Considerations on University Reform
IT seems to be quite generally felt that the present time is a favorable one for entertaining and discussing various projects for the improvement of the University at Cambridge. To the question of reform, in its general outlines, the attention of our readers has already been directed by able hands. It is here proposed to pursue the subject more into details, and to educe from a few general principles the rudiments of a systematic scheme of reform.
Note, first, that the idea of reform is to be kept distinctly separate from that of revolution, and that, while advocating the former, all encouragement to the latter will here be strictly withheld. The improvements from time to time aimed at should as far as possible be brought about without effacing the distinctive characteristics of the original system. We are unable to sympathize with the radical spirit which would make a bonfire of all churches because the Pentateuch does not teach geology, or which would upset an indigenous and time-honored government because certain social evils coexist with it. And we cannot but think that an attempt to revolutionize our University, by assimilating it to sister institutions in England or Germany, would be productive of at least as much harm as good. If, for instance, in the hope of obtaining a perfect University, we were to abolish our dormitories, obliterate the distinction between classes, abandon the entire system of marking, and transfer the task of maintaining order from the Parietal Committee to the civil police, we should no doubt be as much disappointed as the men of 1789, who attempted to make English institutions grow on French soil, and got a Bonaparte dynasty for their pains. There is a place as well as a time for all things, and a great deal will always have to be con-
ceded to the habit which men have of getting used to old institutions and customs, and of disliking to see them too roughly dealt with. A German university is little else than an organized aggregate of lecture-rooms, libraries, laboratories, and other facilities for those who desire to study, — resembling in this respect our scientific and professional schools. Our New England colleges, founded in a Puritan environment, less imbued with the modern spirit, and in many cases even dating from an earlier period, have always combined with their instruction more or less of coercion ; and have laid claim to a supervision over the demeanor of their students, in the exercise of which the liberty of the latter is often egregiously interfered with. The freedom of the undergraduate at Harvard is hampered by restrictions, many of which, if once justifiable, have in the lapse of time grown to be quite absurd, and should certainly be removed with all possible promptness: of these we shall speak presently. But to remove all restrictions whatever with one and the same sweep of our reformatory besom, would excite serious and extensive popular distrust. The New England mind, which tolerates Maine liquor-laws and Sabbatarian ordinances and protective tariffs, would not regard with favor such a revolutionary measure. So much liberty would bear an uncanny resemblance to license, — a resemblance which, we freely admit, might not at first be wholly imaginary. The College would lose much of its popularity ; young men would be sent elsewhere to pursue their studies; and thus great injury would be manifestly wrought to the cause of university reform, which must needs be supported to a considerable extent by popular sentiment in order duly to prosper. A large amount of discretion must therefore be used, even in the removal of those features wherein our colleges compare unfavorably with those of other countries. But there are some respects in which the American university may claim a superiority quite unique, — some cases in which a radical change must ever be earnestly deprecated. That arrangement by virtue of which each student is a member, not only of the University, but of a particular Class, is fraught with such manifold benefits that any advantages to be derived from giving it up must disappear when brought into comparison. No graduate needs to be told what a gap would be made in his social and moral culture, if all the thoughts and emotions resulting from his relations to his classmates were to be stricken from it. For the genial nurture of the sympathetic feelings, the class system affords a host of favorable conditions which can ill be dispensed with. By means of it, the facilities of the University for becoming a centre of social no less than of intellectual development are greatly enhanced. On the other hand, it is not to be denied that, in requiring students of all degrees of mental ability and working power to complete the same course of study in the same length of time, there is much irrationality as well as some injustice. This evil, which is so seriously felt in American colleges, does not afflict the universities of England and Germany, where the class system is not in use. To obviate it, however, it is fortunately not necessary to resign the advantages which that system alone is competent to secure. Partly by allowing greater option in the selection of studies, partly by extending the privilege, at present occasionally granted to students, of taking their degrees one or two years after the termination of the regular course, sufficient recognition can be given to differences of mental capacity, without essentially infringing upon the individuality of the successive classes. Here, then, is a clear case in which a judicious reform might attain all the ends sought by a sweeping revolution, without incurring the grievous detriment which the latter would inevitably entail. We believe that the same principle will apply in nearly every case; that it is possible to secure all the most valuable benefits conferred by European systems, without sacrificing the fundamental elements of our own ; and that, by uniformly shaping our ameliorative projects with conscious reference to such an end, the efficiency of our University will be most successfully maintained, and its prosperity most thoroughly insured.
