A NUMBER of circumstances have served to arouse in the educated part of our American people an interest in the discipline of its colleges and universities. In England questions of this sort do not find much place in the public mind. Parents are content to leave their sons to the discretion of the school authorities. The moral and disciplinary condition of the universities is not often heard of in public debates. On the continent of Europe there is even less interest in the social quality of the higher educational establishments. The reason for this difference between the state of mind in the Old World and that in the New is probably in some measure attributable to the more active moral sense of our people ; but it is doubtless in some part due to the fact that our institutions of learning are generally in the control of trustees chosen in one way or another from men who are engaged in other work than teaching. European universities, with rare exceptions, have no relations to the public which will permit their graduates, much less those who have no relations with the schools, to influence the conduct of their authorities.
Owing to the essentially democratic condition of our population, the character of a young man has more effect upon his course in life than in the Old World. The greater dependence of the youth upon his own qualities for success in the world makes it of more importance that his habits should be such as to lit him for his career. Family influence can help him but little, and thus his personal qualities are of greater moment in the eyes of his natural guardians. It is therefore not surprising that parents watch with anxiety the conduct of their sons in our institutions of learning.
It cannot be denied that there is much reason for fear as to the effect of the influences which await a young man when he goes from the home to a great school. Whatever be the organization of the life in such an establishment, the youth is necessarily parted from all those circumstances which serve to mould his character and control his conduct beneath the family roof. In place of those conditions he finds himself in a large and more or less free society, composed of his teachers and of the young men of his time. The ideals of his classmates are naturally somewhat peculiar. College society retains the average motives derived from a long past. These motives are unqualified by the experience of active life, and so remain archaic. However much the teaching body of the school may endeavor to affect the tone of the student life, it always abides singularly by itself, a creature of youth; not alone of the youth of our own day, for the traditions of other generations dwell there. It is indeed to this isolation of student life from the influences of the moment, to its separation from the active world, that we owe much of the good which it affords to those who partake of it. In it as in a stream a youth’s intellectual frame is purified and strengthened by the motives of his kind. If he be strong enough to keep afloat, the effect is wonderfully bettering.
Though the influence of academic life is on the whole extremely advantageous, acting in a myriad ways to widen and deepen the better motives of youth, it brings dangers with it. At the age when young men generally resort to these schools, their propensities towards ill as well as towards good are strong, and are uncontrolled by habit. In all such assemblages of youth, like minds tend to form small societies, in which there may be moral gain or moral loss. No school, however small or however well watched, is free from the possible evils of such association. At most the system of government can only diminish the dangers. In no case can they be entirely avoided.
To meet the evils arising from the social effect of academic life, the managers of such schools have for centuries been framing systems of discipline. The ideal sought to be attained is the control of the youth’s action throughout his academic course, or at least during the term time of the schools. The ends towards which the discipline is directed are in the main as follows. In the first place, the design is to obtain such a control over the time of the student that there will be no room for evil. In the second place, the object is to develop habits of regular action, so that a good methodical routine of life may he induced. Last of all, there is an effort, at least in the schools which inherit the English custom, to turn the attention of youths to religious considerations, with the hope that the sense of moral obligations may be strengthened thereby. Our American colleges have derived their methods of discipline mainly from the English seats of learning. In the schools of the mother country, the ideal of discipline was first developed under the influence of the priests, and the system of disciplinary culture took an ecclesiastical form. To these earlier ideas of priestly training there has been added more or less of another ideal of discipline derived from military training; so that in a large part of our American institutions, in nearly all of those in which discipline has a place in esteem, the project of control of the students rests upon theories of training which have been found applicable to two very peculiar walks in life. — to the soldiers of the church and to those belonging to the arm of the secular law.
It is easy to see that the ideals of discipline fit for the needs of a school which is designed to train priests of the ancient pattern or to shape soldiers may be very far removed from the true purposes of universities. The aim of our academic culture at the present time is to make a man of varied, elastic mind, who can readily turn himself to any of the multifarious duties of ordinary life. The discipline to which candidates for the army or the church are subjected is intended to breed certain very particular habits. If they are to enter the priesthood, they need in a way to be withdrawn from the tide of the world’s life, to be elevated to a peculiar intellectual and moral plane. In the old theory of the priestly function which prevailed in the times when our schools took their discipline from the church system, the candidate for orders was supposed to be even more removed from secular influences than he is at present. He was expected to enter on a very formal habit of life ; to acquire a tone quite different from that which should characterize men of the world, even in the better sense of that term. The training of the soldier, which has much affected the ideals of American schools, is even more special than that of the church. The first object of the discipline which fits a man for military life is to instill the habit of prompt and unquestioning obedience to the orders of a superior. The aim is not to develop the individual initiative, but rather to suppress that quality. It is not to be denied that the ideals of military discipline afford very much which is of value in the walks of civil life. The sense of honor and of duty, the obligation of personal sacrifice, are among the highest ideals which any training can give. Nevertheless we must hold that the education of the soldier is not that to which we would willingly subject the body of our youth, for the reason that the motives of a military system are not such as can be made to fit in the system of civil life.
