Facts promote discussion

After the controversy and discussion that followed our staff editorial last week on Greek Life transparency, we decided it was best to write a follow-up that further explained some of the points brought forth and the reasoning behind our Freedom of Information request for the Greek Life disciplinary records.

First of all, we take accusations of bias extremely seriously, and will continue to examine our own attitudes to ensure that we are always providing points that are reasoned and fair to all parties involved. If we are going to investigate and criticize organizations on this campus, we need to similarly be able to listen and be mindful to criticism that comes back our way. We have read and heard your concerns, and understand that there were certain moments in our editorial where the overall tone came off as accusatory. This was unintentional and in the end only diluted the message we were attempting to send.

In our own frustration with the fact that administration was denying us access to records that other schools were going as far as to database on their own website, we decided to make a statement pointing out that this information was being denied and explaining why we thought it was a poor decision.

We regret that this has led to the perception we believe Greek Life deserves extra scrutiny. The Oswegonian files Freedom of Information requests of similar nature for all aspects of campus life to the school several times per semester. In the past we have looked into academic, athletic and student-run organizations, many of which required similar FOIA requests. The nature of reporting on campus requires us to seek any information we feel necessary to students. There are no biases, only a firm belief that more information, and speech, is always better.

We hope that those who think  we are targeting Greek Life will look to our archives to see that, to this point, our coverage of Greek organizations has been almost entirely positive. We recognize the significant contributions to both the campus and the community that Greek organizations have made and have reported on them at every step.

Our reason for the FOIA request was our fundamental belief that Oswego State students deserve every piece of information that is afforded to students at other campuses. If students at other campuses are able to access information about past Greek violations, then students at Oswego State should be able to as well. The staff editorial was intended to highlight that belief, while also pointing out that administration was denying this information on faulty, arbitrary grounds.

We thought there at least needed to be a conversation on the administration’s policy. Unfortunately, the conversation surrounding the editorial has instead shifted to speculation about whether Greek organizations are doing something wrong, with those involved in Greek organizations saying they are unfairly given a bad reputation and those on the other side claiming they get away with too much. In the end, we believe this further exemplified why having more information out there would be beneficial to everyone.

The conversation that occurred in the comment section and over the web following the editorial is the same one that is whispered around this campus semester after semester, and we hoped our FOIA request would bring some actual substance to the situation.

Because Greek organizations do operate under such secrecy, they are often prone to baseless, “Animal House” fueled rumors being thrown their way from those not involved. With non-disclosure can often come an assumption of wrongdoing. It’s unfortunate, but a perception that only further lengthens the divide between Greek and non-Greek portions of the campus.

So our thought process was: why not get some sort of information out there to bring some substance to these conversations? That is our role after all, to provide students facts with which to form their own opinion.

If other universities go out of the way to database the information, clearly it is important. And if the amount of people commenting and debating on our first editorial is any indication, clearly the topic itself has importance on campus.

Bringing some actual data to a debate that, as of now, has persisted solely on hearsay and rumors can only improve the level of discourse on campus. It’s fair to no one when discussions about Greek Life’s code of conduct compliance on campus occur without any verifiable facts to go off of. It makes students believe administration is covering something up or not properly enforcing policy, and opens Greek participants up to be the subjects of a steady stream of gossip and rumors. Without the facts, the school will continually be stuck in a dead-end discussion.

This information can help the administration appear more committed to enforcement, it can allow Greek Life organizations that are doing the right thing to shed any rumors unfairly put on them and allows students looking to get involved to understand the history of an organization before joining.

Other students may not agree, however, and we welcome those points of view. Debates about access to information are a crucial component of a free press. We regret that our first editorial led instead to a back-and-forth between the two opposing sides of ‘you-pay-for-friends’ vs. ‘you-didn’t-get-a-bid.’ Both statements are obviously absurd, and true debate is frozen before it can even start when the other side is reduced to a caricature. It is clear that the candor of our first editorial in many ways contributed to this type of attitude, so we hoped a follow up could potentially lead to a healthier discussion.

Let’s all try to hit the reset button and see what kind of discussion we can have on the issue at hand. The school has decided not to provide this information; the important question here is whether or not they should. Our opinion has been presented, now it’s up to the rest of the student body to provide their thoughts. Comment online or submit a letter to the editor and let us know.

6 thoughts on “Facts promote discussion

  1. Dear Editors:

    Sounds like it was an interesting week in the Oswegonian’s office. I’m curious about something your wrote in your follow up. You said that “If students at other campuses are able to access information about past Greek violations, then students at Oswego State should be able to as well. The staff editorial was intended to highlight that belief, while also pointing out that administration was denying this information on faulty, arbitrary grounds.”

    I’m not going to debate the faulty, arbitrary comment since that is your opinion and not one that is shared universally, but I am curious how many other campuses besides Plattsburgh is the information available to its students. Is Plattsburgh the only one or is it common throughout the SUNY system. I think people would be interested in knowing that. Thanks.

