What Brings Us This Great Distance?

dave_kovacovich_-_head_shotBy David J Kovacovich
January 6, 2013

St. Louis, Missouri
5:00am Central Time

The sun has not yet smiled on the Mid-Western Plains but the airport is filled with men wearing Phi Delta Theta letters over their heart. The Presidents Leadership Conference (PLC) has reached its conclusion, and we are on our way back to our institutions to carry out our leadership mission. Back at my institution, a boy sleeps soundly with his favorite teddy bear under his arm, a little girl dreams of Cinderella, and my wife keeps one eye on her cell phone awaiting my call. It is 3am in California. I do not report to PLC on behalf of a Phi Delt Chapter; I do not work in higher education; I am not a General Headquarters staff member; Nor am I a General Council member. I am simply a man who is proud to be a Phi. At every conference, the undergrads are asked to thank the event faculty for taking time away from work and their families. If the undergrads only knew how grateful we are to have the opportunity to experience the development of their character. Those who do not wear the letters of Phi Delta Theta often ask me why I would travel across the country for a “frat” conference. The answer is simple….

I finished my undergraduate brotherhood experience with Phi Delta Theta in the late 1990s. The experience that I gained from being a chapter president allowed me entrance into the professional field of my choice, a collection of valued lessons to guide my decision making and a large group of friends for life. I left college and began a 15-year commitment to personal and professional development. In my post-graduate life, I had earned exemplary professional accolades, got married, purchased a home, and had welcomed the arrival of 2 beautiful children into this world. Then, I received an email from the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity challenging me to become the greatest version of myself. That was not the message on the cover of our rush manual in the fall of 1992 (designed to resemble the cover of a playboy magazine). The accompanying video explained how we made the hard decision to declare ourselves an alcohol-free housed brotherhood and the new-found mission of our membership. We are now what we had once pretended to be: a character building lifetime commitment. In an effort to honor my commitment, I volunteered to be a faculty member at the Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute this past summer. This was not your father’s Phi Delta Theta.

These days, I am pleasantly surprised by the character of our undergraduate members.  Our organization is comprised of men who excel academically, men who are committed to their university and the surrounding community and men who have seized the opportunity to be part of something bigger than they alone strive to be. This is not the entitled generation stereotyped in HR case studies. Our membership is committed to deriving maximum benefit from their college experience.

Phi Delta Theta is a fraternity for life. As such, we are committed to recruiting the men of highest moral character on every campus across the US and into Canada. As alumni, it is incumbent upon us to support our Fraternity’s direction. We should be humbly aware enough to admit that ‘what is’ is as important as ‘what was’ and continue with the mission to recruit members for life. If nothing else, it should be our duty to help young people avoid making the mistakes we may have through our mentorship.

As a faculty member, I have had the opportunity to help our emerging leaders and incoming presidents understand the role that our cardinal principles will play in their development as students, professionals, husbands and fathers. We have explored the transferable social skills that will differentiate our membership from other students as they enter the professional world. The process of teaching serves as a continual reminder of our principles and is never an exhaustive experience. I learn as much as I share with the undergrad members of our Fraternity. I have never been more confident in the future of Phi Delta Theta!

At Phi Delta Theta, we understand that friendships built in the principles of The Bond have lifelong dependency. We understand that learning and educating does not end at graduation. We understand that decision making is the key to success and the right decisions are rooted in our cardinal principles. We understand that hazing serves no purpose except to devalue those we have deemed worthy of wearing our letters over their heart. We understand that the feeling you get from helping others is far more enjoyable than the feeling you get from over-consuming alcohol.

So when my neighbor (who spent just 2 years in active fraternity experience) asks me how the “frat” event was…? I will simply reply, “You wouldn’t understand”!

David Kovacovich (Arizona State ‘97) served as Chapter President and IFC VP of Fraternal Affairs during his undergraduate journey at Arizona State University. Brother Kovacovich has been a faculty member for the Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute and Presidents Leadership Conference. He currently serves on the Phi Delta Theta Educational Committee. 

Looking for Some Heroes

By Dr. Sparky Reardon 

“This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs.”

Years ago, in an effort to fight drug usage, those words were blasted relentlessly on television screens.  The commercial first showed an egg (This is your brain) and then showed an egg perfectly frying in a skillet (This is your brain on drugs).  I think I know what the government was trying to convey with this public service announcement, but I have to agree with the comedian who said, “Yeah, and there’s some stoned guy out there thinking, ‘That egg sure looks good.’”

I don’t expect fraternity men who haze to read this blog and change what they are doing.  So, if you are a hazer and are looking for arguments, ideas, or faults in what I say, stop reading.

This blog is intended for men of character.  Men who believe in the teachings of the Bond.  Men of substance.  Strong men, courageous men.  Men of action.  Men of strong faith. Men who might be heroes.  Men of character.  So, if you think that you might fit one of these categories, read on.

I had the privilege to hear fellow Phi Gary Bender (Wichita ’62) speak at convention a couple of years ago, and he ended his talk with a quote that has stuck with me.  He said, “Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident and money takes wings. The only thing that endures is character. Reputation is what man thinks us to be. Character is what God knows us to be. Reputations are chiseled on our tomb stones, character is what the angels of heaven say before the throne of God. If God knows he can trust you, He will enlarge your territory.”

