« AnteriorContinuar »
universities comes within the purview of his powers; and, in a system like our own, the Board of Regents, to whom that cognizance is assigned. The teaching body, in the American university system, is made up of professors and other officers of instruction, presided over by an executive officer, generally styled president, chancellor, provost or rector. The officers of instruction are appointed by the corporate body; and are generally elected on the basis of a good reputation for scholarship, coupled with some sort of "claim" which gives them preferment over others possessing equal reputation for learning. The relative influence of scholarship and "claim" varies with the views of the corporate body. The executive officer is generally singled out as a man of good, general education-perhaps a proficient in some department of knowledgepossessing a strong and practical mind, and having the resolute will, the self-possession, the discretion, affability, taste and aspirations requisite for a popular leader. Very generally, except in our strongest universities, he is expected to possess an aptitude, if not a taste, for the innumerable details of business connected with the administration; and too often it is demanded of him to devote his time and energies to the financial interests of the institution.
This body which, under our system, owes its existence to a power which is not scholastic, nor necessarily learned or expert in university measures, constitutes, with the students, the heart and spirit and life of the university. Their special preparation, their active labor, their strength, their hopes, their ambitions, all lie within the same sphere in which every university exigency arises. Every event, every issue, every want, every emergency arises under their notice in the midst of conditions, and antecedents, ani motives which have long been the subjects of familiar observation, and, probably, of study; and if it is possible for any body of men to be placed in a position to counsel wisely for the university, these are the men.
Consider, then, the functions assigned to the corporate and teaching bodies respectively in the American system. The corporate body, when it comes into existence, has, first of all, to accept a scheme which has been framed by somebody. Generally, this scheme, though a germ, has implanted in it the principles which control fundamentally its life-long development and total character. Sometimes a generous benefactor has imposed controlling conditions; sometimes the prime movers in the ecclesiastical or social body which the institution represents have given it a bent which can never be outgrown; sometimes even under the management of the State, a legislative committee or permanent commission, by some initiatory steps, foreclose all future discussion of measures which involve the whole structure, life, and usefulness of the university. Whether wise or unwise, the corporate body receive such scheme, and proceed to give it shape, and symmetry and vitality. Between them and the prenatal forces referred to, decisions are reached respecting all the most fundamental and vital considerations. Leaving out the creation of endowment, which the university presupposes, there is, first, the conception of the university to be framed. Now, there is scarcely a higher effort of intelligence possible than the adequate conception of the idea of the American university-a university adapted to our political and social institutions, and to our character, customs and needs; a university with the most judicious blending of the aims of culture and knowledge; a university in which linguistics and the literatures shall not usurp the supreme position, nor modern sciences consign antiquity and the humani
ties to the stool of humiliation; a university that shall not become paralyzed under the petrifying influence of a curriculum too rigid, and class-room drill too severe, nor disorganized by a system of options too indiscriminate, and examinations too lax; a university that shall take catholic cognizance of the demands of the whole psychic nature of man, and neither, on one hand, deny the claims of our religious or our emotional being, nor, on the other, make intellect and liberty subordinate to religious sentiment or ecclesiastical opinion. I say it is one of the highest efforts of a broad and richly cultured intelligence to frame for itself the concept of an American university which shall be worthy of the approval of wisdom and experience. It is a work which can be successfully performed only by one learned in the history of universities, and intimately conversant with their practical operations, and all the conditions under which, amongst us, they must exist. Yet this ground conception generally takes shape before any person trained in university lore is called upon for an opinion. The most notable exception amongst institutions of recent origin is the Johns Hopkins University.
Another question closed by a foregone settlement before the teaching body comes into existence, is the selection of location and site. Shall the university be located in a quiet village or in a great city; in a remote and unsettled county, or at the focus of a system of railroads? And, wherever located, shall it stand in a frequented and easily accessible portion of the village or city, or from one to three or six miles out in the country? Shall it stand at the summit of a steep and tiresome hill, exposed to the fiercest winds, or on the general level, easily accessible to students, and sheltered from winds, and approachable by the best roads and paths in the city?
Next, there is the amount of land to be secured; then the costliness and style of the principal building. Shall the university spend its money for thirty, or forty, or fifty acres more than it can utilize, or be content with a snug and economical site? Shall it erect a magnificent building with the greater part of its means, and, perhaps, by the creation of an exhaustive debt, or shall its resources be thrown into the proper agencies and appliances of education and science-libraries, cabinets, laboratories, professors and instructors?
