Deja Vu All Over Again
Fall semester has barely started at Whatsamatta U and the house corporation board is already pulling its collective hair over activities at the chapter house.
The boys started the semester with a rousing party that gained the ire and attention of neighbors, police and university authorities. A window was mysteriously broken and, naturally, none of the residents have a clue who did it. A couch turned up missing and like the broken window, not a clue. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”
These are times that drive house corporations to distraction. Year after year, the same kind of unbridled and destructive behavior manifests itself. Instead of leading with their best, active chapter sets the stage with bad boy behavior which can result in social probation or worse. Social probation hampers recruitment and “worse” could mean losing the charter altogether. What’s a house corp to do?
Establish Expectations Early. After a summer of no school, work, cavorting and other activities, the young brothers are eager to return to the alma mater (Latin for “nourishing mother) to resume the college experience. While house corporation hopes that will be manifested as responsible tenants, immaturity level weighs heavily against in their ability to act maturely. At this age, they generally understand rules so meeting with the chapter officers early to discuss expectations is imperative.
Have a Written Rental Agreement. The Rental Agreement should clearly delineate in plain English the expectations for rental payments,house cleaning/maintenance, prohibited activities like smoking, pets, etc. and the penalties for violations. Each year, the new active chapter officers and house corp representative need to review the Rental Agreement line by line so there is no misunderstanding. Remember, this may be the first such document these brothers have every seen, much less had to sign. Go slow, answer their questions and explain why the clauses are necessary.
Define the Roles. Sigma Chi is about brotherhood and while both active chapter and house corp is comprised of brothers, there is also a Landlord-Tenant relationship that supercedes the brotherhood aspect. House corporations are designed to protect the interests of the chapter both present and future by managing the real estate assets like any good business. Good business is not letting the tenants destroy the assets or not pay agreed rent. Since young brothers have little experience in good business practices, the house corp must educate them by enforcing the provisions of the Rental Agreement. This is education that will serve them well in the future. The sooner learned, the better for all concerned.
Lighten Up. While house corps need to follow good business practices, surprise visits to the chapter house looking for problems is not the way to go about it. Most surprise inspections are likely to discover all manner of violations large and small. But a “gotcha” approach will only breed animosity and mistrust between actives and house corp. The best approach is to insist that the officers do their job in managing the chapter’s responsibilities. Good corporations prosper with successful delegation of duties. Let the officers do theirs to the best of their ability. Offer to help in areas where they lack experience. The goal is to let them take ownership.
Encourage & Listen. Young brothers are not often forthcoming with questions and criticism due to the age disparity with house corp members which is intimidating. Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions and contact house corp when help is needed. Make sure the proper contact information is provided. Generally, there should be one primary point of contact, like the board president, who can delegate the issue if necessary depending on the subject matter (financial, maintenance, discipline, etc.)
Use Your Chapter Advisor and Grand Praetor. House corporations need to be careful not to get overly involved in chapter affairs. While the landlord authority is indisputable, mandating how the chapter handles its non-tenant business is not. These areas are the purview of, first, the Chapter Advisor and, secondly, the Grand Praetor. These men are charged with assisting with chapter operation. The Grand Praetor has special training and authority provided by Sigma Chi
International to deal with chapters within assigned provinces. House corp should refer such matters to these men for action when appropriate.
It is deja vu. The reason active brothers continue to make the same mistakes year after year is because...they aren’t the same brothers. These are new brothers, just as green as the ones you dealt with the year before. The good news is they’re Sigma Chis, most have good intentions and want to learn. The flipside is it comes with the house corp territory to deal with greenhorns each year. But rather than be frustrated, follow these tips and know that you are a key component of these young brothers’ life education. It is worthy work and Sigma Chi thanks you for your dedication to fulfill it.