Wow, that’s a powerful statement.  Character is what compels you to contribute, to challenge, to grow, to change yourself and others.  Character is the quality that determines whether you address the wrongs in your chapter whether they be apathy, alcohol abuse, drug usage, a culture of violence, poor scholarship, or HAZING.

If you are a man of character, you should be compelled to stop hazing in your chapter if it exists.  Here are some tips.

Align yourself with other like-minded men of character.

These might not be your best friends, but you know who they are by their actions and words.  Have a meaningful discussion about how the new members are treated in your chapter and what you think about hazing.  Select only men of character to be your Phikeia educators.

Work overtime to develop Phikeia programming that builds men up, not breaks them down.

Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Don’t concern yourself with what others will think of you.  If you conduct positive Phikeia programming, in a couple of years, the other fraternities will be emulating you.  Be courageous and creative.

Have the courage to confront the hazers in your chapter.

Anyone who hazes is a coward.  There I’ve said it.  Don’t be afraid to gently confront a brother who wants to haze and ask him to explain his motivation for hazing.  Be unwilling to accept “tradition”, “it was done to me”, etc.  I have often found it impossible to reason with someone who is committed to hazing (especially when using words of two syllables or more!), but give it a try.  Confront hazers with like-minded brothers by your side.  Confrontation is not a bad thing.  If you see a situation that is dangerous (especially involving alcohol), confront quickly, forcefully, and physically if you have to.  You won’t get in trouble for doing the right thing.

Rely on GHQ, Province Presidents, University Officials, and Alumni.

First realize that these are not bad people or people out to get you.  No one gains when a chapter closes, goes on probation, or when a Phikeia is injured, or leaves with ill feelings toward the fraternity.  People who go to Alcoholics Anonymous know that the first step is realizing that there is a problem, standing before others and saying, “Hello, my name is XXX and I am an alcoholic.”  If you want to get well, be willing to admit, “My chapter’s name is XXX and we are a hazing chapter.”  Doing this puts you on the right track. Please know that there are many people willing to help you.  All you have to do is ask.

And, finally,

Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Is this a man of character at whom I am looking?”

If the answer is yes, you have no choice.  You have to stop hazing.

Dr. Sparky Reardon is the Assistant Vice Chancellor/Dean of Students at the University of Mississippi. He has worked in higher education for 34 years. His primary areas of responsibility have included advising fraternities and student government, leadership development, crisis intervention, organizational discipline and teaching. He has a M. Ed. from Delta State University and a B.A.E. and Ph.D. from Ole Miss. Brother Reardon has spoken to thousands of students at numerous universities, conferences, and conventions. For this, Phi Delta Theta recently honored him with the Legion of Honor Award. He has also been awarded the Robert Shaefer Award for significant, long term service to Greek Life. In 2008 the Ole Miss senior class honored him with a scholarship in his name and in 1995 he was awarded the initial Thomas Frist Award for his outstanding service to students. He has appeared in the History Channel‟s “Frat Boys”, a history of fraternities in America. He enjoys Ole Miss sports, reading, cooking, and traveling.

Want to Fix a Hazing Problem in Your Chapter? Start by Fixing Your Brotherhood Problem

By Gentry McCreary, Ph.D. and Joshua Schutts

Hello members, friends, and fans of Phi Delta Theta. In honor of National Hazing Prevention Week, my colleague, Josh, and I want to talk about brotherhood, but first, you need some background.  About this time last year, I reached the halfway point of my doctoral dissertation.  I was studying the impact of moral judgment and moral disengagement on hazing attitudes, and I was putting the finishing touches on the third chapter and preparing for my proposal defense.  My study, in a nutshell, was investigating the environmental variables that support a pro-hazing culture.  As I sat and thought about my study, I came to ask myself the question “What matters?”  Several fraternities have shaken things up in the last few years and significantly changed the environment in which hazing occurs.  Phi Delta Theta has the “Don’t Tarnish the Badge” campaign.  Sig Ep has the “Balanced Man Program. “Beta Theta Pi has the “Men of Principle Initiative.”  Alpha Gamma Rho and Zeta Beta Tau got rid of pledging altogether.  As I sat and pondered these changes, I asked myself “If we wanted to know if any of these changes have had any impact, what would I even measure?  It’s hard to measure hazing, so what do we measure?  What would we expect the impact of these changes to be?”  As I sat and thought, rolling around different possibilities in my head, I kept coming back to the same idea – brotherhood.

What is brotherhood?  How do students define it?  Are there different kinds of brotherhood?  How do you measure it?  I pondered these questions and more for several days, and I decided that the best way to get an answer to my question was to ask students.  So, I sent out an email to my fraternity member listserv and asked for a few volunteers to come meet with me to talk about brotherhood.  On the day of the meeting, a dozen or so guys showed up, and I asked a simple question: “What is brotherhood?”  I sat and listened, scribbling notes furiously trying to keep up with the conversation, as the young men bounced the question back and forth.  Several themes emerged from that conversation, but when I coded my notes, the students discussed four separate and distinct definitions of brotherhood.  They were:

  1. My brothers support me and “have my back” because we’ve been through a lot together.  They would do anything for me, and I would do anything for them.
  2. My brothers and I do almost everything together – they are the people I prefer to spend most of my time with and we always have a blast, whatever we’re doing.
  3. My brothers and I are drawn together by our similar beliefs, values and backgrounds.  They are my best friends and will be the groomsmen in my wedding.
  4. My brothers help make me a better person by holding me to high standards based on our shared values.

