Students, who widely supported fraternities, had expected the College to do something less drastic--require the frats to admit women, perhaps--so the decision came as a shock. Once the confetti stopped falling, however, students were "extremely curious," Cotter said.
Where would they have parties? In a new student union (one that would bear his name, it turned out years later), Cotter said. And what would become of the frat houses? The renovated houses would open in the fall as dorms.
Later that night fraternity members burned furniture, including a piano, and damaged other property in protest. Security around Cotter's house was beefed up, and "then it became very unpleasant," Cotter recalled. While some students--especially women--supported the decision, the pro-frat majority was the most vocal. Cotter and his wife, Linda, endured shouted insults for the entire spring semester, he said.
Off campus, reactions varied. Many fraternity members from earlier years were incensed.
But the decision stood. The following fall, when students returned, there were no fraternities at Colby for the first time since 1845.
Today post-fraternity alumni and current students may have only vague notions of how and why the decision was made. But one thing is absolutely certain: the decision played a pivotal role in shaping the Colby of today.
It's hard to overstate the role that fraternities played in their heyday at Colby and at colleges like it.
"[Fraternities] offered nothing to the residential-life system that couldn't be provided by the College." However, "fraternities were an important part of the experience at Colby. There were going to be hurt feelings" if they were closed.
Earl Smith, retired dean of the College and longtime dean of students
Today four of the 11 colleges in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC ) have fraternities. Those colleges point to traditions of community service and campus leadership associated with Greek organizations, as can Colby.
At what was then Waterville College, the organization of chapters of national fraternities Delta Kappa Epsilon and Zeta Psi was seen as one of the highlights of the tenure of President David N. Sheldon (1843-1853). When fraternities began to move off campus, in 1907, the College scrambled to keep the three remaining on campus by converting dormitories into fraternity houses. As the move was made from downtown to Mayflower Hill, it was a tradition that continued with the construction of fraternity houses as an integral part of the new campus.
During World War I fraternities were temporarily disbanded by the government because they were seen as incompatible with War Department activities on college campuses. According to The History of Colby College
by Ernest Marriner, when the war ended and the military withdrew from Colby, the January 10, 1919, issue of the Echo
reported: "Now that ... we are all civilians again, the fraternities are returning to their natural existence. ... It is a great relief to all fraternity men to be again in control of their residences."
When the College was planning the move to Mayflower Hill, a commission formed to study fraternities voted 19-2 to include them in the new campus plan. The Interfraternity Council, formed in 1938, became one of the most influential bodies on campus. It required a minimum grade-point average for new pledges, changed the traditional "Hell Week" initiation period to "Help Week," marked, at least ostensibly, by community service.
In the 1940s and 1950s, an estimated 90 percent of Colby men joined a fraternity, most living in one of seven residential houses on frat row. Later, two more fraternity houses were added, one in East Quad and one in the Hillside complex. Colby also had four sororities over the years, but, without houses, sororities had less impact than their male counterparts. The ranks of fraternities waned in the 1960s and 1970s. In his College history, published in 1963, Marriner, longtime Colby dean, contemplated their fate. "As this history goes to press, college fraternities all over the land are under attack as never before. Can they survive another century? Can the discriminatory constitutions, the expensive national offices, and some of the inevitable snobbery survive against the rising American demand for equality, for less bureaucracy, for less adherence to conformity?"