Next, in order to impart to our notions of reform the requisite symmetry and coherence, the legitimate objects of university education must be clearly conceived and steadfastly borne in mind. The whole duty of a university toward those who are sheltered within its walls may be concisely summed up in two propositions. It consists, first, in stimulating the mental faculties of each student to varied and harmonious activity,— in supplying every available instrument for sharpening the perceptive powers, strengthening the judgment, and adding precision and accuracy to the imagination ; secondly, in providing for all those students who desire it the means of acquiring a thorough elementary knowledge of any given branch of science, art, or literature. In a word, to teach the student how to think for himself, and then to give him the material to exercise his thought upon,— this is the whole duty of a university. Into that duty the inculcation of doctrines as such does not enter. The professor is not fulfilling his proper function when he incontinently engages in a polemic in behalf of this or that favorite dogma. His business is to see that the pupil is thoroughly prepared and equipped with the implements of intellectual research, that he knows how to deduce a conclusion from its premise, that he properly estimates the value of evidence, and understands the nature of proof; he may then safely leave him to build up his own theory of things. His first crude conclusions may indeed be sadly erroneous, but they will be worth infinitely more than the most salutary truths acquired gratis, or lazily accepted upon the recommendation of another. It is desirable that our opinions should be correct, but it is far more desirable that they should be arrived at independently and maintained with intelligence and candor. Sceptical activity is better than dogmatic torpor ; and our motto should be, Think the truth as far as possible, but above all things, think. When a university throws its influence into the scale in favor of any party, religious or political, philosophic or æsthetic, it is neglecting its consecrated duty, and abdicating its high position. It has postponed the interests of truth to those of dogma. These are matters which our own University should seriously ponder. It does not always strive so earnestly to make its students independent thinkers, as to imbue them with opinions currently deemed wholesome. But science will never prosper in this way. Political economy will gain nothing by onesided arguments against Malthus and Ricardo ; sound biological views will never be furthered by undiscriminating abuse of Darwinism ; nor will the interests of religion be ever rightly subserved by threatening heresy with expulsion.
An endless amount of discussion has been wasted over the question whether a mathematical or a classical training is the more profitable for the majority of students. The comparative advantages of spending all one’s time upon one favorite pursuit, and of devoting more or less attention to various branches of study, have also supplied the text for much vague and unsatisfactory discourse. By the view of university education here adopted, these questions are placed in a somewhat favorable position for getting disposed of. The office of the university is not to enforce doctrine, but to point out method. It is not so much to cram the mind of the student with divers facts, which in after life it may be useful for him to have learned, as to teach him the proper mode of searching for facts, and of dealing with them when he has found them. As Jacobs says, “It is of less importance in youth what a man learns, than how he learns it.” 1 A fact considered in itself is usually a very stupid and quite useless object. Viewed in relation to other facts, as the illustration of a general principle, or as an item of evidence for or against a theory, it suddenly becomes both interesting and valuable. If the truth is to be told, by far the greater number of facts which are to be encountered in the various departments of nature are to most persons utterly insignificant and unattractive; chiefly, because they have never been furnished with the means of estimating their illustrative and evidentiary value. Universal logic, therefore, — the relations of phenomena to each other, and the methods of investigation and modes of proof applicable to widely different subjects, — should occupy an important place in college teaching. And that this end can be secured by studying any one kind of science alone is of course impossible.
The advocate of the utility of mathematical studies, when confronted with the insurmountable fact that very little use is made of algebra and geometry in ordinary life, is wont to shelter himself behind the assertion, that nevertheless these studies “discipline the mind.” Though exquisitely vague, as thus expressed, this favorite apology is doubtless essentially valid. The almost universal distaste for mathematics,2 coexisting as it does in many persons with excellent reasoning powers, proves that the faculty of imagining abstract relations is ordinarily quite feebly developed. Not reason, but imagination, is at fault. The passage from premise to conclusion could easily be made, if the abstract relations of position or quantity which are involved could be accurately conceived and firmly held in the mind. Now the ability to imagine relations is one of the most indispensable conditions of all precise thinking. No subject can be named, in the investigation of which it is not imperatively needed ; but it can nowhere else be so thoroughly acquired as in the study of mathematics. This fact alone is sufficient to justify the University in requiring its students to devote some attention to such a study. But the excellence of mathematics as an instrument of mental discipline by no means ends here. It is indeed a fallacy to suppose that greater certainty is attainable in geometry than elsewhere. Not greater certainty, but greater precision, is that which distinguishes the results obtained by mathematical deduction. Dealing constantly with definite or determinable magnitudes, its processes are characterized by quantitative exactness. It is not obliged to pare off and limit its conclusions, to make them tally with concrete facts ; but can treat of length as if there were no such thing as breadth, and of plane surfaces just as if solidity were unknown. It is thus the most perfect type of deductive reasoning ; and if logical training is to consist, not in repeating barbarous scholastic formulas or mechanically tacking together empty majors and minors, but in acquiring dexterity in the use of trustworthy methods of advancing from the known to the unknown, then mathematical investigation must ever remain one of its most indispensable implements. Once inured to the habit of accurately imagining abstract relations, recognizing the true value of symbolic conceptions, and familiarized with a fixed standard of proof, the mind is equipped for the consideration of quite other objects than lines and angles. The twin treatises of Adam Smith on social science, wherein, by deducing all human phenomena first from the unchecked action of selfishness and then from the unchecked action of sympathy, he arrives at mutually-limiting conclusions of transcendent practical importance, furnish for all time a brilliant illustration of the value of mathematical methods and mathematical discipline.