At this point, my head was spinning.  Four completely different themes, sometimes used in combination with one another, sometimes not, had emerged from that initial conversation.  My next step was to try to make sense of all this new information, so I called up the one person who I consider to have the ultimate combination of fraternity and nerdy quantitative research skills – Josh Schutts.  Josh, I’ll let you jump in here and  help us make sense of all this.

Admittedly, I came into the fold in many conversations with Gentry about his work with hazing and moral judgment.  He mentioned brotherhood and I was immediately hooked.  I presume that for many of you, brotherhood is the reason you joined your chapter, and is likely the reason you are still affiliated.  My background is in business, so I tend to view our fraternity chapters much like “mini businesses.”  In saying that: fraternities don’t have a profit-motive, we have a brotherhood motive.  If Apple or Microsoft is for-profit, then Phi Delta Theta is for-Brotherhood.

Conceptually, brotherhood is the currency of fraternity.  It is sold to potential members, traded between brothers and alumni, and deposited within our thoughts and memories for all time.  As an alumnus of my organization, I recall those memories from time to time – the things we did as friends and brothers.  The trouble we got in, the relationships we made, the times we laughed, and the times where we were there for each other.  Perhaps a brother could be thought of as “more than a friend, but no less than someone you love.”  I heard a wise past national president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon say that once (Jim Pope, Southern Mississippi).

Theoretically, the research is frankly scant in relation to brotherhood.  It’s kind of funny that something that means so much to so many is largely unstudied, undocumented, and unanalyzed.  I mentioned earlier about brotherhood as a currency. If you buy that, then when we trade or sell it, we are completing a transaction – let’s call it a social transaction, or maybe even a social exchange.  Near as I can tell, the best theoretical framework that exists comes from Blau & Scott (1962) who coined “social exchange theory” and talked about mutual benefit associations.  I think of fraternities as mutual-benefit associations, so I think there is some wisdom to be found there.  Further, Clawson (1989) talks about masculine solidarity and touched on loyalty through race, social class, and gender.

With this theoretical framework in mind, we sat out to devise a way to measure brotherhood.  A list of questions was developed that corresponded with each of the four definitions of brotherhood, with a five-point “agree/disagree” scale.  We constructed some initial testing on the instrument, determined that it was good, and set to work.  We had to put a name to each of the four types, based on the definitions from the focus group and the questions in the instrument, and here is what we came up with (numbers corresponding to the definitions that Gentry described above):

  1. Brotherhood Based on Gang Mentality (BROGM)
  2. Brotherhood Based on Shared Social Experiences (BROSSE)
  3. Brotherhood Based on Common Interests (BROCI)
  4. Brotherhood Based on Accountability to Shared Values (BROASV)

We measured brotherhood with our instrument, and we also asked students about their alcohol use, attitudes towards hazing, attitudes about the purpose of the new member process, questions about the importance of social status in their chapter, and a scale that measured their moral development.

What we found amazed us.

Student’s scores on BROGM had strong and significant correlations with pro-hazing attitude.  Those correlations became weaker as they moved up the scale, and a high score on BROASV had a negative correlation with hazing attitude.  The way students defined brotherhood was predictive of the way they perceived hazing and the amount of hazing they stated they would tolerate in their chapter.

We also measured students’ perceptions of the purpose of the new member process (with statements like ‘the pledging process is an opportunity to weed out weak new members’ and ‘it is important that pledges demonstrate their loyalty to the fraternity before they are initiated’) and had similar findings.  Students that measured highest on BROGM were much more likely to have an antiquated view of the purposes of the new member process, and again, the relationships became weaker as they moved up the scale.  BROASV was negatively correlated with the scale measuring the perception of the purposes of the new member process.

So, conceptually we have many ideas about what brotherhood is.  Most of what we know so far is anecdotal, qualitative and contextual. We tell stories to others, and somehow in our mind, we understand what brotherhood means. . . what it means to us anyways.  But does it stop there?  What if brotherhood means different things to different people?  How can we merge what it might mean to you with someone else’s concept?  Wouldn’t it be easier to ‘sell’ that to an interested prospective member? We think you can.  And we think that if we could quantitatively measure it, or at least most of it, then we would have a common language to talk to our brothers about.

When we begin to understand what brotherhood is, we can then take the leap to see how it manifests and changes.  We first begin by understanding its nature.  What it is comprised of, and equally, what is it not comprised of.  We think about where it comes from, and we think about the best way we measure it.  Next, we begin to see it as the ‘cause’ and search for the symptoms or effects it has on people, chapters, institutions, and communities.  We measure it over time, and we see if differences exist between race, or age, or number of years as a member of a fraternity.  We see these symptoms as antecedents, and we ask questions about what aspects of brotherhood correlate to that are both positive and negative.  We look at hope, and commitment, and unethical behavior, and citizenship behavior, and engagement, and moral judgment, organizational learning, and a host of other things that are related to things that occur in our chapters every day.

