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Wendkos Discourages Taking “Survey Full of Holes”

Multiple times each year, Student Affairs Research & Assessment conducts a Penn State Student Drinking Survey as part of its Pulse program. The results, cited often in various Collegian articles and other reports, are based on the responses of the approximately 2000 full-time students at University Park chosen at random to participate in the survey. The most recent report is viewable here.

Last week, IFC President Max Wendkos sent out an email to the list of University Park fraternity chapter presidents.

Here’s what he said:

Chapter Presidents,

This morning I was informed that Penn State has released a “PSU Student Drinking Survey” to many of the school’s students. This means that there is a good chance that many of your members received it. In one section of the survey, the participant is asked to identify where he lives and if he is a member of a fraternity.

It will be really, really bad for the Greek community if the survey’s results indicate a excess and binge drinking within fraternities.

If your members want to participate, of course they have every right to, but please make sure you e-mail all of them immediately with this concern. The last thing we need right now are more fingers being pointed in our direction. Trust me.

My suggestions:
• Have your members take the survey and indicate responsible and monitored consumption of alcohol by fraternity men.
• Have your members take the survey, but avoid questions in which they have to identify themselves as fraternity men.
• Have your members avoid the survey altogether.
Thank you.

Max Wendkos

Here’s a screenshot of the survey questions that relate to Greek life.

I contacted Max to ask for more context regarding his opinions on the survey. I also asked him whether he believed that preserving the reputation of the Greek community at Penn State took precedence to students providing the most accurate responses possible to the survey.

He said, “absolutely not,” and that, “I have been and will continue to be one of the most outspoken advocates for a safer drinking culture at Penn State. I understand that the role of alcohol on our campus is problematic and am dedicated to working with university officials, borough officials, members of the State College community, and other students to change this culture for the better. ”

He elaborated,

My decision to lead the fraternity community to eliminate alcohol from our recruitment program and focus on a more values-based system should speak more loudly than any poorly worded e-mail that I accidentally left open to misinterpretation.

He also explained that he thought the Penn State Pulse surveys are problematic for a number of reasons.

With that being said, I do not believe that an online survey is an accurate predictor of student drinking habits, especially when student participation is influenced by offering iPod shuffles and State College gift certificates (that, interestingly enough, can be used at bars).  There is no way that the survey’s issuers can be sure that the information they gather is not influenced by students absentmindedly clicking through the questions in order to become eligible for a prize, by students providing answers that they or their friends find entertaining, etc.  This is why I discouraged members of the fraternity community from taking the survey.  Since it is common knowledge that Greeks are no longer sitting idly by while this problem continues, I see no reason to distribute potentially misleading information gathered by a survey full of holes.
While the criticisms Wendkos levies on the survey’s methodology are legitimate, his original email request still makes me (and at least the few Greeks I’ve spoken to about the matter) uneasy. A sign of good faith from the IFC at this point would be to cooperate with Student Affairs Research & Assessment, or even just the Department of Statistics, to survey the Greek community on its overall consumption patterns. While instating dry rush and mandating parties have bouncers are both examples of innovative (for the IFC) policy, it will be hard to judge what effect they have without that data.

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Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters.

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