There were other quantifiable costs. Frat houses needed to be renovated. The College needed a student center to house student programs and activities. In addition the decision prompted expensive lawsuits, as some fraternities opposed the decision, though unsuccessfully. All of this cost millions at a time when the College's ability to raise funds might be jeopardized.
The Colby Echo edition of Feb. 9, 1984, reports on the fraternity decision and the reaction on campus. The Echo reported that the initial reaction to the announcement was negative, with fraternity members asking hostile questions and walking out of the session at Lorimer Chapel.
Fraternity brothers traditionally provide significant support for their alma maters, something they might not do if alienated. According to College records and current and former officials, the Class of '84, the year most directly affected by the fraternity decision, has one of the lowest giving rates.
But the overall impact is less clear. Cotter says that some people gave more because they were pleased with the decision. In the capital campaign ending in 1986, the College raised $30.5 million--$2 million more than its goal. Still, some fraternity members say they only recently began to give money to Colby. "I didn't donate to the school until Bill Cotter left," said Bill Sheehan '84, a DU. "That's the only form of protest I guess you can really make."
While Sheehan was furious with the decision for many years, he says he has now made peace with it for the most part and helps recruit students for Colby. "I interview for the school because I love the school," says Sheehan, a Massachusetts venture capitalist. "But I think there's a hole there that didn't used to be there."
And for some fraternity members, a bitter taste that still lingers.
"All it would take is one gesture on the part of the College" to finally heal the rift between itself and fraternity members, said former DU president Rosenberg. He wants the College to acknowledge the existence and role of fraternities at Colby. A fraternity memorabilia room might do it, Rosenberg says.
There is a display of fraternity memorabilia in the new Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center, created at the behest of donor Jack Parker '76, a member of Lambda Chi. Fraternity history doesn't necessarily need to be limited to that single display, said Margaret Felton Viens '77, director of alumni relations. "If the right people came forward ... and it was a documented need on campus," a room might be created elsewhere, Viens said.
Current President William D. "Bro" Adams acknowledges that the elimination of fraternities was painful, but he says Colby is better off today without them. "All the reasons explained at the time were the right ones. ... The risk was we lost or would lose that sense of identity, and that has something to do with institutional identity," he said. "There are other ways to achieve that."
Club activities, sports, and shared academic interests all contribute to a sense of identity and belonging. Administrators say the College has replicated other benefits of fraternities too. Community service has become an integral part of the Colby experience through the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. Students may live with the same people each year if they choose. The Office of Career Services maintains an alumni network for new grads and current students seeking jobs and internships.
"We want there to be a sense of belonging to the College as a whole," Adams said. "There are other places and ways of finding that."