« PreviousContinue »
less extravagance, it is because older heads have not done their duty, alumni have been neglectful, and college authorities remiss.
Another charge of truth and weight is that fraternities set over much store by college offices. Certainly nobody can defend the development by which fraternity bosses make combinations and vote their chapters with a skill that reminds one of Platt or Quay. Still, it is only just to point out that fraternity men are not the only seekers after office. As long as men in or out of college have offices to struggle for, there will be politics, whether fraternities participate in the elections or not. Senator Marion Butler, of North Carolina, was not a fraternity man, yet there was not in all the university a better or more notorious worker of "quills" (our name for tricks) than he. A remedy is to be found in educating public opinion, not in suppressing fraternities. Suppress fraternities, even prevent local societies, and personal cliques will spring up, with none of the restraints that act upon fraternitiesno past to emulate, no future to care for, but only present success to achieve by fair means or foul. I do not mean that fraternities do not ever employ foul means. I do mean that it is easier to get at, easier to guide a continuous body with traditions and standards than it is an intangible clique or a temporary local society.
Much the same thing may be said about the charge of encouraging dissipation. That fraternity men gamble, get drunk, do much worse things, no one can deny, but so do non-fraternity men. Promising boys have been ruined by fraternity associations, but so have boys that never belonged to fraternities at all. From being an ardent fraternity man in days of extreme simplicity, I came for a while to the opinion that fraternities were the cause of so much evil, in particular of so much dissipation, that it would have been better if they had never been born, but being born, they could to great profit be destroyed forthwith. But in all soberness, I must now maintain that they more often save than destroy, and if they at times seem wholly evil, it is because alumni and college authorities have not done their duty. An individual personally reckless may be brought to pause before he involves in disgrace an institution he has sworn most solemnly to love and cherish. An individual who would be abandoned under other circumstances may be
held back and lifted up by fraternity mates bound to him by ties almost sacred in their character.
On this point, hear ex-President White, of Cornell: "College fraternities,” he says, “can be made a very useful adjunct in college discipline.
More than once, when some member of a fraternity has been careless in conduct or study, I have summoned senior members of his chapter, discussed the matter confidentially with them, dwelt upon the injury the man was doing to his fraternity, and insisted that it must reform him or remove him. This expedient has often succeeded where all others have failed."
All this is not to say that the fraternity system is ideal, certainly not that we should rest content with it as it exists at present. I see grievous faults, and dangerous tendencies. But the remedy is not to be found in destruction. The first thing to do is to diagnose the case, the second to find the remedy, the third to apply it fearlessly. The evils of cliquishness and snobbery, extravagance, politics, dissipation, I have already noted, and found a cure in an educated public opinion, and in the greater interest and effort of alumni and college authorities. Besides these, however, in some places is an evil of fundamental importance and of far-reaching effect. I mean haste in the initiation of new men. So keen is the rivalry among the different chapters, so intense the eagerness to fill depleted ranks, that new men are rushed into membership in the first two or three weeks of the session without opportunity for the new man to know the old man or for the old to know the new. The habit is destructive of the very basis of all fraternities. Fraternities are formed to unite in the closest of bonds men of kindred character and tastes. In the hurly-burly of a hot rushing season, how can that subtle sympathy on which friendship rests be discovered? It is utterly impossible; miserable mistakes are made constantly. If good results follow, they are mainly fortuitous. A system of assignment by the president of the college would answer equally well. The practice is absurd, indecent, insane, from the fraternity standpoint; to the college at large it is demoralizing to a high degree. In the University of Texas the fraternities themselves recognize the evil, and have lately agreed to postpone the issuance of invitations to membership for about four months after the opening of the session. I do not believe this will be found sufficient; safety demands at least a year here as in other places, but the step is an undoubted advance, the more welcome as it is taken by the fraternities themselves, and is to be enforced by them.
I come now to a consideration of what should be the attitude of the college authorities to fraternities. There are three possibilities, all of which have been tried. Prohibition, to my mind, is not desirable in the first instance, and it is now so difficult as to be almost out of the question. Equally undesirable is the doctrine of laissez faire. There are some who believe that this policy develops self-reliance, self-control, self-government. Some people even rear their children on this principle. None the less, it seems to me fundamentally wrong. Young people are thoughtless, impulsive, regardless of consequences. Thank heaven they are. Enthusiasm, generous impulse, exuberant life are delightful to see, but that is no reason why the young should not have also the benefit of the experience of the old. We do not permit a man in the delirium of fever to do himself hurt; why does not external control make for the ultimate good of those also who have not yet reached the full measure of their wisdom or power?
