- Greeks Continue to Receive Poor National Press
- Indiana Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Phi Kappa Psi
- NPC Chair: "Let Our Voices Be Heard"
- Anti-Hazing Hotline Welcoming New Sponsor
- Student Death Could Lead to Criminal Charges, Civil Suit, and Revised Laws
- Memo to Board Members: There are times when we must close—not continue with “conditions”—chapters
Newsletter > March 2014 > "Greeks Continue to Receive Poor National Press"
Greeks Continue to Receive Poor National Press
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
National press for the Greek world has not been good the last few months. A series of Bloomberg articles highly critical of fraternities and the record of hazing and alcohol-related deaths culminated in a January 7, 2014 editorial entitled, as an homage to Animal House, “Dean Wormer’s Favorite Editorial.” Highlighting hazing-related deaths, the editorial concluded:
“At any rate, this much is clear: Too often fraternities are at odds with the mission of a college or university, focusing on that mission may be the best way for colleges and universities to see their way clear to the reform and when necessary, abolition of campus fraternities.”
Most recently, the cover story of the March 2014 Atlantic Monthly is a 20-page story entitled “The Dark Power of Fraternities.” The article details a series of injuries and deaths, falls from windows, fire escapes and other high places, hazing, drinking and assaults. It then purports to track how fraternities and sororities have sought to avoid liability for such injuries. First it highlights the use of self-insurance programs. Then criticizes practices designed to avoid liability entirely by imposing it on the wrongdoers. The author fails to recognize that the first step, self-insurance efforts, was put in place to ensure that there was an ability to respond and pay damages when the fraternity was responsible.
The criticism of seeking to impose liability on the wrongdoers is misplaced. Who else should be liable? National organizations ought not be liable when the national organization has adopted, promulgated and enforced standards that require members to act in a way that helps avoid injuries or worse. When members have been taught that hazing and the consumption of alcohol by minor members is against the rules and standards of organization, when they have been reminded of those rules and taught the dangers of engaging in such conduct and yet they proceed to do it anyway, who is it that should be liable, other than the individuals who engaged in the wrongdoing? To date, most courts have recognized that a national fraternity that educates its members about proper conduct, has rules prohibiting improper conduct and enforces those rules when they know about violations, is not the party responsible for damage when that damage results from the conduct of members who elect to violate the rules and standards. Such a result was reached once again last month in the Indiana Supreme Court. See “Indiana Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Phi Kappa Psi” in this March 2014 issue.
There is no doubt that there are too many injuries and deaths (three deaths in 2013 alone) related to hazing and/or alcohol. Equally, there is no doubt that more needs to be done in an effort to eliminate these tragedies.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon took a courageous step in that direction when it announced on March 7th that it will end its pledge program entirely in hopes of eliminating that period when initiated members are tempted to engage in some type of physical test frequently including the consumption of alcohol, as a misguided bonding experience. Such conduct is hazing; it is illegal. It is dangerous and has led to far too many tragedies. Whether or not ending the pledge period will help to eliminate such tragedies or not remains to be seen. The SAE experience will be watched carefully, not only by SAE, but by the Greek world and obviously the press as well.
On March 16th, the Washington Post carried a guest opinion by Caitlin Flanagan, the author of the Atlantic Monthly article. She makes the point that hazing actually accounts for very few of the claims against Greek groups. But those claims and many others, such as assaults, falls and sexual misconduct, are often alcohol-related. While acknowledging SAE’s decision deserves some congratulations, she makes it clear that the problem of alcohol must also be addressed. Her Washington Post piece concluded with these comments:
“But it is impossible to remove alcohol from life, for it is at the very center of the experience. Or is it?
In 2000, another of the nation’s major fraternities, Phi Delta Theta, made a dramatic change: Housing at its 165 chapters became alcohol-free. The change involved more than a grand pronouncement from on high, expected to be carried out mere weeks after it was delivered. Rather, the fraternity had given itself three years to fully implement the new policy.
Who would possibly want to join a frat without beer? Huge numbers of young men, as it turns out. In the years since the policy was introduced, Phi Delt’s membership has increased by 25 percent. The number of men willing to join its alumni boards – to lead and advise undergraduate members – has increased more than 300 percent. “You’ve seen the movie ‘Home Alone’?” Phi Delt’s longtime executive vice president, Bob Biggs, said of the role of the alumni board. “We don’t believe in leaving very young men home alone.”
Most dramatically, the number of insurance claims against the fraternity has dropped by 64 percent, and the financial severity of those claims has declined an astounding 94 percent. In addition to being one of the safest frats in the country, its reduced insurance liability has made Phi Delt the most affordable.
I asked Biggs what inspired the alcohol ban. “Every college president will tell you that the single biggest problem on campuses today is the misuse of alcohol,” he said. “We asked ourselves: ‘If we are an organization of leaders, why aren’t we addressing this problem?’”
There is no word in fraternity life accorded more reverence than “leadership.” Phi Delta Theta has exemplified it. The organization took a wildly unpopular position, risked its very existence to uphold it and led thousands of young men to better conduct. Its record isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than that of any other social fraternity, and it reveals the essential truth of fraternity reform: Saving lives – and reducing the incidences of rape and serious injury – depends on taking alcohol out of the equation.”
It is no more realistic to think that alcohol can be entirely removed from college life than it is that we can remove all drunk drivers from our highways. But Flanagan is right. It is a problem that requires continued … increased … attention.