Us v.s. Them: The Importance of Effective Partnerships Between National Headquarter Personnel & University Conduct Staff

by Steadman Boston

Organizational conduct can be one of the most challenging aspects of higher education. Some might say the hardest part is when a fraternity or sorority chapter violates the university code of conduct and acts oblivious to the allegations even when there is stone-cold evidence. At the same time, others may argue that the most challenging part is working with the national headquarters staff. There is often an explanation for the challenging partnerships between universities and national headquarters. Still, more often than less, in the heat of the moment, both parties forget they have a common goal. The university and national organizations’ goals should be to hold chapters accountable while fostering student development. Accountability is not black and white, and it is most effective in organizational conduct when both parties work together to achieve a desired outcome. Being a united team may be difficult when partnerships have been damaged, inconsistent, or nonexistent in the past. But repairing those partnerships is more valuable than destroying them when there is a shared understanding of how the two parties interact, why the partnership is important, and techniques to mend or improve the partnership.

How should university and organizational conduct officers interact?

Before understanding how university and headquarters staff should interact, one must first understand what an effective partnership entails. A partnership is a commitment to an ongoing relationship, as relationships are unstable and can break down, but a partnership is a foundation that helps overcome the breakdown (Appeal, 2017). With an understanding that a partnership adds stability, one must note the success of the partnership is both parties’ responsibility. Both the university and the national headquarters must have mutual respect for how the other approaches the conduct process because both are responsible for keeping the health and safety of the students front of mind.

There are a few things universities and national headquarters can keep in mind to help facilitate a positive interaction. First, be professional. Professionalism sends a message about how serious one will take the conduct process and the need for a joint resolution. Second, both parties should be willing to pick up the phone, meet virtually, or meet in person. If the only interaction occurring is strictly through email, one might misinterpret the messages and tones, which could lead to hostility or miscommunication. Third, be open and transparent. It is becoming more common for universities and national headquarters to limit or hide information from each other, leading to poor and inappropriate sanctions or no sanctions at all. Understandably, some information may have to be limited while the investigation is early to avoid misinformation. Still, before reaching an outcome, parties should be willing to discuss findings nonjudgmentally and intentionally. Ultimately, the interaction between universities and national headquarters can be positive by being professional, prioritizing effective communication, and being transparent throughout the conduct process.

Why is this partnership important?

The partnership between a university and a national headquarters can be tricky; however, there are benefits for both parties. From a national headquarters perspective, having a functioning partnership with the institution allow the organization to have extra “boots on the ground.” With the vast number of chapters that national headquarters have on various campuses, it is impossible to meet every need of every chapter every day or even hold chapters accountable without partnering with universities. Universities also provide assistance in helping members succeed academically, supporting service initiatives, and molding members to be successful in the greater community.

On the other hand, institutions may need more resources when holding chapters accountable or working to change chapter culture. There are many instances where national organizations have a broader range of resources, and they can approach accountability and culture change with tactics outside of the restraints most universities have. In addition to having a wide range of resources and the capability to implement transformational methods, headquarters can also help recruit alumni support. Alumni support is imperative in assisting chapters to be successful, as more experienced leadership can help prevent health and safety issues, support overall chapter operations, and provide positive role models for members. Therefore, the partnership between universities and headquarters is essential to helping students and organizations achieve their highest potential while developing individuals that will significantly contribute to the global community.

How do we improve this partnership?

As it has been determined, dealing with student and organizational conduct is no easy task, but the mountain of difficulty becomes more manageable through intentional partnership. Some universities and/or national organizations feel they need to improve their partnerships. How does one start the journey of rebuilding the relationship?

  • Eliminating the Us v.s. Them Mentality – When handling organizational conduct cases, universities and national headquarters can easily fall into the trap of being pitted against each other instead of uniting to find a solution. Ironically, students quickly recognize when there is tension, or lack of cooperation between the two parties and will attempt to use it to their advantage. Thus, both parties should make it clear that the shared goal is to reach a mutually agreeable and amicable resolution that will strengthen the chapter and university.
  • Communication – Both the institution and organization must communicate with each other. For example, when both parties know the allegations, evidence, and desired outcomes, the conduct process can be smoother. Hiding information or making conflicting decisions can lead to a complete lack of accountability or chapters not being equipped with the necessary tools to correct the issue(s).
  • Respecting Differences – Universities and national headquarters will sometimes be on different pages regarding outcomes and sanctions. However, both parties should be comfortable engaging in constructive conversation on how outcomes will impact the chapter and why one party may be for or against an outcome. Mutual respect can help lead to a healthy discussion that results in a better outcome that is most beneficial for the chapter. It is important to note that if either side shuts down discussions, it could lead to unnecessary tension and both parties working against each other, resulting in the chapter being hurt by the inability of the university and national headquarters to work together.
  • Do it Together – The best partnership is not ordinary but explorative and creative. When partnering throughout the conduct process, do as much as possible together. For example, do your investigation meetings together. This could include inviting each other to sit in on student interviews, debriefing interviews together, and inviting each other to meetings with the chapter leadership. In addition to performing joint investigations, work together to develop unified sanctions that are mutually agreed upon. If both parties agree on the proposed sanctions, the chapter will understand the seriousness of their actions and that both entities are focused on their success. Finally, hosting a meeting with the entire chapter’s Executive Board and alumni to discuss how sanction outcomes were reached and the purpose of the sanction(s) creates an opportunity for all parties to express their expectations and to ensure a foundation is laid that will lead to the chapter’s success.
  • Aligning Values – Every university and national headquarters has a set of values they want all students to embody. If both parties align their values, they can create a plan of action that requires students to reflect on their oath and the values outlined in their ritual. The connection of values ultimately addresses the desire of both parties, which is to help develop students that are a catalyst of change and ideal citizens.

The university and national headquarters partnership can be the difference between students and chapters being successful or failing. Therefore, building a partnership with a foundation of trust, communication, respect, unity, and value-based will lead to a mutually beneficial conduct process.

 

Reference

Appel, W. (2017, September 27). Want Success? Know The Difference Between Relationships And Partnerships. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/09/27/want-success-know-the-difference-between-relationships-and-partnerships/?sh=1cb11a68712e

 About the author:

Steadman Boston is a graduate of Winthrop University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Middle-Level Education with a focus on Math and Science. In 2020 Steadman graduated from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Administration and is currently working on his Doctoral Degree in Higher Education Leadership at Northcentral University. Steadman currently serves as the Director of Accountability for Sigma Alpha Epsilon and can be reached via email at sboston@sae.net.

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