Greek Life Split

University of Colorado Boulder is adding back fraternities after 12 years without them, but not the existing network of unaffiliated chapters -- but two new ones, creating a potentially odd dynamic.

July 27, 2017
Members of Sigma Nu, an unaffiliated fraternity at University of Colorado Boulder

More than a decade ago, Lynn Gordon Bailey Jr., better known as Gordie, died of alcohol poisoning in a fraternity house at the University of Colorado Boulder. The 18 year old and fellow pledges were told to drink four handles of whiskey and six bottles of wine – Gordie passed out, and never woke up.

In the aftermath, the fraternities refused to sign an agreement with the institution in 2005 that would have allowed for closer oversight – primarily they objected to a rule that would have pushed recruitment from the fall to spring semester of freshman year. They severed their relationship with Boulder and have functioned independent of it since.

Now, affiliated fraternities will return to the university, but not the same collection of robust chapters that still exists, some in housing they own just across the street from campus.

These are two new fraternities, creating an unusual split between the existing system and those that will be under university purview. Boulder’s decision to expand Greek life also departs from the trend of institutions either curtailing fraternity powers – largely because of hazing episodes -- or attempting to shut them down altogether.

Namely at Harvard University, a panel of faculty and administrators recommended fraternities, sororities, and other exclusive campus organizations be phased out, even though they aren’t tied to the institution – the group asserted that these clubs perpetuate discrimination and exclusion.

But Boulder officials say that launching these fraternities and its own council will tap into and energize students and alumni, in particular because one of them, Phi Delta Theta, was previously established on campus and so has an extensive alumni base, said Stephanie Baldwin, assistant director for Greek life.

The two new chapters, Sigma Tau Gamma and Phi Delta Theta, will come in the spring and fall, respectively. The latter shut down in the early 2000s because of “risk management” issues, Baldwin said – she could not specify further, nor could Sean Wagner, chief operating officer of the national branch of Phi Delta Theta.  

In 2015, Boulder announced it would invite the unaffiliated fraternities – which number fewer than 20 – back to campus, but movement stalled and discussion stopped, Baldwin said. She said that the chapters were not keen on a homecoming because they valued independence they had built.

Indeed, though a spokesman from the Interfraternity Council, Marc Stine, refused an interview, he did direct Inside Higher Ed to a report from the Daily Camera, where he’s quoted as saying:

“The carrots dangling out there, but what's the stick? What do I have to agree to? What are the obligations? What authority that undergraduates currently have total control over would they be ceding to a new council or university administration?"

The Camera quotes Stine as saying the council was “turned off” two years ago by the way the university would punish fraternities and handle their financial disclosures – Baldwin said in her interview she’s not sure what that means.

A couple months after the council turned down the university’s offer, Boulder started considering other fraternities not yet created on campus – it found at least two. A spokesman from Sigma Tau Gamma declined comment.

Wagner of Phi Delta Theta said the fraternity had eyed the campus even after it had left because of the many alumni there and its proximity to the Denver metro area. The chapter was first established there in 1902, he said.

The fraternity will not be provided housing, but Wagner said he still sees significant potential – he noted that Phi Delta Theta differentiates itself with its policy barring alcohol on any of its properties.

Most of the poor press that Greek life generates stems from alcohol-related hazing and the deaths of pledges – these incidents have started to be more harshly punished, both by institutions and prosecutors, experts say.

Acknowledging that some colleges are shifting away from Greek life, Baldwin said that students still remain heavily interested in that culture, and Boulder wants to feed that in a positive way.

Both the university and the two new fraternities benefit, Baldwin said. Phi Delta Theta’s extensive alumni network could attract potential donors, and the fraternities can use university facilities and resources for recruitment and marketing, unlike the off-campus fraternities, she said, which must pay to rent out a space like any other business.

Baldwin said the university has heard questions and concerns from some new students and parents about the difference between the unaffiliated fraternity network versus the two new ones.

“I think we’re in an opportunity here to basically create a fraternity from scratch, though. We have an opportunity to use innovative approaches and don’t have any baggage with these two groups,” she said.

Should this new system work, Baldwin said she would hope it would entice the existing fraternities to rejoin the university.

Her department will determine later if additional staff members are needed later to accommodate the fraternities – Wagner said Phi Delta Theta tries to fill its chapters with an average of 60 to 70 men.

In the fall, Phi Delta Theta will send to campus a couple of professionals to help with the initial round of recruitment, which is typical, Wagner said. He said that the fraternity feels that an institution is a key and necessary support for a fraternity brother, and that stipulations that Boulder has asked for are standard.

Any Boulder Greek organization is asked to agree to campus policies, which allows them access to funding and other university perks.

The campus’ sororities and its Multicultural Greek Council never separated from the university. 


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top