutions?
A: Historically, the national organization rarely makes a unilateral closure of a chapter. Rather, we work in partnership with the host institution to address disciplinary issues, and we often follow the university’s lead. But, this needs to change. Over the past five years, the fraternity has acted to close 18 chapters by vote of the Executive Council, with all of those occurring in cooperation with our host institution partner.
Many of the chapters that we have closed occurred following the host institution reporting problems. In instances where we have gotten reports from host institutions, headquarters staff immediately conducts its own investigation and confirms the basis for the report. Afterwards, the Executive Council takes action through the Staff’s report of findings.
Q: Twenty percent of chapters were either closed or suspended. How can Headquarters effectively convince a host institution that its controls are only on paper?
A: It’s a good point in aggregate, but if you look at the data, we had historically been closing between 4 – 7 chapters per year. However, many of those closings and suspensions occurred before an accreditation policy and Standards team were in place. Last year, we only closed three chapters. Our current preference is to assist distressed chapters in overcoming challenges, and avoiding suspensions or closures. But, implementation of this strategy requires personnel, resources and hands-on assistance.
This year, the number of suspensions and closures have spiked because of the lower tolerance for mistakes on the university side. Our host institutions have lessened the space where we are able to implement workout strategies as they have increased the intolerance for misbehavior and policy violations. We must now adjust further to meet this new expectation of our host institutions.
However, the fact we have an accreditation process and Standards team puts us ahead of many other organizations, including host universities who are just now developing their own teams. As we adjust to a different level of addressing distressed chapters, we are hopeful that our track history and data with regard to working with distressed chapters will allow us to build joint workout plans, which are short of suspension or closure.
Q: Risk management chairs, even more so than social chairs need to be trained at ROT. Will this happen?
A: We already have a number of touch points with Risk Management Chairs. Therefore, we felt it was better to broaden the scope of education because one Risk Management Chair can’t change a chapter’s culture. However, a Risk Management Chair, plus 8-10 other members can change culture. Moving forward, we would ideally like to include social chairs in the educational process, though it is our recommendation that social committee chairs should be managed by a chapter’s Risk Management Chairman.
Q: Where is that funding going to come from?
A: We expect alumni will contribute and this will allow us to maintain control over our programming efforts, as opposed to having universities, state and/or federal governments dictating our future to us. Alumni must recognize and be educated on the need for financial support for the education and training of undergraduate members. It is mission-critical to protecting chapters from suspension or closure.
If we continue to put the vast majority of funding expectations on the shoulders of undergraduate members, the fraternity will see a continuation of disciplinary issues and a concomitant increase in suspensions and closures. “We can’t afford it” is a horrible defense to the risk management concerns that the fraternity confronts, and it is a disservice to the students to disassemble the very programming that is necessary to make improvements.
Q: With 25 percent of chapters closed and others on suspension, how can Phi Kappa Psi meet its operating expenses and for how long?
A: These figures date back to 2013. Last year, the fraternity had a record-low closure rate, closing only three. In 2017, there were six chapters closed. We are closely watching this. For now, remaining chapters have continued to grow in average size and our new colonies have also helped us avoid a precipitous drop in membership.
However, if the trend continues, it could jeopardize revenue. If this happens, it will affect Phi Kappa Psi negatively because it will mean having to cut back on services, which will then most likely result in more disciplinary incidents – a very dangerous spiral.
This must be avoided, and it takes everyone working together to prevent this from happening.
Q: How many of these instances did Headquarters put boots on the ground during investigations?
A: Before 2015, not many. However, that trend reversed when we staffed up and had boots on the ground in almost every case. The Phi Kappa Psi Standards and Operations teams are actively involved in ongoing investigations on campus and working with chapters to survive poor decisions. We have three full-time staff members involved in Standards, and four more staff members available on tactical crisis management levels.
Q: Will the REACH Act apply equally to all campus-based affinity groups? Or, are Greek-letter organizations being targeted?
