The University Scheme is a program developed a few years ago to give men that are attending a university a chance to join a Masonic Lodge even if they are not 21. These brothers pay a lower amount in dues and are around other young men interested in the Fraternity. This program is, in my mind, brilliant. Our Fraternity is just that, a fraternity. Yet, we offer something that the Greek system can’t, the unity of lifelong brotherhood.'
It is true that a man or woman can go about their lives meeting others from their Fraternity or Sorority; the problem is that once you graduate from college, that’s it. No more meetings, no more living together in a house, nothing but fond memories of your time in the Frat. Freemasonry offers more to its brothers.
Once you become a Freemason, you are one forever. You can travel to different Lodges, meeting new brothers and know that anywhere in the world, a brother is watching out for you and your family. Once a man gives the obligation, he makes a commitment to the Fraternity for the rest of his life. The values and storied past of our Craft gives us prestige over all other Fraternal organizations.
The University Scheme is a great system but it is not “new” in the sense that Freemasonry has never existed on campus. In fact, Freemasonry and Universities have gotten along together on both sides of the pond. There are many examples of Academic Lodges in the United States and Canada, including University Lodge #496 in Toronto, University of Washington Lodge #141 in Seattle, Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge A.F.&A.M., and Harvard Lodge A.F.&A.M. Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge was the first college Lodge, having been formed in 1920, while Harvard Lodge was the first Academic Lodge, having been formed in 1922.
Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge formalized what was originally “the Masons at MIT” club into a Lodge in 1919. Harvard Lodge AF & AM was formed, in part, from the efforts of Dean Roscoe Pound and Professor Kirsopp Lake as a way to join the myriad number of Masonic organizations at Harvard University into one Lodge. Harvard Lodge, as an academic Lodge, is very distinctive in its methods, including wearing academic robes during regular stated meetings. Both Richard C. Maclaurin Lodge and Harvard Lodge require that a University connection be established, whether it be staff, student or alumnus, to be eligible to receive the degrees.
College and Academic Lodges are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to create the strong connection between men and Freemasonry at a young age. It is true that a young man could join De Molay but it is the connections that we make in our years at a university, college, trade school, or our first job that last the longest. The UGLE has, in my opinion, committed itself to a laudable and important goal, using these intimate associations formed during these years as starting blocks for making Freemasonry not merely a Fraternity, but a lifestyle.
The current Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, AF & AM, Most Worshipful Brother Thomas Jackson, has stated his commitment in creating connections among brothers that were members of college fraternities and I agree with him fully. My advice for my own Grand Lodge and Grand Lodges around the globe would be to encourage the formation of College or Academic Lodges.
In Minnesota, we have one of the largest University systems in the country, so it would seem appropriate to me that a Lodge be formed in this state called the University of Minnesota Lodge. I am an alumnus of the University of Minnesota system (I went to University of Minnesota, Morris) and would love to see a Lodge, even one that meets only a few times a year, formed for the benefit of students, staff and alumnus of the U. But it needn’t stop there. If a brother is a student, staff, or alumus of one of the many private colleges or the MNSCU system, such as Hamline (my Law School Alma Mater) or Moorhead State, a Lodge could be formed to serve the students of those colleges and could continue to foster those connections made as students.
I believe one of the best ways to continue growing and strengthening the brotherly bonds of our Fraternity will be to create these Lodges based upon school affiliation. I hope that we see a continuance of the University Scheme started by the UGLE, the coming of fruition of Grand Master Jackson’s college fraternity goal and the continued prosperity of North America’s College and Academic Lodges. Connections are what makes our Fraternity what it is and using collegial affiliation is just one way to continue fostering these connections.