Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/511

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Yet the charge of presumption recurs. Surely the cumulative wisdom that has gone into the guidance of universities would have recognized these untoward influences, would have referred them to their source, and disposed of them, if they were so real and so ominous as this arraignment sets forth.[1] Such a view rests upon a naive faith in the insight and consistency and vertebrate intellectual integrity of able and intelligent men exposed to complex social pressure, which I can not share, and for which history furnishes uncertain warrant. The best intentioned and discriminating men are prone to worship idols or to yield to those who do; the status quo of the standpatter easily becomes an obstacle, if not an obsession. Reforms have ever been necessary and will ever be so, so long as new as well as ancient evils yield to an increasing insight or a more sensitive conscience. Favorable or tolerable situations may degenerate as they persist and grow out of helpful relation with the advancing forces that shape our ends. It is not vice alone but many another if lesser untoward influence that first endured or resisted is by familiarity cherished, through vested interests embraced. The personal equation enters; we defend what we have acquired, established, contributed; not "a poor thing, but mine own" but "a good thing because my own" is the attitude assumed toward one's house, or town, or club, or college or automobile. All this weakens the test of fact—the vapid argument that whatever is, is best—and divests radical scepticism of the charge of presumption. Experience requires critical interpretation before it yields its true meaning. It is a common enough situation to find that men progress in their endeavors despite the handicap of the means on which they depend. The successes achieved under the present system are in my judgment partly due to the compensations that lie in every system however unsuitable, yet more largely to the mitigations exercised under considerations foreign to its temper, more plainly to violations of its provisions,—to concessions and forbearance. These the reforms advocated would establish as constitutional rights, as constructive principles fertile in promise, inviting embodiment in practical measures. The gains, the trophies, the tributes are naturally in evidence and properly so; but what of the losses, the ships that have gone down at sea! Moreover bookkeeping in terms of intellectual and spiritual incomes is so difficult; values of ideas are so subject to difference of appraisal by shifting standards, that university

  1. The appeal to experience is curiously partial. If the larger experience of the old world be considered, the burden of proof falls the other way. Externalism does not obtain there in the same manner or temper; presidential autocracy has not been found necessary or desirable; faculty control exists in variable yet always satisfactory measure; and the evils that flourish in American institutions are minimized. It has not been shown that our educational requirements are so wholly peculiar as to demand opposite provisions; it is fairly established that the democratic traditions of the old-world are responsible for some of the mitigations and concessions which have prevented the system of imposed authority from developing its direst possibilities.