Should this Guy be Our Fraternity Advisor

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Question:

So I am the new president of a fraternity with 30 men, we are currently looking for a new advisor. One of the people applying for the role is a more recent alum of our chapter. He is an ok friend; however in the position of chapter advisor I feel he would not affect the house in a positive light.

He was a senior in house when I was a freshman, with that the some of the remaining juniors in my class and 1 of 3 seniors in house know him quite well and are for him as an advisor. The last I have seen of this guy he has been a borderline alcoholic.

Besides being a drinking buddy for some of the guys in the house, he also smokes pot with them. I don’t feel he needs to have an impact on our house, however there are not a lot of people lined up to advise for us.

Any ideas on how to minimize his influence to try and get a advisor position, and or how to offset his efforts with better quality advisors? PS any advice to get more associate members would be good too.


Answer:

Congratulations on being elected President. Being new to the job, I won’t beat you up too badly about simple mistakes. It takes time to learn everything. You’ll find you have it figured out right about the time someone else gets elected.

Let’s get right into this…

This isn’t your decision. If you think of it like an NFL football team, you’re the team captain. That’s a critically important role, but neither you nor your teammates pick the coach. You might have some input if the owner feels like asking your opinion, but that’s about it.

Sticking with my football analogy, advisors are something like a coaching staff and general manager rolled into one. The chapter will mostly see the coaching role as officers are advised and corrections made in tactical level operations. That’s like game prep and play calling. What you won’t see is the general manager type functions.

A local org is actually three co-equal branches: a chapter, housing corp, and alumni association. Each has their own officers, plans, and priorities. If they’re allowed to run free with no central coordination, they’re going to end up working against each other. The governing board brings them together under a unified master plan that looks 2-5-10+ years out, and coordinates so each group stays on track to achieve their part of the overall team vision. If you think about it like a corporation, each of those three groups is a department and the governing board is the board of directors.

Point being, these guys are appointed by nationals. They are sworn national officers with all powers of your national office. They exist to oversee local operations and represent the interests of the national fraternity. While your advice is welcome, I hope you understand why it’s a bad idea for the chapter to have a major say in who the advisors will be.

Now, let me more specifically address your concerns about this particular individual.

First, the standard position is that alumni should not take advisor roles until they’ve been out of school 5 years. Some of it is about growing up, but it’s more about not trying to oversee the guys you were an active with. In the military for instance, when an enlisted guy commissions as an officer they make sure to assign him to lead a different unit. You can’t effectively lead your old buddies who still think of you as a peer and have seen you do some pretty idiotic things. There would also be an appearance at least that personal relationships impact your decision making. It’s the same logic in wanting an advisor to have some separation before they come back to oversee the chapter. There are other places they can contribute.

I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as all that. I’ve seen young guys become very effective advisors, and older guys that had lost touch with the issues and can never seem to get the handle back. I think it has to be a very case-by-case decision to get the right mix of guys.

Most of the situations where I’ve been involved, your most qualified and talented alumni don’t live close to campus. Fraternities can be big complicated businesses. In the real world you would not hire a 21yo guy without a degree to be the CFO of a company with a couple hundred thousand dollar budget. You’d hire an MBA or accountant. You’d have a lawyer on retainer. You’d have experienced successful leaders and business owners.

Well, the alumni that that meet those descriptions go where the money is, which is not often in college towns. You want those guys making up the bulk of your governing board. You want access to their expertise in running your operation. You want them running the larger operation at the strategic level. If someone has to talk to the President/VP/Dean of your university, or the executive director of your nationals, it’s a guy like that you want to do it. But, he isn’t going to be there right next to your chapter watching your every move. He isn’t going to hang out at a party for an hour to see how you operate. He isn’t going to sit through two hours of JBoard hearing to make sure you’re staying on track. You need a couple local guys that can keep closer tabs on the operation. That’s the kind of role where the right younger alumnus can come in real handy. But, the right guy in that role seems opposite of the description you gave.

With a guy like that, who really does want to get involved and has the potential to do good things, there’s other roles in the housing corp or alumni association where they might be better suited. A job that desperately needs doing, but is maybe more away from direct regular contact with the chapter, and that will give them the opportunity to be mentored up by some older alumni.

Second, let’s talk about drug and alcohol use.

Drugs in the fraternity is a non-starter. You can think what you want about pot – it’s not any worse than alcohol, it should be legalized, whatever. I don’t care. It’s highly illegal and that’s all that matters. It takes some dumb behavior from a couple of your guys and you lose everything. For instance: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111106/NEWS04/111109932

Drugs can be a huge problem in a fraternity, and very difficult to stand up to. I’ve seen more membership reviews focused on drugs than anything else. When it starts getting out of control in your chapter, how does an advisor that’s smoked with actives even recognize that, much less have the moral authority to start pulling pins because of it?

If you guys get in serious trouble for something unrelated, your advisor(s) are going to be talking to the fraternity executive director and the VP/Dean of your school. They’ll talk about the situation, redirect the focus, propose a reasonable package of education and punishment, and they’ll sell that the group has something valuable to offer. Ultimately though, they’re making a case that outside authorities should not take severe action because they can have full faith in this individual to deal with it and ensure it never happens again.