A: Originally, the REACH Act only applied to Greek-letter organizations, but it has since been broadened. However, it is also currently going through Congressional committee review, so anything can happen.
Q: Is Phi Kappa Psi in danger of going out of business?
A: No. The fraternity is in a strong financial position and also in a healthy operational realm. However, if all these forces align against us, it could jeopardize the future of all Greek life – including Phi Kappa Psi.
We must hear the criticisms that are leveled against fraternities and address them openly and honestly. Doing nothing and hoping that the criticisms dissipate is not an option.
Q: Has our insurance carrier indicated whether or not it plans to drop our coverage? Do you anticipate coverage will be conditionally extended?
A: We have not yet heard any such rumblings. However, the NIC predicts that within the next 2-3 years, insurance companies will begin selecting which events to cover, and it is always possible that high-risk chapters will be excluded from group coverage. This is another driving force behind our need to change and adapt before external forces begin to dictate our future.
Q: Have the insurers made any threats against our coverage if we do not make certain changes?
A: Not yet, but it is almost certainly coming. Historically, the insurer constantly reviews coverage issues and amends the policy to reflect industry developments. Probably in 2-3 years, we will start seeing exclusions for the most expensive issues.
Q: Where do chapter and social norms fit within Phi Kappa Psi’s model?
A: Establishing chapter social norms that align to our implemented standards and approaches will be critical. The spirit of the guidance provided is to save lives, prevent injuries, de-risk behaviors, and preserve the organization. This requires having a more risk-averse mindset and being intelligently conservative in our approach to everything we do. It’s de-risking as best we can, knowing that we cannot completely eliminate all risks. It is this new approach to chapter activities we need to shift quickly.
Q: With chapter Advisors being sued, along with officers, we are going to have trouble getting responsible alumni to continue serving in this function. How will Phi Kappa Psi work to keep alumni engaged?
A: We want to thank those who have continued to serve and support our undergraduate members. Without their dedication, we could not provide nearly as many meaningful experiences. Our Alumni Engagement team has developed and implemented a five-person chapter advisory team model, which contributes to a better overall membership experience and distributes responsibilities across a platform of alumni.
Alumni volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and focus on differing areas of advising. This approach not only distributes the chapter advisor workload, but also contributes stronger relationships with chapter members. By having this broader team approach as well as enhanced education and training for advisors, we will strive to maintain alumni interest and engagement in advising chapters.
The key to addressing risk exposure to alumni advisors is to ensure top-level training, education, support and guidance. Building a team approach around identified standards and expectations, ensuring accreditation and certification of individual leaders and chapter organizations, and immediately identifying and addressing misbehaviors when they occur, are all critical to minimizing risk exposure and ensuring coverage exists when it is necessary. The worst thing we could do is camouflage realities, disengage from guiding our young members, and remain silent in the face of current challenges. We are highly confident that engaged and passionate alumni share these mission objectives.
Q: Has Headquarters considered a Regional Volunteer governance structure, similar to what Sigma Phi Epsilon has in place?
A: Yes. This is being actively developed and will be discussed further at the February EC meeting.
Q: Why did we not have these systemic problems before the drinking age was raised to 21? Or were they just not reported?
A: They existed, but they did not rise to the level that we are seeing today. As society has evolved, the tolerance for “boys will be boys” behaviors and mindsets has dropped considerably. Moreover, liability claims are much more aggressively pursued by plaintiffs’ attorneys. The fraternity simply is not insulted by or immune from changing circumstances. So we must adjust to new realities and lead to positive outcomes.
Q: Do we track the total number of members who have been trained, not just the percentage per year?
A: Yes. In 2017, the 15% equated to 980 undergraduate members who received training and education. Additionally, 90 alumni were also trained, but don’t count towards the 15%.
Q: Does the fraternity have an expedited means to immediately rescind membership?
A: No, we do not have a direct way of addressing this issue. We realize our 30-day delay to even start our process won’t work anymore.
