Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Are Fines Really Fine?

Note: The primary audience for this post is College Panhellenics.

As we navigate College Panhellenic recruitment processes, one concept appears over and over again: Accountability. It is often difficult to confront our peers when our procedures are violated and it can be very hard to propose and agree upon sanctions that serve as a reminder to the offending organization while restoring harmony within the community. Often, because it is one of the first things to come to mind, it seems that a fine would suffice. People may even assume the sanction for every offense can be dealt with by paying a fine, even asking before breaking a rule, “What’s the fine if we do X?” However, the NPC Unanimous Agreement regarding the judicial procedure has some very specific instructions:

In short, fines should be used sparingly and only in certain conditions. Here are some key takeaways and deeper explanation for understanding:

Fines are for very limited use.
As women of good character, we should use violations as opportunities to develop and improve our actions. Simply fining one another does not accomplish this. Because fines are so prescriptive, they can lead to nit-picky rules that take more effort to enforce than they are worth and can often overwhelm the spirit of Positive Panhellenic Contact. The best sanctions give the offending organization a clearer picture of what went wrong, an opportunity to correct the mistake and a plan for improvement in the future. Additionally, some chapters may choose to save up for fines, allowing a certain amount of disregarding the rules, which defeats the purpose of having agreed-upon standards. So, fines should be reserved for very specific violations and should only be used in those circumstances.

Fines must be clearly stated in the College Panhellenic’s policies.
Here are some examples of a rule that discusses a fine:
Not good: Chapters that submit their invitation list late will be fined.
This example leaves a lot to be desired. What if a list is late? Should the College Panhellenic charge the chapter $10,000? Certainly not. Should the College Panhellenic charge $10 to one sorority and $500 to another? Again, no. The fine amount should be included in the recruitment rules.
Better: Chapters that submit their invitation list late will be fined $25.
This one is closer to correct. The amount of the fine is included, but consider where you want to stop. Is being 25 minutes late the same thing as being six hours late? In this case, it probably isn’t.
Best: Chapters that submit their invitation list late will be fined $25. For every hour they are late, another $25 will be added.
This rule states the amount of the fine, when the period for the fine begins, and when/if it compounds. There is no room for debate about how to apply this fine; it is all set beforehand.

Because fines are measurable amounts, they must be for measurable offenses.
For example, if a College Panhellenic wants to have policies about whether or not flowers will be permitted in a certain round of recruitment events, a fine would not be an appropriate sanction for a sorority that violates that rule. That sorority would need to participate in the College Panhellenic judicial process, beginning with informal conversation and then moving forward with a mediation if needed to determine what sanction would be appropriate. The best examples of fineable offenses include timelines ($50 per day that the College Panhellenic dues check is late) or the ability to accurately determine the number of times a specific violation occurs ($10 per time a chapter is not represented at a scheduled College Panhellenic meeting). Digging deeper, many fineable offenses are accidental or at least unintentional, such as missing deadlines. In the example of the 'flower rule' above, rather than simply writing a check, the sorority involved really should have to sit down and explain why they disregarded a clear rule prohibiting flowers.

Fines must be voted on by the chapter delegates in advance.
For a fine to be enforceable, the fine must be clearly stated and it must be voted on in advance by the chapters’ Panhellenic delegates. The College Panhellenic cannot arbitrarily assign fines to organizations that violate policies and those organizations should not accept arbitrary fines. For example, if a chapter violates a policy, the College Panhellenic may not simply decide to fine them unless it is already clearly stated in the rules. A fine that was not voted on by the delegates beforehand is never an acceptable sanction.

Fines are not the same thing as restitution.
The restrictions around fines do not mean that sororities cannot face sanctions that cost money. For example, consider that Alpha Beta Gamma sorority painted signs for an event and made a mess that damaged the property of Delta Epsilon sorority next door. While a fine would not be an appropriate sanction, it would be appropriate for Alpha Beta Gamma to take responsibility for the cost of repairs at Delta Epsilon. Or, if Delta Epsilon’s members have used social media to slander other sororities on campus, it is completely appropriate to ask that they fund and host a snack-supper and facilitator to meet with all of the chapter presidents to discuss the social media issues on campus.

