In this article initiation practices at South African universities are analysed and compared with initiation ceremonies described in anthropological literature. It is argued that any initiation ceremony has at least the partial aim of preparing initiates for the roles and functions in society or specific organizations. Naturally a reasonable degree of harmony between the intent of initiation on the one hand and the values of an institution on the other hand can be expected. The intention of initiation usually is to prepare one for a position or rote by means of the expression of certain values. On the question whether this harmony between ideas and actions is found in the case of existent initiation ceremonies at South African universities, the answer is negative. These ceremonies do not aim to convey and develop attitudes and values essential to a university and in fact do not prepare first-year students for their new environment and a community of scholars. The way in which universities transcend their authority by condoning and officially allowing the demeaning initiation practices is also questioned.