Page images

and a half ago, a paper was read on the subject of uniform courses in colleges. Following this paper a committee was appointed to report on the same subject at the following session. That report was made at the following session, and then another committee was appointed to call a convention of all the colleges of the State and to present to that convention courses for their instruction, and also courses and requirements for admission. This is the state of the case in the State of Illinois. The committee is now at work, and it is hoped that in a few years this committee will be able to report - perhaps in one year and that at least a number of the colleges will adopt practically, at least for a length of time, the courses that will be suggested.

“Now what further can be done? It seems to me the work must be taken up by States, or at least by sections having some common center where representatives of the various colleges can come and consider the topic. It cannot be successfully handled in this National Educational Association. Secondly, let the work that is commenced even if it does take time, let it go on. I hope the colleges of our country will have an existence of a century or more, and we can take two, three or five years to do something that is desirable. So let the work that has been commenced go on. And in connection with this, allow me to remark that there ought to be a great deal of correspondence between the colleges of different States; and furthermore, our present Commissioner of Education, Dr. Harris, will be found a very valuable assistant to any persons in any State who desire to take up the subject and desire to secure uniformity in the requirements for admission. And finally, let these meetings continue. Even though we cannot go to all the meetings, let us have the meetings. Let us go as often as we can, let us exchange views, and the effect will be, especially if this topic is introduced occasionally, that there will be a leveling-up process begun.”

go on





When at quite a late date I saw from the published program that I had been assigned the task of opening this discussion, it occurred to me that I would like to know more fully what the status of the fraternities is in the colleges of the country; what the judgment of college-men is concerning their influence; and what methods are followed in the administrative control of them. To this end I sent out a circular of inquiry to the college presidents of the country, soliciting answers to the following questions:

1. What, if any, fraternities are organized in your institution ? 2. Are fraternities prohibited in your institution ?

3. If fraternities have been abolished in your school, state by what method and with what success.

t. What, in your judgment, is the influence of fraternities on scholarship in your school?

3. What is vour observation as to the moral influence of fraternities?

6. Have you found the fraternities to be helps or hindrances in matters of discipline? 7. Have you adopted any rules for the control of fraternities? If s

SO, state the substance of them.

8. What suggestions would you make as to principles and methods for the regulation of fraternities if any special control is desirable?

9. On the whole, balancing their good and evil effects, do you regard the existence of fraternities in your institution an advantage or disadvantage ?

I had received replies to these questions, before leaving home, from one hundred and thirty institutions; which, considering the lateness of the date at which I sent out the circular, the fact that it fell on a time when the colleges generally had closed, and many of the presidents were away from home, together with the almost irresistible gravitation which circulars with long lists of questions have toward the waste basket, is a very fair return.

I will not attempt to present any detailed digest of the answers which I have received to these questions. A summary of results on the principal points, together with the quotation of a few individual opinions and suggestions, will be sufficient.

Of the one hundred and thirty colleges replying to my inquiries, thirtythree report that they have no fraternities, but that they are not prohibited, and express no opinion concerning them. Twenty-one have none -- do not formally prohibit, but express unfavorable opinions of the fraternities; twenty have them, but consider them a disadvantage; twenty-seven have them, and consider them an advantage; one has none, but expresses a desire for their organization. Summarizing simply with reference to the favorable or unfavorable estimate of the fraternities, not taking account of the 33 that do not have them, 85 report as opposed to them, while 28 regard them with favor. It thus appears that, comparing the testimony for and against, the proportion is three to one against.

The complaints against the fraternities specify that they produce clannishness; that they give rise to unnatural divisions among the students; that they interfere with the work of the literary societies; that they add bitterness to college politics; that they are occasions of burdensome expense to their members; that they encourage extravagance and dissipation; that they are organized upon a social rather than a scholastic basis; that they are frequently places of refuge and rocks of defense for evil-doers; that they absorb time and energy that the student should give to his regular work; that they tend to cause students to regard college as a place of amusement rather than work, and that on account of the unnatural factions which they create, and the strife and bitterness which they engender, they seriously interfere with the moral and religious growth of the students. A few quotations from the responses which I am permitted to use will show the character of this adverse judgment. The President of Adrian College says: “I see no advantage that justifies the expenditure of time and means. The danger of their being perverted to a bad use is always great." The President of Lake Forest College says: “They destroy the very valuable literary societies, stratify the social life on artificial lines rather than by natural affinities, provoke unfriendly rivalries, and tend to dissipation.” The President of Trinity College, of Hartford, Com., says: “The influence of clique overbalances the benefit of association; they substitute the standard of party for moral considerations.” The President of Brown University says: “If they were not here I would use my influence against their establishment. Several of the fraternities are a positive help: but if you permit these you must the others, and a few are of such a character as to be an evil. The system with us has, perhaps, a slight preponderance of good as compared with no societies at all, but a large preponderance of evil as compared with the old debating societies."

Without naming the sources, I add the following expressions: “Artificial associations, become organic on the principle of secresy, corrupt good morals.” "They engender strife and immoral intrigues.” “They engender a spirit of strife, and in cases known, students have degenerated as soon as they joined them.” “They are an evil, only evil, and that continually."