What good is all of this?  Well, for starters, we could diagnose issues in chapters. We could get to the cause, and quit treating the symptoms. We could leave our campuses better than we found them.  We could make a difference in someone’s life.  We could be more relevant tomorrow than we were yesterday.  In sum:  We could become the greatest version of ourselves, and help our Chapters achieve a new level of greatness as well.

Gentry McCreary is the Associate Dean of Students at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL.  He served four years as the Director of Greek Affairs at the University of Alabama, and two years as Director of Greek Life at Middle Tennessee State University.  He is a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity from the University of Tennessee.  He completed a master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Alabama.  His research interests include moral development and the social-psychological causes of hazing.  Gentry is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys backpacking, canoeing, golf, fishing and upland bird hunting with his German Shorthaired Pointer, Ellie.

Joshua Schutts is the Assistant Dean of Students at The University of Southern Mississippi and a 2000 initiate of the Delta Mu chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.  He has a B.S.B.A. in Marketing and a M.Ed in Student Affairs Administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Research, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment at the University of Southern Mississippi.  He enjoys playing golf and fantasy football.  Josh and his dog Roosevelt live in Hattiesburg, MS.

The True Purposes of Higher Education and the Emerging Role of Fraternities in Accomplishing Those Purposes

By Dr. Donald Eastman – President, Eckerd Colllege

As delivered by Dr. Eastman at the 2012 Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute

I am delighted to be with you tonight – and I hope perhaps to stimulate your thinking about both the true purposes of higher education and the emerging role of fraternities in accomplishing those purposes.

My remarks will be relatively brief, for two reasons:  First, I simply want to kindle your thinking about this topic, not to do it all for you.

Second, recent findings from cognitive research show that after 9.6 minutes of listening to a talk, the old guys begin to nod off and the young guys begin to engage in sexual fantasy – and I want to keep both of these responses under control.

Just so you know where I am coming from, let me say this:  I graduated from college in 1968, a time in which my classmates were being drafted to fight and die in Vietnam, a war I opposed from the start.  My university and the country were still essentially segregated, and our school days were full of demonstrations and chanting and marches and civic disobedience and, occasionally, violence.

But my fraternity chapter provided diversity, debate, affection, and opportunities for thoughtful discussion and leadership that made a great difference in my life, then and now, and it has provided enduring friendships that are still strong.  I am here tonight because I hope your experience is and will continue to be as rich and rewarding as mine.

As you know, these are tough times for American higher education – particularly public education.

State governments all across the country have cut their universities’ budgets again and again over the past decade:  In Florida, public university support is now 40% less than it was five years ago.  In many, if not most states, support for public higher education is often a lot less than it was ten years ago, and both tuition and enrollment have continued to increase, often dramatically.  And, of course, many of these states were not funding higher education at an adequate level before they began these dramatic cutbacks.

Everybody wants colleges and universities to, in Senator Lamar Alexander’s words, “cut costs, reduce tuition, and improve quality.” And politicians across the political spectrum have ideas about how to do that.  Senator Alexander, for example, former Governor of Tennessee and Secretary of the Department of Education, has frequently touted the benefits of a three-year degree program. Others talk about saving money through  more accountability, larger classes, more part-time and non-tenured faculty, fewer on-campus amenities, and particularly what so many pundits  and politicians and trustees think is the magic potion to control costs – on-line courses.

It is now almost universally accepted that on-line learning is just as effective as live classrooms with live professors, a whole lot less expensive, and inevitable. This idea has, of course, received widespread financial support from such icons as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, among others, and has been embraced by politicians and trustees who believe the failure to board the on-line train is evidence of professional protectionism by college faculty and administrators.

Perhaps you read about this exact scenario playing out last month at the University of Virginia, one of the world’s great public universities, when the Board of Trustees fired the president for being reluctant to demand that the faculty substitute on-line courses for their classroom teaching.

While UVA’s fiasco has been at least temporarily resolved, these battles are being fought in every state in the country, and the stakes for the form and support of higher education in America are very high.

At the same time, however, both private and public colleges and universities are enrolling more students than ever, and clearly people are paying higher prices than ever.

I understand the frustrations of politicians and parents and students about college prices and the inclinations of some of them to propose quick fixes.  But for a first-rate college education, such fixes are not readily available:  Despite the financial benefits, traditionally-aged students do not want to graduate from college in three years.  They do not sign up for on-line courses if they can help it.  They do not like large classes.  They are frustrated by part-time faculty and courses taught by graduate students. (By the way, it is estimated that 70% or more of the undergraduate courses now offered at major public universities are taught by graduate students and temporary or part-time faculty.)

The unhappy truth is this:  It still takes just as many people to play a Mozart quintet (that would be five) in 2012 as when it was first played in 1780.  There has been no improvement in efficiency in the intervening 230 years, nor is there likely to be any.

You could, of course, omit an instrument or two, a violin here, a clarinet there – who would know? Well, those who know Mozart’s music would know. They wouldn’t think it was simply bad; they would think it wasn’t Mozart. And they would be right.

In the same way, most of our courses in higher education still require the same things Socrates required – an instructor, students, and a gathering place – actual or virtual. These elements are pretty much essential, if you are going to do it right.