Resting upon these somewhat peculiar ideals of control, the system of discipline in our academic institutions has undergone a very gradual development. Slowly and imperfectly it has been adjusted to the needs of our ordinary society. The motives of our college life are almost necessarily behind those of the age. It is a fact well recognized by those in the tide of the world’s affairs that some of the influences of a disciplinary sort which affect the college boy are not such as to prepare him for the career upon which he is to enter. Every year we hear from the public press, or privately from the spokesmen of the various professions to which the graduates of our schools resort, that the young men have to learn new ways of action, and with difficulty adapt themselves to the ordinary work of secular affairs.
This doubt as to the fitness of collegebred youths for the work of the world finds a practical expression in the determination of many narrow-minded business men not to receive such youths into their offices. They prefer to take untrained lads as office boys, and bring them up to their trades, rather than to break down the habits which have been formed in the very remote field of academic life.
This criticism from the outer world has reached even the cloistered life of some of the colleges. It affects the students even more than the teachers, though both are accessible to its influence. The young men who are wise enough to foresee their trials in the world are apt to become restless, from the sense that their academic life is not one which will fit them for the paths into which they are to enter. They either work in a discontented manner, or they look upon college life as a time of frolic, an interlude between childhood and the duties of the world, which is to be taken to its utmost as pure enjoyment. The result is that in our American people, who are more given to care for their children than the parents of any other country, we find that year by year there is a lessened eagerness to send their boys to our higher institutions of learning. Most of our colleges gain slowly in numbers of students, if they are so fortunate as to escape a decrease in attendance. But few of the greater schools are prosperous, as regards the numbers in their classes, up to the measure of increase of our population. Clearly the meaning of this is that the people doubt the fitness of our colleges to serve the purposes of introducing their sons to the work of the world. They do not undervalue the profit which learning may give ; they question, however, the policy of committing a youth for four years of his life to institutions which maintain ancient ideals of action, when he should be in training for the world duty.
The peculiar separation of our colleges from the life of the world, indeed from any consciousness of that world, is due in the main to the fact that the teachers of the schools are usually men who know only the life the scholar ordinarily leads. In the greater part of our colleges and universities the clerical element in the government is large. Indeed, it seems to be supposed by men of the world that a professor is as a matter of course a clergyman. I find myself frequently addressed by strangers by the title of Reverend, and I believe it to be a tolerably common experience with other college teachers. Trained in schools where the clerical motive predominates in the discipline, going in most cases directly from the life of the student to that of the college teacher, the instructors of our collegiate institutions have generally little chance for making acquaintance with the affairs of the outside world. The ordinary experience of citizens in the world does not serve to increase their confidence in the value of clerical training as a preparation for the ordinary work of society. Decade by decade, as the public and private business of men becomes more complicated, practical life separates itself more and more from the influence of all priesthoods. Much as we may lament this separation of the body of the world’s work from the influence of those who are appointed its religious guides, we have to face it as a great social fact, and we must find in it one of the reasons for the increasing isolation of our colleges.
To illustrate the relation of our higher schools to the work of the world, and to secure a basis for further discussion of our problem concerning the relation of such schools to practical life, I propose to consider the history of the disciplinary system in Harvard College from its foundation to the present day. I select this school for illustration because it is not only the institution of the greatest age and of the largest average attendance of any in this country, but is the one which has been most influenced in its system by contact with men of the world, and has been subject to more modifications by virtue of this reaction which society has effected upon it.1
Harvard College was founded by graduates from the Emanuel College of Cambridge. The parent school was the centre of the Puritanic motive in the university of Cambridge. In building Harvard College its founders sought two ends: in the first place, they desired to train up a body of Puritan clergymen, who should be the moral and intellectual masters of the colony; in the second place, they hoped to educate the Indian youth, so that they should disseminate the gospel among the heathen aborigines. Thus the motive which guided the directors of the institution in its beginning and for a century afterwards was almost purely clerical. The scheme of the Puritan commonwealth provided that the clergyman should be the intellectual and moral leader in each parish. The churches were the units of the political and social system, and the clergy were intended to be the masters of those units. For the first century of its history, this ideal of a college system was substantially maintained. It is true that with the increase in the wealth and the consequent diversification of the society many sought a college education who were not intended for clerical employment. Nevertheless, the prime object of the school was the education of clergymen.
