Princeton University is an institution steeped in tradition, but it may soon see one of its more progressive traditions disappear.

After a hundred-year absence, representatives from eight fraternities returned to the campus recently and attracted a handful of students, some of whom plan to join chapters at other colleges later this spring and try to set up Princeton chapters in the fall.

While fraternities flourished briefly at Princeton in the mid-19th century, since then the administration has a history of discouraging them, even, until World War II, requiring students to sign a pledge not to join secret societies. Since the last fraternity left in 1882, no Princeton students have been in fraternities, although one student joined her mother's sorority.

Supporters emphasize that the fraternities will not interfere with the 13 eating clubs, private social and dining organizations and fraternity-style houses that dominate the social scene. But it is because the eating clubs cater mainly to upperclassmen that some students feel the need for fraternities.

"Frats would do wonders for freshmen and sophomores," said sophomore David Wilkie. "It would give them something to do."

In addition, the fraternities offer smaller, more intimate groups than the eating clubs as well as a lifetime national brotherhood, noted William Robinson III, a 1951 graduate of Princeton and leader of the movement along with sophomore Robert Bradford.

Dennis Robinson, a representative of Delta Kappa Epsilon, added, "There was a period of radicalism in the '60s when to belong to a frat was considered the status quo. Now frats are coming back. Conservatism, brotherhood and unity are all coming back."

University regulations frown upon clandestine and sex-discriminatory organizations (only one of the eight visiting fraternities, Delta Psi, is co-ed) but do not specifically prohibit joining fraternities, according to university counsel Thomas Wright.