Some deaths and injuries, which took place off-campus or at unofficial events, shouldn't be counted as fraternity-related, the leaders said. Most national fraternities haven't had any fatal incidents at their chapters since 2005.
National fraternities are not to blame when members at faraway branches breach rules against hazing and drinking, their executives said. Many dispatch representatives to teach chapters about risk management. They reinforce the lessons at annual conventions and after fatalities and serious injuries.
Still, national fraternities often take a hands-off approach to daily supervision. Rather than hire graduate students or older adults as live-in advisers, most rely on undergraduates to ensure that fraternity rules are followed, said Charles Eberly, former president of the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity, based at Indiana University.
In 2009, Penn State University freshman Joseph Dado died after drinking beer from an open tub at an Alpha Tau Omega party. Even so, the national fraternity's lawyer recommended against active supervision of local chapters in a 2012 article.
"The role of a national fraternal organization should be predominately passive in its supervision and involvement in the daily activities of local chapters," G. Coble Caperton, general counsel for Alpha Tau Omega, wrote in the newsletter Fraternal Law. The reason: Most courts won't hold nationals liable if they don't take steps creating a legal duty to supervise chapters.
Caperton said in an interview that his fraternity punishes chapters for violating rules and spends "enormous" sums educating members.
"There's no way we could have a person on-site running these 135 chapters," he said. "We are anything but passive in preventing alcohol abuse, drug abuse or hazing."
Some national fraternities may be reluctant to restrict drinking for fear of losing dues-paying members. Indianapolis- based Theta Chi learned that lesson after it joined a small group of fraternities that prohibit alcohol in chapter houses.