The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Academic Lodges – Good or Bad?

There’s something I learned of recently called an academic lodge. No, not a research lodge, which is typically a lodge under special dispensation for the purpose of conducting Masonic research. A research lodge usually cannot work in the degrees and thus has a special mission.

An academic lodge, as I understand it, is a regular lodge in all ways that is set up in an academic community specifically for that community. Harvard has one and now George Mason University may be getting one on campus. These lodges are set up so that only members of the university community – that is, professors, students, alumni, etc. – can join. My understanding is that the university staff, such as janitors, cannot even join.

I have a big problem with this.

First of all, let’s get out of our minds the idea that because Harvard does something that it’s necessarily good or intelligent. Having worked in the education world and many other places, I can tell you that a fancy-looking degree is just that: fancy-looking. What a person knows and can do is much more important than where he or she went to school.

What makes Freemasonry special and beautiful is that it unites and equalizes different groups of men from all walks of life. In my own lodge we have generals, admirals, presidents of banks and corporate leaders. We also have plumbers, police officers, HVAC mechanics, waiters and even lowly photographers and writers – the lowest of the low – like me. We can all shed those outer selves and sit together in unity, all members of the same organization, meeting on the level.

Academic lodges are reserved for a group that seems to see itself as an elite class. Membership is restricted based on social status. This is a step backward in the progress we have made as a fraternity and society. People used to say that the lodges were havens for white men only but now more and more of our lodges are integrated, and that makes the fraternity stronger. Now are we going to say that some lodges can restrict their membership based on educational status?

That’s not meeting on the level. That is the opposite of one of the things I hold most dear about Freemasonry.

I asked last night at our lodge meeting about this issue and was told that I would be welcome to attend the lodge meetings but that I would not be able to join. I have to ask myself whether I would even want to visit an organization that would not have me as a member based simply on my social standing. The answer is no. I want no part of such an elitist group where only some of the brethren can meet on the level.

The really positive part to all this is that it will be a great way to attract some younger Masons. For that I think the lodge will be very valuable. We aren’t just a bunch of old guys, as some may think, but I suspect the median age is still quite high. We can use some younger blood in our midst.

Overall, the whole idea left a bad taste in my mouth. I suppose I can be swayed to accept it but it might take some selling. What do you think of this idea?

5 July 2013. Correction: Bro. AJ of The Patriot Lodge informs me that Masons who are members of other lodges may affiliate. Only the candidates nee be from the university community. In addition, the candidates may come from any part of the university community. This is contrary to what I had earlier been told. Thank you, Bro. AJ.

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