Ripping Apart The Bloomberg News Opinion Piece, “Abolish Fraternities”

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Nice Move

Over the last few months, it has seemed like anti-Greek Life fervor has been down. Maybe, though, I just haven’t been paying attention very well. After all, I’m Greek, so I barely pay mind to the opinions of GDIs. For example, the other day I saw some hipster kid in skinny jeans grabbing his throat and frantically motioning to me as he mouthed the words, “I’m choking.” I didn’t bother sticking around to hear the rest of his speech about air pollution and hybrid cars. Besides, a few seconds earlier I watched him drop a half-eaten hot dog on the ground and just leave it there. Maybe he should take care of his own pollution problems before he attacks others. Typical geeds.

Whether or not the fervor against Greek Life has actually waned, I haven’t seen as much of it, that is until yesterday’s opinion piece from Bloomberg calling for an abolishment of all fraternities because, more or less, “they r bad TRUST US.” Apparently, Bloomberg has been pretty concerned with the state and value of fraternity life since publishing their December 29th story, “Deadliest Frat’s Icy ‘Torture’ of Pledges Evokes Tarantino Films”, because I guess there’s at least one chapter in the country with a Gimp Pledge? Or maybe there’s a Pledge Trainer who dances around and cuts off pledge ears to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ’70s? That was a school administrator calling Salisbury SAE’s hazing Tarantino-esque, by the way. No one purportedly hazed by the chapter used that description, presumably because they’ve actually seen Quentin Tarantino films. Though, to be fair, I definitely believe an active has screamed, “Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!” at a stammering pledge.

So the perils and problems of fraternity life caught the eyes of Bloomberg’s editors and, after ten days of what was clearly some really hard thinking, they decided that the nearly 200-year-old institution should be outright banned. Kind of interesting coming from Bloomberg, considering the guy who owns the company, former New York City mayor/billionaire Michael Bloomberg, was a member of Phi Kappa Psi at Johns Hopkins University. But Bloomberg does love banning things that might maybe be hurting some people, sometimes, maybe, if they utilize it incorrectly. You know, for the good of the people, who clearly don’t know what the fuck is good for them. Maybe Greek Life is the big soda of the American higher education system. Bloomberg News thinks so, and just like their boss REFUSES to let New Yorkers give themselves Type 2 Diabetes, so too does Bloomberg refuse to let America’s college students suffer liver cirrhosis. So noble.

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Abolish Fraternities

During their periodic bouts of consultant-managed angst, U.S. companies are often encouraged to confront a single question: What business are we in? It’s a process that might also benefit U.S. colleges and universities with fraternities.

I definitely agree that American universities and colleges operate like businesses — ruthlessly, desperately trying to stay profitable as funding can’t keep up with their monstrous, cocaine and hooker addicted Saudi prince-esque expenses, their attempts to keep tuition reasonable (at least in terms of the wildly unreasonable standard they’ve already set), and never-ending attempts to attract new customers, even if are incapable of, or not even interested in, providing service for them.

Yes, those noble institutions I just described should start wondering how their students’ social lives reflect on them. That is what’s important.

Such self-examination can lead firms to scale back or abandon units that don’t fit into their business model, fail to yield an adequate return or cause reputational harm.

Cut all unprofitable, sub-.500 women’s basketball teams.

So: What is the business of an institution of higher learning? If your answer is to help young adults gain the knowledge and skills they need to prosper (or something close; this is a short essay question), then go to the head of the class.

What do you think colleges are in the business of? If you gave our arbitrary, vague answer we just created to fit our argument, which by the way would be impressive since we literally just pulled it out of our asses while you weren’t listening, then congratulations, you’re smart…for agreeing with us.

I bet everything they’ve written so far isn’t going to later contradict their assertions at all, because these guys seem super smart.

The next question is: How do fraternities fit into that mission?

By graduating their students at a higher rate and with higher GPAs than their non-Greek counterparts? Giving them access to both peers and mentors for personal, educational, and professional guidance? Providing more, and more challenging, leadership opportunities to their members? Teaching them how to maintain a good “business drunk”?

