Moreover, fraternities tie alumni to their colleges in a powerful and lucrative way

In fairly short order, a paradox began to emerge, one that exists to this day. While the fraternities continued to exert their independence from the colleges with which they were affiliated, these same colleges started to develop an increasingly bedeviling kind of interdependence with the accursed societies. To begin with, the fraternities involved themselves very deeply in the business of student housing, which provided tremendous financial savings to their host institutions, and allowed them to expand the number of students they could admit. Today, one in eight American students at four-year colleges lives in a Greek house, and a conservative estimate of the collective value of these houses across the country is $3 billion. Greek housing constitutes a troubling fact for college administrators (the majority of fraternity-related deaths occur in and around fraternity houses, over which the schools have limited and widely varying levels of operational oversight) and also a great boon to them (saving them untold millions of dollars in the construction and maintenance of campus-owned and -controlled dormitories).

Reader Responses

“My perspective as a fraternity member and former president of a 120 man chapter at a public university in the Midwest: Fraternity houses are inherently dangerous and fraternity houses are a hell of a lot of fun.” -Valyrian Steel

When Mom is trying-against all better judgment-to persuade lackluster Joe Jr

“Like Peter Pan trying to corral the lost boys, the job of fraternity president and his team is incredibly difficult and one that illuminates the arguments for and against the fraternity system.” -Joe

“Reform of the drinking laws would help the problems explored in this article a lot more than any realistic attack on the free association rights of young adults.” -C.M.

At least one study has affirmed what had long been assumed: that fraternity men tend to be generous to their alma maters. Furthermore, fraternities provide colleges with unlimited social programming of a kind that is highly attractive to legions of potential students, most of whom are not applying to ivy-covered rejection factories, but rather to vast public institutions and obscure private colleges that are desperate for students. to go to college, she gets a huge assist when she drives him over to State and he gets an eyeful of frat row. Joe Jr. may be slow to grasp even the most elemental concepts of math and English (his first two years of expensive college study will largely be spent in remediation of the subjects he should have learned, for free, in high school), but one look at the Fiji house and he gets the message: kids are getting laid here; kids are having fun. Maybe he ought to snuff out the joint and take a second look at that application Mom keeps pushing across the kitchen table.

Will he be in increased physical jeopardy if he joins one of these clubs? The fraternity industry says no. When confronted with evidence of student injury and death in their houses, fraternities claim they are no worse than any other campus group; that they have become “target defendants,” prey to the avarice of tort lawyers excited by their many assets and extensive liability coverage. It is true that fraternity lawsuits tend to involve at least one, and often more, of the four horsemen of the student-life apocalypse, a set of factors that exist far beyond frat row and that are currently bringing college presidents to their knees. First and foremost of these is the binge-drinking epidemic, which anyone outside the problem has a hard time grasping as serious (everyone drinks in college!) and which anyone with knowledge of the current situation understands as a lurid and complicated disaster. The second is the issue of sexual assault of female undergraduates by their male peers, a subject of urgent importance but one that remains stubbornly difficult even to quantify, let alone rectify, although it absorbs huge amounts of student interest, outrage, institutional funding, and-increasingly-federal attention. The third is the growing pervasiveness of violent hazing on campus, an art form that reaches its apogee at fraternities, but that has lately spread to all sorts of student groups. And the fourth is the fact that Boomers, who in their own days destroyed the doctrine of in loco parentis so that they could party in blissful, unsupervised freedom, have grown up into the helicopter parents of today, holding fiercely to a pair of mutually exclusive desires: on the one hand that their kids get to experience the same unfettered personal freedoms of college that they remember so fondly, and on the other that the colleges work hard to protect the physical and emotional well-being of their precious children.