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Wall Street Journal’s “Shutter Fraternities for Young Women’s Good” Offers Faulty Logic and Wrong Conclusion


By Scott Mietchen – General Council President

I am writing as the International President of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity to express my surprise that such a well-regarded, international, publication as the Wall Street Journal would allow such a weakly argued article as “Shutter Fraternities for Young Women’s Good” to appear on its news pages.  While the piece could have certainly been written as an OpEd piece, expressing the author’s personal point of view, it appeared in a section reserved for fact-based news items.  In my view the story’s writer exhibited poor journalistic and logic standards and did a tremendous disservice to the millions of current undergraduate and/or alumni members who have had exemplary fraternity experiences. Please let me explain.

First let me state that what happened to Ms. Seccuro as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia 27 years ago is absolutely horrible and beyond explanation or excuse and I hope the perpetrator was appropriately punished.  But, however horrible this event was, and I agree it was horrible, it was not caused because a fraternity existed at the University of Virginia.  For the same reason that it did not happen because the University of Virginia is coeducational.  It happened because the young men involved did not know the boundaries; be they legal, moral or ethical, between right and wrong.

The author, Ms. Flanagan, writes “The Greek system is dedicated to quelling young men’s anxiety about submitting themselves to four years of sissy-pants book learning by providing them with a variety of he-man activities: drinking, drugging, ESPN watching and the sexual mistreatment of women.”  I could not disagree with Ms. Flanagan more about her broad and untrue characterization of fraternity men.  This is simply not a description of fraternity life that I recognize.  As well, I believe her article commits one of the classic logical fallacies – confusing association with causation.

As the President of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, with nearly 10,000 undergraduate members and 200,000 alumni members located in chapters on over 170 North American campuses, I can state unequivocally that Ms. Flanagan’s characterization of what “we” are dedicated to is just flat wrong and based on a stereotypical view, often times reinforced in the media through movies such as Animal House.  It’s time to put Animal House to rest – it’s a movie, nothing more – it’s not reality.  I can also state unequivocally that I have never heard of any other national or international fraternity dedicated to the anti-intellectual activities described in the article.

The vast majority of fraternity men I know do not fit the author’s description at all.  The men I know serve as campus leaders, achieve academic success in the classroom, take part in academic research, graduate at higher levels than non-affiliated men, move on to graduate or professional schools at higher levels, excel on the athletic field or artistic venue, and serve their communities. This may play a large role in explaining why fraternity men generally have a great deal of pride and affection for their fraternity as well as institution.

I sadly have to agree with Ms. Flanagan’s assessment that abuse of alcohol is a significant problem on college campuses today – and I also have to agree that surveys reveal that this problem can affect fraternity populations at a higher level than the general student body.  I also agree that abuse of alcohol plays a significant role, for both men and women, in many of the challenges facing undergraduates today whether it be sexual harassment or abuse, academic performance issues, or harmful interpersonal relationships.

The entire Greek movement (fraternities and sororities), working with our partners in higher education, has been working to educate our members and stem the abuse of alcohol for many years.  Each of the more than 70 men’s national/international fraternities has developed their own approaches for addressing this serious issue.  I applaud all of these proactive efforts.  For Phi Delta Theta, in addition to extensive education programs, we have taken the approach of creating Alcohol-Free Housing and removing alcohol from our chapter houses for the past decade.  For our organization this has worked.   For other fraternities, other approaches have worked

I wish that all fraternity chapters across North America offered an exemplary experience, but that would be dishonest.  Unfortunately some chapters have lost their way and digressed from the values around which they were created. It is then up to each fraternity to hold their chapters accountable to the values and beliefs of their individual organizations. I believe most fraternities work to hold their individual chapters accountable – I know that Phi Delta Theta is committed to upholding our founding principles of friendship, sound learning and rectitude.

Fraternities have existed and thrived on North American campuses for nearly two centuries.  We have our issues that we continue to address and we have never claimed to be perfect.  However, as a former senior university administrator, I would argue that fraternities and sororities continue to provide an invaluable learning experience that complements the classroom experience and that we continue to provide the best, real life, leadership learning laboratory on a campus.

As the father of two children, one a daughter who is in her junior year of high school and just beginning the college search process, and the other a junior high school son, I have to admit that I am proud to say that I not only believe in the continuing relevance and importance of today’s fraternity and sorority system, but that I will enthusiastically encourage both my son and daughter to consider if it is right for them.  For Phi Delta Theta, we have had a chapter at the University of Virginia since 1873 and have a great deal of pride in the accomplishments and characteristics of the men that comprise our chapter at UVA.