Presently, we are able to use a work-around for egregious conduct issues whereby a chapter is placed under suspension and all members are advanced to alumni status, such that charges may be filed directly against an individual with jurisdiction vested in the Executive Council. But, the process is highly imperfect and fails to address expectations from host institutions that the fraternity acts diligently to address crisis issues.
The fact is that the fraternity’s process must be modified to permit the Executive Council and staff to act prudently and intelligently when and where necessary. Doing so will require that the membership extends core levels of trust to the elected leadership and professionally- trained staff. We will have this discussion at the GAC this summer.
Q: When did we move away from a 6-week new member process that was mandated by headquarters?
A: We have not moved away from it. The problem is that many chapters were not adhering to it. This was a reassertion that we will now hold chapters to that standard. The extension to a 7-week allowance for completion is to provide space for chapters to report new members and to receive the educational materials necessary to engage the program.
Q: Will the fraternity consider medical amnesty and Good Samaritan practices?
A: Yes. It was part of the discussions at the Emergency Executive Council meeting in December, and will be on the table at the February EC meeting.
Q: Does anyone actually think that online videos and canned speakers are going to make someone predisposed to hazing, sexual assault, violence, or drunkenness not engage in those behaviors? Between the university, the IFC, and Headquarters, our undergrads get a comic amount of programming. If this is about funding, what prompted the emergency meeting?
A: The emergency meeting was prompted by the deaths of four young men over an eight- month period, including Matthew Ellis who was a new member of Phi Kappa Psi. The question for the fraternity’s leadership was simple: How many more young men must die before we take action? Our President decided the answer was none and called the meeting.
While programming is certainly part of the solution, we recognize that there is more to addressing the situation. Hence, why at the emergency meeting and again at the February EC meeting, we are addressing things well beyond programming – such as ending pledging, dry housing, and other tenants that have been part of our culture for decades.
And funding is a concern but not an obstacle. There is no excuse for refusing to do the right thing and to demonstrate leadership in the face of challenges. As mentioned above, “we can’t afford it” is a horrible defense to the risk management concerns that the fraternity confronts, and it is a disservice to the students to disassemble the very programming that is necessary to improvement.
Q: Can we simply ban alcohol entirely within our houses?
A: The short answer is yes. Housing corporations can to this anytime. Nationally, this is something being considered. Phi Delta Theta did this and their insurance claims and the amount of payout for each claim dropped by approximately 90%. There are different approaches to this from completely dry to NIC’s recommendation called damp housing, which has a few exemptions for those over 21. We will continue the dialogue on this issue.
Q: An alcohol-free Phi Delta Theta house at LSU just had a death, too. Is this just about lowering payouts?
A: While there should certainly be an insurance benefit long-term, this is more about de-risking and saving lives, not policy matters anchored in financial charts. The unfortunate occurrence at LSU is a reflection of the point that we cannot eliminate 100% of risks. Nevertheless, we can’t let one failure cause us to throw out a concept completely. Meaningful changes in culture, behaviors, and outcomes require leadership, modeled conduct and a commitment to the long-term benefits of the changes being pursued. We have incredible confidence that our young men can and will make intelligent and safe choices. We also need for our alumni leadership to support and teach the changes that are expected.
Q: How can Phi Kappa Psi National Headquarters work toward partnering with campuses that are willing to involve Headquarters in the conversation?
A: We are doing this already. We have great relationships with many of our campus administrators through the wonderful work of our Standards team. However, not all universities are as open to engaging or have adequate resources to do so.
The fraternity is committed to providing leadership and educated professional guidance on these important matters, and we are working with all of our host institutions to partner in achieving our shared goals. We have found that all of our host institutions are quite open, especially when we demonstrate our ability and willingness to tackle our own tough problems through our standards processes and procedures.
Q: Do all actions of the EC require GAC approval to remain in effect?
A: Yes, and this is done at each GAC. However, there has to be a level of trust that those elected and educated about what is occurring in our community and in their capabilities to make the best decisions. It’s unfair to ask those who do not have a high-level understanding to make critical decisions every two years in a three-day window.