If magnitudes and quantities thus contemplated in the abstract yield such wholesome pabulum for the intellect, no less beneficial in many respects is the study of the direct applications of mathematics to the concrete phenomena of mechanics, astronomy, and physics. Not only do the numerous devices by which algebraic expressions are utilized in the solution of physical problems afford extensive scope for inventive ingenuity, but some familiarity with quantitative conceptions of the action and interaction of forces is eminently conducive to the entertainment of sound philosophic views. The reorganization of mechanics by Lagrange, and the beautiful construction by Fourier of a mathematical doctrine of heat, were innovations in philosophy as well as in science ; and although the student can hardly be expected to gain even a rudimentary knowledge of these recondite subjects, he may at least with profit to himself be enabled to form some general notion of the symbolic conceptions of force which they systematically embody. Of especial importance is the study of astronomy, both philosophically, as imparting a knowledge of the cosmic relations of our planet, and logically, as exhibiting in its highest perfection the deductive investigation of concrete phenomena. The right use of that indispensable but dangerous weapon of thought, hypothesis, can nowhere be so conveniently or so satisfactorily learned as in astronomy, where hypotheses have been more skiliully framed and successfully applied than in any other province of scientific research.
But it is not by the study of mathematics and its. applications alone, that a comprehensive logical training can be acquired. There are other kinds of proof than mathematical proof; and the deductive method is not the only method of reasoning. In estimating the comparative advantages of mathematical and of classical discipline, too slight and too feeble recognition has been extended to the great body of inductive science, which has grown up and attained to philosophic significance only in quite modern times. Chemistry and concrete physics have their means of arriving at truth, very different from those employed in mathematics, but quite as essential to sound scientific thinking. To acquire expertness and elegance in the use of deductive methods, while remaining contentedly ignorant of the fundamental canons of induction, is to secure but a lame and one-sided mental development. It is often remarked, that many men, whose opinions upon any subject with which they are familiar are sober enough, do not scruple to utter the most childish nonsense upon topics with which they are only partially acquainted. The reason is, that they have learned to think correctly after some particular fashion, but know nothing of the general principles on which thinking should be conducted. They are what is fitly called narrow-minded ; and since each branch of knowledge is more or less closely interlaced with every other branch, a searching scrutiny will usually show that even in their control of their own specialty there is ample room for improvement. Each science has its logical methods and its peculiar species of evidence ; and to insure an harmonious development of the mental powers, there is no practicable way except to obtain a knowledge of all.
To acquire such a command of scientific methods, it is not necessary, even were it possible, to devote much study to the details of each separate science. To master the details of any single science is a task for the accomplishment of which a lifetime is much too short. Recollecting, however, that not doctrine, but method, is for the student the thing above all others needful, it will be seen that our scheme does not make too great demands even upon the limited time embraced in a university course. The principles of investigation involved in every one of the inductive sciences might easily be learned in the time now devoted to the acquisition of facts in chemistry alone. The college now attempts to teach chemistry as if each student might possibly come to be a physician, metallurgist, or pharmaceutist in after life. And the amount of time spent upon it is out of all proportion to that allotted to the other natural sciences, some of which, as anatomy and geology, are not even included in the regular course of electives. But total ignorance of organs and tissues is too great a price to pay for even an extensive acquaintance with acids and salts. The study of chemical details should be reserved for the elective course, of which we shall presently treat. The fundamental principles of chemistry, its relation to kindred sciences, the scope which it affords for observation and experiment, the philosophical value of its unrivalled nomenclature, — these are matters of universal importance, and their study forms an inseparable part of a catholic education. As thus conducted, the study of chemistry need not consume more than one third of the time at present assigned it, and other sciences, now sadly neglected, might assert their just claims to attention.
Chemistry and molecular physics constitute the proper field for the employment of the purely inductive method. As we arrive at the organic sciences, deduction again assumes a prominent position. Of our three principal instruments for interrogating Nature, — observation, experiment, and comparison, — the second plays in biology a quite subordinate part. But while, on the one hand, the extreme complication of causes involved in vital processes renders the application of experiment altogether precarious in its results, on the other hand, the endless variety of organic phenomena offers peculiar facilities for the successful employment of comparison and analogy. Zoölogy and botany are pre-eminently the sciences of classification ; and if skill in the use of this powerful auxiliary of thought is ever to be acquired, it must be sought in the comparative study of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. Theoretical logic may divide and subdivide as much as it likes ; but genera and species are dull and lifeless things, when contemplated merely in their places upon a logical chart. To become correct reasoners, it is not enough that we should know what classes and subclasses are ; we should also know how to cunningly make them. From pure considerations of discipline, therefore, biology should form one of the regular studies of the university course, and some proficiency in it should be expected of every candidate for a bachelor’s degree. Practical considerations also join in urging that steps should be taken to raise the organic sciences from the insignificant position now assigned them. If some sagacious traveller from a distant world, like Voltaire’s Micromégas, were to visit Harvard College, he would doubtless give vent to unpleasant sarcasms concerning the profound anatomical ignorance of its graduating classes. He would pronounce it hardly creditable to the institution, that men who have received its honors should be guilty of classifying cuttlefishes with the Vertebrata (we state facts), and should betray even less acquaintance with the structure of their own bodies than with the physical configuration of the moon. The scientific study of life has its practical as well as its speculative advantages. For want of sound views of biological method, intelligent persons are daily seen yielding faith to unscientific fallacies like those embodied in homœopathy, or to wretched delusions like cranioscopic phrenology.
