January 24, 2014
Tempus: Student Tradition to Student Protest
One of the more contentious student traditions, Tempus began in the late 1850s when Western Reserve College was located in Hudson. Tempus was held the week before Thanksgiving and featured music and satirical skits. College life and the faculty, singly and as a group, were often lampooned. Originally a private event only for students, within a few years the public was invited and attended in substantial numbers.
Occasionally, the faculty took steps to modify what they saw as vulgar student excesses. Faculty disapproval of Tempus came to a head during the College’s first year in Cleveland. On October 9, 1882 the faculty voted to abolish Tempus. As arrangements for the event were nearly completed, the students objected and requested the prohibition be reversed.
Minutes of the College faculty record that on November 25, “A special meeting was held at Mr. Cutler’s house, to consider a request from a committee of students, that we recall the prohibition of an entertainment at about Thanksgiving time of the character of the so called Tempus. All the professors were present. All were agreed that nothing had been shown justifying any change in our action of October the ninth. Mr. Cutler is to write a statement which is to be read after prayers on the 27th.”
President Cutler’s statement repeated the prohibition, but the students held Tempus on November 28 at Doan’s Armory, as planned.
The controversy in Cleveland’s new institution of higher education did not escape media attention. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on November 28, “A ‘tempus in a teapot’ is raging in Adelbert College... The faculty declare these historic frolics have generally been ‘vulgar’ and ‘scurrilous’... The students, on the other hand, put in an intelligent plea for the necessity of a periodical throwing off of the restraint of study and discipline for the good of their physical natures.”
At its December 4 meeting the faculty resolved that, “The conduct of the students in holding a so called Tempus last Tuesday evening was considered, and it was agreed to require each student to answer so many of the following questions...” Each student was asked if he was present, for how long, if he was a spectator or participant, and, if a participant, what role he played.
On December 8 the Plain Dealer reported that, “At noon yesterday the members of the junior class of Adelbert College were notified that President Cutler desired to speak to them. His speech was short but pointed. He said: ‘I am instructed by the faculty to inform you that in consequence of your originating and taking part in a Thanksgiving entertainment of the nature of Tempus, in spite of the thrice repeated prohibition of the faculty, you are no longer members of the college. You will not attend any more college exercises and your parents have been notified of this action.’” The article went on to report that the students met and resolved that no students would attend college exercises until the juniors were reinstated.
The faculty held to their position, recording on December 9 that, “A communication was brought to the president on Thursday evening by six students, saying that they with others proposed to attend no more college exercises until the men lately removed from college by the vote of the faculty should be reinstated... It was agreed to notify the parents of each student and to secure their cooperation in securing his return to his duties in college.”
The Plain Dealer reported on December 12 that the juniors had urged the other classes to return to the college and that each of the expelled juniors would write a letter of apology, not for the “harmless entertainment” but for disobeying the faculty prohibition.
Beginning on December 11 and for several weeks, faculty minutes record receipt and responses to letters from the juniors asking to be reinstated.
On December 19 the faculty “...voted that all whose requests are satisfactory be reinstated on probation at the beginning of the next term, and that the probation shall last till the end of the college year.”
The Plain Dealer reported on December 14 that student resentment of the faculty was high, with many students vowing not to return to the college the next year. Although outside the scope of this short description, it would be interesting to know how many students did not return to Adelbert College in 1883. Tempus was held in later years, as evidenced by programs from 1886 and 1899. Whether these later performances attracted the same type of faculty reaction might also be explored using records in the Archives. These sources include programs from 1859 to 1899; recollections of William Elroy Curtis, class of 1869; Adelbert College faculty minutes; student yearbooks; and papers of faculty member Edward Morley.
Posted by jmt3 at January 24, 2014 09:21 PM
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