24 April 2006

Here's to Old Hampden-Sydney...

...a glass of the finest.
Kind of a dumb but mostly positive article on my alma mater and the three other all-male hold outs in the New York Times:
"ONE thing you might notice when you first meet Tom Melton and Matt Guill, two seniors at Hampden-Sydney College in rural Virginia, is the pleasantly anachronistic, utterly non-slacker way they greet you — they look you in the eyes, they say hello clearly, and in a friendly manner they inquire about your well-being.

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent any time at one of the last die-hard men's colleges in the United States or who has perused "To Manner Born to Manners Bred — A Hip-Pocket Guide to Etiquette for the Hampden-Sydney Man."After all, right there on Page 6 is the section on greetings and handshakes, which begins: "Always extend your hand upon meeting people for the first time, look them in the eyes, smile, and say 'Hello' clearly and in a friendly manner. You may express pleasure about the meeting or inquire about their well-being." It is followed by 51 pages of crisply worded advice on how a Hampden-Sydney man replies to a formal invitation, what he should wear to church, a funeral or a debutante party, the importance of the magic word "please," the proper way to chew food and the difference between a butter spreader and a butter knife. (The butter spreader stays on your bread plate; the butter knife stays with the butter supply for the table.)"There is more to being a gentleman than a gold American Express card and an Armani suit," it says in the foreword. "At Hampden-Sydney, a gentleman is foremost 'a good man and a good citizen.'"
Once upon a time, not that long ago really, there was such a thing as a
Yale man or a Dartmouth man or, closer to here, a University of Virginia or Washington and Lee man, each believed to be an identifiable subset of the male species. By the mid-1960's, there were still almost 250 all-male colleges, heirs to a long tradition of male entitlement going back to the beginnings of higher education in America. But by the late 60's, hammered by questions about their relevance, their fairness, their exclusivity and their reasons for existing, nearly all began to go coed.

Now, not counting seminaries and those few that share classes with women's colleges, only four holdouts remain: Hampden-Sydney, about 60 miles southwest of Richmond; Wabash College, 45 miles northwest of Indianapolis; Morehouse College in Atlanta; and Deep Springs, a two-year college limited to 27 students in each class and located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the high desert of eastern California.

But an odd thing has happened on the road to extinction. In the past few years, a major public debate about education has shifted from underperforming women to underperforming men, from how schools fail to support girls to how they fail to support boys. Consistently, boys do more poorly than girls when tested for verbal skills and get lower grades, and they are more likely to drop out of high school and college. Nationally, the gender mix on campuses has shifted from a predominance of men to one that's 57 percent women and 43 percent men. As a result, men's colleges find themselves talking about issues that sound oddly contemporary. Long after everyone else changed, the dinosaurs seem to be having their day.

"I remember going to the first board meeting this year that came 10 years after the college decided to stay all-male," said Mr. Melton, chairman of the Hampden-Sydney student court, which enforces the rigid campus honor code. "And before we got into how much we've grown since then, everyone just started clapping, as if to say, of course, this is what we wanted it to be, we're glad that things turned out this way.""
Heres's the whole thing.


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