ATO re-colonizes at UMaine after 17 years

23 November

A fraternity with a near-120-year legacy on the University of Maine campus re-colonized about a week ago after a 17-year hiatus.

Representatives from the national office of Alpha Tau Omega and the UMaine ATO Alumni Association have been working since mid-October to recruit men from across campus to re-establish a chapter of the fraternity that was first founded at UMaine in 1891. ATO has not had a chapter on campus since 1993.

Jonathan Foss, a leadership consultant for the national office, spent a month on campus conducting what the fraternity’s new president, third-year financial economics student James Palen, termed a “respectful” recruiting process.

According to Foss, more than 50 students were contacted and 12 members have been initiated to date.

“One thing we’ve been trying to do is really bring great men together all across campus — maybe men who haven’t found a fit in terms of leadership, friendship, or an organization,” Foss said. “We want to be a very strong group academically, socially as well as leaders across campus.”

Foss said he met with every UMaine sorority, some fraternities, student government representatives, other student groups and administrators to find people who were “kind, generous, smart and a gentleman” to ask to be a part of the new fraternity. He, along with fellow Leadership Coordinator Mickey Hart, contacted and met with students who fit the profile.

“I was very impressed with how they went out of their way to approach me versus most of fraternities that hold rush events. If I’m an incoming freshman, it’s sort of difficult because you’re expected to go to the house and hang out and go take the initiative to meet the brothers,” Palen said. “They contacted me.”

Palen said the process was a “whirlwind” and something he was skeptical of at first. However, after talking with Hart and Foss, he began to appreciate the fraternity’s message and started attending meetings regularly.

“From my perspective, I never thought I’d be a member of Greek Life. It’s just something I never saw myself doing,” he said. “I know I was shocked at first when they called and told me I was going to be president.”

Palen said the national representatives had to choose someone who could they “entrust who will learn quickly and adapt” to lead the fraternity.

“You can’t really vote because none of us really had the experience in the fraternity setting and there’s nobody who’s been here longer,” he said.

Palen said now that he has been left in charge of the fraternity, he will continue the recruiting practices the national office started on campus.

“We’re making it our interest to go out of our way to contact people and show them that we’re just as interested in them as they could potentially be in us,” he said. “That right there is going to be monumental to our success.”

The fraternity has not been chartered yet — a process hinging on recruiting numbers and group strength that could take anywhere from nine to 18 months, according to Palen.

Foss said the goal by fall 2011, the group’s 120th year on campus, would be for the group to be chartered with 45 to 50 members.

At the completion of that process, members would learn the initiation ritual, which Foss said is “a reverent ceremony.”

Alumni Association President Dewey Bunker, a 1988 UMaine graduate, said the process toward the re-establishment of ATO has taken “too long,” due in a large part to a different president’s leadership in the early 2000s.

“I think leadership at the top of the alumni association was not very good,” he said. “He wasn’t a good leader. He wasn’t seeing what the benefits would have been to have guys back on campus.”

In January 1993, the UMaine chapter of ATO was disbanded by the university’s fraternity alumni association for “hazing and underaged drinking allegations,” according to a Sept. 1993 article in The Maine Campus.

“Basically, the law and university policies were broken,” Bunker said. “We policed it and basically closed the house.”

That September, Chi Omega, a sorority, moved into the house, which is currently leased from the UMaine ATO Alumni Association, and has been there ever since. Foss said the fraternity will not be in a house until “years from now,” but could move back into the house eventually.

“Some of those who are establishing may never see the house and that’s fine. That’s fine with us at the alumni association and that’s fine with these young men,” Bunker said.

Bunker said the new colony will be held to “a higher standard” than past chapters. He said all re-colonized chapters of ATO prohibit alcohol from fraternity activities.

“They know the laws. They know what our bylaws are. They police themselves,” Bunker said. “It’s not going to be an ‘Animal House,’ let’s put it that way. There’s no hazing.”

Palen said the members of ATO do not want to be seen as “frat boys” and want to separate drastically from the 1993 group.

“We’re going to stick to what [the national office] is telling us to do and we’re going to play by the book,” Palen said. “It would not look good for national and us in general if we were to, all of a sudden, blow up and not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

He said the fraternity, despite its size, will be heavily involved in service projects.

“Greek Life, in itself, does the most of the volunteer work on campus,” he said. “We may only have 12 people, but we want to be a part of this and we want to be a big part of it.”

Foss said the group has the confidence of the national office and has a unique opportunity other fraternities can not offer.

“I am 100 percent confident that these men will make a major impact,” he said. “Not all of the fraternities have the opportunity to be founding fathers. When you show up again 30 years from now and that group is still on campus, that’s one of your legacies.”

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