  2. I appreciate this follow-up with further clarification. I have long since graduated and live 3000 miles away and I was a Greek (admittedly). I still see an issue if you report on the transgressions of an organization because those numbers still need a context to them. Assuming that all college organizations (teams, clubs, Greeks) are made up of college aged students, there will likely be behavioral issues at some point in time with some group of students. Four students live together off campus and have a kegger and the next month have a noise ordinance violation but if they are not a member of a group (chess club or otherwise) then it may be hard to report out on them because I assume they would be “at large independents”. If this happens at a fraternity house, then fraternity x had 2 violations in the last 30 days. It isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be reporting but how do you present the numbers in such a way that the person can make an informed decision. There have been reports in the broad stream media about military suicide, NFL player domestic abuse, etc. Both are obviously terrible in their own right but they are happening in society as a whole and are those numbers worse or better than the larger society since suicide and domestic abuse happen outside those realms too (or in the case of the college than the larger student body). I do commend the Oswegonian for your efforts to better explain your position. Proud alum.

  3. Your follow up dialogue was far more thoughtful than the original editorial. No one benefits when broad brush profiling and labeling takes place. I would encourage the Oswegonian staff to examine whether it can really answer the fundamental questions it is asking. It’s a lot easier to pose difficult questions than it is to answer them.

  4. First and foremost, thank you for addressing the issue further. You were under no obligation to do so, and it demonstrates a level of maturity absent in our society that you did.

    That being said, I am still not absorbing the argument that you present. Greek life transparency seems to be a bit of a conflict of principles, which should be obvious and not needed to be pointed out. Greek organizations are not “secret” as you have now asserted in two separate editorials – they are exclusive. While the difference in terms may seem a triviality, it is a key distinction that the paper is not making and thereby coming up with a conclusion that simply doesn’t sit well with many people.

    What level of transparency are you expecting from exclusive groups? Why would you expect to be allowed into a meeting that only select members of the Greek community are even allowed to attend?

    Why do you *expect* the SUNY Oswego administration to just give you what you ask for, particularly as it relates to exclusive AND private groups?

    For some 50+ years fraternities and sororities have been able to function on campus without the paper serving as an intermediary between the Greeks and the “masses” of the uninformed. Somehow, the organizations have persevered. So, while I only speak for myself, and in the capacity as an alumnus, thank you, but I think that my chapter can handle its own public relations on campus, and if not, they have hundreds of fellow alumni to give them a hand, and hundreds of thousands of brothers nationwide to give them a hand.

    Here is some relevant information that could paint the administration as serious about their enforcement – go look up how many chapters of fraternities lost their charters and/or campus privileges since 1990 at Oswego. You don’t have to do anything more than likely go through old issues of the very paper you work for to see that, at least half a dozen have been removed from campus over that period. Ask any one of the active brothers of my brotherhood, ZBT, about how hard it was to get approved by the college. Apparently TKE is back on campus – ask those gentlemen what they had to do to get accepted by the administration.

    That alone should fill up three columns for you.

    Your opinions have both been well written, and as a Journalism graduate, I am happy to see that the writing skills are certainly there among the staff. However, you have broken a fundamental rule of Journalism with this entire exercise by making the Oswegonian and its staff a part of the story that you are chasing. Rather than writing that editorial and the follow up (which served no function than to tweak every single Greek undergraduate and alumni, and probably, at the least, was an annoyance to the Dean of Students); you have archives that you can go back and search through to examine the issue, and you have access and training as journalists to seek out other means to get similar if not more relevant information from other sources. That information that you are requesting should be ancillary, at best, and should not even be required. Develop your sources.

    You can do a story about Greeks without a FOIA request – there is no secrecy if you care to look where the stories are.

    Finally, and probably the most important point, because it carries value beyond this issue – your reporting should be in the context of your community. The argument that Plattsburgh does something is probably one of the most sophomoric reasons to believe you are entitled to something (it is actually a reason to terminate someone on the spot in many professions to use the whole “but what about that guy” argument). Plattsburgh has a totally different type of Greek community and stigma associated with it. What Plattsburgh does is what works for Plattsburgh agenda that its administration sets. What Oswego does should not be conflated with that. That is next to never a good argument unless you are advocating a SUNY-wide position on an issue, which this clearly is not.

    If your intent is truly to write a “mythbuster” story about the Greeks that serves to be informative and unbiased, then search that story out, make it your own, and nail it. Be bold and go get it and serve your audience as you believe you should. Make it your “Van Wilder” story. However, your expectations need to be grounded in certain realties. You are not entitled to anything, and there are people that are going to have a major problem with the idea of being singled out, which your initial impression was with your editorial prior. Frankly, FOIA requests should not just be filed for giggles or flippant reasons and the academic value of doing it, and as you are all still students, you have to understand why people will have an issue with you having that information.

    Continue to write well – if you can’t be right, be well thought-out and well spoken… (and apologies for any typos, etc. – it’s late…)

  5. Why don’t you check into the secret life of the sport teams at Oswego since they are funded with public money? What only interested in what goes on at night in the Greek House?

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