Only during the second century of the institution did it become apparent that the college proper could no longer accomplish the clerical training, and that the final preparation for the priestly office must be attained in a school specially organized for that purpose. It is therefore with no surprise that we find the system of discipline in the college during the first century of its development far more rigorous than that which existed in any of the more secularized schools of Europe. The order of the students’ life was monastic in its severity and in its limitations. The methods of punishment were curiously clerical in their form. During the time when the students were whipped for grave offenses the punishment was preceded by prayer. In the purely clerical time of the college history the ideal of discipline was extremely formal and severe. The elevation of the youth was sought by compelling him to walk in very narrow paths. From the moment he arose in the morning until he went to bed he was supposed to be under a constant and rigorous control. Offenses were special, and the punishments equally so. Through the greater part of the clerical period of the college the punishments were largely in the shape of lines, assessed according to a specified list. We find in Quincy’s History of Harvard University, vol. ii. p. 499, the following list of “pecuniary mulcts” for misdemeanors down to 1761 : —
£ s. d.
Absence from prayers, 0 0 2
Tardiness at prayers, 0 0 1
Absence from professor’s public lecture, 0 0 4
Tardiness at professor’s public lect ure, 0 0 2 Profanation of Lord’s Day, not exceeding 0 3 0
Absence from public worship, 0 0 9
Ill behavior at public worship, not exceeding 0 1 6
Going to meeting before bell ringing, 0 0 6
Neglecting to repeat the sermon, 0 0 9 Irreverent behavior at prayers or public divinity lectures, 0 1 6 Absence from chambers, etc., not exceeding 0 0 6
Tardiness at public worship, 0 0 3
Not declaiming, not exceeding 0 0 6 Not giving up a declamation, not exceeding 0 1 6
Absence from a recitation, not exceeding 0 1 6
Neglecting analyzing, not exceeding 0 3 0 Bachelors neglecting disputations, not exceeding 0 1 6 Respondents neglecting disputations, from 1s. 6d. to 0 3 0
Undergraduates out. of town without leave, not exceeding 0 2 6
Undergraduates tarrying out of town without leave, not exceeding per diem 0 1 3
Undergraduates tarrying out of town one week without leave, not exceeding 0 10 0
Undergraduates tarrying out, of town one month without leave, not exceeding 2 10 0
Lodging strangers without leave, not exceeding 0 1 6
Entertaining persons of ill character, not exceeding 0 1 0 Going out of college without proper
garb, not exceeding 0 0 6
Frequenting taverns, not exceeding 0 1 6
Profane cursing, not exceeding 0 2 6
Graduates playing cards, not exceeding 0 5 0
Undergraduates playing cards, not exceeding 0 2 6
Undergraduates playing any game for money, not exceeding 0 1 6
Selling and exchanging without leave, not exceeding 0 1 6
Lying, not exceeding 0 1 6
Opening door by picklocks, not exceeding 0 5 0
Drunkenness, not exceeding 0 1 6 Liquors prohibited under penalty, not exceeding 0 1 6
Second offense, not exceeding 0 3 0
Keeping prohibited liquors, not exceeding 0 1 6
Sending for prohibited liquors, not exceeding 0 0 6
Fetching prohibited liquors, not exceeding 0 1 6
Going upon the top of the college, 0 1 6
Cutting off the lead, 0 1 6
Concealing the transgression of the 19th law, 0 1 6
Tumultuous noises, 0 1 6
Second offense, 0 3 0
Refusing to give evidence, 0 3 0
Rudeness at meals, 0 1 0
Butler and cook to keep utensils clean, not exceeding 0 5 0
Not lodging at their chambers, not exceeding 0 5 0
Sending freshmen in studying time, 0 0 9
Keeping guns, and going on skating, 0 1 0
Firing guns or pistols in college yard, 0 2 6
Fighting or hurting any person, not exceeding 0 1 6
It will be observed that this system of fines has a laughable as well as a serious aspect. Drunkenness and lying were less important than opening doors with picklocks in the ratio of 1s. 6d. to 5s. “Going to meeting before bellringing ” seems an inexcusable offense. The punishment for “ going upon the top of the college ” is likewise remarkable. My first conjecture was that this surely must mean knowing more about any given subject than the greatest dons, but on due exegesis I found that it consisted in making midnight attacks on the college bell. The serious part of the affair lies in the fact that such a system of punishment set mere goals of profit and loss in place of the ideal pertaining to a career.
