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URMIA survey shows higher education institutions are attempting to manage fraternity risk

  

By Glenn Klinksiek, Knowledge Center Content Manager, URMIA.

Copyright Christina KennedyIntroduction
URMIA surveyed its members in April 2015 to find out whether a rash of negative news stories about alleged misconduct in certain fraternities was having an effect on how colleges and universities view the risk associated with them. According to recent news reports, several universities are actively evaluating the role of the Greek system at their institutions. Alarming stories of alleged racism, sexual assault, underage drinking and even branding at fraternities have been in the headlines lately.

The survey focused on fraternities and not sororities because the preponderance of the recent negative media news is fraternity related. A fraternity is a men's student organization formed chiefly for social purposes typically having secret rites and a name consisting of Greek letters. Institutions may approach sororities similarly but sorority issues have not been in the news as fraternity events have been.

The survey indicated four observations drawn from the 60 survey responses. About a third of the respondents said they have reviewed the relationship with fraternities recently, are conducting a review now or are discussing a review. Another third are not considering a review of the institutional relationship despite the negative news about them nationally.

Other observations are:

  • About two thirds of the respondents judge fraternity risk to be among the institutions’ significant or top liability risks facing the institution but view the associated reputational risk to be less significant.
  • Every institution responding to the survey had one or more strategies for addressing the risk related to fraternity except for one. More than half the respondents require programs to address alcohol, hazing and sexual assault and require insurance. Forty percent of the respondents are uncertain whether their strategies are effective, and nearly one quarter feel they are not.
  • The majority of respondents see fraternities as important to alumni relations, as providing community service and engaging in philanthropic activities and as an important part of the campus culture and traditions.

In the discussion of the survey results below, when responses indicated a difference between private and public institutions or among small, medium and large institutions based on enrollment, those differences are described.

Survey Response Demographics
Large institutions with enrollment of over 15,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students represent nearly half the responses to the survey. Small institutions (under 5,000 students FTE) and middle sized (5,000-15,000) split the remainder. Public institutions represent nearly two-thirds of the responses. All but one small institution responding is private. Public institutions represented about 60 percent of the middle-sized institutions responding and all but one of the large institutions responding.

Institutional Relationship with Fraternities
About three-quarters of the survey respondents have a formal relationship with fraternities. For purposes of the survey, a formal relationship with the fraternities was described as one in which fraternities are designated as a “recognized student organization,” the institution has a specific contract with them or the institution maintains an established enforced policy specifically addressing fraternities. Few institutions had an informal relationship or no formal relationship.

Respondents to the survey were primarily large public institutions. These institutions and large private institutions tend to have a formal relationship with fraternities. Responding institutions with enrollments under 5,000 FTE (full time equivalent) tend to not have fraternities.

Fraternity Value to Colleges and Universities
Respondents were asked to select the advantages that fraternities bring to their institution from a list of nine options shown in Table 3 below. More than half the respondents see fraternities as important to alumni relations, as providing community service and engaging in philanthropic activities and as an important part of the campus culture and traditions. In contrast, 19 percent see no value in fraternities.

The survey responses show that public colleges and universities see a greater advantage provided by fraternities than private institutions that responded. In fact, one-third of the private institutions responding see no advantage to fraternities. Similarly, large institutions with enrollments over 15,000 see greater advantages to fraternities than do respondents from institutions with enrollment under 5,000.

Institutional Perception of Risk Related to Fraternities
Fifty-six survey respondents rated the risk related to fraternities. This risk was defined as the potential for claims and lawsuits related to sexual assault, bodily injury and discrimination at fraternities. The rating categories were:

  • HIGH RISK: Fraternities represent one of the top liability risks to our institution.
  • MEDIUM RISK: Fraternities represent a significant liability risk, but would not fall into the highest category.
  • AVERAGE RISK: Fraternities are a liability risk among many.
  • NO UNUSUAL RISK: We are not concerned about the liability risk associated with fraternities.

Sixty-four percent of the respondent’s judge fraternity risk to be among the institutions’ significant or top risks facing the institution.

Respondents judge the reputational risk associated with fraternities to be less significant. Respondents were asked how significant the reputational risk that fraternities present to their institution. Possible issues listed include damage to town-gown relations, adverse press and potential negative impact on admissions from negative fraternity events. Possible ratings were:

  • Fraternities represent one of the top reputational risks to our institution.
  • Fraternities represent a significant reputational risk.
  • Fraternities are a reputational risk among many.
  • We are not concerned about the reputational risk associated with fraternities.

Forty-one percent of the 56 respondents rated reputational risk as a risk among many. Forty-eight percent of the respondents identified the reputational risk as a top or significant risk compared to the sixty-four percent who ranked the liability risk in the highest categories.

Institutional Risk Management Strategies for Fraternities
Every institution had one or more risk management strategies for addressing the risk related to fraternity among the 49 responses except for one institution. More than half the respondents used each of the following:

  • Require fraternity programs to address
    • Alcohol
    • Hazing
    • Sexual assault
  • Require evidence of insurance with limits of not less than $1 million per occurrence (or more), with the institution as additional insured

Private institutions set risk management strategies more frequently than public institutions. Smaller institutions were less likely than larger institutions to have risk management strategies than larger institutions. However, smaller institutions were more likely to require fraternities to have insurance and have institutional oversight of fraternity activities.

Respondents were asked to name other risk management strategies they use. Four respondents pointed out that their institutions’ choice to have no fraternities is their risk management strategy. Other strategies mentioned were:

  • Rely on national fraternities to establish risk management strategies for the local chapter.
  • Have the same risk management strategy for fraternities as for other student organizations.
  • Require insurance for specific higher risk events (ex: row-a-thon).
  • Require each fraternity to have a Risk Management Plan to address all risks.

When asked whether respondents considered their risk management strategies to be effective, 11 of the 49 respondents (22 percent) felt the approaches are. Forty percent of the respondents are uncertain whether their strategies are effective, and nearly one quarter feel they are not.

Liability Claims Related to Fraternities
Over a quarter (13 respondents) of the 49 respondents have seen liability claims arising from fraternities in the last three years, while nearly 60 percent have seen no claims. For this survey, a liability claim did not include administrative or disciplinary complaints.

Respondents who had claims were asked if the potential liability exceeded $1 million. One respondent indicated a claim did, one declined to answer and 11 said their claims were not of that magnitude.

Institutional Reconsideration of its Relationship with Fraternities
Of the 57 survey respondents, 35 percent are not considering a review of the institutional relationship with fraternities despite the negative news about them nationally. On the other hand, about the same number of institutions (39 percent) have reviewed the relationship recently, are conducting a review now or are discussing a review.

Closing Comments
Fraternities continue to be an important component of campus life across the country. They do not operate in isolation, but are a part of a broader “Greek Community” that includes sororities. Fraternities have a long history and culture at many colleges and universities across the country, and there is no indication that the university community will be abandoning these organizations.

While this survey and report was limited in scope, there are probably other questions that could be asked, drilling down further into perceived issues and alternative solutions. For example, one question asked in this survey was, “Fraternities attract prospective students are as necessary campus life offering.” The larger schools overwhelmingly acknowledged this value compared to the two categories of smaller schools. At these larger schools, fraternities probably own or operate their own separate and independent houses, a phenomenon not often found at smaller schools. It would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between the complaints that have been identified and written about in the media and the presence of separately identified Greek houses.

Overall, this has been an eye opening experience, and it appears that colleges and universities are looking at ways to strengthen not only the risk management initiatives of the institution but also that of fraternities and sororities that operate on campus, with the knowledge and consent of the college or university.

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