I think it is unfortunate that the author would take such a horrendous personal experience and use it to demonize and categorize the more than 100,000 undergraduate men, as well as millions of alumni, who belong to college fraternal organizations in North America.  We don’t disparage all corporate employees for the unethical actions of a few; we don’t fire all of the faculty of a university because one plagiarizes a thesis; we don’t cancel all professional sports because some athletes broke the rules and took performance-enhancing drugs; we don’t shut down all non-profit organizations because one operated in an unethical manner.  It just isn’t how we do things.

This is the story of a despicable rape and its aftermath – not a story about fraternities. A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises – this article provided neither.  Please don’t use poor logic, and lack of facts, to paint all of us fraternity men with a broad brush due to the inexcusable actions of a few – it just isn’t right.

Brother Mietchen is the General Council President. Scott is a 1984 graduate of the University of Utah where he earned both his B.S. and MPA. He has served the Fraternity as a chapter consultant, chapter adviser, house corporation president, province president, delegate to the NIC and member of the General Council from 1994-2000 and 2004-Present. Scott became an Iron Phi in 2010. Professionally Scott is President and Managing Partner of Fund Raising Counsel, Inc. (FRCI), the oldest fundraising consulting firm in the Intermountain West. He was recognized as Fund Raiser of the Year in 2006 by the Utah Society of Fund Raisers. Prior to joining FRCI, he served as Vice President for University Advancement at Utah State University. Scott, his wife Lisa, and their children, Abby (17) and Alex (14) live in Salt Lake City.

15 thoughts on “Wall Street Journal’s “Shutter Fraternities for Young Women’s Good” Offers Faulty Logic and Wrong Conclusion

  1. Scott
    Your letter regarding the article in The Wall Street Journal was well written and a positive response for Phi Delta Theta. It is important to remind people that values and/or lack of values is the reason good people do good things and unfortunately, why bad people do bad things. In my nearly 50 years of association with Phi Delta Theta there have been many, many more examples of gentlemen with high moral values than otherwise. In fact I believe I can factually say that is true of all fraternal members I have had the opportunity to meet in my life.

    George A Long
    Indiana Alpha

  2. Scott, thank you for writing this. I was truly bothered by the article when I first read it for many of the reasons you articulate. And yet even though I find the flaws in Ms. Flanagan’s argument and her passing judgment on so many fraternity men, much of what she is talking about is our ongoing challenge in the fraternity world. As a Greek Advisor on my campus, I see so much good in fraternities, but unfortunately I see so much bad (alcohol, sexual assault, chauvinistic behavior, and more). While I know this is not what fraternity is about and is not the normal behavior of the hundreds of thousands of fraternity men, it still happens. And it happens all too often in organizations where beautiful rituals grounded in shared values are supposed to be the cornerstone of the organizational experience.

    Phi Delta Theta continues to motivate me and so many others “to do what ought to be done,” which I believe is to be better men through striving for friendship, sound learning, and rectitude, and I think we have to continue to teach our undergraduate members the importance of purpose and to empower them to confront the behaviors that many of them simply are not perpetuating. The stereotypes of fraternity are not accepted by most members, but most members are not doing enough to stop them; until we, as fraternity men, stop these behaviors from occurring, we will constantly see articles like this one calling us out for what is a reality for many of our students’ experiences.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, both as our International President and as a parent of two soon-to-be college students. As we continue to move forward as a fraternity, we will need the leadership of fraternity men like you who are committed to the principles of The Bond to show our undergraduates and those who may doubt our true purposes what this experience is really supposed to be about.

    Yours in the Bond,
    James M. Hunt
    Georgia Gamma
    Associate Director of Greek Life, Florida State University

  3. President Mietchen,

    I would like to thank you for constructing this well written piece. As a refounding father of the Iowa Beta Chapter, I can honestly say that the men in my house I call brothers are upstanding gentlemen. The article written in the WSJ was a slap in the face to myself and my brothers who work tirelessly to promote the true values of greek life, and more importantly those of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. I applaud you for taking a positve approach in response to the article, and wish the WSJ would allow this to be included as an editorial for those unfamiliar with Greek life to see who we truly are.

    Yours in the Bond,
    Benjamin L. Meersman
    Iowa Beta

  4. Thabnk you for the article. I am a Proud Phi Delta Theta and the father of a super KA. Evidently there are no Greeks at the WSJ, only geeks. The article was very bias and Fraternity life has changed over the years. Part of journalism is current research, an aspect missing here.
    Ray Hixon, Jr.
    Ga Gamma

  5. Scott,

    Your response to Ms. Flanagan’s piece is outstanding and I will certainly share it within my organization as well as with our mutual inter-fraternal friends.