As it turns out, the fraternities that dominate so much of collegiate social life are of dubious value.

I feel like using the phrase “As it turns out” is a bit of a misleadingly even-handed way to start off the statement of purpose of this piece. It makes it seem as if for even one sentence the Bloomberg editors who wrote this thought that maybe, possibly, fraternities were beneficial entities, instead of being clearly anti-Greek from the get-go. It’s as if they were saying, “We thought fraternities were good too, we really did, but as it turns out, to our great surprise, most of them actually beat their pledges’ faces into the ground with a baseball bat and recreationally shove boxed wine spigots up their asses. Who knew?”

Side note: Aldo Raine is FaF.

University presidents and administrators don’t even have to pay expensive consultants to reach this conclusion.

Even though consulting firms are regularly hired to evaluate Greek Life at universities, and somehow Greek Life still exists.

I mean, come the fuck on, all I did was Google that shit. This is like debating with someone for twenty minutes about whether it was Tommy Lee or Tommy Lee Jones who made a sex tape with Pam Anderson before realizing you can just pull out your phone and end the pointless argument.

They can just look at the data, both statistical and anecdotal: On balance, most campuses would be better off without fraternities.

When Bloomberg calls for universities to take a critical look at statistical data about fraternities, I assume they would like to overlook the fact that Greeks on average have a higher GPA than non-Greeks, graduate more members, and that fraternity and sorority members are the largest network of volunteers in the United States.

I hate writing all those reasons over and over and over again. I really do. From now on, I’m just going to have a prepared statement ready, like a zoo commandant does for when a zookeeper is ripped apart by chimpanzees. I don’t know how zoos work.

But hey, if that hard data is inconveniently not in line with Bloomberg’s opinion, there’s always the ever important ANECDOTAL data, which I’m not even sure is actually a real thing. Can data, i.e. statistics and hard numbers, be anecdotal? Let’s take a look at the definition of anecdotal.

Anecdotal: an·ec·do·tal, anikˈdōtl/ (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

Yeah, that sort of flies in the face of the definition of data. It’s an oxymoron if you will, like “well researched Bloomberg story.”

But if you can’t prove your point with facts, I guess the next best thing to use is evidence that is “not necessarily true or reliable.” Like, say, comparing a fraternity’s hazing to FUCKING QUENTIN TARANTINO MOVIES.

So, even though the facts don’t support Bloomberg’s claim that “most campuses would be better off without fraternities,” at least the unsubstantiated opinion of authors who think most campuses would be better off without fraternities support the claim that most fraternities would be better off without fraternities.

Start with alcohol consumption. Although a majority of college students drink, abusive drinking is far more prevalent in fraternities. One study of 17,000 students at 140 four-year colleges found that almost 90 percent of fraternity house residents engage in binge drinking (five or more drinks at a time), compared with 45 percent for nonmembers. Binge drinking is associated with a host of ills, from neurological damage to assaults.

Yet, despite the fact that Greeks consume more alcohol than Russian sailors on a sinking freight liner transporting vodka, they still manage to do better academically. If it were me looking at that correspondence of data (and hey, I AM!), I would consider this correlation a condemnation of GDI academics. Greeks are literally inhibiting themselves academically, basically with reckless abandon, and still outperforming their non-Greek counterparts. How is that even fair? That’s like resurrecting Babe Ruth during the ’90s and watching him out-homer legendary ‘roiders McGwire and Sosa while high on a sodium diet and a constant scotch hangover.