It is therefore recommended that the time required for the study of chemistry be limited to one term, instead of extending over three ; that in the second term, along with the botany now taught, some instruction be given in general and comparative anatomy ; to be followed, in the third, by a brief but comprehensive survey of physiology; while such knowledge of geology as is needful for the better understanding of these subjects might be simultaneously imparted by means of lectures. An arrangement of this sort would possess the signal advantage of throwing the organic sciences into their proper place, between chemistry, upon which they partially depend, and psychology, to which they constitute the natural introduction.
There is the less need for insisting upon the value of psychology, metaphysics, and logic, as instruments of mental discipline, since few persons are disposed to call it in question. In following a difficult metaphysical discussion, all the intellectual faculties are brought into healthful activity; and although men may reason well without understanding the nature of the psychical processes, there is no doubt that an acquaintance with psychology guarantees its possessor against the adoption of many a plausible fallacy. After the student has acquired, through his scientific studies, some dexterity in the use of logical methods, he will approach, with all the more interest and enthusiasm, the study of those methods as organized into a coherent system. In view of what has already been said, it is almost unnecessary to add, that we do not regard the science of logic as consisting solely of the doctrine of the syllogism. It will no longer do to ignore the fact that induction has its tests and canons, as well as deduction. Mr. Mill’s great treatise has been before the public for nearly a quarter of a century ; and though far too learned and ponderous for a text-book, its introduction into the college course, in an epitomized form, would be attended with happy results. As for metaphysics, much of its value in education depends upon the catholicity of the spirit in which it is taught. Metaphysical doctrines are not so incontrovertibly established as the leading theorems of physical science. On nearly every question there are at least two mutually incompatible opinions, while on some points there are scores of such. The latest speculations do not, as usually happens in science, render antiquated the older ones ; and accordingly, in teaching metaphysics, extensive use should be made of the historical method of presentation. Recitations from the text-book might profitably be combined or alternated with lectures upon the history of philosophy, in which the aim should be to indicate as graphically as possible the relations sustained by each system to its predecessors. In default of any such arrangement, the University already possesses, in the works of Sir William Hamilton, with their profound historical consciousness, the best attainable substitute.
The study of history, with reference to the scientific methods involved in it, would in a university be utterly impracticable. That there is a causal sequence, which must sooner or later admit of being formulated, in the tangled and devious course of human affairs, we not only readily grant, but we also steadfastly maintain. But speculations of this sort are too hopelessly abstruse, and require too vast and minute a knowledge of details, to be profitably included even in the most advanced undergraduate course. Historical laws cannot, like physical laws, be obtained from the inspection of a few crucial instances. The enormous heterogeneity of social phenomena forbids their becoming amenable to any such process. Only in political economy, and to some extent in ethics, where the action of certain moral forces is independently treated, can the student be expected to comprehend general truths. Far from being in a condition to appreciate general views of historic evolution, he is usually ignorant of most of the leading facts upon which they are founded. Historical instruction, therefore, must continue to consist chiefly in the exposition of details. It is important, however, that the attention should be principally directed toward those events which have constituted turning-points in human progress. It is better to confine the attention to a few cardinal epochs, like the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Reformation, or the Revolt of the Netherlands, than to try to commit to memory a compendium like Michelet’s Précis, which is nothing but a disjointed chronological table, a potpourri of unmeaning dates and unexplained occurrences, wherein trivial anecdotes and events of eternal significance are incontinently huddled together, without the slightest attempt at historical perspective. Above all, the essential unity and continuity of ancient and modern history should be kept steadily in view; and to this end, far more importance should be assigned to the history of Imperial Rome than is now the case. Ancient history will always, as at present, be best studied in connection with ancient languages and literature. And this remark suggests the last of the subjects requiring notice in our brief survey, in proceeding to consider which, let it be premised that the most inestimable benefits arising from the study of history are here passed over, as implied in what we shall have to say about the classics.
If we have reserved the last place for the mention of classical studies, it is not because we esteem them least in value. After what has been said concerning the advantages of mathematical and scientific training, our assertion of the paramount importance of the classics will incur no risk of being ascribed to one-sided prejudice. We therefore make no scruple of recording our opinion that, both in quantity and in quality, the mental discipline obtainable from the intelligent study of the Greek and Latin languages equals that which can he acquired by any other educational means whatever. To which it may be added, that, if accuracy and precision are most thoroughly imparted by the study of exact science, on the other hand practical sagacity, catholic sympathies, and breadth of view are the qualities most completely developed by philological and literary pursuits. Indeed, were it not for the amount of attention so generally bestowed upon the literatures and dialects of Greece and Rome, our intellectual sympathies would become contracted to a deplorable degree. As Dr. William Smith has observed, “their civilization may be said to be our civilization, their literature is our literature, their institutions and laws have moulded and modified our institutions and laws; and the life of the Western nations of Europe is but a continuation of the life of Greece and Rome.” The reasons habitually adduced for studying the history of our own country and that of England, from which our political institutions most directly emanate, apply with scarcely inferior cogency to the study of that antique civilization, whence the best and most enduring elements of our social structure, our science, laws, and literature, even most of our religious ideas, are ultimately derived. And how much or how little of ancient life can be comprehended without a knowledge of ancient languages, we are willing to let every classically educated man declare for himself. There is thus a profound reason for the fact that universities have ever made the classic languages the basis of their instruction. The progress of modern discovery may greatly modify the circumstances under which this arrangement was originally made, but it can never entirely do away with them. Sanskrit, for instance, the immense importance of which we would be the last to underrate, can never be placed upon an equal footing with Latin and Greek. Valmiki and Kalidasa, says Mommsen, are the precious treasures of literary botanists, but Horner and Sophocles bloom, in our own garden. With Indian civilization we are but remotely connected ; and our obligations to Cæsar, Paul, and Aristotle will ever be infinitely greater than to Kanada or Sakyamuni. The noble thoughts of Hellenic philosophers and Roman jurists have not only helped to inaugurate modern civilization, but have since continually reacted upon it. The impulse given to jurisprudence by the discovery of Justinian’s Pandects at Amalfi may have been exaggerated by uncritical historians, as Hallam and Savigny have maintained. But the Renaissance, with its innumerable consequences, will remain forever an abiding refutation of the detractors of classical studies. Well might the renewal of intercourse with antiquity be called a new birth for the modern mind ; it nerved it with vigor for its greatest achievements. The spirit of Aristotle and Galen dwelt not with the stupid schoolmen who, parrot-like, repeated their doctrines, but with Galileo and Harvey, who overthrew them.
