Friday, January 29, 2016


I'm not overly conflicted about this, so I'm not really looking for advice, just venting the ol' spleen.

My class has a final exam tonight.  Well, it's not so much an exam as a public display.  Can't say more than that.  Suffice it to say that the entire January mini-semester has been building up to it, and students need to do it in order to pass.

Last week I get an email from a student saying that she wanted to warn me in advance:  The exam night is also some kind of sorority rush event, so she's not sure if she can come on time!

I'm trying to process all of this without disclosing my disdain for frats and sororities.  I went to a college where they weren't too big of a deal (only about 15% of the students were in them, and they weren't the center of social life).  I like friendship and clubs and all of that social stuff, and I know plenty of good people who went Greek and turned out just fine, including one of my parents and one of my siblings.  But I've always felt a twinge of--I don't know, hopefully ickiness and not jealousy--when I've heard of some frat or sorority doing or sanctioning something that prizes itself above academic life.

I tell my student to do her best to come on time, especially since her email made it sound like she won't be late to the public display, just late to the "please arrive 30 minutes early to set up" part.  Fine.  Then she emails me again today to say that her sorority-to-be won't be sending their schedule out until early evening (about 3 hours before our final), so she'll have to let me know later how late she'll be!

Before you go all "fail her ass" on me, let me slip in a couple of caveats.  First, it's a little two-credit pass/fail class.  Second, she's not going to be all that late, and her own part of the display is toward the end.  And more importantly, the mini-semester actually ended a week ago.  The only reason we're having the public display tonight is because Snowzilla buried Richmond a week ago, and it had to be rescheduled.  That's hardly her fault, and if I'm asking the students to be flexible, I also need to be flexible.

But a little spleen-vent is in order, no?  Why is the default assumption that the sorority pledging activities are unmovable?  Or am I just getting old?

Has this ever happened to you?  Has a student ever unapologetically said, "Sorry, dude, can't do the class thing--my frat/sorority won't let me go"?​

--Ruby from Richmond


  1. I've had a class or two, but never a major assignment. Might shoot a disapproving email to their faculty advisor: fraternities have those, yes? (I came from low/no fraternity places,mtoo)

  2. I've had plenty of "sorry, I scheduled a cruise and won't be there for a week. I've had these reservations fur like fur-evah!" Apparently when they did all this advance planning, the link to the college calendar was linked through quantum physics to another dimension where the cruise date coincided happily with a semester break, which of course had been set a year in advance. But then the dimensions realigned to the one I live in, with ensuing disaster.

  3. No, I've never had the problem of a student claiming that a fraternity/sorority event would impinge on class and then skipping on a class or class activity, and if it did happen, I'd be annoyed. On the situation described here, though, I've gotta side with the student, albeit reluctantly.

    I dunno what the specific situation is with your university's fraternity/sorority system (is it hoity-toity or low-profile? is it actually the national Greek system or a network of local organizations?), so the specifics of the situation may vary from what I'm gonna say, but here's the general situation with sorority pledging events:

    These aren't just small social mixers at a local pool hall; for sororities, rush is the premier event of the year, and it actually is next to immovable. Rush is a blowout designed to impress potential recruits, and it requires lots of planning and is shoehorned into a long-predetermined time slot that's based on the university's academic schedule, the members' availability, conflicts with other sororities' rush parties, and (probably most important) the chosen venue's availability. The girls may even have laid out a significant amount of cash in advance to rent a location/pay admission. Aaaaand, if the sorority member doesn't attend rush, she'd probably be in violation of her organization's rules, and some sororities' rules about attending rush are ironclad. The student in question could have her membership placed in jeopardy or be fined several hundred dollars.

    In summary, since the class's public display shifted and the sorority's rush was already scheduled, the student isn't being unreasonable. Or at least entirely unreasonable.

  4. You don't have to fail her; just implicitly threaten to.

    "It's find if you're a couple of minutes late; I understand. But if it comes down to a choice between your education and your fraternity, you should understand what is important and what isn't. This hamster-tap-dancing-recital is a required part of the course."

