Penn Stresses the Useful and the Ornamental
University Follows Precepts of Franklin But Starts to Wonder If They Are Best
The founder and patron saint of Penn, Ben Franklin, stands in front of Logan Hall, surveying the Penn undergraduates with their slacks, sweaters and fraternity pins. If he felt inclined to comment upon his 216-year-old offspring, Ben would be pleased.
He would particularly like the energetic young men, with a concern for their futures and slide rules in their pockets. He would look with approval on the student hurrying to his class on the ups and downs of the stock market and admit the social usefulness of the several courses in the humanities. The multitude of organizations and activities woud please Franklin, and the University's concern for students' spiritual welfare would recall his famous maxim "to imitate Jesus and Socrates."
'Art Is Long and Time Short'
Most of all, Practical Penn would impress Franklin. His advice has been well-taken; "as to their studies, it would be well if they could be taught everything that is useful and everything that is ornamental; but Art is long and time is short. It is therefore proposed that they learn those Things that are likely to be most useful and ornamental."
But the University is not exactly content, with all due respect to Franklin, with what it is or has been. There is a growing doubt that Ben was the last word in education, and Penn, sprawling in the midst of grubby Philadelphia, is gradually coming to the conclusion that it is in the midst of the twentieth century. Like a huge, furry bear, it awakes from an educational hibernation, rubs its eyes, and scratches itself.
It is difficult to say just what Penn will scratch off as it reappraises itself. Certainly not the fraternities, although possibly their restrictive clauses. Probably not the second-class status of its commuting multitudes, but possibly the low caste of coeds. Big time football is gone, and fraternity blasts are going fast.
It is doubtful, however, that the state of liberal arts will be much improved, and it is somewhat less than likely that the undergraduate student body will soon assume an appreciably intellectual aspect.
Athletically, Penn has just joined the Ivy League. Otherwise it has a long way to go.
A Complete Educational Survey
The most encouraging aspect of the University is its unquestionable desire to improve. With a vast field in which to work, Penn has undertaken an Educational Survey, designed to evaluate every department, school, and feature of university life. Several hundred thousand dollars and 260 men are involved in the study.
Sixty of these men are from outside the University; all of them are educators and professional men with a confidence in the University of Pennsylvania. They do not hold this faith alone, for the Survey is being financed by grants from seven foundations.
The Survey has the confidence of the Faculty, the Administration, and--as far as they know anything about it--the students.
Through it, probably the most sweeping introspection ever undertaken by a university, Penn will discover what it is now, and what it should be in the future. When the work is finished, the Survey's planning committees will devise a schedule of priorities, and then it will be up to the Administration to find money to pay for the improvements deemed necessary.
The surveyors will find a very peculiar sort of Ivy League institution. Once great, it was described by the Beards' in The Rise of American Civilization as "a beacon light in the long history of human intelligence."
Penn a Pioneering College
In its early years, Penn was the most secular of American educational institutions. While other colleges were scarcely more than divinity schools, the Philadelphia institution pioneered in humanities and natural sciences. In the ensuing two centuries, however, Penn's position has changed. Now it is very much a pretrade school, while the other Ivies uphold, with varying degrees of success, education for education's own sake and a belief that the liberal arts are worthwhile ends in themselves.
Penn is a university where the College of Arts and Science is overwhelmed by seven professional schools and 11 pre-schools, some of excellent reputation. The Engineering schools, the Medical School, the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, the School of Education, the School of Fine Arts, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Social Work, the School of Auxiliary Medical Services, and the School of Nursing engulf the College and the College of Liberal Arts for women.
Liberal arts students are outnumbered not only by grad students but also by the businessmen-to-be of the Wharton School. Indeed, if any school or division can be said to dominate the University of Pennsylvania, it is the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.
No important distinctions are made between Wharton and the various other undergraduates, however, and the line between them is noted mostly from above. Indeed, little distinction could be expected to develop, because such would give unaccustomed recognition to the academic side of college life. Extra-curricular activities and social life are much more interesting.
Undergraduate Not Stimulated
The Penn undergraduate is not especially concerned with his courses, nor is he generally stimulated by the light fare of one textbook, few papers, and perhaps no more than 90 pages of reading per week that seems typical. The general attitude was aptly described by Pennsylvania's President, Gaylord P. Harnwell, who said:
"The freshmen wear little hats, and they write on the sidewalks, and they cheer at football games."
President Harnwell was being unjust to the Class of 1960. ("Loyal Penn Men tried and true, '60 leads the Red and Blue" runs their class cheer.) Actually the painting which graced the sidewalk outside his office that morning was the work of the Spirit Committee, a civic body that arranges pep rallies and other patriotic events.
The Spirit Committee is itself a creature of the Undergraduate Council, a big-men-of-the-campus club which is the main arm of student government at Penn. This group includes the chairman of the InterFraternity Council, the editor of the newspaper, the presidents of the honor societies, class presidents, and the like.
The Council not only mirrors student opinion and works closely with the Administration, but, most important, it approves the budgets and distributes funds for the many undergraduate organizations. Each student contributes a stipulated amount to a Men's Contingency Fund, from which the Council doles out money to extra-curricular activities. Although organizations can raise money on their own, the groups are in fact dependent on the Council for their existence.
The Case of Dramatics
The position of extra-curricular activities is unusual compared with some Ivy schools because of this degree of outside control, exercised either by the University directly or by closely allied groups. Dramatics is an interesting case in point.
In contrast to Harvard, only two groups exist on the campus, the Mask and Wig, a tweedy Hasty Pudding outfit, and the Pennsylvania Players, a half-serious dramatic group.