Not only does classical scholarship ripen the judgment and widen the sympathies; it also affords unrivalled scope for the exercise of practical sagacity. In order to acquire tolerable proficiency in the use of an ancient language, it is necessary to go through with an endless amount of reasoning, classifying, and guessing. Hypotheses must be skilfully framed, inferences must be correctly drawn, probabilities must be carefully balanced ; a high degree of shrewdness must continually be applied to the solution of questions for the moment of practical importance, and to the removal of constantly occurring practical difficulties. The kind and amount of discipline thus obtained far excels any which can be got from the study of modern languages, all of which, from Portuguese to Russian inclusive, can be learned by the classical scholar with less labor and in less time than it has taken him to master his Greek and Latin. It is a grave error to suppose that all this mental exertion can take place without beneficial effect upon the after life of the student. Even if he is so unwise or so unfortunate as to allow his classical attainments to slip from his memory, he will be the better fitted for all the business of life, by reason of the exercise which they have entailed. Whatever native keenness and capacity for patient drudgery he may have in him will show itself developed and strengthened, just as his alertness and muscular vigor will be the better for his early rowing and cricket-playing, though he may never touch bat or oar again. Impatient utilitarianism, in directing all education to immediate practical ends, and in turning universities into polytechnic schools, sacrifices more than it gains. The example of Rawlinson, as it has been well observed, proves that a soldier does not fight the worse at Candahar because he has deciphered cuneiform inscriptions at Ecbatana : to which it may be added that Julius Cæsar was not the worse general because he wrote on philology even in the midst of his wonderful campaigns ; that men like Gladstone and Lewis are not worse, but better, statesmen because of their consummate classical scholarship ; and that Henry Sumner Maine is not likely to prove less competent as a lawgiver for India, because he is the author of the profoundest treatise extant upon legal and social archaeology.
Lastly, the current argument against classical studies, that, though imparting vigor and keenness to the mind, they are not immediately applicable to practical or professional purposes, is precisely one of the strongest arguments in their favor. “In proportion as the material interests of the present moment become more and more engrossing, more and more tyrannical in their exactions, in the same proportion it becomes more necessary that man should fall back on the common interests of humanity, and free himself from the trammels of the present by living in the past.” In this age of hurry and turmoil, these words of the lamented Donaldson are daily assuming more and more of vital significance. If there is ever to be a limit to the minute subdivision of labor, it the excessive specialization of employments is not to go on unchecked by counter-processes, if man is not to be degraded into a mere producing and manufacturing automaton, if individuality of character is destined to reassert its antique pre-eminence, this must be brought about by sedulously fostering those pursuits which are not directly subservient to objects of narrow utility. And to this end, no studies can be more needful and appropriate than the studies of history, language, literature, and archaeology,— those studies which Steinthal, with reference to their effect upon the mind, has classified together and aptly entitled “retrospective.”3 They enlarge our mental horizon ; they reveal our indebtedness to the patient thinkers and workers who have gone before us, and to whom we owe most of our present comforts ; they cultivate our sympathy with the joys and sorrows, the hopes and disappointments, of past generations ; they preserve us from the worst effects of the petty annoyances and carking anxieties of daily life,—-the fjepivai βiwTLKai, against which the highest religious and ethical teaching has solemnly warned us. These are benefits too priceless to be thrown away, in order that our young men may gain a year or two for their professional labors ; and they are amply sufficient to justify the University in continuing, as it has always done, to make classical scholarship an indispensable part of a liberal education.
