He Asked the Dean

OF course this never happened. You will see why.

One September morning an awkward, homely boy walked into the office of the Freshman Dean and, on being invited, sat down, holding his hat between his knees. He told the Dean his name. ‘I came,’ he said, ‘to ask about my course.’

‘Miss Smithers,’ called the Dean, ‘Mr. A. B. Robinson’s card, please.—3 The card shows that you may enter without conditions, and that you will take Spanish for your modem foreign language, since you present it for entrance. Since you present no Latin or Greek, you will have to take mathematics. Your other courses will be English, Contemporary Civilization, and a science — either physics, chemistry, or biology.’

The boy cleared his throat. ‘I knew all that,’ he said, ‘from the catalogue.’

‘Then why did you ask about your courses?’ asked the Dean.

‘I didn’t,’ said the boy. ‘I asked about my course. I did n’t know what else to call it. I mean I want to find out, before I go through it if I can, what college is going to do to me. I did n’t know who else to ask.’

‘Surely,’ said the Dean, ‘you know some college men. You can see what college has done to them.’

‘No, I can’t,’ said the boy. ‘They’re all different from each other. And how can I tell what in them came from college, and what from something else?'

‘But you have answered your question yourself,’ said the Dean. ‘You say all the college men you know differ. Has n’t it occurred to you that college may be responsible for the difference, that it has developed those men’s individualities?’

‘It doesn’t seem to me quite the same thing,’ said the boy. ‘I can’t tell, of course, whether college did it or not, but some of those men are different just because their individualities are not developed. Some of them can’t keep a job; some of them are irritable and unhappy; some are just noisy good fellows. Did college make them that, way ?'

‘No,’ said the Dean. ‘College tries to develop each man in the direction best suited to him, but a good many men refuse to profit by what college offers.’

‘ I thought of that, too,’ said the boy, ‘but it doesn’t seem reasonable. If college really offers a way for a man to realize himself, so that he can recognize it, why should he refuse to profit by it ? ‘

‘As a matter of fact,’ said the Dean, ‘college does not offer any man a way to realize himself. It will offer the way to such men as are capable of intellectual development. A good many men come to college who are n’t capable of that sort of development. Naturally they refuse it.'

‘I see,’ said the boy. ‘Now I should like to ask about myself. Can you tell me whether I am capable of intellectual development?’

‘I can’t tell certainly,’ said the Dean, glancing at the card. ‘As far as I can tell now, you are, to judge from your high-school and extrance-examination grades and your intelligence test. But whether you will profit from college depends upon your application to your work and your willingness to submit to its discipline.’

’Then,’said the boy, ‘to profit from college I need something more than intellectual capacity?’

‘Yes,’ said the Dean, smiling. ‘Call it character.’

‘Have I character?’ asked the boy.

’I don’t, know,’ said the Dean. ‘We know of no way of telling except by trial. We will let you into college, and if you really have the intellectual capacity, and the character, you will profit from it.’

‘But,’ said the boy, ‘I don’t know whether I have character, either. I am seventeen years old. I have never been away from the oversight of either parents or teachers in my life. This coming to college is the beginning of a life of my own. I want to make my own life worth-while, to me and to other people. I can’t run any more risks with it than necessary. College, you say, offers me a way to realize myself intellectually. Does college offer me a way to realize myself in regard to my character? I understand that I shall have spread before me all the intellectual food I wish, but shall I learn to feed my character? Shall I learn what enjoyments will do me good, what harm; what companions I should seek, what avoid; what desires I should gratify, and what repress? As far as I can tell, my character is a blank. Yet on what it is or becomes depends my intellectual progress, as you yourself say. Do English, Contemporary Civilization, and the rest take care of my character as well as my intellect?’

’College punishes for immoral acts,’ said the Dean, ‘when they come to our attention. We also require attendance at church a certain number of times each semester.’

‘Will that take care of my character development?’ asked the boy.

‘No,’ said the Dean, ‘I’m afraid not. You’ll have to chance it. We don’t know how to take care of character development. The old ways, putting the fear of God into ‘em, spying on them, treating them like children, did n’t work. Now we’re trying leaving them alone, letting them sink or swim, though we know it’s wasteful. But we don’t know what to do. If you outrageously neglect your work, or if you overtly violate the rules of decency, we won’t let you stay, of course. But if you behave with ordinary decorum, and exert yourself just enough to stay in college, we shall have to put up with you, because we don’t know how to make men who are content with mediocrity grow discontented with it.’

‘I’m sure,’ said the boy, ‘ I should n’t develop well if I were treated any longer like a child. I know putting the fear of God into me wouldn’t work either. I don’t expect to violate the rules of decency and I won’t neglect my work outrageously. I am not content with mediocrity, and I think very few boys my age are. But the life we are going to begin in college is a life we don’t know anything about. We may, without knowing how to avoid it, fall into ways that doom us to mediocrity whether we will or no, even if we have the capacity for more than that. Don’t you find many men leaving college who have blindly and senselessly wasted their time just because they were never waked up, not because they could n’t wake up?’

‘We assume,’ said the Dean, ‘that if we teach you facts, their relations to each other, and their relations to life, we teach you at the same time how to live. It should be so. We know, however, that many men leave college apparently untouched by it in any essential quality of their beings. But we don’t know how to touch them. They themselves must learn how to use what we have offered.’

‘What is a college, anyway?’ asked the boy.

‘A college,’ said the Dean, ‘is a group of men working together for the advancement of knowledge.’

‘The advancement of knowledge,’ repeated the boy. ‘Among others, or among themselves? ‘

‘There isn’t, or at least should n’t be, any distinction there,’ said the Dean. ‘If we advance knowledge among ourselves, we advance knowledge among others at the same time.’

‘But that won’t follow,’ said the boy, ‘unless you try to advance the knowledge of others as much and as hard as you try to advance your own knowledge, will it? If I knew that in coming to college I should be under the direction of men who were as anxious that I should develop as that they themselves should develop, I should n’t worry about my course. If they were willing to take the time and trouble to show me how their facts, and the relations of their facts, bear on my life, on me as a man, among men but a separate man, I should know my character would develop as well as my mind. Shall I find at college men who are willing to be interested in me and who at the same time are capable of advancing my knowledge? If they will be interested in me I will try to live so that their interest will be repaid. But if they are more interested in English, or Contemporary Civilization, or mathematics, than they can ever be in me, while they may be advancing knowledge in themselves, they won’t be advancing knowledge in me, or in others.’

‘My dear boy,’ said the Dean, ‘you are simply asking for good teachers, or, perhaps, the best teachers. Not all of the men who compose the college will answer your description, but you will find some. They won’t be the majority, or even very many. But perhaps there are more such men at college than anywhere else. If you entered business, for instance, you ‘d be very lucky if you found anyone to help develop the best in you. College does n’t have enough such men, no doubt, but it does n’t seem able to keep them out entirely.’

‘Does it try?’ asked the boy.

‘Sometimes it seems to,’ said the Dean. ‘The teacher who works with his men has very little time for the things that give him reputation among his colleagues. They are apt, therefore, to ignore him and discourage him. But he generally manages to survive that treatment. If you come to college, try to find these teachers. I am sure you will.’

‘Thank you,’ said the boy. ‘That is what I wanted to know.’ And he went out.

Of course this never happened. Even if there ever were a subfreshman capable of these questionings, the Freshman Dean would probably be too busy to talk to him about them. It never happened, but one wishes it might.