Although the American Revolution was for a time disastrous in the effect upon the college in many ways, it appears to have led to a great enlargement in its motives. With that period the institution seems to have passed from the grade now occupied by many of our academies to the status of an institution of wider learning. One after the other professional schools emerged from the college. Within a third of a century after the final separation from Great Britain, the department schools of divinity, law, and medicine were organized. Under the influence of Mr. George Ticknor, a man of rare culture and discernment, in matters of education, the college proper made great gains between 1819 and 1835 as regards the system of instruction and the tone of discipline as well. Nevertheless, until near the middle of the present century the ecclesiastical humor in the management and the schoolboy quality of the students were not much changed. The foundation of the Lawrence Scientific School in 1847 brought about an improvement in the system of instruction as well as in the relation of the pupils to the teachers of Harvard University. It was a great good fortune that two of the first instructors in this school were men who had been trained in the German universities, and who brought thence a sense of the peculiar freedom of students, as well as the close relation between teacher and pupil which has long marked certain departments of the Continental schools. The pupils of Louis Agassiz and Eben Horsford received a training utterly unlike any which had hitherto been given to students in the university. These pupils, in some cases graduates from colleges, in other instances men of very little previous schooling, were practically exempt from all disciplinary control. They knew no proctors and no dean. The hold upon them consisted in the sense of devotion to their work for the world to which they were to go forth, and above all in the sense of allegiance to their masters. It was my privilege, in the years from 1859 to 1862, to know this group of students, numbering more than a hundred, in a very intimate way. I knew at the same time almost an equal number of students from the academic department. The difference in tone between the two groups was singularly to the advantage of the students in the Lawrence School, though the college was then a model in discipline. Louis Agassiz’s influence on his special students continued from the beginning of bis service in 1847 to 1864, when his increasing ill health and many cares compelled him to withdraw from regular service as a teacher. During the seventeen years of his activity he drew about him over a hundred young men, who remained long enough under his influence to partake something of his enthusiasm. The greater portion of these persons had received no disciplinary training of any importance. At least, half of them may be regarded as having been without any such influence whatever. It may be said, indeed, that all the graduates of the school, those from the department of engineering as well as those from the chemical and natural-history schools, were exempt from disciplinary regulation. Agassiz was never known to chide a student. He would frequently leave him alone for months while they were about their appointed tasks; and if, when the day of reckoning came, the account which the youth had rendered was not satisfactory, his worst remark was, with a sorrowful shake of the head, “It will not do.” The outcome of this system has been that, so far as I have been able to ascertain, not one of Agassiz’s pupils has ever made a failure of life. They have generally proved self-reliant, painstaking men, ready for any occupation in war or peace, able to control themselves and to manage others. I have sought in vain in the list of these men for any who have shown a lack of order in their lives, such as might be expected to come from a want of careful training in the habit of keeping appointments or of doing duty in a systematic manner. On the other hand, as I look over the list, I find in it some of the greatest workers and most orderly laborers in this country or any other. Measured by their performances in life, it may be safely stated that the men bred in this utterly unsystematic manner have surpassed in their accomplishment any equal number taken at hazard from the rolls of the college. The catalogue includes not only naturalists, but soldiers and men of affairs as well.
It will be assumed, perhaps, that these men were persons of more than usual capacity, or with a quality of enthusiasm which gave them an advantage in the world. I am satisfied that, this is not the case. I am convinced that as a class the students of the Scientific School were not in those days more able than the men of the college, though on the average they have, I believe, surpassed their better trained mates in the race for the goals of life. I think, on the whole, they were persons of rather less ability than the college students, differing from them in that they had a distinct object in life, which was kept clearly before them.
I would not be understood as in general commending the system of the Scientific School in those its best days. The methods of instruction were in many regards faulty. The tendency was to breed men of special learning, leaving them uninformed in many subjects which are necessary to an education. I wish, however, to draw from the history of the school one perfectly legitimate and most important conclusion. This is that the mechanically administered system of the dean’s office was at that time and is now entirely unnecessary to secure orderly labor from young men, provided they are in close and friendly relations with their masters and have a distinct purpose before them ; that is, when they feel that their work has reference to definite accomplishments in life. We shall find good reason to make use of these facts in a later stage of our discussion. We must now turn again to the further history of discipline within the walls of the college.
