June 27th, 2011

_The Company He Keeps_ not a review

A review will probably be forthcoming; Syrett did good research.

I have some issues with the analysis, however, and I'm going to give a specific example from around location 2790 in the kindle edition:

In 1927, Darthmouth's president (a DKE) wrote a letter to the DKE national regarding the situation at Dartmouth. The president, Hopkins, is described earlier in the text as being very loyal to fraternities in general and the Dekes in particular, but not when that interfered with the college running well (either in terms of poor academics or bad behavior).

"the ideals of some of the older fraternities, among which D.K.E. is numbered, are that they will specialize in good fellows, no matter to what extent this same group is subversive to the ideals of the College ...[ellipsis in Syrett] The group results in the chapter at Dartmouth do grave injustice to fine individuals in each of the delegations. The conditions, however, are such that I should endorse the statement of a sharp-tongued associate of mine who remarked that he thought that a high-grade student in D.K.E. deserved more credit than a man of the same grade in any other chapter in the College, for he made his record against greater odds."

Then Syrett continues:

"Hopkins pointed to what by the late nineteenth and certainly by the 1920s had become well known among educators: fraternity men did not study...fraternity men were more often content to sit back and enjoy the extracurricular aspects of college life than were many of their peers."

The passage Syrett quotes, however, in no way supports what he concludes. Hopkins is at pains to identify _his own fraternity_ as the Problem Children. I'm pretty sure "good fellow" was the 1920s equivalent of "party animal", altho feel free to jump in and adjust my jargon (either from the 1920s, or whatever the current generation calls this kind of person). Hopkins is _not_ comfortable doing this, couching the Dekes as being part of a subgroup of "older fraternities", but then going on to quote someone else as saying the Dekes specifically exert massive downward peer pressure on academics.

This is by no means the only example of frat boys behaving badly in the book -- but a shocking proportion, even before the 1920s, in this book are specific to DKE. And Styrett is taking pains not to draw that conclusion.

I wonder why.