The appearance, almost simultaneous, of the memoirs of Barnard and McCosh invites attention to the remarkable renaissance now in progress in the higher educational systems of the United States. It is worthy of note that these memoirs are coincident with change of name, both at Princeton and at Columbia, from “College” to “University.” In New York the change of name goes with a change of location. New buildings are to be erected upon an admirable site; large gifts are coming in; and there is an exemplary union of metropolitan influences and interests around the historic Columbia and its inspiring leader. At Princeton the enlarged campus has been covered with a group of academic halls, well adapted to their purpose, and so arranged as to produce a most agreeable impression. Under the guidance of one who is equally qualified for the exposition and defense of the local traditions, and for their application to the new conditions of society, Nassau Hall begins its fourth half-century with a new name, and the College of New Jersey becomes Princeton University. But these outward changes are of little importance unless they are signs of inward grace, and at a distance far more attention will be given to the products of the university than to its buildings and apparatus. The eyes of educated men throughout the country will henceforth be directed to these new universities as exponents of a desire and an endeavor to secure for the twentieth century higher, better and more varied education, and every patriotic scholar will desire for both institutions the highest success.
I propose to make these volumes the occasion for some comments upon the actual problems of higher education in this country; but before entering upon such inquiries a few words must be said regarding F. A. P. Barnard and James McCosh, the men whose work suggests this article. Both began life as country boys, of good heredity and good environment, without extraordinary gifts, opportunities, or education. Both led noble lives, continued to ripe old age and consecrated to the improvement of college education. Both were naturally conservative of the conservatives, — one trained in Scotland, and one in New England, where traditions of Calvinistic theology and of classical studies were dominant, and where there was little desire for change; but both, by gradual processes, came to see the inadequacy of the agencies then employed for the education of American youth. Both were suggestive and persistent, and both succeeded in securing a good deal of support for their progressive views, though both at times were depressed by obstructions. Barnard was naturally a mathematician and physicist, with a decided bent toward theology; and McCosh was essentially a philosopher and theologian, with a strong bias in favor of science: so that they were well fitted to be mediators between the two camps, which at one time threatened open and vehement hostilities all along the line. The state of the times and of Barnard’s mind is illustrated by the theme of his inaugural address when he came to Columbia. It was a discussion of the relations of physical science to revealed religion.
Barnard’s personal influence was, unfortunately, restricted by his deafness, against which he contended with all the known acoustic helps, but which precluded him, nevertheless, from active participation in conversations and debates. But the stalwart McCosh loved the fray. For many years he was the most picturesque person upon the educational platform. His fine head and face, his Scotch accent, his racy language, and his unconscious egotism made him everywhere, among his “boys” on the campus or among the elders of the Assembly, a man of mark.
The two presidents are sure to be remembered among the best administrators of their generation, with Wayland, Tappan, Walker, Hopkins, and Woolsey, — seven wise men; yet these all belonged to a transition period. They saw in advance of them, and to some extent around them, good things that they could not attain to. “I was so vain as to think,” says McCosh in his farewell speech (1888), “that out of our available materials I could have constructed a university of a high order. But this privilege has been denied me. The college has been brought to the very borders, and I leave it to another to carry it over into the land of promise.” Likewise, Barnard says in his last report (1888): “It is the unavoidable tendency of things to press upon Columbia College, more and more constantly from year to year, the duty of providing for the wants of the superior class of students that is to say, the business of proper university instruction.” But there was not money enough in either institution. The fruit was not yet ripe.
If, therefore, the reader turns to the memoirs of McCosh and Barnard for light upon the functions of universities, he will surely be disappointed. They were essentially collegians, striving to amend the existing colleges, to make them freer and better, and to devise new arrangements for the education of youth. Consequently, their biographies are largely taken up with discussions pertaining to the discipline and methods of undergraduate instruction. Both were capable of entering on the higher problems, yet neither broke away, as did Eliot and White, from the fetters of the past.
If we look over the period covered by these memoirs, we can see what changes have come to pass. Briefly stated, they are these. It is most remarkable that pecuniary resources have increased enormously, and this has made possible better buildings, larger libraries, more teachers. Private gifts, land grants, and legislative appropriations have all contributed to this result. With more liberal expenditures there has been greater freedom in every detail. The rigidity of discipline has been relaxed, manners are not so stiff, there is far less of petty regulation, the preaching is not as severe, the methods of living are much more civilizing. “The curriculum” has gone. Either absolute election or a very large amount of choice is now permitted. With the abandonment of one fixed course, the required amount of Greek and Latin has been greatly diminished, and it is demonstrated that classical studies have gained more than they have lost by this change. History, English, French, and German receive an amount of attention that was not given to these subjects thirty years ago. On the other hand, there is less attention to public speaking. Of great importance is the wide introduction of laboratory methods in the study of science, especially in physics, chemistry, physiology, botany, and geology. Athletics have made marvelous advances. Finally, the admission of women to the advantage of higher education, either by co-education, or by “annexes,” or by separate foundations, is one of the greatest gains of the period under review.
