Pledge Numbers, Imbalance Threaten FSILGsBy Ricarose Roque
Fraternity and living group pledges have approached three hundred this year, but have tapered off below the levels required to perpetuate the entire fraternity system without freshmen.
Narrowing of the male-female ratio on campus and a later rush period have presented difficulties for fraternities, as the phenomenon of “clique pledging” -- freshmen pledging in groups of friends to a single fraternity en masse -- has increased imbalances among fraternity rush results. This clumping appears to have been an unexpected consequence of the later rush this year.
Fraternities and living groups “will have to work harder,” said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75. “Rush will have to continue throughout the rest of the year.”
Eleven fraternities and living groups have fewer than six pledges, including Delta Kappa Epsilon and Student House, who have no pledges.
On the other end of the spectrum, Phi Sigma Kappa and Phi Beta Epsilon each have 21 pledges.
The increasing difficulties for the fraternity system, the dramatic inequities in this year’s pledging, and the limited term of MIT’s three-year financial assistance program have raised the specter of closure for fraternities and living groups that lose the battle for pledges.
Good numbers still fall short
“We’re really pleased with the overall numbers,” said Interfraternity Council Rush Chair Joshua S. Yardley ’04. “In the past, we would get from about 300 to 350 pledges.”
Historically, the number of undergraduates living outside of dormitories has been between 1,200 and 1,400, more than 30 percent of the undergraduate population. The new residence system places larger demands on fraternities and living groups during rush if they are to sustain the same population with only three classes eligible to live in fraternities.
“We’ll definitely need to increase the amount of people [in each class] living in fraternities and living groups by a third,” Yardley said.
With current pledge numbers still inching their way toward 300, fraternities and living groups have a ways to go from that goal. Fewer pledges means a greater chance of overcrowding in dormitories, and fewer housebills to pay living group budgets, the following fall.
Pledges distributed unequally
Rush chairs discussed how this year’s later rush period has changed the dynamics of pledging.
“It’s not the same rush where freshmen barely got on campus not really knowing anybody,” said Assistant Dean David N. Rogers, the director of fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. “They now have to take advantage of the extra time and form relationships with the freshmen,” he said.
“The freshmen we got to know during [Campus Preview Weekend] had already formed cliques with other male students,” said PBE Rush Chair David R. Schannon ’04. “Those same freshmen got their friends interested in our frat.”
These “friend groups,” as Schannon called them, rush and eventually pledge together, and their collective decision can make the difference between having many and no pledges for some fraternities and living groups.
“Most chapters are stuck in the mindset: ‘This is what we’ve always done. This will work next year. There is no reason why it shouldn’t continue to work,’” said IFC President Amado G. DeHoyos ’04. “I think that we’re all just now beginning to realize how flawed that mindset actually is.”
“These cliques could have swung either way,” Schannon said. “We were really lucky.”
Gender balance changes equation
Besides the new residence system, fraternities and living groups must face other factors that threaten to lower pledge numbers.
“Male enrollment has been steadily decreasing these past years, ... while the number of female students have been increasing,” Yardley said.
The freshman Class of 2006 is also markedly smaller than previous classes, with the number capped at approximately 980 students. The freshmen class consists of 57 percent men, or about 560 males.
With a goal of 400 pledges for the whole fraternity, sorority, and living group system, fraternities would have to round up more than about 60 percent of male freshmen, something that already appears difficult. As freshmen classes become even more gender-balanced, difficulties for fraternities in attracting enough new members will continue to increase.
MIT to hire rush consultants
MIT has agreed to hire strategic planners for fraternities and living groups to assist them in increasing their pledge numbers.
“These consultants will help fraternities and living groups set their goals and help them market their groups,” Benedict said.
“We are continuously looking for ways to help FSILGs and to increase their pledge numbers,” Rogers said.
MIT plans on hiring David Stollman, a speaker for the fraternity and sorority recruitment programs of Campuspeak Inc., a collegiate speaker booking agency, Rogers said.
“Stollman has worked with us in the past and is familiar with the culture of MIT,” he said.
Long term solutions still unclear
In order to soften the strain the new residence system has placed on FSILGs, MIT has agreed to a three-year reimbursement plan that will help each living group cover the cost of empty beds.
“Ideally, under this three year program, fraternities and living groups should raise their pledge class by a third for the next three years,” Yardley said. “By the third year, each house should have reached their full numbers.”
MIT has planned little beyond this three-year transition period. Officials say they will rely heavily on the outcome of this year’s rush.
“We’re working on the short term right now,” Benedict said. “All we can do is support [the FSILGs] as best as we can.”
“The administration is going in the right direction of reimbursing the houses,” Yardley said. “But they’re going to have to think of longer term solutions.”
“They’re not being realistic in thinking that in three years every house will be full once again,” he said. “The three year plan is helpful, but it’s not the cure.”
“All we can do is push for fraternities and living groups to work harder,” Clay said. “It’s too early to know who will ultimately succeed or fail. This story is still incomplete.”