The Future of the Country College
THE university is a new factor in American education. By university is meant, not a college with a euphonious but inappropriate title, nor yet faculties of law, medicine, and theology associated under the same government with the academic faculty, but an institution where all the leading lines of liberal learning are taught in their broad relations. studied in their minute details, and carried forward by original investigation. That the rapid rise of universities in the United States is destined to work great changes in our system of higher education is obvious.
The university cannot supersede the college. The attempt to rear the university on the basis of the academy alone would be as absurd as to put the roof of a house directly on the foundation, with no intervening stories. The university brings with it a new kind of college. Hitherto we have had large colleges and small colleges, both having essentially the same curriculum and spirit. Now we have the college connected with the university, and the college which stands by itself. The college connected with the university has the advantages of location in a centre of culture, and has abundant wealth. Its university connection gives it fame and prestige, and the attraction of intellectual gravitation enables it to secure the choice scholars of the land for its professors. How is it with the college which stands by itself; in a word, with the country college ? The answer may be suggested by a plain statement of the comprehensive work of higher education. That work is threefold, intellectual, moral, and religious. In each of these three spheres there are three stages. Corresponding to these stages are three institutions, the academy, the college, and the university.
The first stage of intellectual work is drill. This is the province of the classical academy. The classical academy withdraws its pupil from studies of immediate utility. It selects Latin, Greek, and mathematics : partly because these studies lie logically at the foundation of all the literature and science which the pupil will study in the college and the university, and partly because they afford a superior field for drill in the thorough masters of the fundamental principles of thought and expression. The chief value of a classical course lies not in what its students know when they graduate, but in what it enables them to learn afterward. Hence the course in a classical academy is comparatively unprofitable for one who intends to go no farther. The classical academy is strictly a fitting-school. Its aim is to form right mental habits. It insists on accuracy, thoroughness, and form. It does not aim to attract the mind by the inherent interest of the subjects taught. On the contrary, it forces it to unwelcome tasks. It brings the mind into subjection to the will. There is inevitably an artificial and more or less pedantic atmosphere about it. The college presupposes in its students the drill of the academy. Yet, to make sure of it, the college keeps up this drill during the Freshman year. For without this drill as a foundation no successful work in the latter part of the course is possible. Yet even from the first the aim of the college is radically different from that of the academy. Not drill for its own sake, with its irksomeness, its monotony, its slavery to a text-book, but knowledge in the most attractive, stimulating, and practically valuable aspect, is the ideal which the college holds up before its students. It invites the student to bring his will into subjection to his mind, instead of simply compelling him to subject his mind to his will.
Since the aims of the two institutions are so different, it is generally recognized that, when possible, it is best for both academy and college that they be kept separate.
It is the province of the university to take men who have the drill of the academy and the breadth of view which the college gives, and help them to carry forward self-chosen lines of special study to the limits of the world’s attained knowledge, and on into regions yet unexplored. Not the teaching how to walk, nor yet the easy and rapid journeying along the beaten paths of knowledge, but the exploration of fields remote from the main lines of ordinary travel, and the surveying of new territory, is the function of the university.
The function of the university is thus as distinct, from that of the college as is that of the college from the function of the academy. The same reason which has made it desirable to separate the academy from the college will in due time render desirable a separation of the college from the university. Where colleges are new, as in the West to-day, college and academy are united. But where colleges are old and well established, college and academy are separate. Universities are new throughout this country, and have grown up for the most part in connection with colleges. But when universities become more definitely organized, the radical difference between the university and the college will become increasingly apparent. Even now a list of the principal universities having colleges connected with them would probably indicate that the more thorough and extensive the university work in any one of them, the less is there left of the college ideal; and vice versa, the more faithfully the college aim is adhered to, the less is the university ideal realized.
The two aims, breadth and specialization, the acquisition of knowledge for the student’s sake and devotion to learning for learning’s sake, are two distinct stages of intellectual development. Though the latter is unquestionably the higher, yet the former has its rightful time and place. The two aims cannot coexist side by side, each in supremacy over its rightful field, and as the college ideal is the lower and weaker in itself, it will inevitably yield to the university spirit. That broadening of the mind by an apprenticeship to the idea that there are many things which the student must learn before he can begin to be a scholar, which it is the province of the college to foster, will be neglected, and we shall have the sorry sight of immature youths affecting to be scholars before they have learned to be students.