Our hasty survey of these various departments of study brings to light claims on the part of each one which cannot wisely be ignored. In order to adequately perform its first great duty of evoking the mental capacities, the University must extend some recognition to all. Some proficiency in mathematics, in each of the physical and moral sciences, in history, and in classics should be demanded of every student who wishes to take a degree. The amount of work needful to be done in each of these branches in order to satisfy the requirements of a liberal education, it is for professors and tutors to determine. But we may here extend to all required studies the suggestion already made in regard to chemistry, that only a minimum of attainment should be expected of the whole body of students. In the case of the sciences, only so much attention should be given to details as Is requisite for the comprehension of methods and general results. For this purpose, some knowledge of special facts is of course requisite. We cannot understand the atomic theory or the doctrine of definite proportions without knowing something about oxygen, hydrogen, and the other elements ; but it is not necessary to learn all the ways in which the metals are extracted from their ores. To understand methods and results in biology, we need to be acquainted with organs, fluids, and tissues, and to have some knowledge of function as well as of structure ; but we need not enter into the merits and short-comings of Mr. Gulliver’s theory of inflammation, or be particular as to the proper classification of the Bryozoa. The mathematical course might perhaps be allowed to close with plane trigonometry, and the course in classics might be materially abridged. Far less attention might be given to supremely useless matters, like Greek prosody; and the time now spent in committing to memory arbitrary rules for the scanning of choral passages in Æschylus would thus be saved for the study of ancient history and politics, in which important branches the requirements of the University have not yet attained even a respectable minimum. Doubtless in many other respects the amount of compulsory study might be curtailed. Cut these hints: are merely thrown out by way of illustration. In a matter demanding so much circumspection, only the wisdom and experience of practised instructors are competent to decide. Satisfactory results could easily be obtained, if the head of each department were to fix the minimum to be required in his own specialty, subject to the concurrence of the representatives of all the other departments. The course of study, thus regulated, would slightly resemble what at Oxford is called the “pass-course,” and all parts of it should be made compulsory for all students.
In advocating the adoption of a required course so extensive and yet so elementary, our aim is not to encourage crude smattering or vain sciolism, but to enable the student to approach his own special subject in the light thrown upon it by widely different subjects, and with the varied mental discipline which no single study is competent to furnish. Nature is not a mere juxtaposition of parts, but a complex organic whole ; and the different branches of science are so closely allied that, without a general knowledge of all, we cannot have a complete comprehension of any. From the lack of a well-defined knowledge of the boundaries which divide chemistry from physiology, many eminent chemists of the present century, including such men as Raspail, Berthollet, and even Liebig, have attempted to treat physiological questions by methods of investigation applicable only to chemical questions. There has thus arisen an ill-digested mass of speculation, embracing some inquiries which are purely chemical, and others which are purely physiological, to which has been given the name of Organic Chemistry. The amount of misdirected theorizing which resulted from this confusion of subjects and methods, it would be no light task to estimate. The doctrine of definite proportions was assailed, the distinction between ultimate and immediate analysis was lost sight of, and theories of respiration and animal heat were propounded, whose rare beauty and artistic symmetry of conception rendered only the more palpable and deplorable their extreme logical deficiency. This example, out of many which might be given, will suffice to illustrate our present position, that universal philosophic culture is essential to the right understanding of any one science.
But a general elementary training we deem serviceable only in so far as it is ancillary to the intelligent study of special subjects ; and in providing for the former, our scheme of education is only half completed. Provision must also be made for the latter. Along with the pass-course at Oxford, there is another system of study, making quite different demands upon the energies of the student, and called the classcourse. Our system of minimums likewise needs to be supplemented by a course entailing far greater labor, and crowned with still higher results. In reducing, as here recommended, the amount of work in the required studies, in uniformly postponing doctrine to method, in contemplating scientific truths only in their general bearings, and in extending its instruction over so wide a field, the University will have secured but one of its great educational ends. It will have supplied the instruments for investigation ; it must now supply the material. In order to discharge its second great duty of providing each student with the means of thoroughly conducting special studies, the University should introduce an extensive and well-regulated system of electives. For this we have an obvious analogue in the usage of our ancestral institution in England. We allude, of course, to the triposes of the University of Cambridge, so called, not from anything triple or tripartite in their structure, but because of the “ stool or tripos on which the bachelor of the day sat before the proctors during the disputations on Ash-Wednesday.” Along with the course of required studies, remodelled according to the principles here laid down, a series of triposes should be instituted. The classic languages, with ancient history and ancient philosophy, would naturally constitute one tripos; a second might be made up of pure and applied mathematics ; a third, of chemistry and the organic sciences ; a fourth, of psychology, logic, and the history of philosophy ; a fifth, of modern history, political economy, and elementary law ; while a sixth might be assigned to modern languages and general philology. At the beginning of the Sophomore year,—when, as we shall presently see, matriculation should be granted and the proper University course should commence, — the student should be allowed to select one or more of these triposes, in which to pursue his studies until graduation. As in each tripos the degree of proficiency requisite in order to graduate with honor should obviously be placed very high, few students would think it advisable to take up more than one. Thus organized, the system of triposes would for all practical purposes correspond to the Oxford class-course.
