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University of Michigan defers Greek rush recruitment to 2020

Fall recruitment activities at Alpha Phi on Oct. 3, 2017. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)
Fall recruitment activities at Alpha Phi on Oct. 3, 2017. (Credit: Meredith Bruckner)

On the edge of the University of Michigan campus, rush for a handful of fraternities recently wrapped up -- but it included a significantly smaller class of new members joining a brotherhood.

That's because UM decided that its 57 fraternities and sororities would have to defer recruitment until January for freshmen. The university also is requiring new students to complete 12 credits and be in good academic standing before pledging a house.

The controversial move was the first time in decades UM has made a change to rush, a time-honored tradition on college campuses nationwide when students consider joining a fraternity or sorority.

And not everyone is happy -- or thinks it's constitutional: A half-dozen fraternities broke away from UM because of the new policy and conducted an unsanctioned rush for freshmen, The Detroit News reported.

Students in California sued a university with a similar policy, even as experts said deferred rush is growing nationwide.

UM's rush deferment to January is rooted in a wider university plan to pave a successful path for first-year students, officials said. But it also comes after the university has grappled with high-profile incidents involving fraternities, sororities and alcohol, which UM President Mark Schlissel said partly fueled the change.

"We decided students would get their academic year off to a better start, and make a safer and better transition living away from home if we delayed Greek rush to second semester," said Schlissel, who mentioned the change during a wide-ranging interview with The Detroit News.

"The idea is before they get involved in this social competition, at which alcohol use tends to be pretty heavy, they have got a semester under their belt and they have a broader circle of friends and deeper support network, one hopes, before putting through the social filter of going through rush," Schlissel said.

UM has been working for years to help first-year students transition to college life. The university has stepped up education and prevention training sessions to curb sexual misconduct and alcohol abuse.

The delay in rush for freshmen is another step, Schlissel said.

"We're hopeful that will also help with some of our alcohol-related issues," Schlissel said.

In the wake of the new policy, which took effect this school year, six fraternities broke away from UM's Interfraternity Council, formed an independent council and held rush this fall anyway. A recent Wednesday was bid day, when a fraternity formally extends an offer to a potential new member.

"Our member chapters believe that the University of Michigan's decision to mandate deferred recruitment is a violation of students' First Amendment rights," said Michael Salciccioli, president of the newly formed Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council, in a written statement.

"Students should have the opportunity to join fraternities, or any student organization, at the time that they feel is best for them," said Salciccioli.

UM's fraternities that joined the new council and opened rushdmon  to freshmen this fall included Alpha Epsilon Pi, Theta Chi, Alpha Sigma Phi, Delta Chi, Phi Sigma Kappa and Pi Kappa Phi, said Salciccioli.

The number of new members for the six fraternities that held rush are not yet available because chapters have two weeks to submit an updated roster.

"Generally speaking, we had a great showing with chapters reporting that they had the same turnout that they had before they disaffiliated from the university," said Salciccioli, who is a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

It's not clear how many other universities have deferred fall rush for potential fraternity and sorority members. But Damon Brown, director of student activities and involvement at Grand Valley State University, said it is becoming more common.

"This isn't anything out of the ordinary," Brown said. "Most schools down South have a delayed recruitment model. It's starting to become more of a trend. I'm seeing a lot more schools out West a little bit more. It's new for us in the Midwest."

Many students are mixed on UM's decision.

Some are supportive, like Andrew Scott, vice president of recruitment for Michigan State University's Interfraternity Council. He said MSU encourages potential new members to come out and join a fraternity when they are ready. Not all freshmen feel comfortable immediately, he said, and some of their best and brightest members have been those who have delayed joining and thought about it for a while.

"College is such a crazy experience: You are living on your own for the first time, you have so much independence; putting too much in the mix is not always great," Scott said. "While I do think that it's good to get the ball rolling and get as many people in the Greek community because I think it's such an amazing part of college, I definitely understand why (UM) delayed it to the spring."

Based on her personal experience rushing a UM sorority, Emma Theisen agreed.

She arrived at the university last year, but wasn't sure if she would join a sorority even though both of her parents had been part of Greek life when they were in college.

Three weeks into the school year, Theisen decided to explore the possibility by spending hours visiting all of UM's 17 sorority houses over two nights, and narrowing down her potential choices over three more nights.

When she got a bid from her top sorority pick and became a pledge, she spent many evenings at social activities held every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Days before she was to become a formal member, Theisen realized sorority life was not for her and decided not to go through with initiation.

"I felt like I was giving up opportunities that I could have chased after if my schedule was more open," Theisen said. "I think I was still learning to adjust to college and learning how to handle all these new things that I was experiencing. I had neglected all these friends I had made before and felt like I wasn't performing my best in my classes."

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