Thus it is not the country college, but the university college, which has most to fear from the growth of the universities. The country college will continue to fit nine tenths of her graduates for professional and business life, as she has done. The other tenth she will prepare for the universities; and the college which in these days fails to send from five to ten per cent, of its graduates on into university work is false to its students and false to the cause of education. The best use in furtherance of higher education in New England to which two hundred and fifty thousand dollars could be put to-day would be the establishment of twenty-five fellowships in the country colleges of New England, enabling one or two in each college class to enter upon university studies. The stimulus to the colleges and the support to the universities arising from such a system of fellowships would be invaluable ; and it would impress students with the true and real relation of the college to the university as no amount of mere explanation and exhortation can impress them.
Intellectually the future of the college is assured, because it represents a distinct and essential stage of intellectual development, which none but the exceptionally endowed student can skip without serious and permanent injury; and the future of the country college is assured just because the more separate college and university are kept, the more helpful can they be to each other. They are members of an organic system of education ; and they must be individually two before they can be organically one.
The moral reasons for the separation of academy, college, and university are no less strong. When a boy enters the academy, his morals are the product of heredity, home influence, and early associations. He has not formed principles of his own, and, as a rule, is not capable of forming them independently. Consequently the academy must enforce right conduct by sheer authority. It must watch the boys day and night, in school and on the street. Its rules must be rigid and arbitrary. Its punishment must be swift and sure. It, can enter into no argument with pupil or parent. The parent who wrote to a large fitting-school, demanding an explanation of his son’s unexpected return home, received all the satisfaction the academy could afford to give in the laconic reply,
“ Dear Sir, — your letter is received. Your son is a loafer. Yours truly.” The strengthening of right habits in those who have them by the authoritative enforcement of rules, and the stern repression of evil tendencies by arbitrary penalties, is the moral régime suited to boys in the academic stage.
In the college this method should be entirely abandoned. There should be no spying of students nor prying into their secrets. There should be no list of things forbidden, with penalties attached. There should be nothing arbitrary and no avoidable severity. At the same time, the college officers should take the deepest personal interest in the moral welfare of their students. When a college is organized properly, its officers, while not inquiring too minutely into specific acts, will know the principles of each student. They will know whether the student is reliable or deceitful, diligent or lazy, temperate or dissolute, pure or licentious, sound or corrupt. They will not hesitate to point out to the immoral student with utmost frankness and friendliness the shame and ruin of his evil ways. Making no charges of specific acts calling for external proof, they will hold up the mirror to the moral nature in the clear light of an indisputable conscience. In the vast majority of cases, this discipline, if faithfully and persistently followed, does its work. In case it fails, the student is requested to withdraw, not as a specific penalty for a specific act, but for the common good of himself and of the college. Of course a discipline thus friendly and confidential will run the risk that friendship and confidence always must run, of being occasionally imposed upon and betrayed. This is, however, the true and Christian method of moral discipline for men of sufficient maturity to appreciate it. Furthermore, it must be complete and unreserved. It is impossible to mix it with what I have called the academic system.
If it be asked whether such a system will actually work, I can only write from a very limited experience. In Bowdoin College, over which I preside, there have not been, during the past three years, half a dozen cases in which students have been called to account for specific acts of disorder or immorality. During these three years there has been but a single case in which any penalty beyond a verbal admonition has been inflicted. During the past year there was not a single case calling for even verbal admonition ; and all familiar with the facts agree that the moral tone of the college was never higher. This is undoubtedly due in a very great degree to the high character of the young men with whom the college has been favored during the period. Yet had these same students been subjected to an irritating espionage, and threats and penalties held up before them, the result would have been far less satisfactory. Personal influence is the abundantly adequate as well as the only appropriate moral incentive for men in the college stage.
The university relies for its moral dynamic on the force of abstract ideas. Indeed, it presupposes in its post-graduate students a degree of maturity and self-possession which would render any other sort of moral influence superfluous. An independent intellectual life fosters a moral independence which resents personal as well as legal interference. It is inevitable that a university should foster this attitude of moral self-sufficiency; and for its post-graduate students this is undoubtedly the healthy and normal attitude.
When, however, college and university are united in the same institution, these two types of moral attitude cannot permanently coexist. The university type is inherently the stronger. It is, however, not adapted to the average under-graduate ; yet it is sure to dominate both graduate and under-graduate departments. Professors accustomed to deal largely with post-graduate students, and naturally having their chief interest in the men nearest to their own level, are almost certain to ignore the personal moral needs of the students furthest removed from themselves, and leave them to work out their moral character as best they can.