Many students will in every year be found willing to content themselves with the pass-course. They have no desire to do more than the minimum of work needful in order to get through college without disgrace. Or perhaps they are feeble in health, or have been imperfectly trained at school, and cannot therefore expect to do justice to the severe requirements of a tripos. These should be allowed to act their pleasure: the education they will get from the pass-course is vastly better than none ; and there are better means than direct compulsion for inducing the student to follow the more laborious and profitable path. Either a higher degree should reward the perseverance of the classman, as some have already suggested, or the maximum of credit should, for the pass-man, be reduced by one half or even by two thirds. In any case, all the honors of the University, all its scholarships, prizes, and emoluments, should be strictly reserved for those who have distinguished themselves in a tripos. Besides this, for the classmen, the constraint of compulsory attendance upon recitations and lectures should be materially diminished. Every one possessed of the requisite experience knows that, for the able and diligent student, too frequent recitation is not only a hardship, but a hindrance. The explanations of the professor, adapted as they must be to the comprehension of all his hearers, are often entirely superfluous to any one who has properly gone over the subject beforehand : while listening to the awkward blunders of dull or lazy classmates is not only a waste of time, but an irritation to the nerves. Nor could any class-man be expected to acquit himself satisfactorily upon his final examination, if three hours were to be subtracted from his time for study each day. Four or five recitations every week in the studies of the tripos would be amply sufficient. The class-man should also be exempted from pursuing that portion of the pass-course covered by the subjects embraced in his tripos. Obviously, he who selects Latin and Greek for his special studies will gain nothing by following the instruction given upon those subjects to the passmen, though in all other departments he must keep up to the minimum required. As a further means of relieving class-men from the distractions of continual recitation, and in order to provide all students with a wholesome incentive to exertion, a conditional exemption from recitations might be granted in the studies of the passcourse. For example, all persons attaining a certain standard of excellence in the monthly examination might be required to attend only half the stated number of recitations for the month following. The next examination would afford both a test of the faithfulness with which the student had employed the time thus left to his control, and an occasion for withdrawing the privilege in case of its abuse. Some such system as this might be put into operation even in the present state of affairs. Its merits, in creating a powerful yet thoroughly natural motive for promptness and diligence, are perfectly apparent. It goes far toward obviating the defects of the system of compulsory attendance, while it does not ignore the value of that discipline which can only be got from occasional intercourse with tutors and fellow-students in the recitation-room.
The advantages of solving problems, construing an ancient author, or rehearsing the results of one’s reading in the presence of classmates and subject to professorial criticism, are indeed sufficiently obvious. Skill in acquiring knowledge ought certainly to be accompanied by skill in reproducing it; nor would the student be likely to do credit to himself in the examination, who should fail previously to test his powers of answering questions on the spur of the moment. But the business of recitation should not be confined to going over in public what has already been gone over in private. The instructor’s superior knowledge and more extensive sources of information should be applied to the elucidation of the subject in hand. Questions should be freely asked, and discussion, wherever relevant, should be encouraged. Thus conducted, the recitation would fulfil its appropriate function of making good the short-comings inherent in a system of merely private study, of supplying illustrations which cannot be found in text-books, and of smoothing the difficulties which from time to time beset the student in his progress.
Viewed in this light, the recitation is properly an auxiliary to study, rather than a gauge of the student’s attainments. The latter purpose can be adequately subserved only by the examinations, on which the rank assigned to the student should exclusively depend. The marks given on individual recitations are nearly worthless as an index of scholarship. By dint of “cramming,” the use of keys, translations, and other abominations, a delusive show of knowledge can easily be produced, which may answer the demands of the moment, but which a shrewd examination will inevitably dispel. If recitations were not allowed to influence rank, and were conducted in the conversational manner here recommended, the Chief temptation to the employment of these wretched subterfuges would be at once removed. Accuracy of scholarship can never be looked for in a man who refuses to grapple with obstacles himself; and to translations in particular it may be objected that, being rarely executed by competent scholars, their interpretations of difficult passages are usually quite untrustworthy. Any system of conducting recitation, whose tendency is to banish these treacherous guides from the precincts of the University, is by that circumstance alone recommended at the outset.
The object of the triposes is to encourage minute and thorough scholarship. To this end, the distribution of honors should be determined by the results of a competitive examination held at the close of the college course, in which the requirements should be so great, and the questions so searching, as to render hopeless all attempts at succeeding by surreptitious means. At Oxford, for instance, the final classpapers in mathematics include questions covering the whole subject of pure and mixed mathematics; and there is no reason why our standard of proficiency should not be equally high, since in a purely optional course neither inability nor distaste for the subject can reasonably be pleaded. From the classical student, besides thorough familiarity with the text and subjectmatter of at least ten difficult authors, we should demand a knowledge of ancient history at once extensive and accurate, as well as some skill in treating the higher problems of philology and criticism. And in the other class examinations the requirements should be similar. With such an organization, it would be strange if the University did not each year send forth a considerable number of persons in every way prepared to become finished scholars. With the compulsory system reduced to the lowest practicable minimum, and the elective system carried out with the greatest possible completeness, the chief ends of a liberal education can most effectually be secured ; and the most excellent features of the European university will thus be adopted without resigning any single point of superiority possessed by the American college.
