The following op-ed by College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell ’69 was published by The Post and Courier on March 22, 2016.
Recently, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill that would require the state’s public colleges and universities to make publicly available violations of the institution’s student code of conduct committed by fraternity and sorority chapters. The idea behind this legislation is that it would provide students and their families with important information when deciding whether to join a particular fraternity or sorority.
I applaud the S.C. House for moving quickly and decisively in support of our students’ safety, especially those who participate in the Greek system, and I anticipate that the S.C. Senate will soon follow suit. However, whether this bill becomes a law or not is beside the point; it is incumbent upon us, as university leaders, to be transparent and further educate our students on our programs, both inside and outside of the classroom.
With that in mind, the College of Charleston is going to go even further to enhance campus safety and student accountability by holding all student organizations accountable to these pending requirements. Our student affairs division, led by Alicia Caudill, has rightfully advocated for the College to include all student organizations in our reporting of code-of-conduct violations beginning fall 2016. And I wholeheartedly agree with her reasoning: it’s not because we have to, but because we should. At the College, we expect all of our student organizations to carry themselves in a dignified and responsible manner, and all student organizations should be treated equally.
I can see why some people may have an unfavorable view of the Greek system if all they hear and read are negative stories that command the state and national spotlight. But I know the potential of the fraternity and sorority experience, because I am a product of it.
As a former president of my fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, at the College of Charleston, I saw firsthand the transformative power of brotherhood. My fraternity experience was a testing ground for leadership and a preview of how the real world works. As a fraternity president, I had to master the art of compromise. I had to deal with strong personalities. And I had to learn to always keep an open mind. Later, during my career as a state senator and lieutenant governor, those lessons served me well in building consensus and passing legislation.
Now, as a university president, I have a front-row seat in seeing all the positive contributions the Greek system has on our community through their service, philanthropy and friendship — founding principles of each and every one of these organizations. Rarely does that work or do those traits, however, command national media attention.
I would like the College of Charleston to be a model for how fraternity and sorority life can strengthen the collegiate community. I must admit, we at the College don’t have all the answers, and I know it will always be a work-in-progress, but I believe it’s worth the effort to support these students and drive home our institution’s shared values of integrity, diversity, self-control, ambition and courtesy.
Like a parent, we must be nurturing, stern and fair. However, we must also treat students like the adults they are. We must set the bar high for expectations and low for inappropriate behavior. And if they conduct themselves in a manner that reflects poorly on their university and its values, we must provide teachable moments and tough sanctions.
I also encourage alumni of the Greek system to re-engage with their local chapters, share their experiences and serve as mentors. Brotherhood and sisterhood are not supposed to have a four-year shelf life — quite the opposite: It’s a lifelong commitment to those who went before and those who come after.
The Greek system isn’t perfect and this legislation won’t suddenly fix some of its members’ behavior. However, our state leaders are right not to give up on them. Because with these young men and women, as we find with all of our students, their safety and their potential are causes worth championing.