1980-2000: A Stronger Center and Sesquicentennial

Promotional poster for National Lampoon’s Animal House

Promotional poster for National Lampoon’s Animal House

Unexpectedly, perhaps the most prominent development in Greek life of the 1980s emerged in 1978, with National Lampoon’s release of the unheralded Animal House, ostensibly set in 1962. The film, made with a cast of unknown actors on a scant three million dollar budget, would define much of society’s perception of fraternity life for years, if not decades, to come. To this day, many national fraternities feel the necessity of noting that they do not espouse the “Animal House style” vision of college life. The slapstick world of the (fictional) Deltas at the (fictional) Haber College was based on the very real experience of the main screenwriter as a Alpha Delta Phi at Dartmouth College, and there were indeed many chapters among the various fraternities for whom the movie represented only an exaggeration. With the decline of the libertine values of the 1960s and 1970s in favor of the more individualistic and patriotic fervor of the Reagan-Thatcher 1980s, Greeks once again found themselves a step behind society and the subject of scorn by colleges who viewed them as deleterious to academics. Where colleges had once barred fraternities as elitist and a potential threat to faculty authority, now they moved decisively to curb fraternities as corroding commitment to academics and promoting now-outmoded debauchery, particularly at prestigious institutions which viewed them as potential threats to their reputation.

Over the course of the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Epsilon, Rho Epsilon, Alpha Mu, Mu, Sigma Zeta, Mu Theta, Omega, Pi Kappa, and Psi Zeta chapters would lapse, and only the Alpha Mu, Mu Theta, and Pi Kappa would be revived expeditiously. Such a dramatic diminution of chapters had not occurred since the Civil War, when entire colleges were emptied for the sake of combat. Nor were these losses each an isolated phenomenon. In the early 1990’s, a cabal of small New England colleges conspired to oust Greek life entirely from campus, not on grounds of libertinism but because fraternities enjoyed so great a degree of power on campus as to threaten the administration’s desire to promote its own vision of campus life—following the archetype of similarly-situated Williams College successful ban on Greek life in the 1960’s. Ironically, Greek life enjoyed this position because it was at these small New England colleges that fraternities had first appeared and long prospered. That the end of the twentieth century found colleges seeking rabidly to extirpate the centuries-old institutions which had long been their helpmates through the decades seems at best ungrateful and at worst perfidious. Nonetheless, most prevailed in short order: the Zeta at Williams had struggled on after ejection from campus and only now expired in 1991, inauspiciously in the same year as Chi at Colby; the Rho at Middlebury would be lost in 1992, and finally the Lambda at Bowdoin in 1994. The Zeta and Chi were the second and fifth earliest chapters in the international fraternity, and their loss was a particularly tragic rejection of storied history. [Bowdoin’s trustees decision to abolish the Greek system and decision to expel any students joining a so-called “underground fraternity”, see pt 1 for Colby’s campaign, and Deke’s pioneering Restore Our Educational Rights which, notes the Chronicle of Higher Education, succeeded in having inserted into the Higher Education Act of 1998 a nonbinding “Sense of Congress” that colleges should allow students to freely associate, specifically with fraternal organizations. As to Middlebury, see the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review noting that the board of trustees had declared Greek life “antithetical to the mission of the college” and “an anachronism” and proscribed first any unisexual and then any Greek organization.]

Yet during this same period, Zeta Psi forged onwards in its long-standing mission to forge new ground and maintain its presence at elite institutions. The dawning of the 1980s saw the reactivation of the long-dormant Alpha chapter at Columbia in 1981 and Omicron Epsilon at Princeton in 1982. In the late 1980’s, Zeta Psi nearly regained its unique status as the only fraternity ever to have concurrent chapters at all eight Ivy League schools. (It had last enjoyed this privilege for only four years from 1889 with the chartering of Eta at Yale to the lapse of Omicron Epsilon at Princeton in 1893.) From 1982 to 1986, it had chapters at every Ivy but Yale; but before Eta’s reactivation at Yale in 1990, the Epsilon chapter at Brown had been expelled (in 1986) from the fraternity for betraying the principles and legacy of Zeta Psi, reforming as an unaffiliated local fraternity. [Zeta Delta Xi’s version of events] That errant chapter’s faithlessness denied the fraternity this honor richly deserved by three other Ivies’ reactivation.

But Br McElroy, who had seen the fraternity so adeptly through the faculty opposition of the 1970’s, was still firmly at the helm, ensuring the continuing health of the international brotherhood. The Lambda Psi and Alpha Mu chapters would both be reactivated in 1997 and their houses regained short years after their lapses, preserving the rich tradition of Zetes at Wisconsin and Dalhousie; and the drive to expand to distant and unique schools continued apace. Though the chartering of Delta Alpha at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1990 was short-lived, Zeta Psi persevered with Iota Delta at UC Davis in 1981; Tau Alpha, Texas A&M, 1992; and Psi Kappa, USC, 1996. A number of chapters were chartered during this time period including those at specialized arts and engineering institutions like the Kappa Phi at Cooper Union (1984), the Alpha Nu at Claremont College (1991) and the Tau Theta at the Ontario Institution of Technology (2005). In addition, Zeta Psi chartered chapters at the three Catholic institutions with the Alpha Omega at Villanova (1984), the Nu Delta at Marist College (2001) and the Nu Sigma at Seton Hall University (2003).

Br Dr Louis Capozzoli Jr.

Br Dr Louis Capozzoli Jr.

Br McElroy would be the longest-serving Executive Director in the fraternity’s history, serving almost a quarter of a century until stepping down in 1996, just one year shy of Zeta Psi’s sesquicentennial. Though unquestionably the driving force behind much of Zeta Psi’s institutional success, like all great men he benefited from able help. The Strategic Planning committee was formed under the chairmanship of Br Robert Busteed (Ο 1960) to study and report back on long-term goals of the fraternity, implementing the Star Points program which directs the focus of the international fraternity on five issues: organization, programming, alumni relations, chapter development, and brand marketing. Ambitious new programs for bringing together disparate actives and elders have been implemented with the generous support of alumni Br Dr Louis Capozzoli Jr (Φ 1947) for the Leadership Training Institute run by the Educational Foundation, and Br Alan H Rice (ΑΒ 1950) for the Alumni Development Program. Since their initial endowments, the programs have only expanded. Leadership Training Institutes are now held several times a year at different chapters to allow different geographical areas to attend, and allow not only the nurturing of more effective government in chapters but also for brothers from disparate chapters to meet regionally between national conventions.

The sesquicentennial of Zeta Psi in 1997 was celebrated with a decadent gala in New York, so grand and expansive that all three Manhattan chapters—Phi, Alpha, and Kappa Phi—were each called on to organize and host events throughout the weekend. The New York Times reported on the festivities, and Zetes from every reach of the continent ran the city dry. The fète coincided with the turning of the millennium, with all the portentous meaning inhering to that date. The new decade, the new century, the new chiliad all augur well for a fraternity in the hands of dedicated leaders running a tight organization around which chapters throughout the continent cluster and multiply.