The Ever-Changing Governance Role within the Association

by Carolyn E. Whittier, Ph.D.

In 1976, the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA) was formed as a result of an ongoing conversation between leaders of the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) and the Fraternity Executives Association (FEA). There was an expressed need to support the development of campus-based fraternity and sorority professionals who advise the local Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils. Colleges and universities were adding professional positions to assist with the management and guidance of fraternities and sororities, and those individuals wanted to gather, share best practices, and learn from one another. There was also a desire to maintain a strong connection to the inter/national headquarters staff and volunteers as all were invested in the same goal – a healthy and vibrant fraternity and sorority experience.

In 1980, the Association had 137 members and they passed a resolution calling for all colleges and universities to provide a full-time professional staff member to serve as a fraternity/sorority advisor. In just one year, AFA membership grew to 499 members in 1981 through the advocacy work of the Association’s volunteer leadership. The primary focus of the Association at that time was to plan and host the AFA/NIC Annual Meeting that provided professional development programming for members, as well as the opportunity for campus-based professionals to meet and dialogue with inter/national organization staff and volunteers.

The Association membership had grown so significantly during the next few years that there was a need to regionalize the membership for communication and connection purposes. In 1984, the Association divided the membership into five regions, and five Regional Vice Presidents were added to the Executive Board. In 1986, AFA published the inaugural Greek Advisor’s Manual as the Association began to explore providing professional development and resources beyond the Annual Meeting, and in 1988, the first new professionals track was added to the Annual Meeting schedule.

The transition to a more mature governance structure began in 1989 when the Association’s leadership embarked on a major strategic planning process to define the Association’s mission and long-term planning. The results of that work included changing the structure of the Executive Board in 1991, establishing the AFA Foundation in 1992, and hiring the first AFA Executive Director in 1993.

With a full time, professional staff member managing the day-to-day operations of membership renewal, Annual Meeting registration, and conference logistics, the Executive Board was able to transition its focus to other aspects of association governance, such as adopting a Statement of Professional Ethics and preparing the 1995 – 2000 AFA Strategic Plan. During these years, the Association began its role as a convener, starting with assembling a group of higher education and fraternal leaders in 1995 to discuss the topic of new member education, hazing, and its effects on the development of students.

As the Association approached its 25th Anniversary in 2001, a new tagline was adopted: “committed to the advancement of the fraternity and sorority advising profession.” The AFA Executive Board sought opportunities for partnership and collaboration across both higher education and the fraternity and sorority industry. Members of AFA were involved in the revision of the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) and AFA entered into an official partnership with ACPA to co-sponsor the Mid-Level Management Institute. A Call For Values Congruence, an effort to effect change and allow for fraternal standards, was developed by a consortium of university presidents and interfraternal leaders, and the Core Competencies for Excellence in Fraternity and Sorority Advising were adopted. In 2003, AFA collaborated with Educational Benchmarking, Inc. (EBI) to develop a fraternity and sorority assessment instrument; AFA partnered with CAMPUSPEAK and other interfraternal organizations and higher education associations in 2004 to host the National Hazing Symposium; and in 2005, Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity Advisors was unveiled becoming the Association’s first effort to host a research journal.

With this increased focus on collaboration and cooperation, the AFA Executive Board adopted the 2005-2010 strategic plan, including a revised mission and vision. The vision of “a unified fraternal movement and an increased recognition of the value of the fraternity and sorority experience” was the driver for the work of the Executive Board.  During this time, the Association and the NIC decided to separate their Annual Meetings, and the Association leadership needed to ensure there was value being provided to inter/national headquarters staff members during the AFA Annual Meeting each year. This introduced the question as to who AFA serves, and the membership determined that AFA is for both the campus-based as well as the headquarters-based professional staff members, and in 2008 the first headquarters-based staff member was elected to the AFA Executive Board.

Amidst a changing fraternal landscape, AFA remained rooted in its role as a higher education association and the Executive Board voted to become a member of CHEMA: the Council for Higher Education Management Associations in 2009. This is also the first year that AFA chose to be an exhibitor at the NASPA Annual Conference and was a partner in The Placement Exchange in 2010. Through these higher education partnerships, AFA expanded its reach to include senior student affairs officers.

With ever-growing demands for staff support within the operations of the Association, AFA finalized a contract with Synergos, an association management company that AFA co-owned with the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values (AFLV) in 2013. This transition resulted in an expanded role for paid staff members in the day-to-day management of the Association and the Foundation. This transition also brought the most significant shift to date in the Association’s leadership structure. AFA moved from an Executive Board (operational model) to a Board of Directors (governance model) and adopted a hybrid election/appointment schedule for selecting AFA board members, resulting in five elected Board members and two appointed Board members. Within this new structure, the AFA President would serve a two-year term with no Past President role on the Board. Finally, the new model reduced the reliance on volunteers for the management of the Association’s operational functions.

With the Association leadership out of the operational details of association management, the AFA Board focused on crafting a new Strategic Framework that would be used to guide the future direction of AFA and the Foundation with implementation by the AFA staff. Strategic Workgroups were formed based on the goals outlined by the Board of Directors to advance the mission and vision of the Association. This led into the 40th Anniversary of the Association in 2016 and an AFA Foundation fundraising campaign that raised more than $400,000.

After four years of operating Synergos, the Association made the decision to sell the association management company and return to a self-operated Central Office with additional support from the Center for Fraternal Excellence (CFE). Thus, in 2017, the AFA Board of Directors returned to a supervisory role with the Executive Director, as well as the management of the volunteer structure of the Association. A workgroup was convened in 2018 to offer recommendations to the AFA Board regarding the eligibility requirements for president, leadership structures for the Association, and membership voting processes. A 2019 bylaws amendment was approved by the membership granting eligibility to headquarters-based members to serve as AFA President in addition to changing the composition of the Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC) to no longer be regionally based.

Today, the Board of Directors has a fierce focus on the Association’s mission “to elevate the standard for effective professional practice in working with sororities and fraternities in higher education.” The Board and staff use the Forward to 50: Elevating AFA into its Next 50 Years 2022-2026 Strategic Plan to guide the investment of Association resources, both human and financial. While the governance structures will continue to evolve over time, the central purpose of the Association has not wavered. Supporting the professionals who inform a healthy and vibrant fraternity and sorority experience remains at the center of the Association’s work every day.


About the author:

Dr. Carolyn Whittier has been a higher education professional for over 25 years, specializing in fraternity and sorority life, student development, leadership programming, and event planning and implementation.  A graduate of DePauw University with a degree in music education, Ball State University with a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration, a Master of Business Administration degree from Valparaiso University, and a Ph.D. in Education from Virginia Commonwealth University, Carrie currently works at Valparaiso University as the Assistant Vice President of Student Life. Carrie is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Women’s Fraternity, Rotary International, serves on the board for the United Way of Northwest Indiana, served as the 2009 President for the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, and currently serves as the Chair of the AFA Foundation.

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