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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

ABOUT DISMISSING PROFESSORS

The president of one of the leading universities in the east and the president of one of the leading state universities have recently expressed opinions in regard to the tenure of office of the university professor which deserve careful attention. In his annual report to the trustees, President Butler, of Columbia University, writes:

A teacher or investigator who offends against common morality has destroyed his academic usefulness, whatever may be his intellectual attainments. A teacher who offends against the plain dictates of common sense is in like situation. A teacher who can not give to the institution which maintains him common loyalty and that kind of service which loyalty implies, ought not to be retained through fear of clamor or of criticism. Then, too, a university teacher owes a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.

In the issue of Science for February 17, President Van Hise, of the University of Wisconsin, says:

... the instructional force of a university, both young and old, must be efficient. Whether or not a man is retained in a faculty should depend upon his capacity to meet his duty to the institution. There is no possible excuse for retaining in the staff of a university an inefficient man.

It is certainly desirable that professors should be moral, efficient, sensible and loyal; they should have even other qualifications than those which they share with domestic servants. But it is a far cry from this to the claim that the president should dismiss professors whenever they seem to him to lack these traits. Such a claim obviously traverses academic traditions. Professors receive their appointments at the average age of forty years. If a mistake is made, it is the fault of those who appoint, and they should accept the responsibility. Professors who prove to be less competent in the management of large classes in the undergraduate college and in the professional schools should be relieved from them, but it is more economical to pay an occasional professor his salary without lull return, than to place the whole university under the law of supply and demand. By the nature of things, some professors are less competent than the average of them all, and any university could temporarily raise the average by replacing ten per cent, of the faculty. But it would be the old story of killing the hen that lays the golden eggs.

President Van Hise says:

The question now arises as to what should be done in the case of a man of professorial rank, whether full, associate or assistant, who is not efficient. Not infrequently papers with reference to this subject appear to assume that universities exist for the instructional force; that the main thing is to give that force a comfortable and happy time, an opportunity for a somewhat easy existence as a teacher, leisure for browsing through literature, and long vacations.

A scientific man should give references to his authorities; but President Van Hise apparently thinks that professors in general hold such opinions and would like to form a privileged class. According to President Butler they do form such a class. He writes in his report:

The happenings of the past decade [that is since he became president] have made the lot of a member of the permanent teaching staff of Columbia University one that is indeed fortunate.... It may be that there is some other career that is equally fortunate, but if so, the fact does not appear to obtrude itself upon the public attention.

President Butler, however, seems to realize that professors do not share his opinion as to their happy lot, for