If there’s even a hint of a rumor that this guy might have smoked with actives, how is that going to work? There is no way. You’re absolutely done. It’d be worse than having no advisors at all. At least then we could blame the situation on a lack of advisor supervision and bring in people to take tight charge of the operation. When advisors are part of the problem, you’re done.

Alcohol use is a bit different. You say he’s a borderline alcoholic? I don’t really know what that means. I could apply the same label to a whole lot of fraternity members. I’ve seen senior military officers and successful business leaders drunk as hell dancing on tables puking in the bushes and sleeping with women half their age.

Hell, I’ve done all those things myself more than a few times. Alcohol is legal once you’re 21. It’s not illegal to be drunk so long as you’re not stumbling around in public making too big a fool of yourself or trying to drive a car. Any health consequences are between you and God. We’d all hope for a little decorum in certain situations, but there’s a time and place to let loose. The only thing that really matters is if the alcohol part of his lifestyle impairs his ability to do the job. If that’s the case, he needs help more than he needs to be an advisor.

Drinking around undergrads is another issue.

Alumni are not individually covered under insurance the way actives are. That includes advisors. Advisors have some limited coverage only while performing functions of their position and while not drinking in the presence of undergrads. In other words, if he comes to a party under pretence of inspecting how you’re doing business then he should not be drinking. If he is drinking, he should not be trying to act like an advisor.

I don’t personally have a problem with advisors drinking around undergrads outside their advisor duties. I think the social connection is good for the relationship. But, you can get blackout drunk and act like a fool, at least not in front of them. We have separate alumni tailgates for a reason at my school. On gameday for instance, I normally walk through the chapter tailgate to say hi and shake a couple hands. I tend to have a beer or two while I’m there, but am not doing anything other than networking. I may make some observations, but we’ll talk about those another day. Then I move on to the alumni tailgate with its better food/refreshments, and commence to enjoying my gameday experience with fellow alumni. Something like that is perfectly acceptable. Hanging around college parties till 2am hammered, making a fool of himself, and hitting on 18yos is not so much.

I don’t know enough about this guy or your complaints with his drinking to say if how big a problem it may or may not be. I’d say alcohol with advisors is a delicate balance that has to be carefully considered on an ongoing basis. A guy that you’re saying has a problem before we ever start this process makes me think he isn’t a great fit. I’m not sure he has the self-control to make the right decisions on the fly.

Summing up, a young guy smoking dope and drinking to excess around the chapter probably isn’t a good fit as an advisor. Shocking right? You knew that before you asked it.

I hope the way I explained it helps you understand the issues a little better so you can look for the right people. You don’t want this guy turned down because he’s a bad fit. You want him turned down because the positions can be filled with the much better candidates you’re going to help recruit.

Where I said this is a national appointment and not your decision, that’s the truth, but if you don’t have an active advisory board in place picking their own members then probably there is little option but for you to make recommendations that nationals is going to take.

Try submitting a bunch of names and letting nationals figure it out. Maybe have the candidates interview with nationals by phone or when you’re travelling consultant is going to be in town. Get help, because this is not a decision you should try to make. As much as you have good intentions, you really don’t have experience with what a functional governing board is supposed to look like or how it is supposed to work.

– This answer was written by Dennis Nall, an alumni brother from Alpha Tau Omega and contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!






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3 thoughts on “Should this Guy be Our Fraternity Advisor?

  1. Typical neoconservative bullshit. People like you take the fun out of Fraternities. How are you going to say you can’t smoke pot cause it’s illegal but then say it’s cool to drink with minors which is also illegal? Your head is so far up your own ass you can’t smell the shit that’s coming out of your mouth. You have to focus on someones personality and their ability to get the job done when considering them for any position, not your own idiotic stereotypes of a person. Keep an open mind and you’ll be surprised, with a little bit of guidance, how much anyone can achieve. It says more about your ineptitude as a leader that you’re looking for a way to get someone kicked out that hasn’t even had the job yet. Get f’d…

  2. Seth, I realize not everyone will agree on that point.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with alumni drinking around undergrads, not from the perspective of nationals or schools. It is unreasonable to say that advisors (outside their advisor duties) are not going to do the same thing as other alumni – within reason. There’s a difference between having a couple drinks in the presence of of-age members and getting drunk at a college party acting a fool.

    I do not believe advisors should present a false image of some upstanding citizen deserving of reverence and respect when we’re really all very flawed individuals doing the best we can in life. I’m not a hero to these people. I don’t want them reaching for an unachievable lie. I believe in human leaders. I like to see and want to present an image that is real, flaws and all. I personally have adapted a slightly riskier leadership style that involves an element of friendship. I do treat members young and old like brothers, not like they’re my children. I believe that’s an essential element that has to remain true regardless of status or position.

    I understand and respect your point, but I’m not going to tell an advisor he has to take vows of celibacy on no alcohol in order to effectively show fraternity members how to do things better. There’s a middle ground that’s more realistic.

  3. Pretty good advice except for the part about drinking with undergrads. Big mistake. Exact same rationale as smoking dope with them.

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