The third policy remains of regulation. This need not be by printed rule. The most efficient regulation is often exercised by the president individually, by personal counsel, pointing out faults and leading to reform. But regulation of another sort is quite possible, and has been found in practice helpful. It has taken two forms, one of fixing the terms under which fraternities are admitted to or allowed in an institution, the other of passing laws regulating their conduct. The first answers to the charter granted corporations by the Secretary of State in accordance with principles laid down by the Legislature, the other to laws passed by the Legislature after the charter is granted. Constant interference by the college authorities is likely to be more productive of irritation and hard-feeling than of benefits. Charter regulation, however, seems to me well nigh essential. To begin with, it relieves the student's mind of any idea that his fraternity is independent of, or beyond the jurisdiction of, the college authorities. In the next place it enables the college to control to a certain extent the character of men who become members of fraternities. Again, it establishes a relation between fraternities and authorities that makes easy and natural the frank discussion of matters of mutual con
Most important of all, it enables the authorities to get rid of a fraternity that is objectionable. Exactly what conditions should be incorporated in the fraternity charter would be a matter requiring the most careful consideration. They should be precise, but certainly not petty. Among them I should put first perhaps the prohibition of too early initiations. I am attracted, too, by the suggestion of applying to fraternities the principle that governs in many of our colleges the choice of student representatives in athletics, music, and oratory. By this no man is allowed to stand for his institution on public occasions who is deficient in scholarship. Why not make scholarship a criterion of fraternity membership? President McFarland, of Iowa State University, some years ago reported that the plan had had good results there. It certainly seems worthy of consideration.
Whatever rules are adopted, they should be rigidly enforced without fear or favor. Speaking generally, few things are more demoralizing than failure to enforce law. In a matter of this kind, there can be no dallying. Real restriction may be helpful, pretense at it will only serve to bring the college authorities into contempt.
I have spoken thus far of fraternities chiefly as regards their effect on their own members. Despite their possibility of evil, I have registered my conviction that on the whole they are beneficial. How is it from the point of view of the institution? Do they do any good ? Decidedly, yes. Aside from the attainment of their professed objects in the improvement of their members, and the influence of these members on the student body at large, aside from the help in discipline which they may be made to render, fraternities seem to me to do much to make college life attractive, and thus to retain students who would abandon academic training too early; they seem to me to help in the creation of college spirit, they seem to me to do more than any one agency to keep alive the affection of alumnus for his alma mater. If this be true, from the standpoint of the college as well as their own, fraternities deserve encouragement rather than reprobation.
Once more, and this is the conclusion of the whole matter, fraternities are the expression of a natural instinct. They exist. They are powerful. If they do harm, they also do good. To repress them will put an end to the good they do without certainly preventing the evil. It is, moreover, a herculean task, and if accomplished will alienate from the college the affections of many of the most loyal and influential alumni, to say nothing of the active members of the suppressed chapters. On the other hand, wise regulation promises good on many accounts. Which policy is it the part of wisdom to take?
THE TRUE SPIRIT FOR INDEPENDENCE DAY.
YANCEY LEWIS, PROFESSOR OF LAW.
We honor ourselves by celebrating this day. We prove that we are not insensible to a heroic chapter in human history, nor lacking in gratitude to those by whose calm wisdom and supreme fortitude we have been blessed. But we do not, we cannot, add aught of honor to those who made this day memorable. High above our feeble tribute, their works do honor them; and their works endure. They endure in the thrilling story which shall not only inspire us and our successors after us, but shall strengthen the hearts of men who, in distant times and under other skies, shall strike for freedom. They endure in the wise policies by which the administration of justice is simplified, the rights of womanhood enlarged, the rights of the family and the home safeguarded. They endure in this University, reared by courage joined with wisdom, broad-based upon a people's will, consecrated to the education, without price, of all those, whether low-born or powerful, who aspire to be free of the shackles of ignorance and to walk in the glorious light of knowledge. They endure in this great commonwealth, marked out by area, by climatic condition, by physical environment and by the indwelling spirit of its people, for empire-in this huge leviathan among the states, not yet articulate, not yet having the unity of its highest purpose, nor wrought to its best hope, but destined ultimately, in my view, to speak with the strongest and most individual voice of all our States and to be the most potent and controlling factor in our civilization.
If, then, we cannot honor the dead, how shall we make the observance of this day acceptable to them and serviceable to ourselves? The loud acclaim, the patriotic song, the studied oration,