What is the Order of Gownsmen?
Among The University of the South's many customs, none perhaps is more distinctive than the wearing of the gown by students and faculty. Gowns were originally authorized to be worn by all students in 1871, and the Order of Gownsmen (OG) was established in 1873 at the instigation of The Reverend Doctor William Porcher DuBose, University Chaplain. The students who are members of the Order have worn the gown as a badge of academic distinction ever since.
Since the early years of The University of the South, the academic gown has played a vital role in undergraduate life. First created to differentiate the students of the college from those of the grammar school, the gown quickly became a symbol bestowed only upon those having attained a certain age and deserving it by academic progress and moral character. These ‘Gownsmen’ were judged as those capable of self-governance and, therefore, those capable of governing the student body. Though election into the Order has changed through the years, from election by current members, to selection by the faculty, to the current grade requirements, the Order of Gownsmen has remained the body responsible for maintaining the spirit, traditions, and ideals of The University of the South.
A student government body unique to Sewanee, the Order of Gownsmen provides a diverse group of students with the opportunity to influence legislation of the University. Gownsmen have the privilege of ensuring that the ethos of the University, the dedication to honor and to academic diligence, is maintained, not only in themselves but also in their fellow students. The wearing of the gown should not be seen as a form of arrogance or of intellectual snobbery, but rather as a sign of achievement, a responsibility to the traditions of the past and a promise to the continuance of those ideals. It is both a privilege and a responsibility, and acceptance of the gown is a pledge to aid in the governing of the student body through continued academic leadership, community awareness and moral accountability. This commitment should be undertaken with great thoughtfulness by those belonging to the Order of Gownsmen.
Today, the OG works along side the Student Assembly and maintains and promotes the spirit, tradition, and ideals of the University. It also runs the Election Committee, which is composed of all Proctors and is chaired by the President of the Order of Gownsmen. Undergraduates earn membership in the Order as seniors (students with 96 or more hours) if their academic average for the previous two semesters at Sewanee or at a study abroad program sanctioned by the University is 3.00; as juniors (students with 64–95 hours) if their academic average for the previous two semesters is 3.20; as sophomores (students with 24–63 hours) if their academic average for the previous two semesters is 3.40. Students who were initiated into the Order of Gownsmen and maintain a continuing status under the previous standard maintain their status. All Seniors who have an average of at least 2.00 automatically become gownsmen when they have passed their comprehensive examinations. Thus, all students are gownsmen when they graduate.
In accordance with the provisions of the Student Government Constitution, the OG serves as a force for channeling student opinion to promote positive change. Besides the OG’s substantial legislative authority through its appointment power to student and faculty committees, the OG’s Executive Committee and task forces are unique methods for investigating the problems and concerns of the University community. The degree to which the OG is involved in University life is determined by the President and body itself.