March 30, 2013

Fraternities worse than Animal House fail to pay for casualties


"It's a curious business model," said Peter Lake, a professor at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa, Fla., who specializes in higher-education law. "You're establishing a national brand and franchising. And then when your core customers are in a pinch, you're turning away."

James Ewbank, a lawyer who has represented at least 10 national fraternities, urged them at a conference last summer to deflect blame when they are sued by bringing cases against chapter members and colleges.

"Share the fun," he said, according to an outline of his remarks posted online by the Fraternity Executives Association.

The comment was hyperbole, Ewbank said in an interview.

While Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., have begun cracking down on local chapters, many schools have found it futile to prod national fraternities to take control, said Brett Sokolow, who has advised Lambda and other fraternities on risk management.

"Colleges have been trying to get a handle on these issues for a long time, and they haven't seen nationals step up so they figure why should it change now," Sokolow said.

The national fraternities' success in avoiding liability reinforces their "intransigence," he said. "They want to wash their hands of the problem and say it's their brothers' fault, it's their chapters' fault. These are million-dollar organizations that sponsor activities that are harmful."

There are at least 75 national fraternities with branches on college campuses across the United States Some have fewer than 10 chapters while others have more than 200. Membership is almost all male. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all belonged to fraternities.

Membership in national fraternities increased to 327,260 in 2011 from 253,148 in 2005, according to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, a trade group. Revenue from dues and other sources for national fraternities and their related charitable groups rose to at least $170 million in 2010 from about $150 million in 2005, Internal Revenue Service filings show. Local chapters earned many tens of millions more. Fraternities own and operate more than $3 billion in real estate, according to the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition, a lobbying group.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20110929_bowling.jpg Why fewer people go bowling

    Like other industries facing tough economic times, America's bowling centers are trying to reinvent themselves.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 28, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 27, 2014

  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 26, 2014

  • An oncologist uses scorpion venom to locate cancer cells

    Olson, a pediatric oncologist and research scientist in Seattle, has developed a compound he calls Tumor Paint. When injected into a cancer patient, it seems to light up all the malignant cells so surgeons can easily locate and excise them.

    July 25, 2014

  • An alternative diagnosis to ADHD: Schoolchildren need more time to move

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in recent years, there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.

    July 24, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 23, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 21, 2014