Transition to a More "Professional" Mission
Change in Definition
Restoration of Mission
Better, Clearer Definitions
Which Type is Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia?
For many years, confusion has existed—both among Sinfonians and outside individuals—about Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’s classification as either a “professional” or “social” fraternity. In fact, this issue could accurately be described as one of the pivotal issues of the Fraternity’s past, and developing a common understanding of the issue is critical to understanding exactly what Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia is
and what it is not
Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia was founded on October 6, 1898, at the New England Conservatory, and the minutes of that first meeting include the entry, “Voted that the primary object of the club be sociability.” The Fraternity’s Founder, Ossian Everett Mills, wrote in 1902 that the Fraternity was founded “to consider the social life of the young men students of that institution [the New England Conservatory], and perchance to devise ways and means by which it might be improved.” His writings
make it clear that “the Sinfonia” was not about developing male students as musicians, but instead about developing male musicians as men.
But Sinfonia’s social mission, in the words of its Founder, carried a depth far beyond mere socialization:
“Personally, I look upon a fraternity, as not only a social body, but an educational influence. Our business is the making of men; and the all-important question for us ‘Are Sinfonians any better for being Sinfonians? Do they leave our portals physically, mentally, morally stronger, cleaner, purer—in fact more worthy men than when they enter?’ If not, then the Sinfonia Fraternity has no excuse for existing and for making such large drafts on our time, our energy and our means.”
Transition to a More “Professional” Mission
After the death of Ossian Mills in 1920 and as the Fraternity continued to spread and develop, leaders began to incorporate more language and programs designed to support the “cause of music in America.” Much has been written about the topic of the shift from a social fraternity to one calling itself “professional;” perhaps the primary article on the topic was published in the Spring/Summer 1998 issue of The Sinfonian
. Anyone looking for more detailed information about this transformation in the Fraternity's history should download now-National Vice President John Mongiovi's 1997 research paper, The Changing Scope of the Sinfonia's Mission
As public perception of general fraternities declined through the middle of the 20th century, the label of “professional fraternity” became increasingly attractive to Sinfonia’s leaders. This attraction to the label “professional fraternity” was driven primarily by a desire to distinguish our Fraternity from those resembling the “Animal House” stereotype. As a result, the phrase “professional fraternity” was used more frequently and more overtly in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Common phrases used included “the professional fraternity for men in music” and “professional music fraternity.”
Change In Definition
The label of “professional fraternity” came to carry a much more specific definition in 1972 with Congressional approval of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX barred sex-based discrimination by, among other things, professionally-focused fraternities. The thinking was, if an organization exists to give an advantage to an individual within a particular profession, why should membership in that organization not be open to both men and women? Logically it should, and it is for this reason that a clear understanding of the definition of terms like “social,” “professional” and “general” is needed. We’ll get to identifying better definitions for these terms later in this article.
Restoration of Mission
After several years of fighting Title IX’s impact on the Fraternity’s restriction of single-sex membership, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia’s leaders sought and obtained exemption from Title IX from the Department of Education. This exemption was granted in December 1983.
At the next national convention in 1985, the delegates removed the word “professional” as a description of the Fraternity in the governing documents, thus beginning the process of rededication to and clarification of our mission. Though it took years to alter all references to Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as a “professional fraternity,” the Fraternity has embraced its status as a social fraternity since 1985.
Some misunderstand and assume that because the Fraternity is a “social fraternity” that this means that it is not a “music fraternity.” Social and music are not mutually exclusive labels. As a music fraternity, we engage in all of the activities those members who remember us as being labeled as “professional” recall, such as concerts and recitals, musical philanthropy, and service to the music school/department. Saying that we are a social fraternity does not mean that we conform to the public’s often incorrect stereotypes of fraternities’ keg stands, binge drinking, hazing and wild partying. Our ultimate means of achieving the Fraternity’s musical goals is the development of fraternalism among future musicians and supporters of music in America, which was the vision established by our Founder in 1898, but which lost clarity when our Object (the mission statement later referred to as “the purposes”) was reordered and embellished over the years.