Of the institutions reporting favorably for the fraternities I do not find many specific points of advantage mentioned, but for the most part a general, and in some cases a reserved, favorable expression. Of the advantages suggested, however, are the following: The cultivation of college spirit; a stimulus to scholarship as a condition to membership in them; their social pleasures and benefits, and the post-graduate bonds which they establish; a general inspiration to honest work and manly conduct in the case of societies that take in only the best men; and in some cases a direct or indirect help in matters of discipline.

With regard to the methods pursued by those institutions that prohibit them, in some cases they are excluded by provision of charter; in some they have been abolished by the trustees or by the faculty; in others they are kept out by the moral influence and advice of the faculty. In a few cases a pledge not to join a secret society is a condition of entrance; and in the case of the University of Illinois, a double pledge is required to be signed by the student one on his entrance, that he will not connect himself with a secret society, and another at his graduation or dismissal, that during the time he has been in the institution he has not been connected with such society. All schools reporting that fraternities had been abolished testify that the abolition has been made effective.

It seems to me very evident that the conditions affecting favorably or unfavorably the estimate of fraternities vary widely in different institutions, and that their character and influence differ in the same institution at ditlerent times. And I have no doubt that their good and evil effects are determined often, or at least are made more apparent, by the kind of institution in which they exist. Probably their evil effects are less observable if not less in fact in the larger institutions than in the smaller. The difficulties are certainly much more complicated in those institutions in which the collegiate and preparatory departments exist in intimate association. It also seems probable that in the older institutions of the East the fraternities are conducted more on scholastic and less on social principles than in the younger institutions of the West. And it is undoubtedly true that the moral influence of the societies is more unfavorably marked in the church institutions, where more specific attention is given to and interest is taken in, the religious life of the student. It is therefore impossible to draw any conclusions that will be true of all fraternities in all schools. We cannot generalize on the basis of the experience of a particular school at a given time. We must judge of the system as a whole in the light of the general and long-continued experience of schools. The matter should not be dealt with, either as to the recognition, exclusion or abolition of fraternities, with reference to local and temporary conditions; but broadly, on the principles of college statesmanship, with reference to the total average results of experience concerning them. If, on the whole, the verdict of experience is that secret societies constitute a disturbing and hurtful element in college life, those institutions in which they do not exist would do wisely to prohibit them; and those institutions which have them should either abolish them, or carefully guard against the evils incident to the sys


With regard to the control of the fraternities I have not received many suggestions. The majority would apparently recommend the “ let -alone theory," or a mere general control that does not recognize the fraternities as such, but deals with the student purely in his personal capacity. The attempt to exercise any specific control over them leads close to, if not into, that undesirable and dangerous region of interference with the personal liberty of the student that most faculties, for conscientious and prudential reasons, desire to avoid. Some have suggested that members of the faculty should be at least honorary members of the fraternities, and have access to their meetinys; that all their pledges and purposes should be approved as consistent with the interests of the school; that the times and places of holding their meetings should be known to the authorities of the school; and that indulgence in expensive banquets, the employment of an undue amount of time, and every form of hurtful dissipation, should be as far as possible prohibited. The president of Hillsdale College writes: “We appeal to their self-respect, and try to have them make their fraternities such that the best persons will want to be members of them." The president of Emory College says: "No fraternity can exist here without consent of the college authorities. We use them for good, by appealing to fraternity pride.” Another writes: “Better let them go their way; if the faculty attempts control or direction of them, they in turn will attempt control and direction of the school. They should be treated by the faculty as government treats Masonic and other fraternities.”

Personally I am convinced, however, that in most instances this “let-alone" principle will not be the wisest. The authorities of a school cannot afford to surrender the governmental control of its students, either in their personal or organized capacity. The fraternities are ordinarily too important and positive factors to be ignored. It may be, as in case described in the returns to my questions, that some schools are in the happy state of the man of such perfect stomach that he is not conscious that he has any stomach at all; but the disciplinary digestion of most institutions is not so absolutely reliable that they can afford to be indifferent as to what they swallow.

If I may be permitted to refer to the institution with which I am connected, I would say that we have had fraternities for many years. At present we are experimenting with certain regulative methods, the result of which so far, while they do not remove or even lessen many of the evils incident to the system, are fairly satisfactory. The requirements which we have prescribed are chiefly these: We forbid preparatory students being received into the fraternities. We require that a student shall have been in attendance in the school for a year, or in a school of equal grade, before his reception into a fraternity, and that for the year preceding his reception he shall have made an average grade in a full set of studies, of not less than 85 per cent. We require the name of every candidate for membership in a fraternity, prior to his reception, to be submitted to the secretary of the faculty, from whom a certificate must be obtained, certifying that the candidate is eligible to membership under our rules, before he can be initiated. We also require each fraternity to keep us supplied with a full register of its membership and offi


The good results which we observe from these regulations are several. It prevents the societies from taking in men too soon after they enter school, before the men themselves have had adequate opportunity to consider the relative merits of the societies or the desirability of fraternity membership in general; and before the societies have had opportunity to consider the character and abilities of the new men. It acts as a stimulus to scholarship on a great many students. Those who aspire to membership in the fraternities know they must make the required grade; and those who are indifferent as to the matter of joining a fraternity, still do not want to fall below the standard of eligibility. In this way it forces the societies up to a scholastic basis, and gives them a respectability and legitimate pride which they would not otherwise have.

« PreviousContinue »