The diminished funding of higher education is a bad thing for a lot of reasons – but the most important is that our future as the freest, most prosperous country on earth depends on it. Thomas Jefferson made this very point when he founded the University of Virginia 200 years ago. There is no question that the United States has both the best universities in the world and the best system of higher education in the world.  Senator Alexander says that the greatness of our colleges and universities is largely the result of three things:  the $100 billion a year in federal financial aid that supports need-based aid and loans; the $30 billion a year in federal research funding, mostly through the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense; and our long American tradition of institutional autonomy. Unlike most countries in the world, we have almost no national colleges or universities, except for the five service academies.

Now, in the context of the state, national and world-wide economic downturn, which may not show great improvement for decades to come, undergraduates at American universities – especially public universities – are in a particularly difficult situation.

For public universities, educating undergraduates is only one of the many things they do, some of which are much more consequential to many of their constituents than undergraduate education.

Let me give you just four examples of those “other businesses.”

  • First, the big universities are engaged in graduate education programs, training MA’s and PhD’s in a variety of disciplines. Many professors spend more of their time with their graduate students than they do with undergrads.
  • Second, the big public and private universities are engaged in publicly funded research, to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year, and just as much non-funded research and scholarship. There is no question that this research has been essential to the economy and quality of life of our society.  Much of what we now know as the Web, the iPhone, iPad, and Google, as well as the miracles of modern medicine, has resulted from research at universities. Google, for example, was the result of a digital libraries research grant from the National Science Foundation given to Stanford University in the mid-1990s.  GPS’s were created by research at MIT, Harvard, and UC-Berkeley, funded by the Department of Defense. All of the key elements of the iPod – LCD monitors, lithium batteries, micro hard drives and microprocessors – were developed by federally-funded research at research universities. And so on . . . .
  • Third, the big universities are engaged in mammoth intercollegiate athletic businesses – with budgets often exceeding that for their undergraduate teaching. At schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, those budgets exceed $100M per year. This is a very large entertainment enterprise and obviously has great PR impact – positive and negative. Big-time intercollegiate athletics are a source of great pride and community- building, but very few schools break even on what they spend on such teams – and almost none of it has anything to do with a high-caliber undergraduate education.
  • And fourth, the big universities are engaged, particularly the land-grant universities, in serving the agriculture and the agri-businesses of their states.  And, Colleges of Engineering, Business, and Medicine, among others, often have fundamental connections and obligations to entities outside their universities.

So, big universities have a much broader portfolio and a much more complicated set of missions than liberal arts colleges do – but much of what they do, indeed most of what they do, has little or nothing to do with undergraduate education.  Nevertheless, more than 80% of the undergraduates in this country are enrolled in our large public, research universities.

In contrast, small liberal arts colleges have a very different approach to higher education – primarily because their only business is the education of 18-22 year old full-time students.  Consequently, such schools are able to focus their attention on undergraduates, within and outside the classroom, in a way that most research universities simply cannot.  At my college, for example, all students have a close relationship with a faculty mentor; the student-faculty ratio is 13 to 1, and all classes are taught by professors, not substitutes; the average class size is 18 students; and nearly everyone has an internship, studies abroad, and lives on campus.

My point here is that, as state support for the large research universities continues to decrease, the out-of-class, residential, student life experiences that play such an important role in what we all think of as “college” will increasingly have to be developed and carried out by such extra institutional, long-term organizations as fraternities and sororities if they are to be provided at all. The same out-of-class academic and social growth and development that happen in the residential liberal arts college setting can also happen at the big universities perhaps only if fraternities and sororities make it their mission to make it happen.

I do not mean that ΦΔӨ should not continue to be a “social” fraternity:  In fact, I mean that we need to employ the full dimension of that word, “social.” Indeed, social and emotional intelligence is just as – if not more – important than academic intelligence – more important for jobs, and for success and happiness in life. Understanding how to live and work with people, many of whom are different from ourselves, is an essential 21st century skill. Whether that difference is that the other is from some country town we never heard of, or that the other has different gender or skin color or religious or sexual orientation than we do, fraternities may be the last best place for learning these essential skills.

Social intelligence means knowing how to work in groups, with both efficiency and respect. It means knowing how to meet and present the self to strangers, how to treat colleagues, how to follow, and how to lead.

Such social skills require mentors and advisors and alumni supporters – and it is clear that the big universities are going to be doing less and less of this, just as they are cutting back in every other aspect of support for undergraduate education, which makes it so important that fraternities do more and more.

So there it is:  I believe thoughtfully organized fraternities can satisfy an enormous need in the undergraduate experience that is simply no longer going to be addressed by big public universities.

The historical emphasis of fraternities such as ΦΔӨ on building positive relationships, on courtesy and good manners, on social grace and high morals, on community service and philanthropy are not, in any sense, the add-ons of a good college education:  They are what a college education is all about. In our culture, the preferred manner of turning 18 year-old adolescents into 22 year-old adults is college – and what that means has less to do with whether one majors in chemistry or art than with whether one has learned how to make good decisions and how to be a responsible citizen.

I now believe that, given the changes in public support of higher education, it will be up to such organizations as fraternities to maintain the true mission of higher education.

I challenge you current students to consider these issues and the rest of us to assist and support you in that effort.  If you young men and those who follow you are going to have the opportunities my generation had in college, you – and we – must work harder and smarter than we did than when we were in college.

