WAKE UP AND SMELL THE LAWSUITS …
By LEN ANTHONY || In October of 2012 a UNC-Chapel Hill freshman fraternity pledge was found dead at a concrete plant near the University. He had a blood alcohol concentration of .22. The young man apparently fell 40 feet from a tower. The fall occurred sometime during the wee morning hours of a Saturday. According to The Daily Tarheel newspaper, police spent months appealing to members of the fraternity and the University community for more information about the pledge’s death but they were met with a wall of silence.
More recently, Wesleyan University banned students from the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house because of “a long history of incidents there.” The fraternity house had reportedly become known as the “rape factory.” The reason for the ban was a student fell out of a third story window and is in critical condition.
This week it was reported that a fraternity at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is being investigated on suspicion that members put “date rape” drugs into drinks served at a party.
Allegedly the fraternity had a reputation for putting “roofies” into women’s drinks. Apparently, no one took any action until four people were hospitalized after consuming drinks served by the fraternity.
The University of South Carolina just suspended the Delta Tau Delta chapter from campus for four years due to alcohol violations. The fraternity was on social probation when the violation occurred.
Now, we learn that a Clemson fraternity pledge died after he “fell” from a bridge during a pre-dawn pledge run. The local sheriff’s office said the death is “very suspicious.” WSPA TV-7 (CBS – Spartanburg, S.C.) reported that local members of the fraternity did not want to talk. On Tuesday, Clemson enacted a ban on social activities for all 24 fraternities on campus. The Vice President for Student Affairs said the ban was required due to reports of possible criminal activities and violations of the University’s code of conduct — ranging from alcohol-related medical emergencies to sexual misconduct.
I promise you, in every instance the university was aware (“on notice” to use the legal terminology) that there were serious problems with these fraternities, yet, they either took no, or insufficient, action to address the problems. The demise of the application of loco parentis to colleges and universities in the 1960’s and 1970’s may have caused schools to believe they have no duty and thus no liability to students. They are wrong. The laws of negligence and gross negligence still apply. Courts are beginning to look at the totality of the circumstances in tragic situations such as those described in this article and find that the college or university had a duty, which was breached, to take action. I hope the parents of the Clemson student sue Clemson and the fraternity because apparently, until these type situations start having a monetary impact on the school or fraternity, nothing will change.
My direct experience with fraternities both as a member of a fraternity and my son’s experience, as well as a fair amount of research, convinces me that groups of 18-21 year old young men/ children (physically they are grown but their judgment has not reached an adult stage) require supervision and oversight. When they are allowed to form into groups with no oversight the book Lord of the Flies is unfortunately instructive. In addition to supervision and oversight, they must be forced to suffer the consequences of their actions. When tragedies such as the UNC-Chapel Hill and Clemson students’ deaths occur and fraternity brothers refuse to talk with law enforcement or are not completely honest or forthcoming, the parents and the universities need to take action. Take them out of the fraternity. Take or kick them out of school.
At this point, membership in a fraternity is counterproductive to the purpose of college, obtaining a good education. All it does is provide a place for underage drinking and drug use and boorish behavior. Either fraternities should be eliminated or significant oversight instituted.
The oversight can be provided by the universities or the fraternities’ national organizations.
I know the frat boy defenders will pontificate all the way to the hospital or morgue about the friendships made, relationships built or male bonding forged as wonderful benefits of fraternities. These supporters are basically “Frank the Tank” from the movie Old School. In the absence of fraternities college students will still make friends and build relationships. They will still bond as they work together on school assignments, play sports, and grow up. And best of all they will live to tell their children about their college days.
Len Anthony spent thirty years as in-house counsel for a public utility. He’s now semi-retired living in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Wanna sound off on FITS? Submit your letter to the editor or opinion column HERE.