Campus News

Bowdoin Trustees Give Final Approval to New House System; Fraternities to be Phased Out by May 2000

Story posted May 15, 1997

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- The Bowdoin College Board of Trustees has given final approval to a plan that will replace Bowdoin's fraternities with a non-exclusive House System by May 2000.

The action, taken on Saturday, May 10, during a regular campus meeting of the trustees, follows the approval in February of an interim report put forth by Bowdoin's 16-member Commission on Residential Life (CRL). The CRL was formed by trustees in May 1996 and charged with "developing a philosophy for residential life which includes as principal objectives the enhancement of student learning and growth and fostering a sense of community," and assessing "all existing facilities and practices regarding residential life in light of this philosophy."

During their meeting on May 10, Bowdoin trustees heard from members of the Ad Hoc Implementation Committee, a group composed of 19 students and led by Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley which had worked during the past two months to produce an implementation plan for the new House System. The implementation plan put forth by the students was endorsed by the CRL and approved on Saturday by trustees.

With the issue of student choice being a major concern of the student committee, the implementation plan provides three house association options for members of the current sophomore, junior, and senior classes. These students may choose to be assigned to the house associated with their first-year dorm, form groups of up to 12 students that would request to be randomly assigned to a house, or choose not to participate in the College House System. Member's of next year's first-year class will be assigned to houses associated with their first-year dormitories. Once assigned to a house, a student may request after Spring break to change his or her house affiliation.

The implementation plan also calls for the involvement of two faculty advisors to each house. Faculty involvement will be voluntary, with those members of the faculty who choose to serve as advisors to the houses being compensated to participate in the academic and social life of each house. Each house will also elect officers and various staff positions ranging from a social chair to a house historian and an academic chair. It is anticipated that each of the new houses will have a budget of roughly $10,000 for the coming year. Some funds will be allocated by the Student Activities Fee Committee, with the remaining money provided through a gift to the College.

Between now and May 2000, when Bowdoin's fraternities will be required to close, the College intends to work with fraternity corporations to incorporate the fraternity properties into the House System.

In recommending the closure of Bowdoin's fraternities by May 2000, the CRL had noted that the positive ideals behind the fraternity system are outweighed by diminishing financial and human resources at the fraternities. This lack of resources has, according to the CRL, led to a deterioration of the facilities and has made unrealistic and unsustainable the fraternities' burden of providing a large proportion of social space on campus. Additional concerns about the fraternities contained in the CRL interim report include weak upper-class leadership, an uncertain legal relationship with the College, and evidence that the presence of fraternities at Bowdoin has hindered the recruitment of top high school seniors into the first-year class.

To guard against the establishment of so-called "underground" fraternities at Bowdoin after May 2000, the Board of Trustees has endorsed a CRL recommendation that "the Board take a clear and unequivocal stand against underground fraternities and approve a College policy that will subject students who violate it to expulsion from the College." The CRL had made this recommendation even though its members believe "the benefits of the new House System will make membership in underground fraternities unattractive and unnecessary."

Meanwhile, another CRL recommendation -- the renovation of existing residential and dining space -- is going forward. The first phase of this work will cost an estimated $12 million. Over the summer, three brick dormitories, Maine, Winthrop, and Appleton halls, will be remodeled to create new and improved space for socializing and study. Three additional dormitories, Moore, Hyde, and Coleman halls will be similarly remodeled next summer. Other improvements are planned this summer for four college buildings (Burnett House, Baxter House, 7 Boody Street, and 238 Maine Street), all of which will serve as the first social houses under the new House System. Each of these houses will be outfitted with new kitchens and will be renovated to expand common areas and study spaces. Finally, plans are moving forward for a major expansion of kitchen and dining facilities at Wentworth Hall that will also begin this summer.

In the fall, the Ad Hoc Implementation Committee will address several remaining issues. These include ways to involve alumni/ae and College staff in the new House System, and how to incorporate other houses into the system as they become available.

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