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[FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.]
Current news from a Western college can hardly excite much interest in the East. Until we can send a foot-ball or base-ball team East that can meet some of the college league teams with some success, we do not expect that much importance will be attached to our athletic enterprises. It seems probable, however, that the points of difference in student customs between a large Western university like Michigan and a large Eastern one like Harvard would prove entertaining to the readers of the HERALD.
The foundation point of contrast lies, of course, in the difference of the Eastern and Western spirit. This is less evident, I believe, here than at other Western colleges, but it is, nevertheless, potent. There is a democratic spirit prevalent which requires that every body should be allowed a hand in every thing, that nearly all officers should be elected by general voting and as few as possible appointed, that no one should "boss" things too much, for one man is as good as another. This damages the efficiency of many of our organizations and makes politics lively.
Yet this is closely allied to a conservative and, in many cases, an exclusive spirit. I believe that innovations are more easily brought about at Harvard than they are here. In no place is the system of severely exclusive fraternities more completely in vogue than at the University of Michigan. They are not, as at Yale, mere class affairs, nor, as at Harvard, secret orders, but are institutions of profound importance to the individual in his college career and to the customs of the student community. The great question of the student's first year here is "what fraternity shall I join, or shall I join any?" The decision is usually reached in the first two months of college residence, and, whatever fraternity the man joins, he stands by that and no other through his college course and as an alumnus. There is no such thing conceivable as being in two fraternities at once. Resignations and expulsions are exceedingly rare; intense devotion to the welfare of the fraternity here and elsewhere is the rule on the part of the members. Over all their operations a veil of general secrecy is cast; the location of the meeting hall is unknown, and the very existence of the fraternity seldom referred to by its members in conversation. Many fellows, moreover, have no friends outside of the fraternity and no more acquaintances than they can help.
There are ten fraternities in the literary department, two in the law, one in the medical, and several with a mixed membership. The ladies or "coeds" in the literary department also support two. The average membership is fifteen, or less than four to a class. The ten which I have mentioned are divided into two cliques, five in each. Those who are not in any fraternity, the "independents," ally themselves as each one sees fit with one clique or the other. Thus are formed two complete political parties in the literary department, to one of which almost every man there belongs. One party, the oldest, publishes the Chronicle; the other, at first started in self defence but now the dominant, controls the Argonaut. Many men take both papers, but the power behind the thorne or the sanctum is the party which holds the most stock.
During the last three years this carefully defined system of parties has given rise to some lively elections, in which much money and time were wasted. One election is said to have cost over two hundred dollars, and another, to my certain knowledge, cost over one hundred and twenty-five. The number of voters are usually large and the majorities small. One election started, after some pairing, at one hundred and eight to one hundred and eight and three scattering, and remained in that locality for nine hours, during which all manner of devices were resorted to by both sides.
There are usually campaign committees and a complete machine, including the bosses which the democratic won't-be-bulldozed spirit naturally breeds. Any one who has a penchant for working in practical politics can get a very fair sample of it here, and in that respect the system may be valuable. Its direct influence upon students and the institution I believe to be bad; yet just at present it is unavoidable, springing from the very nature of things.
Most of the societies live and board together; the older ones own houses, and none but the most insignificant are without some sort of a habitation. These houses supply many conveniences which students usually are compelled to do without. Moreover they lessen the expense of living to their inhabitants, especially where the chapter owns the house.
Expenses here are less than half what they are at Harvard. One cannot spend much over a thousand in legitimate expenses if he live even extravagantly. Four hundred dollars will allow a man to live here in the same style that a thousand does at Harvard.
Co-education is in vogue at Michigan, as at most Western colleges, and if a vote were taken of the male students, it is possible that a majority would be found in its favor; but the minority would be a class whose opinions are entitled to respect. A better class of ladies has been in attendance the last few years, and the institution has been gaining in favor. The Chronicle generally opposes co-education, and (perhaps for no other reason) the Argonaut favors it.
The two papers are at present upon amicable, or at least not on hostile terms, yet naturally entertain no great liking for one another. The Argonaut has succeeded in working up a considerable subscription list and is financially secure for its first year, which is better than its projectors hoped. The Chronicle has for some time been making money; how it will come out this year I do not know.
Unless the faculty rises up and demolishes the scheme, there is a lively probability of our sending a base-ball team East this spring, which I hope will afford you some lively practice games. But it is a long distance, and takes much time and money.
Another peculiarity of the University of Michigan, which I might mention, and which in the dark might serve to distinguish us from Yale, is that Harvard is a very popular college here.
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