Those students who succeed in working their way out to this independent moral basis during their college course undoubtedly acquire a rugged stoic strength which is lacking in men who have had more personal help along the way. But multitudes are utterly wrecked and ruined as the result of being left to themselves before they have reached an independent moral self-consciousness. This personal help and inspiration in the formation of moral character is a most important factor in the rounded education of the total man ; and it is its superior opportunity for doing this which constitutes one of the greatest advantages which the college which stands alone will always have over the college which is dominated and overshadowed by university ideals and influences.
The religious attitudes of the three institutions toward their students are likewise distinct. The boy comes to the academy with a religion which is merely formal and habitual, or else with no religion whatever. The academy can do little more than to sustain and strengthen such religious habits as it finds, and impose the outward forms of devotion upon all. If it undertakes to teach religion, it must be dogmatic ; avoiding the discussion of vexed questions, for which its pupils are not ripe.
The religious function of the college is entirely different. It maintains formal worship : but it must breathe the breath of a rational spiritual life into these religious forms, or they will do more harm than good. It must constantly point out. the connection between religion and the common duties and relations of everyday life. It must make it manifest that all its dealings with its students are the necessary and consistent outcome of the Christian spirit which it is the aim of its devotional exercises to cultivate. In so far as the college teaches religion, it must do so with the utmost candor. It must give full weight to every objection, fairly discuss every difficulty, and be content to leave in the minds of its students many questions unanswered until they settle themselves. And yet, while scrupulously maintaining this intellectual fairness, the college professor should take every opportunity, in public and in private, in season and out of season, by precept, example, and entreaty, to “ commend to every man’s conscience in the sight of God ” the superiority of the spiritual over the natural life. Respecting the reason and conscience of the student, the college professor should never try to force religious convictions upon him ; but he should not hesitate to throw all the weight of his personal influence on the side of an earnest and reasonable religion.
The university approaches religion not in a dogmatic, nor yet in a persuasive, but in a critical spirit. For mature men this is well. The cause of reasonable religion has much to expect from the purifying influence of our universities, in breaking down prejudice, cutting off excrescences, and laying bare the rational foundations of religious faith, when once they fairly get at work upon the problem. Yet this attitude is a dangerous one for the immature and unformed mind ; but where college and university are blended, this is sure to be the attitude of both graduate and undergraduate : the one seriously inquiring into the claims of religion upon the intellect ; the other flippantly proclaiming that “ religion is an elective,” which he hopes to find time to take later in his course. The result is that the undergraduate is occupied with second-hand criticism before he has sufficient personal experience to make any criticism, intelligent, earnest, and fruitful. Consequently he goes out with no definite religious convictions, and with little prospect of ever acquiring any. He has taken the university attitude, which insists that nothing shall be accepted until it is seen to be both historically real and philosophically true ; whereas a comprehensive grasp of the results of historical criticism and of the basis of philosophical certitude is impossible for the average student in the college stage of development. If the college student is to accept religion at all, the example of those in whom he has confidence, and the influence of those who have a personal interest in him, in a word the power of the Spirit, must have considerable weight with him. This personal influence is strongest in the country colleges, where generations of young men have been attracted to the Christian life by the blameless character, the friendly interest, the loving appeals, of such men as President Hopkins and Professor Packard ; while it is the inevitable tendency of university life to throw such influences into the background.
For the sake of clearness, the differences between these three stages of higher education have been somewhat sharply drawn. There must be something academic about the Freshman year in college. There ought to be a good deal of the university spirit and method about the Senior year. There are men of exceptional character, talents, and home-training for whom the immediate transition from the atmosphere of the academy to that of the university is intellectually profitable, morally safe, and religiously wholesome. Many more, for whom such a transition is not safe, will continue to run the risk which it involves. The university College has a sphere of its own, in which it will meet a certain class of needs which the country college cannot satisfy as well. But it can never take the place of the country college. As long as in things intellectual, moral, and spiritual the law holds good, “ first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear,” so long will there remain in our system of higher education an honorable place and useful work for those little groups of scholars and students who, according to the original meaning of the term college, live together in mutual good-will, in friendly helpfulness, in earnest study, amid the broad green fields and under the clear blue skies of our quiet country towns.
William De Witt Hyde .