Then there is the plan of the building or buildings. What are the demands of the departments of chemistry, zöology, geology, astronomy? Shall some of the best rooms be set apart for drawing-rooms and commencement dinners, or shall accommodation be afforded for museums and laboratories? What do convenience and efficient working demand in reference to the relative locations of lecture-rooms, recitation-rooms, laboratories, offices, cabinets and library? All these questions are generally decided without much authoritative influence from men whose lives are spent in learning the various requirements of university architecture.
Next, after all the questions are settled which require the intervention of experts, the corporation proceeds to create a body of experts, and to inform them of the limitations imposed upon the exercise of their powers. The faculty may frame a system of instruction and put it in force, if it meet the approval of the board of trustees. They may introduce text-books of their own selection, after they have received the sanction of the board of trustees. They may vary the uses of the pre-appointed rooms, with the approval of the board of trustees. They may devise a body of laws for the regulation of the conduct of students, conforming
them to the dictates of all the experience of the past; but they can have no validity except at the will of the board of trustees. They may vary the requirements for admission or graduation, if the board of trustees give their sanction. They may advise changes in the organization of the board of instruction; but the board of trustees may disapprove. They may establish methods of discipline according to the results of their experience; but the wisdom of the board of trustees must be appealed to. They may enforce discipline in difficult particular cases; but the board of trustees may overrule their decisions. They may see the eminent desirableness of new studies, new methods or new rules; but the board of trustees will decide such questions for them. They may deplore the exhaustion of the treasury for purposes of display; but the board of trustees will decide whether libraries, and cabinets and professors are of more worth than luxury in buildings and grounds. In the matter of financial management and the distribution of expenditures, the faculty, who see all, feel all, and appreciate all, are as impotent as a hospital of foundling babes. With a life-long training to fit them to advise, their opinions are ignored as assiduously as if born without cerebral hemispheres, and bred in the mountains of the moon. These, too, are disabilities inflicted after all the more fundamental questions affecting the convenience and efficiency of their work have. been settled for them.
The exercise of such responsibilities is gratifying to human vanity. The higher and more delicate the responsibility, the deeper the satisfaction of the free American citizen in taking hold of it-with both hands. He does not even know that his eagerness for intermeddling is an audacity, not to say a sacrilege. He likes to see his unknown name made conspicuous on the corner-stone of the college, no matter how rickety the superstructure. He has heard of names sculptured high on the temple of fame, but never learned that they were placed there by their owners, instead of chiseled by an ignorant stone-mason.
Now, I boldly take the position that all this is wrong. It is wrong in theory, and demonstrably wrong in its results. It is wrong to professors; wrong to the university; wrong to the public. In theory, could anything be more absurd than to rob of power the very persons educated to wield power? Nothing, I reply, unless it be the transfer of such power to the hands of persons with no especial preparation to exercise it. A man may be master of all the secrets of the "syndicate without knowing whether the Iliad is a better preparatory study than the Anabasis. He may know how to sell a case of silks at a profit of 100 per cent, and not be fit to decide whether the professor of chemistry had better be provided with an assistant. The most astute interpreter of the "Epistle to the Romans" may never have learned that the professor of geology absolutely requires a hammer, a chisel, and a blowpipe. The shrewd jobber in groceries may willingly pay his expert accountant a higher salary than a professor of Sanscrit can obtain, but in the matter of university teaching, remain as blind as a cavern crawfish to the difference between occupying a chair and filling it with ability and usefulness. A library filled with "digests," and "reports," and "pleadings," and "statutes," might never convince the legally learned trustee that excellence in the professor demands equally access to the "authorities." I say such incompetence "might" exist. I venture to affirm that, in the nature of things, it is very likely to exist; nay, I know that it must exist, and does exist. I say it without disparagement
to well-meaning trustees who have used modestly, the power which our system has placed in their hands; and I say it to the exclusion of the few who have been entirely competent.
I said that the facts demonstrate such incompetency. It would be odious to mention names; and I am sure there is no necessity for it. Still less would I be willing to utter words which should arraign any of the noble men who have founded universities, or given time or means for their advancement. I give no heed to charges which I hear of conscious favoritism, evil motives or willing neglect of duty. I have been profoundly impressed by the self-devotion, disinterestedness and conscientiousness of corporate boards. They may be incompetent without being culpable. It is no disgrace to a grocer not to know how to run a university;" and the Chief Justice need not blush to confess his inability to arrange a curriculum of post-graduate study in modern science. The evil, generally, is not in the trustees, but in the system which gives them a power belonging to another class.