In 2003, the Fraternity completed the process of rededicating itself to and clarifying its true, social mission by readopting its original Object. The restored Object, shown below, replaced the set of purposes that had begun to cause confusion in the majority of our members due to their emphasis on seemingly professional objectives:
“The Object of this Fraternity shall be for the development of the best and truest fraternal spirit; the mutual welfare and brotherhood of musical students; the advancement of music in America and a loyalty to the Alma mater.”
Better, Clearer Definitions
In order to come to a common understanding of the Fraternity’s classification and mission, it is important that we establish standard definitions for three common labels for fraternities: social, general and professional.
Social Fraternity: A social fraternity exists to foster leadership qualities, community service and academic achievement within its members for the purpose of developing them as productive members of society. Social fraternities maintain single-sex membership eligibility. “Social” is often confused with “socializing,” and as a result many people mistakenly believe that social fraternities exist only to organize the social lives of their members. Rather, in most cases “social” is intended in its “societal” connotation, referring to the development of adults that will fulfill a fraternal obligation to society. Examples of social fraternities include Farmhouse, Triangle, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Alpha Phi Alpha.
Which Type is Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia?
General Fraternity: A general fraternity is one type of social fraternity. General fraternities select their members at-large from the undergraduate student body. General fraternities are usually mutually exclusive, meaning that a person cannot join more than one general fraternity. The ideals or lessons taught by general fraternities are not specific to any singular field of interest or profession. General fraternities usually incorporate into their experiences the communal living associated with fraternity houses. They are more commonly known as social fraternities, but there are social fraternities—like Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia—that are not general fraternities. One might use the analogy that a square is a type of rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. Similarly, a general fraternity is a type of social fraternity, but not all social fraternities are general fraternities. Examples of general fraternities include Sigma Phi Epsilon, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Chi.
Professional Fraternity: A professional fraternity limits its membership to a specialized field of professional education in colleges and universities offering courses leading to recognized degrees therein. It maintains a mutually exclusive membership among other professional fraternities within that field, and it organizes its activities specifically to promote professional competency and achievement within its field. A professional fraternity often provides opportunities for socializing among its members, but this is not the same as the social (societal) influence fostered by social fraternities. Examples of professional fraternities include Delta Sigma Pi (business), Alpha Chi Sigma (chemistry), Phi Alpha Delta (law) and Kappa Psi (pharmaceutical).
Sinfonia is close to a general fraternity, in that we draw our membership from among the student body at-large without discrimination regarding a student’s degree program. However, Sinfonia’s National Constitution requires that potential members have “a love for music” that makes them able to “assist in the fulfillment of our fraternity’s Object and ideals either by adopting music as a profession, or by working to advance the cause of music in America.” So to say that we draw our membership from the at-large student body, without qualifying that it is musicians that we are seeking, is too vague, and places us outside the scope of the definition of a general fraternity. Additionally, communal living is not central to the Sinfonia experience, and very few Sinfonia chapters live in traditional fraternity houses.
Sinfonia is also close to a professional fraternity, in that we are a specialized fraternity that focuses on a particular area of interest. Insofar as Sinfonia organizes the bulk of its activities around a particular discipline (music), it could be said that we resemble a professional fraternity. However, when it comes to the ultimate distinctions in the definition above of (1) limitation of membership to students of a particular field of professional study and (2) organization of programs “to promote professional competency and achievement within its field,” Sinfonia is clearly outside the scope of the definition of a professional fraternity.
Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia is a social fraternity, as determined by both our Title IX exemption and the philosophical mission laid out by the Fraternity’s founders more than 100 years ago. As shown in the definitions above, Sinfonia fits in neatly with neither the professional fraternities nor the general fraternities. As a result, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia belongs to neither of the primary associations for professional or general fraternities, the Professional Fraternity Association (PFA) and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), respectively.
Last updated August 15, 2007.