During all this time two underlying tendencies have been at work, and it cannot yet be said that an agreement has been reached. On the one hand, the importance of the college has been enforced as a place of intellectual and moral discipline, where positive, well-defined acquisitions are demanded of every pupil. The other tendency is to depreciate the college. It has seemed, for example, as if the older colleges would be transformed into something very like the philosophical faculties of a German university, and as if the disciplinary part of education would be remanded to the best preparatory schools, which would thus become “colleges.” Dr. Barnard seriously discussed the giving up of the undergraduate classes in Columbia. Cornell University, in its early days, offered the freedom of university study to those who had been trained in academies and high schools without requiring intermediate collegiate work. The lists of electives offered at Harvard and Yale, and the proposals which are made, occasionally, to allow undergraduate courses to be counted as part of a preparation for the baccalaureate degree, and simultaneously as part of the preparation for a professional degree, are additional signs that the distinction between collegiate and university work is not yet perfectly clear. But unless I am mistaken, the number steadily increases of those who believe in upholding the American college, freed, enlarged, and improved, and yet as heretofore a place of discipline, social, intellectual, and moral, — a place where the habits of scholarship are formed, and the taste for science and literature is developed. The rigid training of a college, or its equivalent, seems to many the best if not the indispensable prerequisite for the advanced work of a university. It is in most cases the desirable basis for professional study in law, medicine, and theology, as well as for those innumerable arts and sciences which are commonly grouped in the faculty of philosophy. But, as Professor Goodwin clearly demonstrated in his Phi Beta Kappa speech, an immense loss of time occurs in the years antecedent to college. Boys do not begin the college training until they are eighteen years of age, and at its conclusion they are naturally impatient for professional life or for business. This is one of the unfortunate and yet remediable conditions of higher education in this country.
There is another serious question. The large institutions are growing larger and larger. This lessens the spirit of fellowship, the ties of classmates, the possibilities of personal guidance. The smaller colleges claim, with a good deal of force, that they can give better collegiate training than the so-called universities. Among other problems, the question of residence becomes more and more difficult to deal with, as the number of students grows larger. Coincidently, “fraternities” are rapidly increasing, and are coming to be fortified places of intellectual and social influence. Many of them are really academic hostelries, managed by undergraduates and free from the supervision of the authorities. To meet some of these difficulties and dangers, it is not impossible, perhaps not unlikely, that the larger institutions, possessing many dormitories, will make each one of them (subordinate to the university government) a distinct college, with a master, tutors, library, and refectory, like the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Each such hall would be likely to have its special characteristics. In one might congregate the lovers of the classics. Scientific students would be found elsewhere. The students looking forward to law, medicine, or theology might likewise have halls where those of kindred tastes would make their homes. In some such way, the beauty of the English collegiate system might be restored to our academic life, from which it has unfortunately departed. Certainly, without provisions for the common life, colleges and universities lose much of their inspiration and charm.
The frequency with which the question is asked, “What is the difference, after all, between colleges and universities?” shows that even in educated circles the distinction is nominal rather than real. To one the university is “a collection of books;” to another it is “a place where nothing useful is taught;” to another it is “a combination of four faculties;” to another it is “an institution where anybody may learn anything;” to another it is a group of educational establishments under one governing board; to another it is an authority for the bestowal of degrees; to many others it is only a more stately synonym for colleges. Antecedent to all these phrases is that by which Paris, the mother of universities, was once designated, “Societas magistrorum et discipulorum.” Barnard came very near the right expression when he claimed that the university must be “a school of all learning that the necessities of the age demand.” Whatever may be the best definition of a university, its functions are clearly to be discovered. It must above all things be a seat of learning, where the most cultivated scholars reside, where libraries, laboratories, and scientific collections are liberally kept up, and where the spirit of inquiry and investigation is perpetually manifested. It must be a shrine to which the outside world will resort for instruction and guidance upon the problems of the day, scientific, literary, educational, political. It must be a place from which are sent forth important contributions to science, — theses, memoirs, books. Here every form of scientific investigation should be promoted. Researches too costly for ordinary purses should be prosecuted at the expense of the general chest. Expeditions should be sent forth from time to time to engage in investigations on the seashore or on the mountains. Physical and astronomical instruments of the most improved forms should be devised, procured, and frequently renewed. The literatures of all nations, ancient and modern, should have their devotees. Every school of philosophy should be interpreted. Historical and political inquiry should be diligently promoted. The problems of modern society, economical, industrial, financial, administrative, philanthropic, demand the most careful examination. All these researches should go forward in an atmosphere of repose and leisure, very different from that of business and professional engagements.
