TDX never received an ultimatum. There was no final warning, specific crime or particular indication that it was all going wrong. Instead, they got an email: “We have decided to remove Theta Delta Chi from the facility at 675 Lomita Drive beginning academic year 2019-2020.”
Theta Delta Chi’s demise, pending an appeal, is a sad day for this campus and telling as an incident, in that it makes totally clear how the university feels about Greek life and single-sex organizations in this day and age. Unlike the recent unhousing of other fraternities, who went down on the backs of repeated investigations and contentious incidents, TDX’s case was much more benign, and as a result, much more frightening from the perspective of other housed Greek organizations. There was never one incident or particularly heinous crime that damned Theta Delt, but rather, a slow strangulation by red tape and administrative whim.
The Standards of Excellence (SOE) program is little-known outside of certain circles, but essential to the continued survival of Greek organizations at Stanford. The four-year-old policy calls for every fraternity and sorority to write annual reports, sometimes numbering up to 80 pages, that effectively detail why they deserve to exist on this campus. The written reports are accompanied by in-person presentations, which summarize each group’s house culture, via eight different categories which include items like Chapter Management, Equity and Inclusion, and Public Service and Civil Engagement. Panels of university administrators then judge the reports and, along with input from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), give each house a grade ranging from “Exceeds expectations” to “Needs Improvements.”
In consecutive years, TDX received Needs Improvements. That’s all it took. One panel, a presentation and an email, and Theta Delt suddenly found themselves in the position that every organization dreads. As an institution, TDX was far from perfect, a fact their leadership will readily admit. They faced investigations, probations and administrative drama, just as almost all Stanford fraternities have in recent years. But despite those shortcomings, absolutely no action of theirs merits such a harsh penalty — the harshest, in fact, that the university can inflict.
TDX was failed by the system. The SOE process was riddled with inconsistencies and a lack of clarity, and the institutional bias that courses through the Stanford bureaucracy festered within every aspect of the case.
Perhaps the greatest fault in TDX’s judgement and eventual SOE ruling was the administration’s ever-changing narrative on how, exactly, the fraternity was supposed to improve enough to hit the “Meets expectations” mark. In their 2017 report (For which they received Needs Improvement), the SOE panel stated Theta Delt’s top priority for the following year: “Ultimately, the chapter needs to identify, cultivate, and articulate a sense of purpose in order to ensure sustainability on campus.” In the following year, the new 2018 SOE report stated that “Leadership shared a fresh clarity on the foundational values of the fraternity that informed their objectives the past year” and that “Panelists were very moved by the narratives shared by various members about the role the chapter has played in their personal growth and outlet for support.” This would seem to indicate a sense of improvement in the university’s eyes. Nonetheless, it was clearly not enough.
Similarly, the university also indicated in their 2017 report that “The chapter should prioritize improving chapter operations (finances, officer structure, accountability measures, membership expectations, meeting times, etc.).” In turn, their 2018 SOE statement seemed to indicate that substantial strides had, again, been made in those departments:
“Proactive communication with Residential Education, Fraternity and Sorority Life, housing staff, and other campus partners was must [sic] stronger than prior years. The executive board and staff were routinely commended for their transparency and proactive approach to addressing situations. Specific examples included the closing and damage billing process, engagement with the Organizational Conduct Board (OCB) process, and subsequent dialogues with the Office of Alcohol Policy & Education (OAPE). The chapter has generally maintained a healthy reserves balance in recent years and have enhanced their financial stewardship this academic year following the transition in house staff.”
Despite that, the 2018 report listed “financial management” and “chapter management” as areas that needed improvement, a seemingly direct contradiction of the statement that the panel themselves provided. From the outside, it’s not a terribly far stretch to read this as the administration simply looking for items to ding TDX on, regardless of the substantial improvements that SOE themselves admit to.
By setting nebulous objectives and constantly creating new ones, the university can continuously move the proverbial goalposts for Greek houses and the expectations that they face. Placating the university is difficult for organizations under the easiest of circumstances but when the whims of a few minor administrators can dictate such harsh swings of fate, many houses find it almost impossible to know what is expected of them, or what improvements, if any, are enough.
In a separate part of the report, the administration admonished TDX for undergoing an OCS investigation and subsequently receiving a quarter-long social probation and other minor penalties. This too was somewhat unseemly in that it effectively represents one branch of the administration punishing TDX for the crime of being punished by a separate administrative arm. It was backhanded, circular logic that played a large factor in the SOE report and undoubtedly influenced the school’s final decision.
Furthermore, the house’s most recent SOE report promised TDX the opportunity to “Draft an action plan and demonstrate improvement to earn accreditation,” stating further that “Failure to demonstrate improvement during the probationary period may result in loss of University recognition or the privilege of a chapter facility if housed.” This opportunity, however, was never granted. The administration had already made up its mind.
To add insult to injury, the administration gave the house some eight days to put together an appeal. The process is one that requires extensive research, appeals to alumni and collective reflection, and to compress all this into the span of a little more than a week substantially harms TDX’s ability to put together a reasoned and cohesive response. Given that the decision won’t be implemented until next year, it is wholly unreasonable that this window should be so short. It’s just another nail in the coffin and a further indication that the university has a set agenda towards Greek life’s continued existence.
There is no hard and fast rule dictating that a fraternity who receives a “Needs Improvements” grade in consecutive years must lose their house. But nonetheless, Stanford still decided to pull the plug. On a human level, this fate is much more depressing than those of other recent fraternity cases. A proud community, with some 70 current members and almost 65 years of history in the same house were all undone by a single, seemingly arbitrary decision. This was a decision made by a small number of minor administrators, whose power is clearly disproportionate to their stature and knowledge of the situation.
The whole debacle allows for the possibility of much further reaching implications. If it could happen to TDX, why not other fraternities? If it no longer takes some particular crime or investigation for a Greek organization to receive the ultimate punishment, what’s to say that the same couldn’t happen to the other remaining houses and communities on this campus?
Arbitrary decisions and capricious administrators are nothing new on this campus. The fact, however, that such whims are now enough to unhouse existing Greek organizations is terrifying. One can only hope that Theta Delt’s appeal is successful and that the university backtracks on their continued assault against housed fraternities. As a part of those efforts, a campus-wide petition to save their house is circulating to gain signatures. Should those fail however, anyone with concern for campus life should be appalled by the case. If TDX does receive this harshest of punishments, it may indeed be remembered as the inflection point upon which Greek life was no longer welcome at Stanford.
Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.