Case Study Two: Theta Nu Epsilon
Male bonding can be used very destructively as a force for seizing power and taking control. This case study explores the actions of a highly secretive “fraternity” that has existed nationally in the United States for decades — Theta Nu Epsilon. This secret society has often conspired to place its members in charge of university judicial committees and campus newspapers. From this position of power is has protected its own members from punishment while dishing out retribution to rivals. Its alumni includes former presidents of the United States and supreme court judges.
As an interesting side note, while conducting this research, I discovered that Theta Nu Epsilon had reformed and already established several chapters across the United States. They were actively recruiting once again and even set up several websites for their cause. I was able to interview several confirmed members of Theta Nu Epsilon. Unfortunately, I was threatened with legal and “other” actions if these secondary interviews ever made it into print.
I think it is one of the strongest bonds that holds the men in a fraternity together. It is having that certain secrecy. It is something we guys know that no one else knows. It is something we share among ourselves, that you don’t share with outside groups. If we didn’t have that it is just one less thing that could make that certain bond. (Bob)
In fraternities there are an older hierarchical group…usually it is based on age and, therefore, how long they have been in the fraternity. These people are over 21, and they are a small group of individuals who have no political power and, also no one knows who they are…they basically deal with conflict and violence. If an individual is really messing up, instead of the house dealing with it, [they] deal with it and it is usually in secret…They give you a fat warning, and they probably do something to you to put you in an awkward position to show you that they are in control…It is a very big secret. (Jack B. Dalton)
One means for a group to gain power in the institutional setting is through secrecy and conspiracy. Through such tactics, young fraternity members can confront the authorities who dominate and control the actions of fellow fraternity members. Fraternities are by nature secret societies. Part of their bond is that they know something that another group does not know. These secrets are passed to new members in rituals including initiation ceremonies, secret handshakes, and by using private languages.
There is nothing inherently wrong with maintaining secrets, however a group’s covert nature can also be used to accomplish ill deeds. This is the case of Theta Nu Epsilon (TNE). Theta Nu Epsilon is a sub-rosa fraternity that has been nationally condemned at several points in history for conspiring to sabotage student elections. They have existed periodically, at both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. The following information was gathered from the University of Oregon Archive file on Theta Nu Epsilon (Dean of Students, Donald Dushane, accession #11,231), and campus newspapers from both campuses. The time frame is from 1870-1950.
Theta Nu Epsilon was founded in 1870 at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. They made attempts to formally organize in 1909 without much success. In 1925, some chapters had been formally recognized, however by 1942 all these chapters had officially became inactive. They were gradually absorbed into different fraternities taking their rituals with them (Shepardson 251). With or without university recognition, TNE had managed to make covert appearances across the United States from 1909-1950.
An article in the Barometer (4/20/34) stated that 400 organizations had functioned in the United States and, of these 82 were recognized sub-rosa chapters. This large membership was slightly ironic because it existed despite the fact the National Inter-Fraternity Council had previously condemned TNE due to its dual membership policy. TNE was comprised of members from various different fraternities which is against national regulations that require fraternity membership to remain exclusive (Shepardson 261).
It was feared that TNE had “connections with some larger Fascist organization ‘on the outside’…an organization with the sinister qualities of the KKK” (Barometer 5/3/47). Although this was never verified, there is evidence that “TNE is an outlaw interfraternity society whose members often work in secret to control student government, campus newspapers, fraternity memberships and prom lists, in flagrant defiance of faculty edicts” (Emerald 11/7/46). In short, the TNE was a fraternal bond which formed with the motivation to dominate student politics and fraternity affairs.
With the motto “Observe Ancient Customs,” TNE were strong advocates of a powerful Greek bloc that they could control. They worked with a minority of students to gain power at their university. Their political strategy was to give power and prestige to the fraternity system by shaping student activities. They fought to win student offices by fraudulent election practices, threats of violence, coercion, and smear campaigns (Eugene Register Guard 6/1/50). They also labored to place members in positions of influence such as campus newspapers and student offices.
Their composition was elitist in nature. They usually recruited people in positions of influence at their university, and tried to place favored members into the best student positions. In their drunken initiation ceremony, its members swore to prevent cliques among fraternities and part of their skull-shaped fraternity pin symbolized death to chapters that break away to form social fraternities (Eugene Register Guard 6/1/50).
TNE has unusual regenerative qualities. It is often said to go inactive only to reappear at a later date. Many members were not sure on a day to day basis if they still belonged to TNE. The organization would frequently disband only to reorganize again without certain members they no longer trusted (Eugene Register Guard 6/1/50). This regenerative quality is also observable from decade to decade. In the state of Oregon, TNE has a long history of being resurrected after being formerly disbanded by university administrators. In fact, TNE may disappear for over a decade at a time before it once again gets drawn into public attention.
