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Late 1970s: Adelphic Literary Society tries its luck

April 7, 2000

As some fraternities established themselves in Pownal, Alpha Delta Phi (AD), which had disappeared in the 1960s, reemerged in the spring of 1976 in its old domain of Perry House. At least 24 students signed a letter to the fraternity’s international leadership requesting recognition for the “Adelphic Literary Society of Williamstown” (abbreviated “ALS”), what would essentially be an AD chapter. AD International accepted the request, and 15 students joined the ALS that May.

AD International then stepped in to vouch for the fledgling fraternity. In July of 1976, AD leadership met with representatives from the College — President Chandler, the treasurer, the dean of the College, the director of development, and a trustee — at the Williams Club in New York City. AD International asked the College to grant amnesty to the students in the ALS, hinting that it otherwise would bring legal action on First Amendment grounds.

The College leaders refused. As a private institution, they argued, the College had the ability to regulate its own residential life.

Personally, I am mystified as to why you don’t spend your time, energy and resources on places where you are wanted rather than on Williams where you are not,” Director of Development Willard Dickerson ’40 sniffed in a letter to the president of AD International two weeks after the meeting at the Williams Club.

The Record learned in September 1976 about the ALS’ attempt to establish itself on campus. One cause for concern among the administration, it noted, was that “five of the fraternities whose property was taken over by Williams when fraternities were banned have ‘reverter clauses’ in their agreements such that, if fraternities return to Williams, their former property will revert to them.” In other words, if the College let one fraternity exist, it would have to give up some of the former fraternity houses it now owned. (At least two of these reverter clauses expired in the early 1980s, according to deeds and tax documents obtained by the Record last year.)

Peter Berek, dean of the College at the time of the ALS controversy, said that he didn’t remember the reverter clauses’ being the primary driver of the Dean’s Office anti-fraternity stance. It was more that a return of fraternities would have weakened a vision of education that encompassed more than academics. With no fraternities, Berek said, the College now bore responsibility for the social, and not just intellectual, lives of students. 

And in any case, the ALS was not the College’s most pressing concern. “It seemed more an episode of silliness than a major threat to the College,” Berek said.

Personally, I am mystified as to why you don’t spend your time, energy and resources on places where you are wanted rather than on Williams where you are not.” —Director of Development Willard Dickerson ’40 to ALS International

The Board of Trustees nevertheless put out a statement in October 1976 reminding students of the ban on fraternities. Soon after, a letter to the Record from an official of AD International revealed that the ALS had dissolved itself.

Meanwhile, the TDX chapter was going strong. The spring 1977 newsletter sent to alums reported the induction of five members of the Class of 1979. It boldly listed the names of the 106 men who had been in the fraternity from 1970 through 1977, one of whom is now a College trustee and one of whom is now in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a May 1977 letter to the Dean’s Office urging the College to take a firmer anti-fraternity stance, Tim Hester ’77 noted that there were three off-campus fraternities, which he estimated had a total of 100 members. He recommended that the College dissuade students from joining fraternities by reminding students of the reasons behind the ban.

Writing to the Record over four decades later, Hester said he had forgotten about the letter. He recalled, though, that the existence of fraternities was common knowledge when he was a student.

“I do not remember the names of the fraternities, but it was widely known on campus that there were active fraternities,” he wrote. “This was not viewed as a secret, and as my note reflected there was a lively social scene at various off-campus fraternities during these years.”

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