Phi Beta Cons

More on Binge Drinking

Regarding my posts on studies of student narcissism and chemical abuse, I’ve heard from Stu Gittelman, the executive director of Delta Phi Fraternity’s national headquarters, who for years has been on the front lines of the drug/alcohol problem. Speaking for himself and not in an official capacity, he offers interesting insights:

I’m hesitant to lump all the blame on narcissism. I find myself far more frustrated by students’ fear of being either unpopular or imposing ones values on someone else. I’d like to suggest some practical explanations:

First:  The 21-year-old drinking age.  It isn’t a surprise we’re seeing problem drinking that mirrors that of the 1920s.  Prohibition does that.  When the drinking age was 18, you might have been able to get your hands on some booze in high school, but you still had to make it back to mom and dad’s house that night and not get caught.  For better or worse, it trained one to drink somewhat responsibly. The 18-year-old age should be restored.

Second:  The tenure system rewards research and publication, not meaningful undergraduate instruction. If it did, the most academically vulnerable freshmen, wouldn’t be placed in huge lectures, and so on. Within the present system, college students rarely face any consequences for the drinking, because the system doesn’t impose any. So there’s a reason much of the research shows that, after college, students cut down on drinking immensely. Until the present university system changes, students will continue to figure out that their education isn’t particularly important to alma mater.  And if it isn’t important to the school, they’ll take their cues and act accordingly.


Third:  Fraternities can help establish, not only a healthy social outlet, but also responsibility and self-discipline — without necessarily getting the professional muckety-mucks involved. For example, the fraternities’ national leadership has done a pretty good job getting rid of the kegs and tamping down underage drinking at parties. Most fraternities provide or make available drug/alcohol-related educational resources to their members. Delta Phi, for instance, offers discounts on chapter insurance premiums to those which complete our and/or organize their own drug/alcohol education courses. Personally, I prefer to have them do it because if they organize, it helps get the peer buy-in that some standard program from national may not get. 


At the end of the day, the chapter is supposed to be an exercise in self-government and management. More broadly speaking, when fraternities and sororities work properly, they are small laboratories of self-government and voluntary association — all those wonderful things that Tocqueville admired about America so long ago. Take a chapter with a house, a meal plan (and in the case of many sororities, a housemother as well). And, outside the student newspaper, perhaps, where else on campus do you get a chance to be involved with managing the operation of small business with a six-figure budget?


If our partners in higher ed would for five minutes stop lambasting fraternities as racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, elitist, lookist, speciesist, bigoted, anti-intellectual, boorish threats to diversity, they might realize fraternities could help with students’ problems. I think the fraternities remain the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the campus, and especially right-ish groups. I’m convinced that the lack of resistance mounted by fraternities and sororities to onerous and discriminatory campus policies in the late 80s and 1990s has emboldened the ivory tower set to move against religious and political groups that they dislike as well.


My $.02. Your mileage may vary.