  5. At my place we learn not to schedule classes or departmental events during major Greek events, including the weekly chapter meetings. More difficult are more irregular events like visits from National representatives, since we don't have any way of knowing about those until they happen. Rush absorbs 3 weeks, since the sororities prepare with weeks of planning and required role-playing, much of which happens throughout the daytime.
    It's hard for me too, since I chose a college that by charter had no Greek organizations, but I have learned that students will not attend during those periods, and, honestly, I have bowed to necessity.

  6. I put explicitly in my syllabus that I won't tolerate this shit. Likewise with scheduling cruises. The ol' syllabus is now 22 pages long and counting, since these are not the only things experience has shown me to put into it. Anytime a student comes whining to me about anything like this, I scream, "I find your IRRESPONSIBLE ATTITUDE toward YOUR EDUCATION to be DEEPLY UPSETTING!" And then I'd force-choke them to death, but that strong with the force I unfortunately am not.

  7. The example raises numerous complex issues, including the place of higher education in the lives of our students in the 21st century. A fair number of my students regard college as an occasional obligation they have signed up for, one semester at a time, with no particular urgency about graduating in 6 or 7 or even 8 years, and certainly not something that they have plunged into heart and soul for a deeply immersed 4 years of concentrated study. Schedule conflicts get negotiated, and if my course wins it's not because it's more important but because a failure represents a loss of tuition. What has surprised me is the shock many of these students experience what they discover that I care about their performance in a class, where they don't really seem to consider their performance to be an especially important issue.

    Those of us who read this blog probably have spent virtually all of our lives since our late teen years embedded in higher education, and have a hard time imagining that a family vacation or a sorority function might be more important to a college student than the sacred knowledge we are imparting. Increasingly I find myself having to negotiate some middle ground or compromise...

    1. I have many students in my classes on some variation of the long-n-slow plan. But that's mostly because they are second-time-arounders with jobs and families. And they put family and job ahead of school, but not because they don't value won't goes on in my class: they're here for a reason and they're willing to work to make that plan happen.

      I have a lot more patience with them than I do with the very few 18-22 year-olds in my classes who think this is some kind of social club with occasional class when they can be bothered. But even with these busy bees I don't try to change them. I set the most flexible policies that are consistent with my learning goals and sanity, roll with the punches and post the grades that they earn.

      How that works out for them is their problem.

      In the case before the court there is call for as much leniency as possible because of the emergency nature of the scheduling, but the young lady has got to meet Ruby halfway.

    2. Yeah, I have a beginning of the semester student form in which I ask them about non-school work, family obligations, most time-consuming activities. Even the 18-22s are often seriously burdened.

      Doesn't change the amount of work I give them, but it does affect how it's structured and my willingness to listen to excuses.

  8. I have had this happen a couple of times. I find that an e-mail to the person in the dean of students office who oversees Greek life asking for clarification about whether Greek orgs can compel members to miss academic obligations generally fixes things (the answer has ALWAYS been of course not).

  9. This shit got old fast, ESPECIALLY during summer session. Even after talking about it on the first day of class and putting it in my syllabus, I still had students coming up to me whining about their camping trip, their cruise, their... whatever. It comes down to this: you plan your activities around class. Otherwise, don't enroll. Those six words are not hard to remember. If that's too hard, well, we'll miss you but your schedule is not my department.

  10. I remember something startlingly like this. A frat bro was talking to my professor after class (to whom I was also waiting to speak) and more or less said "My fraternity is having function X. It might make me late for Test Y. Could you suspend your testing policy since I'm giving you a week's notice and let me take the test earlier/later?"

    The professor was this aged (perhaps seventy-something), glorious phoenix-grandmother of a woman. And she gave him the sweetest smile and said "Honey, that young lady over there just asked for an extension on the same test because her aunt has MS and I told her to take a hike. I'll let you take the test earlier if you go over there and tell her, loud enough for me to hear, that your fraternity is more important than her aunt."

    And you know what? He actually did it. My professor was shocked and gave an apologetic look to the young lady that she had just accidentally caused emotional distress.

    "Son, I didn't really mean it. It was an attempt to humble you. I look forward to seeing you on the news next to pictures of your victims one day."