As you know, these are also tough times for college graduates, and the better prepared you are, the better your social and academic preparation has been, the better your prospects for the future will be.  I believe in being prepared. I believe in working hard. I believe, perhaps more than anything, in what my athletic coaches called, “hustle.”

You may have heard what I call the “hustle” parable:

Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve.

So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle –

When the sun comes, up you’d better be running.

The Words on the Page

Happy National Ritual Celebration Week! Over these past few days, you’ve read blogs from a number of influential Fraternity/Sorority members that all focus on a primary question: “What does it really mean to live your Ritual?” Hopefully you have found them both insightful and meaningful.

What I have come to discover in my Fraternity experience is that you cannot live your Ritual until you are confident in your understanding of it. Think about the last time you heard the words of the Bond, and for our non-Phi Delt readers, think about the last time you read your Creed. Perhaps you simply listened to the words, perhaps someone has memorized the words, perhaps, even, you know the vast majority of the words’ definitions. But what does it all mean? We listen to the writings, but do we truly understand the words on the page?

Our Rituals were written using words, diction, and syntax that are 100-200 years old. They are from a time of intense academic pursuit and a significant appreciation for language; a time of spoken propriety and intellectual prowess for those with the opportunity to attend university. This appreciation for language has been long since forgotten by the general population, and thus poses the inherent question: How can Fraternity and Sorority members of today live their Ritual when its ceremonies and guarded meanings are written in an all but lost form of prose?

Think about the words on the page… When was the last time you used one of those words in such a profound way? When have you heard others use similar words in such an eloquent amalgamation? And when was the last time you stared at those sacred pages and looked beyond the words on the page, looked beyond yourself and your Brothers/Sisters, and sought out the hidden wisdom of the Founders? Unfortunately, the assumption is that we cannot fully answer any of these questions.

Herein lies the challenge for our members – to understand the words on the page to a degree that allows an individual or Chapter to internally process, and externally exhibit the principles and intentions of those words; to live a purposeful life that illustrates the clandestine meanings of those principles. When our vernacular persistently abbreviates and simplifies itself, can we seek the ability to comprehend words that in such a way, have transcended time and have remained unchanged since their inception?

If you are up to the challenge, then let’s talk about where to start. I believe the secret is not only in the words on the page, but also in the words, experiences, and tenets of members from the past that sought the same truths. I believe that living the Ritual of Phi Delta Theta is, quite simply, the actualization of the well-known quote by Walter B. Palmer:

“Phi Delta Theta was organized with three principle objectives: The cultivation of friendship among its members; the acquirement individually of a high degree of mental culture, and the attainment personally of a high standard of morality.”

Think about Brother Palmer’s words… these axioms echo the Three Cardinal Principles of Friendship, Sound Learning, and Rectitude. These few lines of text comprise the articulation of a lifestyle pursuant to the sacred principles we swore to uphold. It is the equation that defines how we can live our Ritual, and it is the map of how we, as members of Phi Delta Theta should live our lives. If this is the map, where is the compass? We can use other quotes from members of the past to clarify Brother Palmer’s words and discern the truth from the words on the page. Below are the three tenets with lines that I believe further-explain their concepts:

The cultivation of friendship among its members…

“It is the spirit of true brotherhood that touches the depths of a man’s inner life and wards off sorrows and disappointments, opens the way for the highest services, and furnishes the inspiration for right living.” – John Wolfe Lindley

The acquirement individually of a high degree of mental culture…

“The Fraternity must always work in harmony with the college for the true ends of education” – Arthur R. Priest.

The attainment personally of a high standard of morality…

“Every organization that is right and proper in its nature, will be what the men who constitute it are.” – Robert Morrison

See how each quote contributes to the clarification of each tenet? If you want to take this exercise a step further, I challenge you to write your own definitions for “highest services, right living, and true ends of education”. In addition, what is Brother Morrison saying in this quote? Take a few minutes and think about these words on the screen, and the fact they are on a screen and not on an actual page… These are just a few examples of thoughts and questions you can ask yourself and your members if you seek to decipher the words on the page.

The fact of the matter is that our members will only understand our Ritual to the degree that they comprehend the meanings of the words on the page. Now, by understand, I’m not referring to having a notion, idea, or feeling, but rather a level of comprehension that one can apply, voice, and model that understanding to others. This is not to say that every member should dedicate years to vigilant study and attaining meaning from the words of Ritual. It simply means that we should work together in helping each other to learn about the words on the page. It means that through sacrificing a little time and deriving greater truth and purpose from the words on the page, we will have the essential ability to articulate what it means to live out those principles and be the men and women we swore to be.

Brother Luke Benfield is the Director of Education at General Headquarters. Luke is a member from the Georgia Gamma Chapter at Mercer University. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and economics, as well as a master’s degree in educational leadership. Before coming to GHQ, Luke was the Fraternity and Sorority Life Advisor at Coastal Carolina University, as well as the IFC advisor at Florida Gulf Coast University in graduate school.

Thoughts on “Living Your Creed”

By Peggy King, National Ritual Chairman, Phi Mu Fraternity

Happy National Ritual Celebration Week!  If I had to choose the mantra of the fraternal world in vogue these days, it would have to be “Live Your Ritual,” and there is no better time than now to focus on the ideals that our fraternal rituals espouse.