They have a valid point about assaults, in that drunk people get in fights, though they provide no actual evidence that there are more assaults (physical, sexual, or otherwise) at fraternity houses. Sadly, current data does suggest that there are more sexual assaults at fraternity houses than other places on a campus. However, and please observe how I am doing infinitely more research than the Bloomberg editors did, statistics also show that anywhere between 90% and 95% of sexual assaults go unreported. One 2010 study found that 95% of sexual assaults on campuses go unreported. 5% (or even 10%) seems like too small a sample size (it certainly would be in many other statistical evaluations) to definitively declare that fraternity houses are the most frequent sites of sexual assaults on campus. In fact, those numbers could even be skewed against fraternities. Sexual assaults go unreported for any number of reasons: embarrassment, denial, general fear, fear on the victim’s part that no one will believe them, fear that justice won’t be done, etc. I would argue that American society’s habit of quickly and unquestioningly believing any allegations of that nature against a fraternity or member, and more openly supporting the alleged crime’s victim, would make it easier (though not easy, not even close) to report a sexual assault against a fraternity member than other individuals. Certainly easier than, say, a college athlete accused of sexual assault, whom the university itself (you know, the same universities who are supposed to be evaluating whether or not fraternities are good for their environments) will support and defend.

Alcohol abuse also plays a central role in one of the most corrosive aspects of fraternities: hazing of new members in initiation rituals that are often brutal and vile. Sadly, at least one student has died in hazing episodes in each of the past 43 years. Although it’s unclear whether alcohol played a part in the death of a student at New York’s Baruch College in November — the third hazing-related death last year — alcohol is often involved.

Hazing is illegal in 44 states, but the existing laws are largely ineffectual or treat hazing as little more than jaywalking. A federal law that made serious hazing a felony offense might help deter this underreported scourge. It might also help college administrators overcome their reluctance to enforce bans on hazing for fear of offending alumni who threaten to withhold contributions. Unfortunately, fraternities have banded together to thwart the passage of national anti-hazing legislation in the past.

I don’t want to go into another long spiel, so I’ll just say this: the overwhelming, vast majority of fraternities haze in a way that does not physically endanger their pledges.

Since 2000, there have been 29 hazing deaths in NIC member institutions. Since 2000, at least (data as of last year) 21 college football players have died in that same time during conditioning drills. There are a lot more Greeks than college football players, by the way.

The anti-intellectualism that dominates so much of fraternity life — the frat-boy culture of spring-break lore and “Animal House” — also takes a toll on its members’ academic performance.

I can’t even make jokes anymore because I broke the part of my brain that creates humor while slamming my head into the wall after reading this completely untrue point…again.

GOOGLE IS A FUCKING THING.

Even adjusting for differences in ability, age and other factors, fraternity members tend to have lower grades.

Literally not true. I mean, they’re just willfully lying at this point. That’s what I have to assume since they don’t even bother to provide a source. Here’s a source again, by the way.

and underperform compared with their nonmember peers in tests of cognitive skills.

Were they allowed to take those tests on Aderrall? We all have ADHD. All of us.

Fraternities also are at cross-purposes with the goal of promoting campus diversity. As a whole, they are more homogenous than the overall college student population.

That’s a two-way street, something both fraternities and minorities need to work on, in terms of encouraging different people to rush. Fraternities, however, do not actively discriminate against minorities when rushing. When Greek houses do discriminate, shit hits the fucking fan, and it comes from other Greeks, as well. I’d actually argue that Greek Life is far more guilty of being classist (suited to middle and upper class kids) than racist, and is not even close to seeing any correction in that department. But, then again, going to a university is basically only suited to middle and upper class kids, so I’d say we’re right on par with the institutions who are supposedly better than us, and would do better without us.

University officials and fraternity alumni have long maintained that fraternities yield benefits, both for students and campus life, and that hazing is a rare and isolated event. The organizations, they say, help students adjust to life away from home, build camaraderie among members, and participate in volunteer and charitable work.

These benefits are undeniable…

Except we already denied them and are about to further deny them.

at least for some students some of the time.

There it is!

Two questions, however: Are students in fraternities more likely to get these benefits than those that aren’t?

YES! Because you HAVE TO BE IN THE FRATERNITIES TO GET THEM!!!! That’s like asking, “Are students who attend the university more likely to receive an education from that university than students who don’t attend the institution?” Fuck, Bloomberg, are you even trying?

