Advising Greeks is no prize

Richard Elk is a freelance writer and retired Chico State University journalism professor

An integral but weak part of the recent Greek System Review Task Force Report involves requiring each fraternity and sorority at Chico State to have a faculty adviser, who, in turn, will train for the job and be actively “engaged.” The Academic Senate is supposed to “develop the role of the faculty adviser” but won’t start anytime soon.

The local Greek situation has personal meaning for me. Before coming to Chico State in 1967, I taught for three years at Long Beach State. At the request of an outstanding young married student who was forming a new Theta Chi chapter, I became faculty adviser to this group for a year. I wanted to avoid social functions, so I limited my contact to time-consuming activity review and planning meetings.

Some years after I arrived at Chico State, a student asked me to advise a Theta Chi chapter that was forming. I declined, telling him there was no tangible payback for the time and effort, which was true then and is true today. Recently I asked Marc Siegall, chair of the senate, how the administration plans to recruit faculty members into this service when the faculty in general does not favor the Greek system because it is non-academic. In fact, the Task Force Report notes that “Nearly all chapters are way behind the all men’s and all women’s average when it comes to academics, and that is unacceptable.” Siegall didn’t know but did say advisers would be indemnified for legal risk.

Realistic payback could take only two forms. First, credit toward retention, tenure or promotion, meaning academic reward for non-academic work. This incentive creature will be dead on arrival at the senate. Second, so-called assigned time, meaning an adviser would teach one less class, which again is an academic reward for non-academic work. This much abused, mostly political incentive—it cuts the number of class sections available to all students—might fly. When I last checked, assigned time granted for various non-teaching tasks killed some 200 sections per term, hurting the many students who mill around searching for classes. Also, three such units already exist in each full-time faculty member’s teaching load, and in a perfect, non-political world, all other assigned time would be cancelled.

My guess is the university will try to make advisers responsible for jacking up the Greeks academically. The report says the university should “provide resources” to help the chapters, thus setting up a cross-purposes scenario because the Greeks have shown that play comes before work and because the report wants as-yet unknown criteria to “evaluate faculty advisers.” Well, the devil is in the details, as they say.