“Living Your Ritual” is a noble thought, but just how does one go about accomplishing this lofty goal?  We know that to be successful in achieving a goal, we must have a plan. One popular example is S.M.A.R.T.  – our goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.  Are they?

Simply by asking our members to “Live Your Ritual” defies the very first step of achieving our goal.  It is far too vague a command to know exactly what that means and when we have been successful., especially with such a moving, ongoing target.  A better option is to clearly define what our individual organizations ask of our members.  For some, those ideals may be expressed in a Creed; for others, the key concepts may be part of an Initiation oath or pledge.

I will share the example I am most familiar with as Phi Mu’s National Ritual Chairman.  Phi Mu’s Creed sets a standard for members asking them to strive to live loving, honorable, and truthful lives.  We all have a certain idea of what each of these means, but the concepts are still far too vague to be measurable.

What does it mean to be loving?  Phi Mu’s Creed spells out the expectations: “to lend to those less fortunate a helping hand; to think of God as a protector and guide of us all; to keep forever sacred the memory of those we have loved and lost.; to be to others what we would they would be to us; to keep our lives gentle, merciful and just.”

And to be honorable?  By “guarding the purity of our thoughts and deeds; being steadfast in every duty small or large, believing that our given word is binding; striving to esteem the inner man above culture, wealth or pedigree; being honorable, courteous, tender.”

And finally, our members are expected “to serve in the light of truth, avoiding egotism, narrowness and scorn; to give freely of our sympathies.”

I have yet to meet many individuals who can live up to these lofty standards 100% of the time.  I will freely admit that I haven’t, but I also know that I try.  Some may think it silly of me to keep a copy of the Phi Mu Creed on the dresser where I get ready in the mornings, but it serves to remind me of the kind of person I want to be.  We are human beings with human flaws and these are, after all, high expectations.  So have I failed?  Have we failed?  Have our members failed us, or have we failed them?

The Rituals of our fraternal organizations provide a framework for and a picture of the kind of lives we want for our members.  We fail our members by not being specific about our expectations.  Too often, we recruit our members based on one set of standards and expectations (appearance, partying opportunities), then we do a “bait and switch” when it comes to expecting them to live according to our Ritual.  The two are not always in sync.

We fail our members, too, when we do not give them the support and motivation to live our Ritual.  Are we providing opportunities for philanthropic work if that is one of our goals?  Are we holding memorial services for loved ones we have lost?  Are we being the sister/brother to them that we expect them to be to us?  When a member strays from our expectations, are we quick to judge and punish, or do we provide a system to address the unacceptable behavior and provide support for change?  Do we recognize those that are living examples of our expectations?

To make our Ritual goals more tangible and to demonstrate their achievability, we should be allowing time at every meeting for members who have exemplified our ideals to be recognized and applauded.

Our efforts at clearly defining the meaning of “Living Our Ritual” pay off when we see a measurable difference in the number and caliber of members we recruit and in the number of “cases” that must come before our disciplinary boards.  Along the way we may find that for some “Living our Ritual” is not realistic.  Is that a bad thing?  After all, shouldn’t our members have a shared vision of what it means to be a member?

Where do we begin such a monumental task as “Living Our Ritual”?   Let us clearly define what that means and challenge each and every member to invest in our ideals.  Let’s take inventory annually to evaluate our shortcomings and plan for change if needed.  Let’s celebrate success!

If we truly want to change the too-often negative image of Greek life, let’s not only let our Rituals and ideals be known, but let’s “shout it from the mountaintop” that we are organizations truly striving to develop responsible members to lead their families, their communities and the world today and tomorrow.  And we are succeeding!  Let’s not make that a well-kept secret!

Peggy King was initiated into the Alpha Eta Chapter of Phi Mu Fraternity at Louisiana State University in 1969.  She has served as Phi Mu’s National Council Member-at-large, National Alumnae Vice-president, Volunteer Coordinator, Phi Mu Foundation Trustee and as National Ritual Chairman since 2002.   She has received the Fraternity’s Outstanding Alumnae Achievement Award as well as LSU’s Greek Excellence Award and a Leave a Legacy Award in her local community. Peggy holds a B.S. in Spanish, an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology and an MA+30 in Curriculum and Instruction.  She currently teaches Spanish in LSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning  Institute  and is an assessment administrator for Westat, a research company under contract to the U.S. Department of Education.

How Do I Know When A Chapter Is Living The Ritual? A Mom Tells Me

By Scott Mietchen

As Phi Delta Theta helps observe National Ritual Celebration Week I was asked to share some thoughts on what it means to “Live The Ritual.”  I realize that, from time to time, I am asked by university administrators, parents, alumni, and undergraduate members to give a definitive definition of how I know when a chapter is “living the ritual” of Phi Delta Theta.  And when I think about this question I’ve come to the conclusion that I know when a chapter is living the ritual when a mom tells me it’s so.  Now, I’m going to come back to this “mom as judge” concept a little bit later, but let me first share some thoughts on being a Fraternity man – with a capital ‘F.”

