The recent discussion carried on in the Nation and other papers has aroused a considerable general interest in the subject of religious discipline in American colleges, and a good deal of discussion has lately been going on in the papers at many colleges over grievances in this respect. In order to present a comparative view of the matter of religious training in the various colleges, we present below descriptions of the several systems in vogue, in some cases joined with comments by our correspondents.
At Columbia attendance on chapel exercises at 9.30 A. M. is compulsory for all students residing on Manhattan Island. Students living in the country and those having recitations at 9 A. M. are excused from attendance. Students are allowed "cuts" to the number of one-fourth of the total number of exercises. If this limit is exceeded, the student, ipso facto, ceases to be a candidate for a degree, and can only be excused from this penalty by vote of the faculty, and this not unless every absence is satisfactorily accounted for. The exercises consist of a portion of the Episcopal service, a chant, lesson, hymn, etc., and last about twenty minutes. The faculty make a point of being particular in regard to chapel and seem to be growing more so as the elective system affords a method of avoiding attendance. "The majority of the students would be pleased, in my opinion," our correspondent writes, "if chapel was abolished."
At Princeton, since the new Marquand Chapel has been dedicated and used, evening chapel (formerly at 5 P. M. and compulsory) has been abolished, except on the Sabbath. Morning chapel at 8.15 A. M. on week days and at 11 A. M. on the Sabbath is still compulsory. The whole system of absences is involved in those regulating chapel attendance. A chapel absence counts exactly as an absence from a recitation or lecture, and only such excuses as are valid for one are valid for the other. The only excuse that can be offered for any absence is a physician's certificate stating that he has been consulted and has seen reason to forbid attendance. Twenty absences a term (making fifty a year) are allowed, and are expected to cover all other cases. If a student is called away for a day, on some business or other necessity, he receives four absences - morning chapel and his three recitations or lectures. A Sabbath morning absence from chapel counts as three, so that a student leaving Princeton Saturday afternoon and returning Monday by 9 A. M. receives five absences, though not one of them has been from a recitation or even a lecture. The number of absences possible in one year (counting three for each Sabbath morning chapel) is about 875; of these, as we have already stated, the student is allowed fifty, the year being divided into two terms and a half. It only remains to state that if a student accumulates his quota of twenty absences, a notice is sent to his parents, and he is warned. If he receives thirty he is suspended from college for two or four weeks. If he received over twenty the whole number "count off his grade" - two-tenths for each absence. All these rules are enforced with some rigor. Is it necessary to add how this system is viewed by the students?
At Brown, first all students are required to be present at chapel exercises at 8.30 A. M. every morning (except Sunday). Students who reside out of town and come in on trains are permanently excused if the train time causes them to be behind chapel time. Almost any reasonable excuse is allowed, but an excessive absence is not allowed. The unexcused absences carry certain demerits. Chapel exercise is regarded as one of the regular college exercises, and is marked as such. Compulsory Sunday attendance at church is a mere farce. A great number of students have never signified what church they attended, nor, indeed, if they attended church at all. As Brown has no college church, it is next to an impossibility to enforce such a rule.
The compulsory church system at Amherst consists of attendance at chapel at 8 A. M. every day in the week, except Sunday, and at two church services on the Sabbath. In addition to these required exercises, class prayer meetings are held Sunday evening, and a general college meeting Thursday evening, at which from one-third to one-half of the students are present. The new system allows the student to cut one-tenth of the required exercises, e. g., seven out of the seventy chapel exercises this term, without rendering an excuse. The trustees and faculty are practically unanimous in supporting this number of services, but the students strongly object to more that one compulsory service on Sunday. The afternoon church is in great disfavor among the students, it being the general opinion that the only object of its existence is to keep the men in town. Efforts are continually being made to have it abolished, and it is thought that in a few years it will be done away with.
Vassar students are compelled to attend a short chapel service every evening, with Bible class, full service and sermon on Sundays. Theoretically each student reports her own absence; practically the presence or absence of students other than seniors is noted by teachers distributed through the congregation. Excuses from these exercises may be obtained from the resident physician on health grounds, in rare cases from the lady principal on the plea of great inconvenience. Seniors may absent themselves at discretion, merely reporting that they did so on a given date.
Great dissatisfaction is felt with a recent rule by which only communicants are ever allowed to substitute attendance on a Poughkeepsie church for Sunday morning chapel, and then only on the communion Sundays of their respective denominations. Until 1876 students whose parents preferred them to attend church in town were allowed to do so regularly. From 1876 to 1882 students could easily obtain permission to do so at irregular intervals. Now no such permission is granted. The only reason given for this is that "the president likes to have the chapel filled up." This restriction, which forces girls of every shade of belief to spend their time ostensibly given them for personal religious culture in listening to expositions of the tenets of that form of religious opinion, "whose bulwarks are the Trinity on one side and hell on the other," is held by Vassar students to be their one great grievance in the matter of "religious discipline." Daily chapel is not, on the whole, regarded as an infliction. Vassar does not object to the quantity of her religious exercises. She does protest against forced religious instruction, not, we admit in the interests of a denomination, but certainly of a school.
At Williams chapel is held twice a day - morning and evening, except Wednesday and Saturday evenings, Sunday morning being regular church service. "If a student's unexcused absence from college prayers exceed ten in any one term he shall be admonished, or otherwise dealt with at the discretion of the faculty." "No excuse for absence from Sunday service shall be accepted, unless, when possible, rendered to a member of the faculty previous to the absence." Morning chapel is at 8.50 in the winter, at 7.50 in the summer. Evening chapel is at 5.30 in the winter, at 6 in the summer. The attitude of the faculty on the subject is very strongly, if not unanimously, in favor of the present system. For a long time there has been a desire on the part of the students that evening chapel should be wholly abolished, or at least made voluntary. There is no movement against morning chapel, except on the part of a mere handful who would escape all religious exercises if it were possible. All classes meet for recitation at that hour, and it is not felt to be a hardship or any thing unjust to require attendance at that hour.
There is no system of church attendance at the University of Pennsylvania, but there are chapel services every week day, Saturdays excepted, at 10 A. M. The nature of the exercises is very simple. There is reading of the Scripture, followed by a prayer by a professor appointed to take charge of the services for the day. This is followed by declamation by members of the junior class. The exercises on the part of the students are more varied. They read, study, talk and do any thing they may please, until some few are selected and made an example of. Then there is a lull for a few days, but soon the disorder becomes worse than ever. The rules in regard to attendance are very strict. No liberty whatever is allowed. Every student must be in chapel every morning. If he is not, a deduction is made from his average, unless he has a good excuse. The excuses required are the same as those for absence from lecture or recitation. The only positive ones are sickness of student, sickness or death in the family, the marriage of a relative. If the dean of the faculty, to whom excuses must be made, is in a good humor he will perhaps accept others. The students are unanimous in their condemnation of such obligatory religious exercises. The thoughtful ones considering that such a farcical performance is a disgrace to the name of religion, the others voting it a bore.