Fines should not be a part of your College Panhellenic budget.
When fines are collected from sororities, they should be set aside and used for an agreed-upon cause. The Panhellenic Council might consider giving the fines to a charitable cause, a scholarship fund, or a one-time expense such as a new computer for the office or contribution to an ongoing campus project. But, they should never be included in the College Panhellenic’s plans and budgets. Expecting and needing certain amounts of fines to make ends meet creates a goal for collected fines, which is not healthy. The job of the College Panhellenic is to support its chapters and enable their success, rather than look for opportunities to punish them. Ideally, no one will violate and policies and no one will accrue any fines.

Panhellenic judicial procedures still apply.
If a sorority commits a fineable offense, the College Panhellenic should still complete a notice of infraction form and send it to the sorority. The sorority can choose to pay the fine, or they could still choose to have a mediation if they wish. For example, if a sorority submits an invitation list late and receives a notice of infraction form, they can still ask for mediation. Say the list was 45 minutes late and the sorority wants to ask the fine be excused or reduced because they experienced a power outage during the time they were working on the list. The College Panhellenic could choose to take that into consideration based on any number of things (e.g., Was it a two-hour power outage or a 10-minute power outage?), but the sorority has the right to ask for the mediation and both sides have the right to appeal if they cannot agree, as they would in any other proceeding.

How are fines handled on you campus? How can your College Panhellenic help improve how fines are handled in your community? How can you utilize the judicial process better to help create change? See Helpful Tips for the College Panhellenic Judicial Process for more information. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

From the NPC Chairman: A sincere commitment to academic excellence

In the coming weeks college students will be returning to campuses to begin the 2019-20 academic year. With their arrival comes the excitement of a new year, the welcoming of new members and the importance our organizations and Panhellenic communities put on lifelong learning and academic excellence.

Research indicates that students today have an intense focus on career readiness. They are more career-driven and academically focused, with many of them finding that being in a sorority holds them back as opposed to enhancing their academic focus. This puts the burden of providing relevant and engaging academic and career programming on our member organizations and Panhellenic communities so they are preparing members for life after college.

According to a 2014 Gallup-Purdue University Index study of U.S. college graduates, it’s not the type institution you attend, but it’s the support you receive that matters. Graduates who were emotionally supported during college have more than double the odds of being engaged in their work and nearly three times as likely to be thriving in life after college. Sorority members report higher well-being and workplace engagement, which they attribute in large part to the support of their member organization as well as the institutions of higher learning they attended. This is confirmation that sororities do indeed provide significant benefits in helping women graduate and as sorority women it is our mission to educate others about the role our organizations have in ensuring the success of members. 

As we begin a new academic term, I encourage our Panhellenic Councils and member organization chapters to take an active role in providing effective programming and recognition in order to establish a culture in the sorority community that fosters academic excellence. Scholarship is one of NPC’s building blocks for advocacy and we need to teach our members to take an active role in their education and learn to be their own advocate. Encourage them to be proactive about using resources available on campus and be the person who’s not afraid to speak up when they need help. Talk about the importance of getting to know their professors with the goal of attending professor office hours during the first few weeks of the semester. This lets the professor know they are serious about doing well in class.

According to the Gallup-Purdue survey results, college graduates who had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, are more engaged in the work force than those that did not. Building strong mentoring relationships is key to establishing a support system whether it’s with a professor, sorority/fraternity advisor, chapter advisor, alumnae member or peer. Those mentoring relationships and the academic standards you set will enable NPC and its 26 member organizations to continue to promote our consistent message that the sorority experience adds value and enriches lives.

By educating sorority women on the importance of academic success, you are helping them fulfill their academic potential and live up to the scholastic ideal stated in the Panhellenic Creed:

We, as Undergraduate Members of women’s fraternities, stand for good scholarship, for guarding of good health, for maintenance of fine standards and for serving, to the best of our ability, our college community.”

Moreover, through effective programming and recognition, a College Panhellenic can establish a culture within the sorority community that demonstrates a sincere commitment to academic excellence.