The trustees of Maine's Bowdoin College unanimously voted last Saturday to replace the school's fraternities with a house system by May 2000 as part of an attempt to improve residential life. The abolition of fraternities is part of a long-term plan developed by a committee of trustees after seven months of evaluating Bowdoin's residence, dining and other facilities. While Bowdoin administrators maintain the house system will allow the college to maintain the positive aspects of fraternities -- such as a sense of belonging, strong friendships, connections with alumni and links to tradition -- several members of the school's Greek community condemned the decision. "The feeling in the Greek community is that, if they really want the plan to work, they should get the house system up and running before they phase out the fraternities," Alpha Delta Phi President and Bowdoin junior Erica Sang said. Approximately 30 percent of Bowdoin students belong to one of the college's eight co-ed fraternities, which will be not be forced to close until all of their current members have graduated. But the plan forbids fraternities from accepting new members. Bowdoin Associate Vice President Scott Hood said the school's trustees -- 80 percent of whom are alumni of the Bowdoin Greek system -- had several reasons for voting to abolish fraternities, pointing to the "exclusive, self-selecting" nature of Greek organizations. "They tend to attract students who fit a certain mold," he said, adding that a majority of fraternity members are white, wealthy and athletes. Although the fraternities are nominally co-ed, they are still disproportionately male. Hood noted that there is an "ambiguous legal relationship" between the college and the independent fraternities. Because Bowdoin's dormitories were built without recreational or living space, the 70 percent of students not associated with the Greek system are still dependent on fraternities and their facilities for social interaction -- preventing college and safety officers from monitoring their behavior while on private fraternity property. He added that the house system will allow Bowdoin to take over the fraternity buildings and invest in their upkeep. Bowdoin requires first-year students to live in dorms. But seniors often claim the remaining campus housing, and most juniors study abroad. As a result, the fraternity houses are largely inhabited by sophomores, who Hood characterized as "unable to exert the leadership necessary to oversee house upkeep." In addition, he explained that Bowdoin wants to improve the image it projects to prospective students. "We are competing for top students," he said. "We have found that, in the vast majority who are qualified to come here and chose not to, the existence of fraternities was a factor." Hood explained the college also wants to draw more students back on campus, adding that the trustees' plan calls for investing $12 million to renovate existing dormitories and build new campus social spaces. The school also decided to require all freshmen and sophomores to live in campus housing, with freshmen being assigned to one of 12 houses to which they will pay dues for as long as they are at Bowdoin. The decision angered many student, who disapproved of the school's decision to take away their choice of where to live.
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