The practical evils of our system begin with the conception of the university. It is the glory of our country that so many of our moneyed. citizens have felt moved to pour out their means for the founding or endowment of institutions of learning. I honor their high motives; and I pronounce it no mean ambition to seek to unite one's name, in any way, with an agency for making mankind better and happier. Nevertheless, I would that some of our founders could have been content to build on existing foundations. Greater is the glory of a name borne by a great library, in a first-class university, than that of a name borne by a fourth-class university. Such, however, is the self-reliance of the American citizen, that men who never saw the inside of a university do not hesitate to hamper bequests of thousands or even of millions of dollars, in ordaining that an instiution shall be specially scientific, or classical, or agricultural, or mechanical, or religious, or irreligious; or shall be specially suited to farmers' sons, or to orphans, or to free-masons, or to believers in a religious creed. No fallacy born of ignorance and fostered by our system, has been more general or more pernicious than the supposition that the student of mines, or agriculture, or mechanics, or engineering requires-beyond some final practice in the applications of his science, a different training, or a different corps of instructors from those furnished by the university. Hence the marked and wasteful tendency to erect a separate academical institution for each of these classes, instead of concentrating educational appliances; and the inevitable aspiration, in the end, to convert every agricultural college, or mining or normal school into another university.
In the selection of locations, most absurd misjudgments have been made. A favorite idea in the founding of colleges under church auspices has been a location in some sleepy village remote from the "temptations" of city life. No such college has ever had a robust development. Nor have their pupils been more noted for exemplary conduct or good scholarship than the pupils of city colleges. There are many obvious reasons why this is so. Every college professor understands the eminent desirableness of contact with a great city. Accordingly, the question of removal to the city has always arisen for agitation, after years of waiting and languishing. Ten examples occur to mind on the instant. Sometimes the singular caprice of founders locates a college miles away, on the prairie or in the forest. In riding over the western country, my attention is sometimes arrested by one of these desolate cloisters raising its gloomy
and dilapidated walls above a waste of prairie. Some of our so-called "agricultural colleges," in addition to the folly of their separate existence, have been placed as far as possible from learned-not to say civilized, associations. I know of one planted in a forest four miles from a village, which remained itself destitute of railroad communication for fifteen years.
Our people, in the next place, have a most grotesque fancy for sites. Those who plant our colleges like to plant on a hill. Some of them stand perched at the top of precipices, like feudal castles along the cliffs of the Rhine. Many stand cruelly exposed to the blasts of winter, and are almost inaccessible during periods of mud and snow. Under the cloister system, remoteness and inaccessibility were of little consequence; but where students reside in homes more or less remote, the time and effort and exposure become serious considerations. Suppose two hundred students reside at such a distance that each must spend an hour a day in going and returning on five days of the week. This, in a scholastic year of thirty-nine weeks, aggregates three thousand nine hundred days. of ten working hours each. This is over ten years of time taken annually from the vigorous youth of a body of two hundred students. I well understand the palliations of this evil; but I affirm, in advance, that they do not, by any means, annihilate it; and whatever evil remains, stands to the charge of that incompetency which is always leading the mass of educators by their noses. The truth is, college sites are generally selected for the beauty of the situation. Some grave, and probably "reverend," dignitary (I speak it to the honor of the "cloth ") invites a companion or two, on a pleasant summer morning, to take a little stroll. In due time, they find themselves upon an elevation overlooking a charming landscape. Here, it is agreed, shall be the site of our "university." Here it is built; but the bishop and the judge content themselves with visiting the spot on summer days, when the air is clear and balmy, and the landscape glorious in summer beauty. Meantime, through roaring November, and tempestous December, and stinging January, and sleety March, the train of victimized seekers after knowledge must pick their obscure paths up and down the weary hill, at a cost of seventy-eight days each for a college course-and all because, forsooth, in a pleasant day it is a pretty spot.
More serious evils than these might be cited, but I refrain from all statements which may possibly be construed as personal. I omit the citation of examples which have fallen under my observation; and I am sure the experience of every professor will supply examples for himself. Again and again have I seen the corporate body ignore or condemn measures recommended by the teaching body, though suggested by years of experience, and matured through weeks of discussion. These supreme arbiters of our destiny gather themselves together from once to four times a year-from their farms, their offices, their parishes, and their shops; look in upon us with an omniscient glance; apprehend the situation with an intuition; bow us hither and thither, and flit away again to their offices and shops, leaving us to struggle with chronic difficulties which the dictates of one day's wisdom would convert into things of the past.
The consequence is, that every university lives a life of ever-shifting expedients. No university learns from the experience of others. Each new board of trustees plunges into the same crude experiments; learns the same costly lessons, and works out for itself results which have been