The war between the colonies and the mother country had a certain measure of effect in enlarging the scope of Harvard College. With the changes which attended the American Revolution the idea which made that school a place of training for ministers of the gospel in good part disappeared. Future historians of the college will note that with the development of the national motives which came about in consequence of our civil war the university made another step forward. How far the advance in the period of time between 1865 and 1888 has been due to the secondary influences of the war between the States it is yet too early to determine. It is impossible for men to read the history of their own times aright, and I may be much in error in measuring the causes which have led to the enlargement in the motives of the university which has taken place in my own time. It is clear, however, that the most characteristic change in the theory of training which marks the development of Harvard College in this period is found in the fact that a very much larger measure of personal liberty has been granted to the students. The way in which this change has come about is not easily discerned. It has probably been due to many causes.
In the first place, the experience derived from Agassiz’s method of teaching has not been without influence. His scheme of training has been represented in the college faculty and in the methods of instruction by two of his pupils.
The close personal relation which the elective system tends to bring about between the teachers and the pupils has served in a measure to elevate the position of the students in the minds of the instructors. The students have to a great extent in the higher electives become collaborators with their teachers rather than mere pupils. Furthermore, we have to note an influence which has tended indirectly to advance the ideal of student liberty. For a very long time — certainly for more than half a century, and perhaps through the whole history of the college — the officers of the institution have been in a position of singular freedom as regards the conduct of their work. It is a tradition of the college that no teacher is commanded to do anything; his work is only suggested to him by his superior officers. The controlling boards, the faculties, the corporation, and the board of overseers never assume a mandatory relation to each other or to the individuals who compose them. Throughout the system the responsibility for the proper execution of duties is left to the individual officers. Probably in no other institution in this country is there a similar case where service is such perfect freedom. The increase in the number of graduate students which has taken place during the past twenty years has brought about the contact of most of the officers with men of somewhat ripened judgment, who are manifestly to be trusted with the conduct of their academic life. These men have generally shared to a great extent in the instruction given to undergraduates. Naturally, these graduate students have enjoyed some measure of the independence which the officers feel in their own work, and in an equally natural manner this relation has been propagated downward to the younger men of the university. The extension of freedom has gone on the faster because every instructor has found a great moral and intellectual gain, both to himself and his pupils, arising from the liberty which he has granted to those for whom he is responsible.
The development of the elective system has doubtless had a most important effect on the position in which students are placed with reference to the instructors. Of old, when the system of education was essentially uniform, the instructor felt that the faithful execution of each task was the result to be attained. A certain number of lessons in certain definite subjects were to be fixed in the memory of each student. Thus the pupil became a getter of lessons, and the instructor an agent for enforcing routine duties. In the new system, the student is tacitly, and in most cases properly, assumed to be in pursuit of a training which seems to him and to his advisers fitted for the ends which he seeks to attain in life. He thereby acquires a more dignified position in the eyes of his teacher : when he is questioned as to the methods of his work, the largeness of his explanation, the general reference to his plan of study and to the ends he has in view, make it impossible to persist in a narrow critical treatment of his conduct.
Yet another influence upon the university — one of great importance — is due to the intimate contact between the teaching body of the university and the educated people of the large population which lies immediately about it. Naturally, the greater part of the instructors have extended social relations with men who are in the active world. Few of them there are who do not know more or less intimately a score of successful men in mercantile or other affairs, who constantly bring the criticism of the world to bear on the system of the college. In my own experience I have found this contact with the men of affairs whom I am so fortunate as to know of much value in determining my ideas concerning the objects and methods of the university. In a less but still considerable degree, the same contact exists between the students and the intelligent public of Boston and its neighborhood.
As a result of these several influences, and perhaps also of others which are not yet discoverable, the ideal of personal liberty which is to be granted to students of all grades in the university has been advanced with remarkable, we may say, indeed, with almost startling rapidity. The change has been made not on a theory of education or with any idea of experiment, but as the result of perfectly natural impulses, which had to a great degree been derived from the influences of the outer world. The motives which have led to the new ideals of education in Harvard College are in no limited sense academic ; they result from the development of the civilization in which the university is lodged, and they represent the advance in the educational and other social influences of that body of people in what seems to me a more perfect manner than is the case with any other of our American higher schools.
A number of teachers, including some who were by nature and conviction much in favor of enlarged liberty, have endeavored to diminish the swiftness with which this change has been brought about. I for one, though at heart devoted to the cause of academic freedom, have been more than once alarmed by the speed with which these spontaneous motives were urging the university into untried fields; but the result of each extension of freedom has appeared to me, on close study as to its effects, so satisfactory that nearly every year I find myself defending some change which I opposed but the year before.
