The Earliest Days of Pi Mu Epsilon

Floyd Fiske Decker, Syracuse University

published in the first issue of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal

The need for securing a more responsive audience for the presentation of student mathematical papers at Syracuse University, well recognized by the faculty members, was made clear to the undergraduates by Professor Edward Drake Roe, Jr., early in the academic year 1913-14. He based his suggestions on the fact that the Mathematical Club, which would complete ten years of activity at the end of that year, should look forward to an even more active second decade. The club members accepted the challenge and turned promptly to the consideration of the problems involved. The Alpha chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon emerged.

The club meetings had consisted of two parts: the presentation of one or two mathematical papers and an aftermath of refreshments and social activities. There were no intellectual requirements for membership, and by 1913 it became evident that too many members were not really interested in mathematics. The more responsible members realized that action was necessary. After an academic year packed with suggestions, reports, deliberations, agreements and decisions, the fraternity was organized.

At the regular meeting of the club on November 17, 1913, a committee was authorized to arrange for a celebration to commemorate its tenth birthday. It was no coincidence that at the same meeting a second committee, with Professor Roe as chairman, was established to consider and report on a possible revision of the constitution of the club. Here Professor Roe had the opportunity to start his campaign for the establishment of a fraternity of exactly the kind he had in mind. Under his skillful leadership most of his ideas prevailed.

Following some meetings of the committee and a special meeting attended by the executive committee and representatives from the faculty, a report was made to the club on the eighth of December. The report suggested, in outline, four alternative steps to strengthen the organization:

1. To establish scholarship requirements for membership in the club.

2. To reorganize the club as a professional fraternity.

3. To continue the club without change and to organize an honorary fraternity.

4. To provide within the club for the recognition of student performance by 1) barring freshmen, 2) accepting sophomores on probation, and 3) electing to full membership only those upper-classmen who establish satisfactory competence.

Alternative 2 was adopted and the committee was directed to draw up a skeleton constitution, - a result very pleasing to Professor Roe, as it was a first step toward his objective.

The committee again reported on the occasion of the regular meeting of the club on March 2, 1914. The report was not made to the club, however, but to a convention of those present since it was not yet known whether or not all members of the club would be permitted to join the fraternity if it should be established. The committee offered a constitution containing 13 articles, and it was considered article by article.

The first article to be adopted was article 2 which read:

"The first and primary aim of this fraternity shall be scholarship in all subjects and particularly in mathematics for the individual members and, secondly, the advancement of the science of mathematics and, lastly, the mutual mathematical and personal advancement of its members."

Next article 3 was revised and adopted in the following form:

"The charter members of the fraternity shall consist of those present members of the mathematical club of Syracuse University who have met all the requirements prescribed by the constitution of this fraternity and whose names follow."

A revision of article 4 was adopted reading as follows:

"Members of the faculty, graduate students and also those undergraduate students who are taking the equivalent of major or minor work in mathematics shall be eligible to membership in the fraternity."

With the revision of articles 12 and 13, articles 5 - 13 were adopted. Of these article 5 is significant in that it established the policy that no one was to become a member automatically by meeting the formal qualifications for membership. Election was necessary. Moreover by-law 2 stated that the affirmative vote of three-fourths of the voting members present was necessary for election. The presentation of article 5 divided the house into two nearly equal sets, the affirmative majority being due perhaps to the experience of some of the undergraduates with their social fraternities.

Articles 6 - 13 provide for the usual officers, the scholarship committee and amendments to the constitution.

Article 1, which gives the fraternity a name, was the last to be adopted (March 23). Several designations were discussed including:

1. EII (The promotion of scholarship)

2. EIIM (The promotion of scholarship and mathematics)

3. II(Phi)M (Loving disciples of mathematics)

4. AII (Efficiency in all things)

5. MPB (Mathematics the foundation of mental powers. These letters happened to be the first letters of the last names of three of the professors in the department.)

It was voted that combination 2 be adopted but that the order be changed to IIME if that order were consistent with the above meaning, as it was in the fact found be.

At this meeting the by-laws were adopted.

At the convention of April 27 officers were for 1914-15 were elected, the choice of Professor Roe for the director being an obvious recognition of the masterly way in which he had presided over the deliberations of the group during the preceding months. At the same election I was given the opportunity of working with the group as a vice-director. The offices of secretary and treasurer went to the undergraduates.

Beginning in 1916 the highest official honor going to an undergraduate was the chairmanship of the committee on scholarship, a position which went to the senior major with the highest average. The other two student posts on the scholarship committee were filled on the basis of grades except that both sexes were to be represented.

At the first regular meeting of the fraternity on October 5, 1914, the following scholastic standards for eligibility were established:

Mathematics Average General Average

Sophomore 82 75

Junior 80 72

At the first fall meeting of 1915, the requirements were raised 3 points in each bracket. On later occasions these were further raised until it became necessary to re-establish the Mathematical Club as an organization to meet the needs of majors and minors who were unable to qualify for election to the fraternity.

Furthermore a person once elected to membership could not rest on his record. He must maintain a satisfactory scholastic record, for at the meeting on March 15, 1915, a new rule placed on the inactive list those whose general or mathematical average fell below 70. Three members met that fate immediately. They found they were not dealing with an honorary fraternity.

A point of procedure is indicated in the minutes of the meeting of October 8, 1917. "Seventeen names were presented of students meeting the scholastic standard for election to membership. Thirteen of these were certified as meeting the requirement of majoring or minoring in mathematics or planning to do so. The student members of the scholarship committee were directed to contact the remaining four and learn their intentions regarding the continuance of the study of mathematics˙.Three of the four were found eligible and elected."

After the academic year 1914-15, the fraternity was definitely a functioning organization, most of the decisions having been made on such items as formal initiation, ritual, die, seal, badge, colors, flower and shield.

At Professor Roe's suggestion a forward-looking charter was obtained, under the laws of the State of New York. The charter authorized, for example, the owning and operating of fraternity houses.

The stimulating effect of the organization on the position of mathematics on the campus and the vitalizing of contacts between the faculty and potential and actual majors and minors soon attracted the attention of other departments of our university and led to what is sometimes designated as "the sincerest form of flattery"- the founding of similar organizations in other departments.

After a four-year development on our campus we were highly gratified to witness the spread of the fraternity to other institutions, so that we became the Alpha chapter of a national organization of which we are very proud. We were delighted at the recognition accorded to Professor Roe, as the first director-general.

We are deeply appreciative of the many ways in which the fraternity has been improved during the 45 years of its existence by many representative mathematicians throughout the land, but the surviving members of that Syracuse group of 1913-14 will understand my pleasure in reliving those days.