Several weeks ago my fraternity (Sigma Pi) made the entire history of our national magazine (The Emerald) available online. For those who enjoy reading about the history of our organization and learning more about the true foundations of the fraternal movement, this online database is a treasure trove of great reading. As soon as the database was made available I looked up those issues of the magazine which were published after my chapter was initially chartered in 1969 and then rechartered again in 1991. I made electronic copies of the relevant pages related to those charterings and shared them them with my chapter brothers.
As I read through some of the old issues of the magazine I noticed a distinct tone in many of the articles. The tone that many of these articles are written in is much different than what we encounter in today’s writings and discussions in the Greek world. The tone of these articles is stronger than what we read and hear today. It is not an inherently weakened tone nor an apologetic tone. The early writers in our fraternity were strong in their convictions and proud of their membership in Sigma Pi. I imagine that the men who wrote these articles would give a passing chuckle at the heavily biased, anti-fraternity, anti-male drivel that many extreme sources are publishing these days. They’d read an article that talks about the “dark power” of fraternities and pity the writer – not attempt to glean some greater bit of wisdom from this obviously biased perspective.
My long-time readers know that I remained engaged in my fraternity beyond graduation by serving as a local, regional, and national volunteer. And during the 11 years that I’ve spent as a volunteer, I’ve seen and heard a whole bunch. When I began as a volunteer, I joined a national association presumably focused on providing assistance and guidance to fraternity advisors. My membership in that organization lasted about two years. I left that group when I realized that it was not an organization focused on building and strengthening Greek life at the chapter-level, which is the area that interested me the most given my volunteer position at the time. Rather, this was an organization focused on providing university employees working with fraternities and sororities different methods of controlling their students, limiting their university’s liability in worst case scenarios, and implementing more “campus progressive” policies on Greek organizations (i.e. policies that clandestinely break down traditional gender roles by forcing fierce repercussions on men who act masculine as well as women who act feminine).
In short, the strong, masculine perspective that is evident in the writing of my fraternity’s early leaders is absent today. In fact, it’s not just gone – it’s blasphemous on today’s hyper-sensitive college campuses.
I’ve written a commentary about how and why the “campus progressive” mentality was formed and is now spreading in Greek Life. And I plan on publishing that commentary in the near future after I’ve revised it some more. But I thought it would be useful to show you one of the early writings from my fraternity’s magazine to serve as baseline for that future commentary. To that end, I downloaded the first issue of The Emerald and I couldn’t stop reading it. After the opening editorial, I was hooked by the first opinion piece which followed. This piece was titled Measure of the College Fraternity as an Institution and was written by Brother Ralph Stanley Bauer of our Phi Chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For those of you who are highly engaged in fraternity and sorority life, I think you’ll enjoy reading Brother Bauer’s thoughts which were first published 102 years ago. It is amazing that over a century later, many of the same criticisms stand against our organizations. The difference between today and back then is that the “muck-rackers,” as Brother Bauer calls them, are now empowered and working on college campuses! These muck-rackers are quick to throw away over a century of history in an effort to reprimand college students for a perceived deviation from their strict, mucky definition of Greek values.
Again, I’ve written more on this which I’ll publish here soon. In the meantime, though, I’ll end my thoughts here and yield this space to Brother Bauer. I hope you’ll find his commentary as satisfying as I did when I first read it.
Measure of the College Fraternity as an Institution
By RALPH STANLEY BAUER, Phi Chapter
WHEN a modern and practical man of affairs desires to know whether it is best for his son, a freshman in a university, to become a member of a fraternity, he is likely to ask two questions. One is: What is the demeanor of “frat men” during their careers as undergraduates? The other question that he will ask is: “What do “frat men” amount to after they leave college?” Of these two, the latter question is of the more practical consequence. Fraternities mould men. As they do this work well or poorly, they are successful or unsuccessful. The efficiency of a factory is never determined by the appearance of its product in its unfinished state and when it is only half way through the factory; only the finished product of the factory indicates whether the establishment is serviceable. Moreover, it is not usual to judge the usefulness of a factory by the poor quality of a very small portion of its products, but it is customary to study rather the average quality of the entire output.
Yet there are certain “muck-rakers” who are criticising college fraternities in a manner in which they would not think of criticising other organizations. They forget that the test of the efficiency and usefulness of a college organization is not to be found in the conduct, appearance and demeanor of the student members of the organization. They fail to remember that the test is to be found in the finished product and not in the half-finished material. They say that fraternity men are more attracted by outside amusements than by their studies; that they do not have time to do their class work because of fraternity activities, and that fraternity men are, as a class, sporty. Suppose that, for purposes of argument, we grant all these allegations to be true; does it indicate anything if they are true? Do not these same boisterous, rollicking, fun-loving students become real, live, industrious, useful citizens. In the modern university there is no place for a man who is slow; other students may sympathize with such a man, but they have very little patience with him. Real strenuosity is a part of college life, and it is also a part of business and professional life. What appears to some old fossils to be a sporty and wicked atmosphere is just the kind of an atmosphere that said fossils need to live in for a short time, in order that the stale and sour gases of musty antiquity may be met by a suitable antidote.
These old-time traducers of college fraternities go still further and say that the lives of some college men have been wrecked because of associations formed by them in fraternities during their careers as college students. But suppose even that we grant that this is a fact; have not some persons ruined their lives by forming evil associations while attending Sunday School? Yet, who would dare to argue that, for this reason, the Sunday School should not be accorded a place among our useful institutions?
Educators are agreed that a child is not a small adult and therefore should not be expected to act as an adult would. Neither should the same conduct be expected of young men of ages ranging from sixteen to twenty-six as one would expect of men of forty. Young men of student age need more of recreation, amusement and diversion than do older men. Many of the best forms of wholesome enjoyment are supplied to the student by the fraternity. All this aids in the development of the individual and makes him better fitted to “mix” with other men and take a real place in the world after he leaves college.
We trust that no one will take what has been said concerning recreation and amusement to indicate that the writer has any inclination to believe in the absurd and vicious doctrine that a college man must “sow his wild oats.” No more pernicious proposition was ever put before young men. It is difficult to understand how so base a view of life should ever have gained a footing anywhere in a civilized and Christian country.
If the writer had the space necessary, he would be glad to go into a somewhat full discussion of the reasons why a fraternity man, upon graduation, other things being equal, has received a better training than has a “barb.” Many reasons might be given to show why so large a number of our most successful business and professional men have sprung from the ranks of the college fraternities. Surely, organizations that have produced nearly all of the recent presidents of the United States cannot be wholly bad.
Results count. Vague theories and gloomy foreboding about the “cussedness” of the whole situation cannot impress a man who thinks. Let the great college fraternities of America stand upon their brilliant record of past achievement, and let us hope that the future will equal or, if possible, surpass it in glorious results.
We need more people with this mindset working on our campuses! This is the perspective that our young men and women need to understand. The angry muck-rackers should be shunned from our movement, not employed and empowered by our campuses!