It is hardly necessary to add that in such a university it is most desirable that there should be a college or school of the liberal arts, where youth distinguished by talents and purposes may be introduced to the alluremnents of learning, and that there should be one or more professional schools, and, if possible, a studium generale affording opportunities to study any branches of science or letters. Nor are the applied sciences, for which Mr. Morrison has recently made such a vigorous plea, to be excluded from the academic grove. Rather inscribe upon its portals, “Humnani nihil a me alienum puto.”
All this is very costly, but the requisite money is sure to come when the needs are felt. It is not important for every institution to encourage all sciences. There is no such thing as a complete university, except in Utopia. It is possible, and surely desirable (as President Kellogg, of the University of California, has suggested), that the universities of the next century will be distinguished by special traits, each aiming at superiority in some chosen department; it may be medicine, jurisprudence, applied science, the classics, or mathematics. But it is essential to a university, whether broad or narrow its domain, that it should be pervaded by a right spirit, — the spirit of freedom, courage, enthusiasm, patience, coöperation, and above all things by the spirit of truth. With the endowments for university purposes there will probably be just such needless reduplications as the country has seen in the domain of collegiate work. With multiplication will come rivalry, and with rivalry antagonism, and with antagonism great waste of force. It will be most unfortunate for the world if the form of ecclesiastical or denominational universities prevails. There may be a place for a great Catholic university, but why the Protestant bodies should seek to emphasize in universities their peculiar tenets, or should endeavor to keep the control of scientific and literary investigation in the hands, let us say, of the Plymouth Brethren or the great Sandemanian Sanhedrim, is by no means obvious to one who has studied the growth of knowledge and the agencies by which human progress has been promoted. Concentration is what is wanted, not reduplication. We have “germs” enough in our educational nursery to supply the needs of the country for fifty years to come.
On the maintenance of universities modern civilization depends. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” is their motto. No tradition, however venerable, no dogma pronounced by the most illustrious councils, no hypothesis and no theory sanctioned by the authority of genius or learning, can escape from scrutiny, and none can long survive if it is found to rest upon false premises, imperfect knowledge, or fallacious reasoning. The universities are the discoverers and explorers of new domains. They are the modern judges of the world. Neither the state nor the church can reverse their decisions. By better instruments, more accurate knowledge, more precise methods, and more acute reflection, they will of their own accord amend their conclusions. The very processes they employ in ascertaining the truth are favorable to the development of critics and the education of acute and independent intellects, that will improve upon the instruction of their own most wise and honored teachers. It is the business of science to forge the instruments by which its present conclusions may be modified, its present vision extended. The processes of inquiry and of verification which during the nineteenth century have led to marvelous advances in the domain of astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine, full of benefits to the human race, are already employed in the working-rooms of the jurist, the historian, the economist, the archæologist, the exegete, the philologist. The lessons of man’s experience in legislation and administration under all forms of government are to be applied to the politics of the day. Vagueness, uncertainty, doubt, and guesses will give way before the light of knowledge. Rare minds will first perceive the truths, and then will teach others. In due time the advanced positions of the philosophers and scholars will be occupied by the multitude, and onward will go the forces of the universities to make new conquests in the dark continents of ignorance and uncertainty till there are no new fields to conquer.
It was pathetic to hear Lord Kelvin say, at his recent jubilee, — Lord Kelvin, the greatest living physicist, the discoverer, inventor, and philosopher, — that his life seemed to him a failure, so little progress had he made in the sciences to which his days have been devoted. But on the other hand, his career ought to quicken all who believe in universities to renew their efforts to discover the men of rare abilities, to nourish them with fit intellectual diet, to provide them with the financial support requisite for their researches, and to reward them with every sort of recognition which will quicken, and not dampen, their enthusiasm. If Lord Kelvin, looking back upon the fifty years which constitute the age of electrical discovery, can perceive, like one who stands upon a mountain top, like Moses upon Pisgah, a vast unoccupied land of promise, surely Harvard and Yale, Princeton and Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins, and all their sister institutions should say, “Ours be the task to engage in the pursuit of science by our observers and thinkers, by our researchers and philosophers; for we are sure that the liberation of mankind from error and ignorance will establish the reign of health, comfort, peace, happiness, and virtue.”
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