Another group of students began meeting with Professor G. Calvin Mackenzie (government) to draw up an indictment of the fraternity system. Mackenzie, a former fraternity president at Bowdoin, ended up writing the indictment himself, which was published in the April 7, 1983, Echo
just prior to a trustees' meeting.
He wrote it, he says, because he was dismayed by what he saw happening on frat row and in his classroom. A staunch believer in gender equity, he thought frats should be co-ed and that their housing also should be available to women. He was the advisor to Alpha Tau Omega until that fraternity voted against admitting women, though ATO and DU had non-member women students living in their houses by the mid-1970s.
"Egregious" social behavior also irritated him, but not as much as the tendency for fraternity members to withdraw in his classroom. "You'd have these bright freshmen, then they'd join frats and shut up," Mackenzie said. "... That was just anti-intellectual. What they did at parties was their business. What was happening in my classroom was my business."
Fraternity brothers and a woman student line a fraternity house fire escape during Spring Carnival in the early 1970s.
The beginning of the end came in 1979, when behavior issues prompted the College's trustees to ask administrators to draw up fraternity guidelines. Among the standards were grade-point averages that could be no lower than .25 below the all-College average and behavioral, community service, and housekeeping expectations. The following year trustees wanted a report card. That responsibility fell to then-Dean of Students Janice Seitzinger (now Vice President of Student Affairs Janice Kassman), who determined that six of the College's eight fraternities were not meeting the criteria. "The trustees looked at that report and said, 'This is not working'," Kassman recalled. "They were concerned that the fraternities had fallen into disrepair. They weren't the fraternities they remembered."
Following the 1982 report, Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) was suspended and Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) was placed on probation.
Meanwhile, yet another report--the Select Committee on Housing--was poised to influence trustees. It recommended that all of the College's housing, including fraternities, be available to all students. With that report in hand, the College decided it was time to take a comprehensive look at the issue.
In 1983 the Board of Trustees created the Trustee Commission on Campus Life and charged it with conducting "a comprehensive inquiry into residential and social life in order to determine whether contemporary arrangements sufficiently reinforce Colby's educational mission and to recommend improvements." The commission was to investigate ways to improve campus housing, leadership, and social life, and to ensure equal access to those things.
The commission was chaired by Lawrence R. Pugh '56, a DKE brother, and it was composed of 18 members--of whom 11 were fraternity or sorority members--plus ex-officio members Cotter and trustee chair H. Ridgely Bullock '55. The group included trustees, alumni, faculty, and students. Administrators or College staff assisted subcommittees with surveys, campus visits, hearings, and reports.
The Commission worked for eight months, soliciting testimony on campus, holding alumni hearings in New York, Boston, Hartford, Washington, D.C., Portland, and Waterville. It conducted a campus survey, and commission members visited peer schools including Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Trinity, Wesleyan, and Williams to see how other colleges organized residential life.
Commission members considered four alternatives to closing the frats. Colby could:
- require fraternities to admit women, something some Colby fraternity brothers were willing to do, though their national affiliates threatened to withdraw recognition;
- provide space for sororities and co-ed fraternities on frat row;
- acquire all the fraternity housing, then allow special interest groups, including fraternities, to occupy it through a lottery;
- eliminate fraternity houses, but allow the organizations to remain as extracurricular clubs.
In December 1983, after days of discussion about the alternatives, the commission recommended that, based on its investigation, the College withdraw recognition of Colby's eight fraternities and two remaining sororities.
It wasn't an easy decision for Pugh, he says now. "I was sort of borderline" in the beginning, he said. "If I had to vote at that time, I would have voted to keep [the fraternities]." But a deeper understanding of a lack of diversity in the frats, coupled with "the disruption on campus" and the decline in membership convinced Pugh it was time for the frats to go. "Obviously almost all of us became convinced it was the right thing to do," said Pugh, a longtime Colby trustee. "It was going to be one of the most important decisions we could make at Colby for a number of years."
And commission members were aware it involved more than just removing fraternities. "It took me a while to come to the conclusion that this [eliminating fraternities] was the right way to go," said Anne Lawrence Bondy '46, a commission member and former trustee, who had been president of her sorority. "But we didn't stop there. We had an alternative to offer. We had a plan to give more people more say about their food, their living conditions, and everyone on campus more say about planning programs."