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By Chancellor ERASTUS O. HAVEN, D. D., LL. D., of Syracuse University. Academic examinations and the degrees awarded as their result, are intimately connected and deserve to be considered together. They grow out of fundamental elements of human nature and of human society, and have, therefore, in some form, or what may be regarded as a substitute for them, existed in all civilized communities. It would be interesting to trace the history of the various badges of distinction awarded to persons assumed to be of peculiar and marked intellectual merit, in all the great divisions of the human family, ancient and modern; but we should soon find ourselves, as on all such subjects, provoked by a want of evidence, harassed by conflicting authorities, and left with only just enough of evidence to convince us that on this, as on nearly all practical subjects, the present generation must rely more on present demands and opportunities than on the dimly known practice of the past.
In "University Life in Ancient Athens, being the Substance of Four Oxford Lectures," W. W. Capes, A. M., Reader in Ancient History in Oxford University, attempts to show that for some centuries the education given to the Ephebi at Athens was much like modern university education, and that, among other analogies, examinations were held annually. The lectures, however, are too fanciful to be satisfactory.
It might be supposed that the history of university education would be the most perfectly elucidated of all history, and yet its beginnings are lost in obscurity.
It is evident that, coincident with the fall of the Roman Empire, and the disappearance of the aristocratic schools that flourished and fell with it, there sprung up gradually in all parts of Europe under the watchcare of the church, more popular schools, to which persons of all ranks in society were invited, and which were largely sustained by voluntary contributions of benevolent Christians. Some of these grew into great power, and out of them sprung European universities, now recognized as an essential element of civilization.
The university of Paris, with the patronage of Charlemagne, soon became the leader and model of all of its class; Oxford and Cambridge rapidly followed. The universities of Italy as early acquired great power, as V. A. Huber, in his excellent history of the English Universities well states: "Both positive testimony and general probabilities assure us that the new intellectual impulse sprung up, not only in the domain and under the guidance of the church, but out of ecclesiastical schools." In these schools early appeared the practice of public disputations carried on between the advanced pupils and some of the teachers selected as examiners, and to the pupils who evinced sufficient merit, both in attack and defense, some testimonial was awarded as a proof that he was competent to step out of the rank of pupils into that of the teachers, either to remain at the university in that capacity or to perform such. other labor of an educated man, as might be demanded under the direction of the Church or State.
The student who passed this ordeal acceptably was at first simply licensed to teach, and was called a licentiate. Soon, however, imposing
*Huber's Eng. Universities, Vol. I, page 15.
ceremonies naturally grew up around this practice, and it is likely that, in imitation of the crowning of the victors in the Olympic games, the successful graduates received a crown of laurel leaves and berries, or of some plant substituted for the laurel, and were, therefore, styled Baccalaureati, which has been anglicised into bachelors—though, in reality and etymologically, the word has no affinity with the English word bachelor. *
Thus sprung up a literary degree the most widely known of all, and which, though the lowest in order, is at the same time the most indicative of good scholarship, as it is never given causa honoris, or to any who have not passed an examination. A. B. is really a more certain indication of scholarship than A. M., or the symbol of any other higher degree. The Scotch Universities do not confer the Bachelors' degree. † Very soon after the establishment of this degree, came also the recognition of higher grades of scholarship by the degrees, Master of Arts, and Doctors of Divinity, and of Laws; all of which originally were conferred only after examinations.
At first no person was permitted in society to be addressed as Master who had not attained that degree, and for many years the titles were badges of a kind of nobility, which gave to them great value, though, fortunately, the titles never became hereditary.
In modern times these degrees and titles remain with a value varying much in different nations. In some nations the possession of some one of these is a prerequisite to admission to professional life, or to the attainment of any valuable political office. In other countries, as in Great Britain and the United States, though the value is chiefly social and undefined by law, yet the possession of these degrees is regarded as a great distinction and honor.
It is certainly well that scholarship should be recognized and honored. The highest purposes of society could not otherwise be attained.
There are, however, objections to the manner by which these distinctions have usually been obtained. Not having the requisite space to expose the unfairness and partiality of other times and other nations, let us direct our attention to the more common abuses in our own country.
One great difficulty is the multiplication of authorities having power to confer these degrees while these authorities are not themselves subject to competent supervision. Another difficulty has arisen from the growing practice of conferring some of the very highest degrees without examination, or causa honoris.
It is creditable to the honesty of the American people that hitherto public opinion has prevented so great an abuse as might have been anticipated. On the whole, I am inclined to think that the youngest and feeblest of our colleges, in the new as well as the older States, have been as discriminating and careful in the distribution of their honors as the oldest. But none can fail to see that the value of degrees will depend principally on the dignity and impartiality of the authority conferring them, and on the extensiveness of the course of study and the faithfulness of examination required.
*Other and fanciful derivations of the word baccalaureatus have been suggested. Dr. Donald son, in his Latin Grammar, suggests that it comes from bas chevalier, an order in chivalry. C Wadsworth, in his history of University Life in the XVIIIth Century, page 257, suggests that it arises from bacillus, a bedel's staff. There is no need of such fancies. The commonly accepted origin is far the most probable.
+ See Alexander Bower's History of the University of Edinburgh, Vol. I, page 42.
In Great Britain there are but about ten or twelve institutions that have authority to confer these degrees, while in the United States there are more than three hundred and fifty. The number of schools, however, at which students may prepare for examinations, and do actually study for such honors, is relatively as great in Great Britain as in this country.