As already hinted, the existing constitution of the Freshman year should not be materially infringed. A course of study like the one here described cannot profitably be undertaken without more thorough elementary preparation than the student is likely to obtain at school. In such a country as England, where a dense population is confined to a small area, and where a considerable degree of uniformity prevails in the civilization of different localities, all the necessary work preliminary to a university career can easily be performed in the great public schools. If, however, the present population of England were loosely spread over all the country between the Atlantic and the Dnieper, and if, while some parts were as highly educated as London, other parts were as poorly educated as Dalmatia, the state of things would be analogous to that which now exists in our own country. It is in conformity with these different circumstances that our system of education must be organized. We have no Eton or Rugby ; but we have hundreds of schools for elementary education, scattered over an immense tract of country, and differing widely in the amount and quality of the instruction which they impart to their pupils. The social environment in which they are situated is usually very different from that of Cambridge ; and the especial preparation of students for Harvard College cannot, except, perhaps, in Massachusetts, be regarded as one of the ends for which they exist. While the student coming from New England or any of the adjacent States is likely to be well prepared to begin his studies at Harvard, the student who comes from the West or from the South is equally likely to be ill prepared. These disadvantages are now to a great extent compensated under the régime of the Freshman year, and the circumstances by which they are occasioned furnish a sufficient reason for retaining that year as a period of probation, instead of giving it up altogether, or of making it a part of the regular University course. It should therefore, we think, be retained in its present form, with an examination both at its beginning and at its close, upon the latter of which the attainment of matriculation should be made to depend.
Our brief sketch of a university reform would not be complete without a few remarks upon the numerous police restrictions by which, at Harvard and elsewhere, the American student is gratuitously harassed.4 When the University undertakes to prescribe the color of the student’s dress, to determine when and where he shall smoke his cigar in the streets, and under what conditions he shall keep a dog or a horse, it is not only exceeding its proper functions, but it is also forgetting its own dignity. Years ago, when black broadcloth was generally considered the only suitable material for a gentleman’s coat, and when none but truckmen and coalheavers smoked in the streets, these laws might have been reasonable, though they were not even therefore necessarily justifiable. Now they have neither reason nor justice to recommend them. The state of things to meet which they were framed has entirely passed away, and the result of maintaining and even partially enforcing them is to widen, instead of closing, the social gulf which is fixed between instructors and students. Only when this chasm is removed by more familiar intercourse, and by the abolition of the petty restraints which have in times past caused students to regard with distrust and suspicion the officers placed over them, can the graver evils of college life, such as hazing and rowdyism, be effectually clone away with. The self-respect awakened in the mind of the student by treating him as a gentleman will go much farther toward insuring his gentlemanly behavior than all the censorial laws which corporations can frame and proctors execute. That undergraduates have too often demeaned themselves like grown-up children follows naturally from the circumstance that they have to an extent only too great been regarded as such.
That a limited amount of penal legislation is needful, under the present constitution of our colleges, we have already admitted. If the system of compulsory attendance upon lectures, recitations, and the roll-call — currently known as “ morning prayers ” — is not entirely to be given up, some penalty must await non-attendance. But that this penalty should interfere with the rank of the student, should affect his apparent scholarship, is utterly absurd. There is conspicuous absurdity in the state of things which allows a man who has attained an average mark of seven eighths to graduate without honor, because of his irregular attendance upon college exercises. His low rank is considered by the public to be an evidence of inferior scholarship; nor will any amount of mere explanation suffice to remove the impression. The old system of fining would be far preferable to this. As for rioting, sedition, and gross indecorum, they should, after due warning, be visited with expulsion. Further than this, the penal legislation of the University cannot legitimately extend.
Such in its leading outlines is the scheme of university reform which has long been present, with more or less distinctness, to the mind of the writer. We are not sufficiently vain or sanguine to hope that it will at once recommend itself to those in whose hands the work of reform has been placed. We have throughout, however, avoided the discussion of Utopian measures for the attainment of ideal excellence, and have proposed no innovations for which we do not consider the times to be fully ripe, and the means of execution entirely at command. If our suggestions shall have at all contributed to fix and give shape to the floating ideas of any graduate who may be now first approaching the subject of reform, their end will be amply subserved. Something would have been said, had space allowed, on the important subject of a post-graduate course. But for the present we must be content with directing the attention of the alumni and the public to the imperative need which exists for an arrangement whereby those graduates who desire it shall be enabled to pursue their studies indefinitely, under the shadow of the University. Only under such a system can we make due provision for thorough scholarship. Our literature cannot hope to compete with that of other countries, so long as our young men of literary taste and ability have no choice but to embark in an active profession, or engage in mercantile employments. To institute a number of fellowships — the essential condition of a post-graduate course-—will require, no doubt, a much greater revenue than the University has now at its disposal. But the end which is not straightway attainable should still be kept steadily in view. A system of post-graduate instruction is, we repeat, the great need both of the University and of the country. Literature, science, and high scholarship have never prospered where they have not been recognized as legitimate special pursuits. Individual zeal and genius may indeed perform wonders, but they cannot supply the place of systematic organization. Our mother University has in recent days enriched mankind by the labors of a Donaldson, a Munro, and a Merivale ; and when we, by means of a well-organized system of fellowships, are able to do likewise, our country also may hope to rival its mother in learning and scholarship, as it now rivals her in material prosperity.
- Vermischte Schriften, III. § 27, p. 254.↩
- Which probably attained its sublimest expression some years ago in the case of a Sophomore who, coming from Harvard Hall, where his “annual” had goaded him to desperation, was heard to declare, in language equally with Caligula’s deserving immortality, his wish that the whole of mathematical science might be condensed into a single lesson, that he might “ dead ” on it all at once.’↩
- De Pronomine Relative, pp. 4, 5.↩
- Statutes of Harvard College, Ch. X. § 101.↩