Who Was Thomas Arkle Clark, Dean of Men?

I just spent two days of research in my very favorite place to research, the Student Life and Culture Archives at the University of Illinois. I was on a specific quest, so I didn’t have time to just open books and journals and start reading. But one cannot be in that building without thinking of Thomas Arkle Clark, “T.A.” or “Tommy Arkle,” to his friends.

Clark helped create the field of College Student Personnel when he was named the first Dean of Men. When he entered the University of Illinois as a student in 1886, he was 22, older than the average student. His father died when he was 15 and he was left to support his mother and invalid brother. He had taught school for several winters, as a college degree wasn’t needed at that time to teach school. He hadn’t graduated from high school either, but that, too, was not a deterrent to teach at that time.

Clark graduated in 1890 and earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa.  Except for a short stint after graduation teaching in town and graduate study at Harvard, he spent his entire professional life at the University of Illinois. He served as a professor of English from 1893-99.

Thomas Arkle Clark

Thomas Arkle Clark

In 1895, he was head of the Department of Rhetoric. It was then that he helped organize the Gamma Zeta chapter of Alpha Tau Omega at the University of Illinois and, at age 33, he was the chapter’s first initiate. At that point, the fraternity system at the University of Illinois was quite small and young; Delta Tau Delta (1872); Sigma Chi (1881); Kappa Sigma (1891); Phi Kappa Sigma (1892); Phi Delta Theta (1893); Kappa Alpha Theta (1895, with a charter dating to 1875 which had been transferred from the chapter at Illinois Wesleyan College); and Pi Beta Phi (1895). 

In 1900, Andrew Draper, the University of Illinois’ President asked Clark to help tame an unruly student, Fred Applegate. His actions warranted dismissal from the university, but Applegate’s father was an “influential supporter of the institution,” according to Kenton Garyas, who wrote about Clark’s life from 1901-17 (Journal of Educational Administration and History, 30(2), 1998).

Clark tried a new tactic, requesting that Applegate inform Clark when a trangression  (i.e. drinking, gambling and other tomfoolery) had taken place and the two would discuss it. Applegate became a successful student and an alumnus of the university. According to Garyas, “This requirement of honesty on confessing one’s own transgressions, as well as reporting those of others, would become a trademark of Clark’s modus operandi.”

President Draper began sending other wayward students to Clark and by 1901 he became Dean of Undergraduates and Assistant to the President. In 1904, a change in the University of Illinois presidency brought a change in title, dropping the “Assistant to the President,” yet his duties remained the same. In 1909, he became the Dean of Men.

Clark was one of the first administrators in the nation to hold that title and his success in the position set the standards for Deans of Men and Women at institutions the country over. He also helped develop the modern fraternity system. Fred Turner, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, another life-loyal Illini, started as an assistant to Clark and later became his successor. In 1965, at Alpha Tau Omega’s Centennial celebration,  Turner said of Clark and his position as Dean of Men something which Clark had told him upon his death bed, “The real purpose of the office is based on kindness, sympathy, and human understanding of individual needs.”

Clark served as the Dean of Men until 1931. He died in 1932. In addition to his devotion to his office and the University of Illinois, he also served Alpha Tau Omega. He held its highest office, Worthy Grand Chief, in addition to serving on its High Council and as Educational Adviser. In 1923, he founded Phi Eta Sigma, an honorary society to recognize academic excellence among freshmen men.*

One of my all-time favorite magazines is Banta’s Greek Exchange. For 60 years Banta’s Greek Exchange printed information from fraternity and sorority magazines along with feature articles and other items of interest to the Greek world. Sadly, it has not been published since 1973.

This appeared in the September 1922 issue of Banta’s Greek Exchange. It was reprinted from an Alpha Phi Quarterly which had “taken a few liberties with the leading article in The Palm of Alpha Tau Omega by Thomas Arkle Clark which he calls ‘The Best Man in the Chapter.’ Substitute girl for man and it works just as well to our introspection.”

The Alpha Phi commentary noted that “Dr. Clark does not believe that the best man in the chapter is he who is ranked at least close to the best student, has good manners, is well known about the campus, whose morals are unimpeachable, and whose family connections are excellent.” According to Clark, these attributes belonged to the best man in the chapter:

He who is first of all a good student.

He who gives some thought to the work and welfare of the other fellows in the chapter as well as to himself.

He who knows other fraternities and fraternity men and does not always think that their men are inferior to those in his own chapter.

He who is always a man of principle and a man with a backbone whose fraternity ideals must be something more than mere words.

He who is not only loyal to the chapter but loyal to the college who respects its regulations who knows its traditions who respects its good name.

Thomas Arkle Clark Courtesy of the University of Illinois)

Thomas Arkle Clark (Courtesy of the University of Illinois)

*Maria Leonard, Dean of Women at the University of Illinois from 1923-1945, founded Alpha Lambda Delta in 1924; it was originally an honorary to recognize academic excellence among freshmen women. A year earlier, University of Illinois Dean Thomas Arkle Clark founded its male counterpart, Phi Eta Sigma. In the mid-1970s, both organizations became coeducational. For more information on Maria Leonard, see http://wp.me/p20I1i-y3

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/

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