Q: If undergraduate attendance at leadership conferences is so low, why not bring it to the local fraternity and mandate attendance while training the chapter advisors and regional volunteers?
A: This is the philosophy of Regional Officer Training. Where possible, we are pushing training to local levels while at the same time being mindful of costs. In order to scale this model for other programming such as the Professional Development Conference, we’ll need more investment.
Q: Are there stats to break down which group of undergrads (e.g. freshman) are more likely to be a victim? If so, have there been any discussions at the NIC level to prohibit this group from joining fraternities?
A: While tragedy can strike any group, new members tend to be the most susceptible. Since new members tend to be freshman or first-term sophomores, they tend to more likely be a victim. It is also true that this age group tends to be under the legal drinking age, so alcohol issues impact them at a disproportionate rate.
Certainly, we are aware that many of our host institutions have implemented deferred recruitment – some by one semester and others by one year. One of the core tenants of the NIC is freedom of association – the ability to join what group you want, when you want. So there has not been any discussion of prohibiting members of these demographics from joining fraternities at the NIC level or within any NIC member organization.
Q: Can you explain the Unit Rule for those who may not understand?
A: Phi Kappa Psi’s unit rule dates back to the early days of the organization. This policy materialized in the fraternity’s Constitution (adopted in 1886), and it now lays in Article III, Section 3(a) of the Constitution:
SECTION 3. The power to initiate persons thus eligible into membership in this Fraternity shall be vested as follows, and not otherwise:
- a. In the chapter, upon the unanimous affirmative vote of its undergraduate members.
In short, the “unit rule” manifests itself through the “unanimous affirmative vote” for admission to membership set forth in the Constitution.
Q: Is there any work being done on creating an off-campus conduct policy?
A: Yes. The fraternity is currently developing a universal Code of Conduct.
Q: What is causing the cultural shift that is contributing to the media and community taking a closer look at fraternities?
A: There is a lot that could go into this answer, but in summary, there are really three drivers. The first is the 24/7 media cycle and the onset of social media that is starving for anything that will get more eyeballs. The second is the amount of money involved. Universities are now multi-billion-dollar businesses more than they are educational institutions. Their reputation is critical to their success and they will move quickly to deal with anything that puts their reputation at risk. Third, there has been a spate of recent tragedies over the last eight months. Combine these, and there’s a lot of attention being paid to Greek life.
Q: At what point do we start treating legal adults over the age of 18, able to serve in the military, get married, and sign contracts, like real adults?
A: We fully believe that individuals should be accountable for violations of the law, regulations and rules. The fraternity does hold individuals accountable for policy violations.
Nevertheless, the fraternity also has an obligation to protect chapters and the vast-majority of our members who act appropriately and in the best interests of the organization. We cannot offload this obligation by attempting to redirect all remedial efforts to the individual.
Q: Trust is a two-way street. If we are to simply trust the Executive Council blindly, then we can handle GAC in a day of voting, rather than several days of meetings. Plus, if we are going to defer to the Executive Council, we need to address that in an appropriate amendment at GAC. We have a Constitution for a reason.
A: Totally fair, and with three past Attorney Generals on the Executive Council, we understand that there is a CBR and that it is an important part of the fabric of the fraternity.
But, it is folly to view the CBR as a panacea to any refusal on the part of the fraternity’s elected leadership to address crisis challenges as they arise. Juries, grand juries and courts are not going to respond positively to a defense that is based on “our CBR doesn’t allow that change.” Neither will our host institutions accept that Phi Kappa Psi is unable to address misconduct and policy violations, based on an explanation that we need to await the next GAC in order to obtain approval to act responsibly. Instead, they’ll use it against us and that will result in closed chapters, jury verdicts and substantially increased expenses.
Therefore, we need to be wise and prudent in our operations. The point of engaging in teleconferences such as the one earlier this month is to allow members to understand the decision-making process and ask probing questions. We are committed to transparency and team-building.
Q: Who can provide greater guidance on the implementation of the specific new rules that the Executive Council passed?