If these changes have served at times to surprise the conservative members of the college faculty, it is not a matter for wonder that they have startled and alarmed many graduates of the college and other well-wishers of the university, who may have had no opportunity of watching the effects on students arising from the new ideal of education. The best assurance which can be given to these anxious persons is in the statement that all academic bodies are by nature and tradition conservative, and that no succeeding step in the series of changes which have led to the new form of freedom would have been taken had not the preceding stages in the development commended themselves to the faculty, in which body the change-resisting forces are extremely strong. It cannot be too plainly stated that these innovations are not the work of any one man nor of any small coterie in the teaching body of the college : there is a substantial unanimity of opinion in the faculty as regards the goodness of the results which have been attained. The essential element of the result consists in the change of view as to the object of collegiate training on the part of both teachers and students. Without in any way diminishing the ideals of education for enlargement’s sake, the system of instruction has been made such that the youth, while gaining the spirit of culture which it is above all the function of higher education to develop, may at the same time fit himself for some tolerably definite place in the work of the world. With the young men this idea is appreciated and kept in mind quite as much as it is with the teachers. The student tradition is to the effect that while each is to secure a general intellectual development, he is also to shape his course in such manner as to prepare himself for his place as a man of the world; that is, as a worker among men.
Duty among all the abler members of our race has always been correlative with liberty, and there is no occasion for surprise at the fact that with the enlargement of opportunities to plan for a career there has grown up a remarkable disposition on the part of nearly all the students to look forward to their duties as men. Even among those who resort to Harvard College with the expectation of inheriting large fortunes there is at present a curious desire to study the organization of charity, and in general to make themselves acquainted with wise methods of using money for the public good. An elective where the students are instructed in a very practical way concerning the subject of charity is mainly attended by such persons. I have been in intimate personal acquaintance with many of these young men, and know that they are full of plans concerning the responsibilities to come upon them as administrators of fortunes. Each year more and more of my time is given to the consideration of the projects for active life which young men ask me to criticise and help them in following out. This is not an individual experience : a score or more of my colleagues are equally beset with these difficult questions. Fifteen years ago my chronic lament was that the students had no purpose in life; that they were as a rule spending the years of preparation for society in merely fulfilling tasks. I now begin to fear lest the gravity which the sense of duty has imposed upon many of the young men is not on the whole too serious.
It is not to be supposed that the faithfulness and probity of purpose which characterize the great part of the students of Harvard College in the new system of education take any considerable hold upon the unfaithful or foolish students. The dutiful sense fails to affect a considerable minority of the students. From my own observations, I am inclined to believe that about four fifths of the whole number are stimulated to orderly faithful labor to the measure of their intellectual or moral possibilities. Of those who are not so affected, the greater number are found in the two lower classes. The weight of the college sentiment and the discretion of increasing age serve to diminish the proportion in the two higher classes. In the senior class perhaps ten per cent. have not been influenced by the combination of liberty and counsel to which they have been subjected. So far as the disciplinary system of Harvard College needs adjustment, it is with reference to this remnant of unawakened young men. It is undoubtedly the duty of the authorities to maintain some adequate control over that element of the classes ; to keep them under the check of disciplinary measures at least until it is evident that they cannot learn to serve the university and themselves under the system. In many cases it will be the interest of the college as well as of the young men that they leave it. Many such youths, who have not a sufficient measure of imagination to foresee the work of manhood, can he brought to a dutiful sense and made valuable men if they are put into places of actual daily labor. There are at the present time in Harvard College many students who are laboring under various forms of moral and intellectual disability which unfit them for an academic education, though in most cases they may do well in business pursuits. Such persons might well, in their own interests as well as those of the college, leave it for active life. There are others, fewer in number, perhaps at the present time a total less than a score, who, from thorough-going ill-breeding in early youth or from essential moral defects, are unlit persons for academic training. Of these, also, a large part may under the stern castigation of the world attain to usefulness. They cannot be corrected by the kindly criticism to which they are subjected in an institution like Harvard College. In the present disposition ot the faculty, all such persons will be given their passports as soon as their character is ascertained. The difficulty is to determine the measure of their resistance to the help the college affords them.
