otter presented the commission's report to the Board of Trustees in January 1984. The trustees then voted unanimously by secret ballot to accept the recommendations: to withdraw recognition of the Greek organizations, create a commons housing system, which would be governed largely by students, and to build a new student union. It was the only way, Cotter said, to create true gender equity on campus, give the commons system a chance to succeed, solve behavior problems, and increase academic integrity.
Many students were skeptical about the process. "A lot of the process that preceded the decision all of us thought was a sham," said Hall Adams '84, who nevertheless applauded the College's action because he believed the fraternities isolated members on an already-small campus. The suspicion of a set-up, Adams said, was widely held by fraternity members and others on campus. The thinking went like this: "The president made up his mind," Adams recalled, "and the process was a vehicle for making this look like there was more consensus than there was."
Not so, Cotter says.
Critics have voiced suspicions that the decision was made before the vote, but participants deny that. "I don't think it was a sham. I think [commission members] truly felt this was a legitimate process. . . . I think they felt it was truly to be an impartial investigation."
David Marson '48,
commission member and former president of Tau Delta
"One of the first things we agreed to was that everyone coming in knew what the issues were and that they had an open mind to what the solutions were," Cotter explained. "We would enter into a fact-finding process that would last into the spring, summer, and into fall. ... We would not have any meeting to discuss possible outcomes until the fact-finding was complete. No commissioners would talk to any other commissioners until the fact-finding was done--and then only at the commission meetings.
Critics of the process have voiced suspicions that the decision was made before the vote took place, but participants deny that. "I don't think it was a sham," agreed David Marson '48, former president of Tau Delta. He added, "I think [commission members] truly felt this was a legitimate process. I don't think they recognized their own biases. I think they felt it was truly to be an impartial investigation.
"The frats," Marson continued, "had done such a good job building a case against themselves, it did seem to be inevitable, but there was a high degree of passion among staff and faculty to resolve it" in a fair and thorough way.
Still, even Cotter was surprised by the outcome, he says. "I would not have predicted where we came out, nor that ... it would have been adopted by trustees unanimously by secret ballot."
Questions of process aside, the fraternities did not go quietly. They quickly filed suit to try to stop the College from taking their buildings, which they lost in part because their agreements with Colby stipulated that fraternity houses would revert to the College if the frats were no longer active.
Dozens of letters to the alumni magazine after the decision show mixed views. Some writers were pleased with the decision--including some fraternity members--while others were dismayed. Twenty-two years later, some fraternity members remain angry about the decision. But many are resigned to what has been done.
Lowry, the DU brother, said that although the fraternities' relationships with administration had been tense for some time, the decision still seemed sudden. "We were all very angered by the speed of it all," he said. "They should have tried some alternatives, move slowly. It just seemed like they moved and boom--that's it.
"It's a very well-respected college in the U.S.," Lowry said. "I'm proud of that, but it seems to me they've lost something socially that they haven't recreated."
But there are other ways to make friends, argues Adams, now a lawyer in Chicago. He declined to pledge even though, as a football player, he was recruited to join Lambda Chi, whose members included most of the football team.
He says his decision had more to do with wanting a broader experience than with anything against fraternal organizations. "I thought that Colby was small enough to begin with and it didn't need to be made smaller by joining [a fraternity]," said Adams, who now serves as his class president. "I thought that fraternity life--and it did become the primary college life--stunted the development of many of the guys in the frat. It kept them from doing things and meeting people they otherwise would have met."