March 9, 2014
Dear Alumni, Undergraduates and Parents of Beta Theta Pi at Miami University:
At certain times in life, we all encounter events that affect us so emotionally, so profoundly, that it’s hard to comprehend how we arrived in a position of such challenge and turmoil. Today we are all faced with one of those events, and unfortunately it relates to our beloved Alpha Chapter at Miami University.
“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you,
pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
My name is David Schmidt, and I write to you today as the General Secretary of Beta Theta Pi.
First… Because of the Fraternity’s desire to minimize additional campus and local media coverage during such a stressful period for our undergraduates and their parents — not to mention respecting completion of Miami University’s judicial process for all individuals involved — I intentionally held off this week providing an extended statement about the circumstances that led to the Alpha Chapter’s closure.
Second, this narrative is extensive; I hope you will take the time to consider it objectively and in its entirety.
To be clear, many young men who belong to our Alpha Chapter are fine students and visible campus leaders. The Fraternity has done so much to bring them together as brothers, an experience that has meant so much to so many for nearly 175 years. They are loved by their parents and they certainly love one another.
It is for those reasons that the decision to close our Alpha Chapter by the General Fraternity and University has been so incredibly difficult.
Many Betas and friends outside of the daily Alpha Chapter communication network are likely unaware that in 2007 the chapter and alumni had to move through a membership review and reorganization process resulting from risk management and chapter culture concerns. While ranking at the top of their peer fraternities in most every metric measurable, culturally the chapter struggled to hold one another accountable to expected guidelines of Beta brotherhood and Miami university standards of conduct.
It was hoped that the reorganization would help recalibrate the chapter and get it permanently “back on track,” however, just a few years later the cycle began anew and the chapter found itself continually responding to university, house company, advisory team and General Fraternity concerns. These concerns included but were not limited to multiple instances of fighting, destruction of Alpha Chapter house property, illegal drugs and alcohol being consumed by some members within the substance-free chapter house, disregard for the responsible use and management of alcohol and, most recently, hosting parties at annex houses after having social activities suspended by the university and General Fraternity. Many of these activities occurred during a period of university-imposed social probation and after a joint hazing investigation had been launched by the university and General Fraternity. The hazing investigation was driven by allegations of coercive pressure to consume alcohol as a part of the pledge program, as well as line-ups, calisthenics and servitude, all of which have since been verified through interviews with Alpha Chapter members and pledges. The Fraternity’s policy clearly dictates that chapter closure will result in any instance where a chapter is found to pressure young men in the pledge program to consume alcohol.
To compound the issue, the lack of honesty, transparency and forthrightness the last several years, as well as during the recent investigations, severely undercut the chapter’s credibility and standing with the university, house company and General Fraternity. The choice by some to intimidate or minimize those brothers and new members who questioned the above actions in an attempt to “right the course” only added to the severity of the situation.
Not surprisingly, the chapter’s volunteer advisors worked closely with the chapter’s leadership through the years to try and correct the mindset and attitude that rejected virtually all forms of true self-governance and personal responsibility from within the chapter. Despite those efforts, an irreversible and unhealthy notion of individualism and entitlement persisted. This is not to say that there weren’t young men in the chapter who wanted and tried to do the right thing to put the chapter back on positive ground. There were.
So, you may be asking yourself, “Can’t we just remove the ‘bad apples’ and give the guys a chance to rebuild?” That was certainly one alternative that was thoroughly considered by the university, advisors, house company and General Fraternity. Unfortunately the chapter’s ongoing deception, lack of accountability and the members’ and pledges’ defense of dangerous chapter practices made the risk of continuing with the current students too great. While incredibly difficult, closure of the chapter became the most responsible decision in order to protect the well-being of every young man and secure Beta Theta Pi’s future at Miami University.
Indeed, the undergraduates were actively encouraged to pursue internal governance and self-determination measures within the scope of Beta’s standards. Everyone involved in supporting the chapter believes the best and true Beta experience is one that affords the undergraduates the opportunity to take ownership for the chapter’s direction and make the decisions for its overall well-being. That includes successes and failures, most of which are all good, healthy learning experiences for young men who are growing personally and preparing for successful careers, loving families and civic duty.
However, many of the undergraduate men were unable and/or unwilling to take responsibility for their actions and commit as a unified group to re-align the chapter’s culture with what would be deemed reasonable by any objective audience. That reality breaks the heart of every alumnus, parent and Friend of Beta who has tried over the years to build an experience at Miami worthy of Beta, Theta and Pi. It is heart-breaking for so many young men in the chapter, too.
Thankfully, Beta’s long-standing relationship with Miami University is strong and collaborative. And while together both institutions — and the men and women who comprise them — grieve what is a very sincere and real loss, we know in our hearts that our Alpha Chapter will thrive once again. After all, the chapter’s motto isn’t figurative. “Lasting for an age” means something.
Going forward, our Alpha Chapter alumni (and Beta chapters everywhere, for that matter) are faced with some important and very relevant questions:
- How can a chapter be successful for so long and its members embrace Beta’s values so passionately only to have those same values rejected by some students generations later?
- How can a chapter’s culture allow good young men with outstanding character to be silenced and marginalized by peers who feel entitled to do as they will?
- How can a chapter that has won the NIC Award of Distinction, a litany of Miami University Greek and academic honors, and so many Knox and Sisson Awards quickly devolve into a culture void of responsible leadership, structure and respect for peer authority?
- How can a chapter thrive over the long-term in a Greek community that faces significant cultural challenges?
- How can a chapter that is located just yards from the Fraternity’s original founding site foster a brotherhood that tolerates ongoing bad behavior and incorporates pledge education practices that so clearly violate everything Beta stands for?
While the university’s administration, Alpha house company and General Fraternity continue to work through considerable details to implement the chapter’s closure, Beta remains thankful and appreciative of Miami University’s support and patience throughout this process. Under a timeline that will allow for recolonization beginning in the 2016-17 academic year, every Beta — young and old — must know that Alpha’s Beta Spirit does not waver even in times of challenge.
We will mourn. We will learn. And we will be compassionate toward our young brothers who are experiencing this significant challenge during their undergraduate years. Most importantly, we will remain steadfast in pursuit of friendship and fidelity and all that is good and true in the principles of Beta Theta Pi.
Sincerely and yours in ___kai___,
David E. Schmidt, South Florida ’92