Since the time—some twenty years ago — when I became conscious that I was taking part in one of the most interesting educational experiments which has ever been carried on, I have endeavored to determine in what I may perhaps call a scientific way the results of the series of essays in the management of youth which we have been considering. Each year I have tried to secure an account as to the condition of the graduating class, and to compare it with my memory of the classes before. In most cases I have had some personal knowledge of about two thirds of the number, — a knowledge apparently sufficient to justify me in making an estimate as to the status of each student, his moral tone, in part at least, and his intellectual fitness for the work of men. I have endeavored to reinforce this judgment by asking, in the case of almost every class, some graduate with whom I had been on intimate social relations to go over the list of his classmates, and tell me, not of course by name, but in a numerical way, how many of his fellows had morally suffered from their residence at the university. On the basis of these inquiries I have come to the conclusion that year by year, for two decades, the college has gained in its moral as much as in its educational tone. In the later classes, the cases of degradation, the instances in which the student has gone down during his college career, have been very rare. In the three last classes the estimates did not show more than from two to three per cent, of such failures.2
It must be confessed that the rapid development in the principle of academic freedom in Harvard has caused the college authorities to overlook certain dangers of the system. The entering classes are at present so large that it is impossible for the instructors to make that speedy acquaintance with individual Students which is in all cases desirable and most necessary where the object is to permit the student to have a large measure of liberty, unhampered by mere disciplinary regulations. Some years ago it became evident to a number of the teachers that this defect should be corrected; it fell to me to undertake an experiment as to the means whereby it could be avoided. The trial was made in the class known as “ special students.” In 1873, the college opened its teaching to persons unfitted to pass the entrance examinations as a whole, but who might wish to profit in some measure from the instruction given within its walls. The supposition was that the student of mature age, intending to pursue particular studies, could make avail of this opportunity. It in fact turned out in the course of a few years that many youths, including a number of unsatisfactory character, entered by this easy path into the life of the college with prejudicial effects to themselves and to the students in general. To remedy this evil the class of special students was put in charge of five college officers. That committee devised a simple and, as time has proved, very effective method of managing the miscellaneous assemblage of one hundred and fifty young men who at the present time are enrolled in this class.
Before the applicant is admitted to the privilege of a student in this department of the school, he is required to give a sketch of his work in other schools or with other teachers, and also a list of references chosen from men of more or less distinguished position in his community. Correspondence with these teachers and the other persons to whom the candidate refers brings the student before the committee at the outset of the term with a considerable body of information concerning his past history. He is also required to set forth his purposes in the way of an education. On the basis of this record the student is then delivered to the care of one of the members of the committee. The adviser has a friendly talk with him, considers the project of his studies, and arranges with him concerning his first year’s work. In the subsequent meetings, which, if necessary, are numerous, this officer obtains as definite an idea as possible as to the quality of the youth. In many cases it soon becomes clear that the student is fair-minded and discreet, so that the instructor may cease to have any grave anxieties concerning him. If he seems to need management, he is often seen; the opinions of the instructors in the electives he pursues are carefully gathered by a clerk and forwarded to the adviser. If it appears in any way that the career of the youth is doubtful, he is subjected to such exhortation as it is possible to give him. Whenever, in the opinion of the adviser, the further residence of a student at the college is undesirable, on his own account or that of others, he is, on the recommendation of the committee, deprived by the faculty of his privileges as a student. There are no public admonitions, no suspensions, neither dismissal nor expulsion, but the simple vote that A B is “deprived of his privileges as a student.”
Not the least advantageous part of this system, which has proved to be thoroughly good, is that in almost all cases it at once brings about a friendly relation between the teacher, chosen for his capacity to make friends with youth, and the student at the moment when he comes into the field of his academic life. My own experience shows me clearly that, despite the shyness which to a greater or less extent affects all such young men at this critical period of their life, they welcome a friendly word from the appointed counselor, and give him a gratifying measure of their trust.
It is now proposed to extend the above-described system to the freshman class; to have each student welcomed at the beginning of the college term by some one who is competent to advise him as to the method of his work, and to follow him through at least the first year of his probation, not as a watchful mentor, but rather as a friend who is ready to help him in his plan of life. In this way we may hope to have the flightier youths brought to a sense of their responsibilities at the very outset of their academic career.