    Best regards,

    Douglas Allen
    National President
    Theta Chi Fraternity

  6. I guess it’s only proper that the University of Virginia should suspend operations for its Men’s Lacrosse Program, becuase of the way one of its players acted, in murdering a former girlfriend? Perhaps we should actually suspend all activities in the U.S. Captiol, because of the way many of the current and former members of Congress have behaved towards women? Perhaps we should suspend all forms of International Aide to Pakistan, because it’s justified to gang rape women in countries where Islam is the prevading religion????

    This article was written poorly, by an alleged journalist, who was having a temper tantrum! If she was truly a journalist, she would demand that ABC News apologize to all of the women that Peter Jennings stalked and chased around the newsroom, while he was the anchor of World News Tonight!

    Before she casts doubt on fraternities, the author should worry more about, “Her own house,” and clean up the behavior of journalists worldwide!

    Michael Woolsey,
    Albuquerque, NM

  7. Great comments, Scott. Very well framed and very well articulated. Thanks for doing it so respectfully.

    Martin Cobb
    Editor/Dir. of Communications
    Director of Advancement
    Beta Theta Pi Fraternity

  8. Yes I agree. Scott, well-reasoned rebuttal. It is wrong to make a broad negative characterization of fraternity men based on a single horrible event of rape. As fraternity men, let’s reverse the negative stereotypes by showing true character and being respectful to women. We are meant to protect rather than abuse women.

    As James Hunt, Greek Advisor of FSU mentioned, “[there is] so much good in fraternities, but [also] so much bad (alcohol, sexual assault, chauvinistic behavior, and more).” As fraternity members devoted to attaining a high standard of morality, we have a responsibility to be proactive in influencing and representing good character.

    Yours in the Bond,
    Shahene Pezeshki
    Utah Alpha

  9. Scott,

    Thank you for your well written response. I have had the pleasure of working with fraternities both as a campus based professional and as a staff member to a National Fraternity and my experience has been so outstanding that I continue to work with fraternities as a volunteer. The fraternity men I work with are intelligent gentlemen who truly want to make their communities better and I would be more concerned if we shuttered that environment for them to grow.

    While we have our issues, I believe in the fraternity and sorority system and what it has provided for me and the countless members nationwide.

    Gretchen Stahl

  10. Thank you for your thoughtful response to a poorly presented, one-sided view of the fraternity system.
    Allison St. Germain
    Director of Educational Technologies
    Delta Zeta Sorority
    2011 AFA Perspectives Editor

  11. President Mietchen,

    Thank you for upholding the morals and ethics that all fraternities throughout this great country stride to live by. I applaud your effort for defending our Greek system as a whole, and how you eloquently wrote this response without undermining what Ms Seccuro went through. Proud to see you as our National President

    Yours in the Bond
    Abbas Mandviwala
    Kentucky Epsilon

  12. Scott,

    As a UVA alumna and advocate of the interfraternal experience, I was bothered by the sweeping generalizations in Ms. Flanagan’s article (OpEd piece, really). Your response is well-reasoned, balanced, and insightful, and I appreciate you giving voice to this important perspective.

    Beth Searcy
    International President, Delta Gamma Fraternity

  13. Thank you for such a thoughtful response. As a volunteer for Alpha Xi Delta, I champion the benefits of Greek life every day. The WSJ article was a bitter blow but I am proud to see fellow Greeks stand up and correct incorrect statements.

    Claudine Caro
    Alpha Xi Delta
    Epsilon Lambda Chapter

  14. President Mietchen,

    This past week I was out at a conference for presbyterian college students, and I was wearing my letters and a friend of mine since we attended a middle school conference together from Arkansas came up to me, and said he was surprised to see I was a member of a fraternity like Phi Delt. We are the same age and he was on campus at Arkansas when the chapter was suspended by GHQ.

    Being from a small school like Schreiner University sometimes its hard for me to remember the perception the rest of the greek community can get some times. I sat at talked with my friend Andrew about why I love being a Phi Delt, about the brothers who I have met at ELI and General Convention, and about the problems of perception that the greek community receives sometimes. I would like to say that I convinced him to go back to Arkansas and look at the colony out there, but I doubt it. Not everyone is going to be Greek, however I am proud that I am.

    I agree with Brother Hunt that there is a lot of good in the Greek community, but some times it gets overshadowed by the dark side. I appreciate your words in this response, it reminds us of what we need to think about when people try to challenge the Greek community because of indiscretions of some. This cultural view of Greek life may be the greatest challenge that is faced by our organization; I hope that reason show people the real virtue of the Greek Community.

    Yours in the Bond,
    William Keaton #76
    Phi Delta Theta – Texas Sigma

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