At Oregon State University, TNE existed as early as 1915. The Barometer (2/2/19) states that TNE was brought to OSU at this time by a man named Reno Banks. The article pictured a member’s fraternity card which dated back to 11/2/15. It was estimated that there were up to forty members. Their presence was strong enough at OSU to include a poem about them in OSU’s 1919 Beaver Yearbook on page 481. The OSU regents temporarily succeeded in disbanding TNE, however TNE made another attempt at recruiting in 1928 only to be blocked by the student Interest Committee (Portland, Oregon News 3/9/28).
It was thought that the fraternity had gone nationally inactive, however the untimely death of a University of Missouri student during an initiation ritual, in 1940, proved once again of their existence (U of O Archive File for Theta Nu Epsilon, Dean of Students Donald Dushane, accession #11,231). It was soon evident that the NTE was nationwide with chapters across the nation including Oklahoma A & M College, the University of Illinois, the University of Southern California. The University of Oregon was already well aware of their existence from 1936-1950. In April, 1936, at least 26 students were forced to sign a statement disclosing their membership (See Appendix Three). Although the University of Oregon claimed to have abolished TNE, the fraternity rose again, like a Phoenix from its ashes, in 1946 and later in 1950. During these two years the university newspaper, the Emerald, was saturated with articles about Theta Nu Epsilon. In 1950, twenty-two TNE members were reprimanded at the U of O (The Emerald 5/26/50). The University of Oregon, to this day, still refuses to release TNE members’ names. The fact that TNE emerged nationally so quickly, at several different points in history, suggests a highly developed interlocking system of male bonding. Therefore, it is important to illustrate this male bonding with a more detailed outline.
On examination of the list of names in Appendix Three (which can be obtained in the U of O Archive File for Theta Nu Epsilon, Dean of Students Donald Dushane, accession #11,231) the consolidation of power in student politics is notable. To illustrate Thomas McCall, who would one day become Oregon Governor from 1967-1975, is one of the TNE members named on the list. His position in student politics at the time was quite significant. Not only was Thomas McCall president of his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, but he was also the President of the Inter-Fraternity Council. Furthermore, McCall worked as an editor for the campus newspaper The Oregon Daily Emerald and won a last minute write-in election for senior class president (Walth 50).
Thomas McCall’s TNE membership is significant because “[a]s president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, he investigated hazing violations,” and because this inquiry “found widespread violations and McCall fined nine fraternities” (Walth 50). Given McCall’s TNE membership, his investigation might have served to punish rival fraternities while favoring others with TNE approval. In relation, McCall’s position as editor of the Emerald might have influenced the student paper’s investigation of TNE. It is curious to note that not one mention of TNE was reported in the Emerald between 1935-36. However , during this time the Dean of Men Virgil D. Earl investigated TNE (Eugene Register Guard 6/1/50) and those involved were forced to sign a list declaring membership (See Appendix Three).
Thomas McCall’s TNE membership might have also been the reason that “the school stripped him of the election when the University of Oregon Law School dean, Wayne Morse (later a United States senator) ruled the write-in election invalid” (Walth 50). The actual Emerald report of this judiciary decision (5/8/35) makes no mention of TNE’s role in this illegal election.
Virgil D. Earl’s standpoint as an investigator and Dean of Men is of interest here. As presented in the 1905 University of Oregon yearbook, which was referred to as the Webfoot at the time, Virgil Earl belonged to Kappa Sigma while attending the U of O. Prior to serving as Dean of Men, Virgil Earl “accepted appointment as director of the department of athletics at his alma mater” (The Oregonian 5/13/23). Being both fraternity alumni and athletic director it is worthy to ask how these positions affected his decision to not release TNE members’ names. These issues deserve more attention than I provide in this research, however I wish to address the fact that the other TNE members listed were also in positions to dominate over student activities.
In the University of Oregon’s 1936 yearbook The Oregana, many TNE members are listed for other activities. To name a few: Eldon Haberman was the Emerald business manager (23), Richard E. Kriesien served on the IFC (152) and was president of Phi Gamma Delta (172), John L. Rogers belonged to the IFC (152) and was president of Theta Chi (191), William R. Moore was Lieutenant cadet (128), William Summers was Captain cadet (128), and Marvin Stroble was Major cadet officer (128) and second lieutenant in the Scabbard and Blade – an organization with the main requisite of “[e]fficiency in military tactics”(146).
It is debatable as to what effect these positions might have had on student politics at the time. However, it is documented that Theta Nu Epsilon did try to dominate student politics, control student newspapers, and elect TNE members into office (Emerald 11/7/46). Therefore, it can at least be established that this male bond is an example of how one group of men can aggress to dominate different male groups including other fraternity members. Furthermore, as the following paragraph suggest, this bond was passed from one generation to the next to insure that fraternities remain in power at the University of Oregon.
