Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 61/August 1902/University-Building

UNIVERSITY-BUILDING.
By President DAVID STARR JORDAN,

LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY.

WITH the end of our republic's first century we had the first clear vision of the greatest of republican institutions, the American university. It was even then only a vision. It is not yet realized, but we know something of what it is to be. Out of the struggles and the prayers, the hopes and the efforts of good men and good women we see it taking form. A university, as fair as those which England has known for a thousand years, as sound and as strong as the deep-rooted schools of Germany, with something of both, yet different from either, is the coming university of America. There will be many of these institutions, for our land is very wide, and they will differ from each other somewhat in kind and as one star different from another in glory, still of the same general pattern all must be. They will be schools for training American boys and girls to be American men and women. They will express the loftiest ideals of higher education within our great democracy.

The American college, as it existed thirty years ago and more, and as it still exists in some quarters, is distinctly a school for personal culture. Its strongest agency has been the personal influence of devoted men. It has made no effort to give professional training. It has made no pretense of leading in scientific research. A log with Mark Hopkins at one end of it and himself at the other was Garfield's conception of such a college. Even the log is not essential. The earnest teacher is all in all. Apparatus Mark Hopkins did not need, books he even despised. The medium of a forgotten language and an outworn philosophy served him as well as anything else in impressing on his boys the stamp of his own character. It was said of Dr. Nott of Union College that 'he took the sweepings of other colleges and sent them back to society pure gold.' Such was his personal influence on young men. A notable example of the college spirit was Arnold of Rugby. Another was Jowett, master of Baliol. A teacher of this type in greater or less degree it was the privilege of every college student to know, and this knowledge still reconciles him to his alma mater, however many her shortcomings in subject or method. But times have changed since the days of Mark Hopkins. The American college, English born and English in tradition, under the touch of German influences and in response to actual needs, is changing to the American university. It is no longer a school of culture alone, a school of personal growth through personal example. It is becoming in addition to this a school of research, a school of power. It stands in the advance guard of civilization, responsive not to the truth of tradition alone, but to the new truth daily and hourly revealed in the experience of man.

In the movement of events the American university unites in itself three different functions, that of the college, that of the professional school and that which is distinctive of the university.

The college is now as ever a school of culture. It aims to make wise, sane, well-rounded men who know something of the best that men have thought and done in tins world, and whose lives will be the better for this knowledge. It has not discarded the Latin, Greek and mathematics winch were so long the chief agents in culture, but it has greatly added to this list. It has found that to some minds at least better results arise from the study of other things. Culture is born from mastery. The mind is strengthened by what it can assimilate. It can use only that which relates itself to life. We find that Greek-mindedness is necessary to receive from the Greek all that this noblest of languages is competent to give. We find for the average man better educational substance in English than in Latin, in the physical or natural sciences than in the calculus. But more important than this, we find that it is safe in the main to trust the choice of studies to the student himself. The very fact of choice is in itself an education. It is better to choose wrong sometimes, as we do a hundred times in life, than to be arbitrarily directed to the best selection. Moreover, so far as culture is concerned, the best teacher is more important than the best study. It is still true, as Emerson once wrote to his daughter, that 'it matters little what your studies are; it all lies in who your teacher is.' A large institution has many students. It has likewise many teachers, and an Arnold or a Hopkins, a Warner or a Thoburn, can come just as close to the students' hearts in a large school as in a small one. But 'the knowing of men by name,' the care for their personal lives and characters, must be the essential element in the new college course, as it was in the old. And the college function of the university must not be despised or belittled. Because Germany has no colleges, because her students go directly from the high school at home to the professional school or the university, some have urged the abandonment by the American university of this primal function of general culture. In their eagerness to develop advanced work, some institutions have relegated the college function almost solely to tutors without experience, and have left it without standards and without serious purpose. It is not right that even the freshmen should be poorly taught. On the soundness of the college training everything else must depend. In the long run, the greatest university will be the one that devotes the most care to its undergraduates. With the college graduation higher education in England mostly stops. With Germany here the higher education begins. Higher education has been defined as that training which demands that a man should leave home. It means a breaking of the leading strings. It means the entrance to another atmosphere. The high school and the gymnasium cannot have the academic atmosphere, however advanced their studies may be. They must reflect the spirit of the town which supports them and of which they are necessarily a part. They cannot be free in the sense in which the universities are free. A boy who lives at home in a city and goes back and forth on a train cannot be a university student. He may recite in the university classes, but there his work ends. He gets little of the spirit which moves outside of the class room. He cannot enter the university until he breathes the university atmosphere. The 'Spurstudenten' or 'railway students' those who come and go on the trains, are rightly held by their fellows in Germany to be little more than Philistines. Whatever the other excellencies of the German system, the gymnasium, or advanced high school, is an inadequate substitute for the American college.

