Apr 26, 2011

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

Phi Delt General Council Phi Delt Volunteers
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.

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