The Players, before they stage a play, must secure the approval of a play-reading committee composed of faculty members, administrators, and students. The committee submits a list of ten plays, in order of preference, from which the Players may choose.
Even more surprising, the Administration hires a "Director of Dramatic Productions," who directs all the group's major productions, whether musicals, comedies, or dramas. In effect the director exercises a veto over productions, and last spring her refusal to direct Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman led to a rebel production sponsored by The Daily Pennsylvanian.
For the past few years the Players have done $5,000 productions of Broadway musicals in the spring, not primarily for their intrinsic value, but simply because they are proved money-makers. Whereas Shakespeare faces a small audience in the University's mammoth Irvine Auditorium, Kiss Me Kate plays to a full house.
Only Financial Control
While publications are not subject to the same kind of control as dramatics, there is nevertheless a Graduate Manager of Publications, who exercises financial, if not censorial, control of Penn's four journals.
For a daily paper, the Penn undergraduate may read something known as the "D.P.," a sheet that regards itself as competition to the Philadelphia papers, according to the views of some editors. They believe this despite the fact that the Daily Pennsylvanian's Monday edition goes to press Friday or Saturday night. The paper does not adopt editorial policies on issues like the Presidential elections when the six executives disagree. Most editors, consequently, feel it is enough to cover College news.
A New Attempt at Humor
Other publications include a humor magazine, Highball--recently started after its predecessor was suppressed for lewdness--and a yearbook.
But perhaps the most interesting publication is The Pennsylvania Literary Review, an off-beat journal of frequent literary maturity. Editorially, the Review is refreshingly critical of the University ("We deplore the recent growth of bureaucracy and petty officialism..."), although it says little that has not been said better by David Riesman and The Saturday Review.
Of all the 50-odd activities on campus, however, none can compete for the average student's attention as effectively as the omnipotent fraternity system.
Fraternities at Pennsylvania are a curious admixture of good times, prejudice, big men on the campus, social stratification, and token interest in the academic. Fraternities not only form the bases for social life and undergraduate activities, but also are an indispensable part of the University's housing system. If fraternities did not exist, Pennsylvania could not house 900 more of its students. (Of course, the fraternities cannot house the remaining 1,1300 of its members who live in dorms, approved apartment houses, or commute.)
The frats, moreover, have deep roots in Penn's history, and to suggest that they are perhaps a bit archaic is to incur undying hatred from many prominent (and wealthy) alumni. The "old grad" would as soon sacrifice a thousand professors as do away with old Kappa Dappa Doo. Whether or not it likes the system, the University is shackeled to it for the foreseeable future.
Actually, most Penn administrators will say, with some reservations, that fraternities are a "good thing." They argue that they not only provide housing which the University cannot provide, but that they serve a useful function by breaking a inchoate student body into manageable groups.
Fraternities Produce Leaders
The fraternity thus gives the student who belongs an in-group with which to identify and a base from which he will hopefully move out into broader, college-wide associations. And it is true that from a core of fraternities emerges virtually all undergraduate leaders. As one non-member said, "Most people who are doing things here are fraternity men--you get to know more people if you belong."
Whatever their useful functions, most administrators and faculty members would probably agree with President Harnwell's statement that "if fraternities had never been established at Penn, I doubt we would go to the trouble to set them up." For fraternities present at least three major troubles to the University.
In the first place, there are not enough fraternities, and it is a matter of great difficulty to launch new ones. The shortage is particularly felt by Jewish students.
Of the 37 fraternities, 26 are so-called "Christian houses" and 11 are Jewish. But the relative numbers of Jewish students far exceed their proportion of fraternities. Thus while almost any Christian who so desires can join a fraternity, many Jewish boys find that they are "not good enough" to make one which can afford to be choosy.
The Jewish houses are overflowing while Christian houses are in some cases unfilled. The competition is therefore less for a Christian than a Jew. One Jewish fraternity has 100 members, while the average size of Christian houses is 35 or 40.
The problem which most concerns the University, however, is that of removing restrictive clauses and practices from the organizations. Seven houses, the majority of them Jewish, have stated or implied restrictive clauses, but the practice is almost universal except in highly unusual cases. ("Some Christian houses do have Jewish boys, and Negroes, and so forth," one fraternity member said.)
The Administration disapproves of both clauses and practices, and has said so. It has also said that it will not extract compliance at the expense of breaking national fraternity affiliations. Its strategy has been to attempt persuasion and to hope that religious and racial barriers will gradually disappear. So far progress has been slow, but administrative spokesmen are not yet discouraged.
In addition to the shortage of fraternities and their discriminatory practices, the University is also concerned with orienting the organizations toward more interest in studies and less emphasis on gaiety. Four years ago, the Administration, with co-operation from the Inter-Fraternity Council, set minimum scholastic standards which fraternities have to meet. The first year a house falls below a "C" average, it is warned by the Dean of Men. If grades do not improve the second year, the house is placed on social probation, which prohibits parties--the raison d'etre of fraternities. If academic laxness continues for a third year, the house goes on rushing and initiation probation, virtual death for the organization.
No Alternative to System
Ultimately, the University has no alternative but to support the fraternity system, if only because of the housing it provides for undergraduate men. While trying to build new dormitories, it has scant hope for much advance in this line.
If housing for the men is an important problem, then that for women approaches the critical stage. For the University has practically no dormitory space and inadequate sorority (called "women's fraternities") facilities. Since it disapproves of girls living in apartments, it necessarily numbers a high proportion--about two-thirds--of commuters among its 700 coeds. The University is meeting this problem directly by constructing more dorms, but no early results can be expected.
The Penn coed is an intriguing paradox. She is attractive and often intelligent, yet some Penn men will assert that it would be degrading to date one. This can probably be regarded as irrational and inconse-