Seth Cohen (sethcohen) wrote,
Seth Cohen

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Fraternity amusement (long)

Not that I wanted to abandon my Wedesday night game, but I got a call from Mike a couple of weeks ago, and he said he might be in town. Yesterday afternoon he called and said "You gonna be at the Kappa board meeting tonight?" Well, this was the first I'd heard of it, but I see Mike and Paul and the others less often than I see my gaming group, so I cancelled that and went to the board meeting.

Alpha Zeta Omega really amuses me sometimes. This is a fraternity with more than 80 years of history, but they still haven't gotten the idea that if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. This happens at both the local as well as the national level, in case you're curious. Of course, if the effort is to get what you've always got, then they've succeeded.

For example, its behavior (esp since the 1960's, when equality became a major social issue) has kept the fraternity mostly in the lines that it was created under: Jewish and male. The stated fraternal charter includes egalitarianism and social and religous equality, which is beautifully illustrated at the school level and nearly absent at the national, alumni level. I'll talk more about this in a minute.

I joined AZO because it was the most attractive of the four fraternities in my school. It wasn't a party fraternity (hey, I'd already been an undergrad), focused intensely on scholarship, and was coeducational. Granted, all the fraternities were egalitarian in terms of which sexes they allowed to join, but LKS was for all intents a sorority, and PDC and Kappa Psi were party fraternities. AZO also was founded by Jews, and that gave me a social anchor that I thought would be of value. I'm certain I made the right choice, especially after I discovered that AZO was the only fraternity to have any kind of existence as a national pharmacy organization post-graduation. I get most of my Continuing Education Credits (needed to maintain my licence to practice) through the CE seminars Kappa Chapter hosts monthly.

The first convention I went to, it was instantly clear what the alumni were comprised of: old Jews. "Your name is Cohen? And you're in pharmacy school??? And you joined AZO?????" Needless to say, the occasional antipathy that the alumni have towards the students was not held against me.

So, from AZO's founding (in 1919) until the present, the alumni have mostly been Jewish and white. AZO rightly recognised that things were changing, and altered their charter and membership requirements to allow anyone to join. This was wise, because starting in the 1970's, large numbers of women began to attend pharmacy school. Also, larger numbers of minorities began attending pharmacy school. Currently, the pharmacy student population in the US is 75% female, 25% male, and about evenly split between white students and minorities. Many of the minorities are recent immigrants to the US.

Unfortunately, the National Charter did not reflect behavior at the local level. Although the number of Jews attending pharmacy school dropped precipitously (demographically, more Jews began to become lawyers or get MBA's, reflecting social change) the alumni membership did not want change and thus failed to encourage nonJews to maintain their membership after graduation. Chapters begain failing at pharmacy schools, even as the total number of pharmacy schools increased.
So, today we have half a dozen student chapters (of more than 50 pharmacy schools) and just slightly more than that in terms of alumni chapters. Granted, participation in social organizations in the US has declined drastically over the last few decades (social change again), so the fraternity is not entirely to blame. However (to raise the spectre of Social Darwinism) the way to survive is to change, or die.

Back to last night's meeting: complaints about the lack of student retention at the alumni level (complaints by old, male Jews) and worries about the advancing age of the alumni. I made some side comments to Mike and Paul (Mike has been national president, and will be so again next year; Paul will be his VP) about possible strategies and plans. I don't need to go into much detail, but I can see several things that need doing. Here's my short list, and anyone who has other ideas is welcome to add them.

1) Despite the failure to retain any noticeable percentage of student members as alumni members, the alumni need to continue to sponsor and aid the students. If you don't plant, you won't reap. AZO offers immense numbers of man-years of experience in pharmacy and its related professions, and the networking and advice that one can garner has immeasureable value. Socially, things *will* change at the alumni level, if for no other reason than attrition. I don't like saying this, but it's true.
2) There's no reason we can't have student chapters at every pharmacy school. That takes effort, time and money. However, it yields money and members, and AZO needs them to live.
3) AZO is the only national pharmaceutical fraternity that has alumni presence. The others don't exist in any meaningful (read: useful) way. We can capitalize on that by showing our presence at the meetings of other national organizations, e.g. APhA, ASCP, AMCP, ASHP, etc. We can also solicit for graduated pharmacists to become alumni members. If our current membership doesn't know how to do that, there are advertising agencies that can help guide us. All they want is money, and we have some of that.
4) Unfortunately, there's some things that we can't get around, and that has to do with who current members are. Many of them are opposed to change; it's *their* fraternity, and they're happy with it as it is. Changing these attitudes (or bypassing the members who won't change) is a long road.
5) All of this means diluting the membership with folks that don't have the same engendered spirit of fraternalism. No idea how this will end up down the road.
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