The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 32.0°F | Mostly Cloudy


When Fraternities Forget Fraternity

In 1940, Adolf Hitler feared a military coup would result from the immense popularity his generals had garnered with a quick succession of victories over the Allies. Valuing his own popularity over victory, Hitler made one of the biggest military blunders of the second World War by ordering his generals not to engage at Dunkirk, thus letting the British forces escape. The British were able to regroup and make a stronger showing at a later date, contributing to the ultimate collapse of Hitler’s regime.

Today, the Interfraternity Council faces a parallel situation. It has forgotten its primary responsibilities of unifying the living group community and serving as its governmental and judiciary body, letting details of these jobs distract and dissociate them from its greater goals. The body has been greatly divided over proper treatment of alcohol violations, especially the issue of serving alcohol to freshmen. Debates persisted for almost a month over both a zero tolerance policy for alcohol violations initiated Sept. 4, and a retrial for four fraternities that violated that policy. Sometime during the debates the idea of cooperation was lost. What began in late summer as a relevant and crucial discussion of how to properly address alcohol violations, mutated into a vehement war of egos that destroyed involved parties, obscured the issue at hand, and disheartened onlookers of the FSILG community.

Many fraternities have already chosen to act to the detriment of the FSILG community, but for the IFC to survive, they must rethink their actions in light of their responsibility to the community. It should go without saying that the fault lies partially with these fraternities for breaking common sense rules giving alcohol to underage students. In a year when individual houses -- and with them, the FSILG system -- are most vulnerable to collapse, the decision to flout rules is incredibly self-centered and foolish.

However, greater responsibility rests on the shoulders of the FSILG office. First, a body that is paid to keep in close contact with IFC representatives was obviously not aware that a hotly contested zero tolerance policy had been in effect since the beginning of September. Regardless of whether or not the policy was correct, the office should have known about it and adhered to it when deciding punishment.

In addition, the office, in conjunction with members of the IFC executive committee, crafted an unbalanced procedure for dealing with complaints in the pre-rush period, failing to use standing IFC rush procedures as a model. Only a written report represented the “prosecution,” while defendants delivered live testimony. Neither IFC executives nor investigators were present to give relevant testimony or background on IFC policies and standards. One of the primary duties of the office is to maintain a sense of community within the IFC, a goal that cannot be achieved through the exclusion of key members from important decision-making processes.

Ultimately, the IFC let its internal problems supersede extermal problems, resulting in the dissolution we see today. There are merited arguments both for and against a zero tolerance policy in light of new rush standards, but it does not matter which side is correct. This issue could not have fractured the IFC the way the rift within the IFC executive committee did. Members of the executive committee should have acted in the interest of the system as a whole, rather than letting a single conflict escalate to the level of chaos we now see in the IFC leadership.

The mire of instability resulting from vacancies in power could very well be disastrous for FSILGs at MIT. Fallout from the recent debacle drastically reduces the IFC s authority. Not only has it been unable to implement an important policy because of internal strife, but there is no need for houses or MIT to place trust or power in an organization that ostensibly closes shop when tensions arise. Yet without the IFC, each house would be forced to spend its own budget dealing with licensing commissions, MIT, rush violations, and other houses.

The silver lining of this rather grim situation is that the slew of resignations will allow the IFC a chance to start over with a new administration for a new FILG system. Members of underrepresented living groups and fraternities may opt to run for election. Diversifying the IFC may change its attitude and character, but it is not the only means of doing so. The Tech hopes that the newly elected officials will assume their positions with the dignity and maturity needed to reach compromise. Only a change in practice, not one merely of faces, will change the IFC for the better.

Nathan Collins and Christine R. Fry have recused themselves from this editorial.