One of the most important consequences of the elective system is that the student’s presence in each of his classes is due to his own voluntary act. He is there because he wishes for instruction in the given subject, or because he desires the general intellectual or moral support of the teacher. The result of this element of choice has been that at least in the later years of his college course nearly every student is personally well acquainted with some instructor, and nearly every instructor has a large number of youths who are as familiar with his fireside as though they were his kinsmen. But this relation, good as it is, — and it is almost the best feature in Harvard College, — comes about too late in the career of the student, The greater part of the freshmen are known only officially to their teachers. They have no other relation with them than that made in the class room, which is, from the humanized point of view, hardly to be called a relation at all. The greatest advantage which will surely arise from the system of advisers who are to meet the students at the beginning of their college course will be that every man will be well known to some member of the committee, because it is his duty to know him, — a duty which will be enforced by the constant questioning which will go on in that board, list in hand, as to the condition of the students. From my experience as the chairman of the committee of special students, I am convinced that, when this system is well under way we shall have that measure of friendship as a correlative of academic freedom which is necessary to perfect the present method of control that has grown up in Harvard College.
An objection frequently directed against the larger colleges is to the effect that students are overlooked in the thronged classes. Until supervision is reduced to a system, this is undoubtedly a valid objection ; but if the plan pursued in the case of special students is adopted in the general management of the college, we shall find that a large college is better fitted to look after young men than a smaller institution of the same nature, and this for the following reason. In a faculty as large as that of Harvard College, where there are at present sixty-five members, it is possible to select a sufficient number of persons who can do the extremely varied work which is required in the system which we are considering. Probably less than half of any body of academic teachers are well suited for such a task as I have described. Some are too old, others too young, yet others lack the spring of sympathy with youth without which such work cannot be done. Some fail in the experience as to the character of the outer world, which is to be desired in persons who are to give counsel to young men who are fitting for active life.
The faculty of Harvard College contains many men of large experience in the world. A rapid glance at the list shows me the names of eight persons who have served in armies, — five in the Federal army during the civil war, one in the ranks of the Confederacy, one in the French and one in the German army. Many others employed have been in other walks of life than that of the teacher. From such a list it is easy to select a body of counselors who will be fitted to help youths of a great variety of purposes and of very diverse characters. In practice it has been found in the committee on special students that a youth who cannot be helped by one member of that committee may receive valuable aid from another, who may arouse his latent motives, or in some way gain that control over him which will better his conduct of life. When this system is completed, — and it is past the stage of experiment, — we may feel sure that a vast gain will have been made in the methods of academic training. The institution will be different from any that now exists ; one in which freedom and friendship may together aid the youth to acquire the strength and the skill which he will need in the work of the world.
N. S. Shaler.
- As I propose to offer myself as a witness concerning the history of the disciplinary methods in the college during the last thirty years, it seems fit that I should state my opportunities of acquiring information as to the conditions of the university during the most eventful years in the development of its motives. I entered the school in 1859. I was a student within its walls for the four following years. In 1864 I became a teacher in the university. During my term as an instructor my tasks as a teacher of geology have served to bring me into very close association with the students. In term time, my day, from early morning until late in the evening, has usually been passed in a public office of the university, to which students have had the freest access. During the vacation period I have generally been employed in state or government surveys, and in connection with my work it has been my habit to take into the field each year a considerable number of students from the college classes. These camp schools have occupied numerous stations in a dozen different States, and have brought me into singularly close relations with several hundred students. Even in term time it has been my habit for years to spend many days in the field with my classes. I have thus personally known, in a more intimate way than it often falls to the lot of a teacher to know his pupils, more than a thousand students of the college, and I have had opportunities of acquaintance with about two thousand other young men who were in my classes.↩
- I count it a piece of great good fortune that I have known so much of the youth of my time. It not only affords me an opportunity to hear testimony as to the facts I am to detail with an assurance which would not otherwise have been afforded me. but it has given me a growing confidence in the quality of the educated young American, which is one of the most precious results of my life.↩
- I should state furthermore that my life has not been by any means purely academic. My service in the government surveys for years, during the vacation period, in the mining districts, has afforded me a large measure of contact with all sorts and conditions of men, from legislators to those who delve underground. I have felt the influences of this contact with the outer world of great value in my teaching work, and I am sure that it betters my judgment as to the condition and needs of the institution I am about to describe.↩
- The reader may ask how it is that there is so much public remark as to the evil behavior of Harvard students. To this I may make answer by reciting a story which is attributed to General Grant. When a young soldier in his first campaign on the Western plains, he was startled out of his sleep by the yells of a vast pack of wolves, which appeared to him to be surrounding the camp and likely to tear it to pieces. An older campaigner, observing his anxiety, asked him how many wolves he supposed there were around the camp. Grant reckoned as few as seemed possible, and put the number at several hundred. At the suggestion of his companion, they crept out, and in the moonlight saw that the noise came from two wolves. Half a dozen disorderly students from Harvard College may in any one year carry alarm into the households whence come some twelve hundred normally well-behaved young men.↩