In 1836 the London University received its charter. Previous to that time university degrees were conferred in England only on graduates of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Durham, who were required to sign the creed of the national Church. The obtaining of a degree was, indeed, hedged about by various difficulties wholly separable from scholarship and merit. Against this monopoly English public opinion finally rebelled, and insisted upon the establishment of a liberal and impartial authority, called the "London University," the main object of which, as expressed in its charter, is, "for the purpose of ascertaining, by means of examination, the persons who have acquired proficiency in literature, science, art, and other departments of knowledge, by the pursuit of such course of education, and of rewarding them by academical degrees and certificates of proficiency as evidence of their respective attainments, and marks of honor proportioned thereto." The London University does not instruct, but simply examines and confers degrees.
From its foundation to the present time the London University has exerted a powerful influence-it may not be unjust to say, relatively, the most powerful influence-to promote sound scholarship in Great Britain. Its potency is felt throughout the empire to the remotest colonies; and yet it has little property, and expends the most of its income in prizes to promote scholarship. The officiary of the university consists of a Chancellor, appointed by the Crown; a Vice-chancellor, elected annually by the Senate, and thirty-six Fellows, who, together, constitute the Senate. They have also a representative in Parliament. All the graduates, complying with certain conditions, meet in convention and have certain limited and carefully-defined powers.
The great work of the university has been to establish certain courses of study for the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Doctor of Literature, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Laws, Doctor of Laws, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, and Doctor of Medicine.
The candidate for any one of these degrees is allowed also to compete for "honors," in addition to simply obtaining the degree.
By a supplemental charter, granted in 1867, the London University is authorized to extend all its privileges to women as well as to men, granting, however, to women appropriate "Certificates of Proficiency," instead of the time-honored degrees. This is a kind of semi-concession of form to conservatism, after having wrested from it the substance, which it would be unwise to imitate. Undoubtedly the next step will soon be taken, and the actual degrees will be granted to women.
From the calendar of the university for 1875, I learn that during that year thirty-two examiners and twelve assistant examiners were appointed for all departments, exclusive of medicine, and fourteen medical examiners. Semi-annual examinations were held, usually occupying only about a week.
The calendar shows a long list of graduates, still it is reported that about one-half only of those who apply pass the required examinations. In many instances, undoubtedly those who fail, finding where their deficiency is, after more study are successful.
[CONVOCATION, Sig. 4.]
It would be impossible and undesirable to reproduce the London University in this country. The same occasion does not exist; imitations are usually weak. Yet it is evident that a demand for a similar institution here for different reasons does exist, and that in the Board of Regents of the University of New York is found a corporation already clothed with authority to perform all the functions of such a university.
The University of New York has the advantage of an independent origin, and a gradual growth. It has wisely begun with the improvement and encouragement of primary, academic, and normal or training education. It has now authority to turn its attention to higher education. It has a delicate task to perform; so to do this work as at the same time to strengthen and encourage the 'colleges and universities of the State. It should not be a rival, but an assistant. It should not attempt impossibilities. It may see fit to offer special examinations to graduates of New York colleges, for honors, or particular certificates of proficiency, which would soon become of great value, if they were never bestowed exeept when worthily won. It has no pecuniary prizes with which to stimulate study. It remains to be seen what interest will be excited in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and for the honor attendant upon success.
REGENTS' EXAMINATIONS IN ACADEMIC STUDIES..
By Principal JOHN E. BRADLEY, A. M., of Albany High School. The following paper on Regents' Examinations in Academic studies. has been prepared by request of the Honorable Secretary of the Board of Regents. It makes no attempt to exhaust the subject, but is rather designed to open it for discussion, and present a definite scheme of examinations for consideration.
At the University Convocation in 1876, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
"Resolved, That the Regents of the University be requested by the Convocation to institute a series of examinations in advanced studies for academic departments, and to issue certificates to students passing the same."
In accordance with this resolution, a law was passed, at the last session of the Legislature, providing for such examinations in the institution, subject to the visitation of the Regents. Section 6 of chapter 425 of the Laws of 1877, is as follows:
"§ 6. The Regents of the University shall establish in the academies and academic departments of union schools, subject to their visitation, examinations in such branches of study as are commonly taught in the same, and shall determine the rules and regulations in accordance with which they shall be conducted; said examinations shall be prescribed in such studies, and shall be arranged and conducted in such a manner, as, in the judgment of the Regents, will furnish a suitable standard of graduation from the said academies and academic departments of union schools, and of admission to the several colleges of the State; and they shall confer such honorary certificates or diplomas as they may deem expedient upon those pupils who satisfactorily pass such examinations. And the said Regents are hereby authorized to establish examinations, as to attainments in learning of any persons applying for admission to the same, to prescribe rules and regulations for the admission of candidates to said examinations, and for conducting them, and to confer and award such degrees, honorary testimonials or diplomas to persons who satisfactorily pass such examinations, as the said Regents may deem expedient. They shall audit and certify to the Comptroller all accounts for the expenses of establishing and conducting such examinations and all contingent expenses attending the same, and the amounts thereof shall be paid from the appropriation for this purpose made in the first section of this act."
This action of the Convocation and of the Legislature seems to have settled the question with reference to these examinations being held, and any discussion of their desirability or importance is perhaps superfluous; but it may enable us more confidently to adopt a plan for these examinations, if we first consider some of the advantages which may be expected from them.
The certificate now given by the Regents to those who have passed the preliminary examination in arithmetic, English grammer, geography and spelling, is known and has a recognized value throughout the State, and even among the educational institutions of other States. It is generally accepted as a sufficient evidence of preparation in the elementary