It was believed that TNE had disbanded in 1936 after Thomas McCall and other members were discovered. However, inquiries in 1946 and 1950 proved that the secret organization was in full operation. The investigation conducted in 1950 estimated that TNE had a membership base of at least twenty-two men. Dean of students Donald Dushane, who was himself a National Officer of Phi Delta Theta (Emerald 5/24/50), the same fraternity as Thomas McCall, was responsible for punitive measures. The result was that TNE members were placed on probation and the administration refuses, even to this day, to disclose the actual list of members’ names. In protest, the Emerald editors chose to publish a list they obtained which named twenty-two TNE members (5/25/50). This newspaper article has been included in Appendix Four of this research. These TNE members, like the ones fourteen years earlier, were also in the positions to dominate student affairs.
In the University of Oregon’s 1950 yearbook, The Oregana, many TNE members are listed for their other activities. For example: Fred Van Horn was IFC President (379) and president of Delta Upsilon (337), Ben Barton was on the IFC (379) and Pi Kappa Alpha president (332), Bill Barlow was on the IFC (379) and Beta Theta Pi president (332), Jim Hart was an IFC member (379), Glen Walker was president of Chi Psi (335), Bill Barlow was on the IFC (379) and Beta Theta Pi president (332), Jim Hart was an IFC member (379), Glen Walker was president of Chi Psi (335), Bill Clausen was Sergeant-At-Arms for the Skull and Dagger club (197), Herb Lombard was Skull and Dagger’s vice president (197), Glen Holden was Sigma Delta Psi secretary-treasurer (96), Bill Lance was on the Executive Council (181) and was an Emerald columnist (170), Jim Hershner was president of the Druids – a club promoting school-wide activities (195), Gerry Smith was Vice President of the Druids (195), Dick McLaughlin was Junior Class President (188) and, Ed Anderson was first vice president of ASUO (179), Sigma Alpha Epsilon president (359), IFC member (379), and on the Publication Board which helped produce the Emerald (161). Please note that two TNE members used two different yearbook names. Ed Anderson was sometimes listed as George Anderson and Bill Barlow was sometimes listed as Howard William Barlow. The yearbook’s photographs and index are evidence that these people used two different names.
My point here is to illustrate the male bonding dynamic in which other men or fraternity members become the target of other men’s power struggles. One part of Theta Nu Epsilon’s male bonding is that they broke rules established by authority figures. They bonded despite disapproval from universities and the National Inter-Fraternity Council. This is an example the vertical inter-male conflict discussed in Chapter One, in which one group is in a position of power over another. They also organized to dominate other social fraternities. The lists from 1936 and 1950 prove that in both cases the IFC was stacked with TNE members, including those in the highest ranks, who could use these positions to control fraternity affairs. This is an example of the Chapter One’s description of horizontal conflict between groups sharing the relatively same degree of power. It is evident that TNE gathered a group of elite men together to dominate others, however there might also be evidence that this bond became stronger out of self-protection.
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the First World War (1914-1919) and World War Two (1941-1945) were two of the lowest points in fraternity history. Many fraternities were forced to close down or were prevented from pledging new students. As a result, non-fraternity students were able to get elected into office. This was the case at the University of Oregon in which two sorority women were able to get elected ASUO president. in 1943-44 a coalition party of both Greeks and independents elected Nancy Ames as president. The following year, Audrey Holliday was elected despite the fact that the Greek bloc was opposed to her (Emerald 11/7/46). It is also reported that “at the University of Southern California TNE discarded some of their secrecy and warned veterans of World War Two not to seek public office or promote their own social society” (Emerald 11/7/46).
The fear of losing power and being submissive was, perhaps, one of the reasons that TNE had its strongest periods after both World Wars. Fraternity dominance was threatened by two things: the increasing role of women in campus politics and the large number of veterans using the GI Bill to attend universities for the first time. It would be difficult to prove a cause and effect relationship in both cases, however it is one possible reason that TNE seems more present at these times.
The enigma for me is that no evidence of alumni was proven. No list or investigation ever documented the existence of alumni. The TNE ritual could have easily been passed from seniors down to lower academic classes and in this way it could survive. However, a major part of fraternal bonds usually include participation from older graduated members. Certainly, TNE rebelled against authority but did authorities still participate in this male bond? Newspaper articles prove inconsistent. For example “[f]or many years politics on this campus have been controlled by a local chapter of TNE, a small secret group of men whose funds are provided by interested alumni” (Emerald 11/7/46) and, the Eugene Register Guard noted “rumors of TNE alumni pressure on the university in last fall’s ‘deferred living’ dispute were not borne out” (6/1/50).
The role of alumni can not be proven without more documentation. However, the search for documentation ultimately brings to light the true contribution of administrators to TNE’s male bond. When the two deans of students Virgil D. Earl and Donald DuShane refused to release the TNE member’s names they became part of that bond. Even now, when some of these documents are more than fifty years old they remain unavailable to public viewing. Like the TNE, the two deans of students left a legacy of silence. Unfortunately, from the ashes of secrecy, Theta Nu Epsilon might rise again.