And are there not other ways to encourage such behavior and fellowship?

If there were, you would have think one might have caught on by now. But nope, here we stand, above the rest of the campus, academically, charitably, and socially.

At any rate, this much is clear: Too often, fraternities are at odds with the mission of a college or university.

No, fraternities are too at odds with the “mission” of a college or university, not the actual college or university’s goals in, you know, the real fucking world. In fact, in reality, fraternities fit in perfectly. They provide charity hours the school can claim, boosted GPAs, an attractive social scene, absurd alumni donations that bring in untold riches to the school, including a lot of donations that go towards the school’s sports teams, which in turn bring in EVEN MORE money, and so much more beyond that.

Yeah, we might sometimes be out of line with whatever fairy tale, Latin inscribed mission a school claims to have, but we’re right in line with their purpose and their goals.

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.

Many stopped focusing on that mission a long time ago, and if and when they begin to again, it shouldn’t be because, of all reasons, some kids are getting too shitfaced for likes of an editorial board.

***UPDATE***

Apparently the Tarantino hazing story from Bloomberg was not even close to their first anti-fraternity piece. One reader directed me to a whole series of recent articles by Bloomberg attacking fraternities and Greek Life called “Broken Pledges“.

We’re not done, Bloomberg.

***UPDATE 2***

A very smart reader sent in an email concerning the portion of the Bloomberg story addressing fraternity grades, and their supposed inferiority to the grades of GDIs.

When Bloomberg stated that adjusting for age, ability, and other factors, Greeks had lower GPAs. You said this was not true and cited a statistic that referred to the overall GPA of Greeks vs. Non-Greeks. What Bloomberg is saying is that when they isolate the variables listed above in an attempt to find the same types of students (age, intelligence, whatever other factors they for some reason felt were applicable), that a student not in a fraternity will outperform a student in a fraternity academically. This attempts to apply causality to fraternities lowering GPAs and performance by comparing similar students.

Instead of making reference to overall statistics which bring a lot of outliers on the geed side into play, as fraternities all have minimum academic performance standards whether they are enforced or not. I feel that a better way to combat this point is to address the fact that being in a fraternity is an extra curricular, time consuming activity. The same reasons you would expect college or high school athletes, club members, or basically anyone that isn’t just going to class to have a lower GPA than someone who can devote all of their time to studying applies to fraternities as well. Because of this, the positives that go along with these extra curricular activities apply as well. Being well rounded and actually doing something else with your time other than school is something that was a necessity to get many of us fraternity men into our respective universities in the first place, and we were more than willing to take the hit to our grades in order to be in organizations or teams that prove that we aren’t just mindless drones programmed to go to class and study.

After being constantly encouraged to get involved in extra curricular activities despite the time and energy that they detract from academics, why is it fair to all of the sudden condemn a group of them in the name of grades and performance without looking at any of the positives that fraternity men gain for their academic sacrifice?

Valid points from the reader. While GDIs certainly participate in other outside activities as well, things like anime clubs, working as a photographer for the school newspaper (taking pictures of anime club meetings), and even student government aren’t nearly the time suck that fraternity life can be, no matter how many states your Quidditch team has to travel across to touch quaffles with a rival school.

When you also consider that fraternity men are not only highly involved in their house, but also with other campus activities as well, that definitely starts to make a difference. And, as the reader says, sacrificing grades (if we actually do sacrifice grades, more on that in a moment) is worth it for the sake of coming out of college a well-rounded, highly social individual.

I would also question the study of comparing students of the same age, ability, etc. that Bloomberg used if I could. What other factors did they use to isolate fraternities as the causal variable in the lower GPA? What measurable variable did they use to define ability? Was it IQ (a suspect measure of intelligence in the first place) or some other measure of “ability” that I am not aware exists?

Yeah, no, Bloomberg probably just made that all up. Great point.

Thanks for the help, guys.

[via Bloomberg]

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