It would be easy and completely appropriate for me to define ‘living the ritual’ as achieving the highest grades on campus; providing a tremendous amount of community service hours and raising a lot of money for charity; holding a lot of campus leadership positions; and using the ritual in all chapter meetings and functions.  And while each of these specific acts are visible, public and measurable – and all are good activities that I certainly encourage – for me they don’t define this idea of ‘living the ritual.’

As I think about the three cardinal principles of Friendship, Sound Learning and Rectitude laid out by our Founders 164 years ago in The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, and supported in the ritualistic ceremonies that are the backbone of our Fraternity, they describe to me the characteristics of my concept of a Fraternity man.

I want to return for a minute to the original view and perception of Fraternity men by the broader society. I have always been struck by a visual representation of a Fraternity man which appeared over a century ago.  This cartoonist’s drawing coincided with a gathering of Phi Delts, 112 years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Fraternity’s 1900 General Convention. This illustration was printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal and was the first editorial cartoon about any fraternity convention ever published.  If you look closely at the cartoon, you’ll see that it characterizes the Phi Delt as standing somewhat larger, broader and with more presence than the man he is walking next to.  This cartoon didn’t represent him as a drunk — or slob — or “Frat Guy” – but as “Phi Man” – as a man of character – a leader of men.  This Phi Delt wouldn’t have been featured on TFM (Total Frat Move).

The Founders of Phi Delta Theta were respected leaders of their time and outlined for all of us a set of simple beliefs and principles which, if followed, lead to a life of honor, respect and fulfillment.

To me, living the ritual becomes instinctive, internalized and results in the creation of lifelong habits.  And it begins at initiation.  As President of Phi Delta Theta, I have had the opportunity of initiating and installing many of our newest chapters.  And to each new chapter at the installation banquet I offer the following charge.

When you were initiated and all signed The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, you agreed to live your lives by three simple principles – Friendship —- Sound Learning — and Moral Rectitude. I charge each of you here to remember and honor those commitments to each other. I charge the men of Phi Delta Theta to:

  • To excel in the classroom to the best of your abilities.
  • To sit in the front of class, engage with your professors and add to the academic discussion.
  • To excel on the athletic field or performance venue– always giving your best performance and exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship and creativity.
  • To engage on the campus – get involved in student government and other student organizations.  To lead, not just follow.
  • To engage in the local community and serve those in need.
  • To not abuse alcohol, women or each other.
  • Last, but not least, to act in such a manner – both collectively and individually – that all of your mothers, fathers, alumni and friends will take pride in you as a Fraternity man.

If you do that, you will have met the obligations you made when you signed The Bond.”

So, back to the “mom as judge” concept.  I know a chapter is “living the ritual” when I hear from the parent of a Phi, which usually turns out to be the mother, who calls or writes to tell me about her son’s experience in the Fraternity.  These messages sound like this:

“Having never been involved in a fraternity before, both my husband and I were both VERY impressed and proud to see these young men filled with enthusiasm and dedication. The fraternity has been a wonderful experience for him and I know there will be a void once he graduates this year!” 

“The brothers (Missouri Eta – Missouri Western) were going to plunge anyway, but they went beyond a philanthropy project and made it VERY personal for my family. Tanner (who has a disability) is almost 18. We are trying to accept that he will never be married, he will never drive a car and may never attend college. He will never have the opportunity to be a Phi Delta Theta. These men have embraced my family and me and for that I am eternally grateful. Missouri Eta Chapter, from the bottom of my heart, I love each and every one of you. You are compassionate and caring and will ALWAYS be a blessing in my life.”

“I was admittedly apprehensive when he expressed an interest in becoming involved with a fraternity. Our family had no experience with fraternities or sororities and I had some of the typical misconceptions regarding the Greek system. His father and I gave our approval with the caveat that he must maintain a high grade point average and not jeopardize his scholarship, since he wishes to attend law school after graduation. I am proud to say that he is beginning his senior year and has retained his scholarship for all four years in large part due to the scholastic emphasis and support of the Fraternity. I have been very impressed with the level of involvement of the alumni with the undergraduates in Phi Delta Theta. They are truly committed to fostering the development of these young men and certainly stress the virtues that we all wish to instill in our sons: honor, loyalty and responsibility. Personally, I can attest to new levels of leadership and maturity in my son that I believe are directly attributable to his involvement in Phi Delta Theta.”

With time I have become less concerned with “seeing it” in terms of formal activities and more interested in understanding that the process of “living the ritual” is taking place within our chapters. When I hear from a parent with a testimonial like these – I know the chapter is “living the ritual.”

So in closing, here are a few things I believe members of Phi Delta Theta do every day to “live the ritual.”

  • We care for one another and lift each other up
  • We challenge ourselves, individually, to be better men every day
  • We challenge each other to rise to a higher standard
  • We call a brother out when he is going down the wrong path
  • We don’t turn our backs on a brother in need
  • We celebrate each other’s successes
  • We believe in words like fraternity, honor, duty, loyalty, leadership, brotherhood, love, and compassion
  • We’re not fair-weathered friends
  • We take pride in identifying ourselves as Fraternity men
  • We believe in the lifetime commitments we made to each other when we signed The Bond

My hope is that all of our brothers do these things – that we each strive to live the ritual to the best of our abilities – because we’re members of Phi Delta Theta – because that’s what Phi Delts do.

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 and Alex live in Salt Lake City.