The second function of the university is that of professional training. To the man once in the path of culture this school adds effectiveness in his chosen calling. This work the American universities have taken up slowly and grudgingly. The demand for instruction in law and medicine has been met weakly but extensively by private enterprise. The schools thus founded have been dependent on the students' fees, and on the advertising gain their teachers receive through connection with them. Such schools as these stand no comparison with the professional schools of Germany. Their foundation is precarious, they can not demand high standards, nor look beyond present necessities to the future of professional training. Only a few of these schools to-day demand high standards. Those who do not can not share the university spirit. They have no part in university development. Only in the degree that they are part and parcel of the university do they in general deserve to live. The first profession to become thus allied is that of engineering, thanks to the wisdom that directed the Morrill Act. Following this, law, medicine, theology, education in some quarters, have taken a university basis, and the few professional schools in which such a basis exists rank fairly with the best of their class in the world.

The crowning function of a university is that of original research. On this rests the advance of civilization. From the application of scientific knowledge most of the successes of the nineteenth century have arisen. It is the first era of science. Behind the application of such knowledge rests the acquisition of it. One Helmholtz, the investigator, is the parent of a thousand Edisons, the adapters of the knowledge gained by others. The great function of the German university is that of instruction through investigation. The student begins his work on a narrow space at the outer rim of knowledge. It is his duty to carry the solid ground a little farther, to drive back ever so little it may be the darkness of ignorance and mystery. The real university is a school of research. That we possess the university spirit is our only excuse that we adopt the university name. A true university is not a collection of colleges. It is not a college with an outer fringe of professional schools. It is not a cluster of professional schools. It is the association of scholars. It is the institution from which in every direction blazes the light of original research. Its choicest product is 'that fanaticism for veracity' as Huxley calls it, that love for truth, without which man is but the toy of the elements. Its spirit is the desire 'to know things as they really are' which is the necessary attribute of 'him that overcometh.' No institution can be college, professional school and university all in one and exercise all these functions fully in the four years which form the traditional college course. To attempt it is to fail in one way or another. We do attempt it and we do fail. In the engineering courses of to-day we try to combine in four years professional training with research and culture. This can not be done, for while the professional work is reasonably complete, culture is at a minimum and research crowded to the wall. The subject of law requires three solid years for professional training alone. Three or four culture years go with this and are surely none too many. The same requirement must soon be made in engineering. We can not make an engineer in four years if we do anything else for him, and there are very many things besides engineering which go to the making of a real engineer.

But this we can do in the four years of college culture. We can show the student the line of his professional advancement and can see him well started in its direction before he has taken his first degree. We can give in the college course something of the methods and results of advanced research. In any subject the advanced work has a higher culture value than elementary work. Thorough study of one subject is more helpful than superficial knowledge of half a dozen. To know one thing well is in Agassiz's words 'to have the backbone of culture' By limiting the range of individual training to a few things done thoroughly it is possible to give even to the undergraduate some touch of real university method, some knowledge of how truth is won. To accomplish this is one vital part of the university's duty. It welds together the three functions of a university, and in so doing it will give the American university its most characteristic feature.

The best education for any man with brains and character should involve these three elements. It should have the final goal in view as soon as possible. It should be broad enough and thorough enough to develop cultured manhood and at the same time to furnish the strength needed to reach this goal. In other words, it should look to success in the profession and to success as a man. Toward both these ends the methods of finding the truth for oneself are vitally essential. The university should disclose the secret of power, and this secret lies in thoroughness. Science is human experience tested and set in order. The advance of science has come through the use of instruments of precision and methods of precision. Opinion, feeling, tradition, plausibility, illusions of whatever sort, disappear when the method of power is once mastered.

The college course should have a little of the professional spirit for its guidance, a little of the university spirit for its inspiration; the best interests of all three will keep them in the closest relation to each other. At the same time they must not starve each other. At the present time the needs of the college in most cases tend to dwarf the more costly functions of the university. The professors have their hands full of lower work. The books and material the university work demand are far more costly than the college can afford. The trustees still too often regard the graduate school as an expensive alien, and its demands in most quarters still receive scant attention. To train fifty investigators costs more than to give a thousand men a college education. The sciences cost more than the humanities, and the applied sciences, with their vast and changing array of machinery, are most expensive of all.

Equally unwise it seems to me, though less common, is the disposition to slight the college course for the sake of advanced research. Poor work, wherever done, leaves its mark of poverty. The great university of the future will be the one which does well whatever it undertakes, be it high or low. Better have few departments, very few, than that any should be weak and paltry. Better few students well taught than many neglected.

It is fair to judge a university by the character of its advanced work. Institutions can not be graded by the number in attendance. This is the most frequent and most vulgar gauge of relative standing. The rank of an institution is determined no more by the number of its students than by the number of rocks on its campus. What sort of men does it have and what are they doing? These are the living questions. Buildings are convenient; beautiful buildings have a great culture value. We should be the last to underrate the effect of the charm of cloisters and towers, of circles of palms and sweet-toned bells. But these do not make a university. Books are useful, they are vital to research, but wiser men than we have ever known have grown up without books. Shakespere had few of them, Lincoln had but few of them, Homer and Jesus, none at all. Books serve no purpose if they are not used. The man who reads it gives the book its life. Specimens are inevitable in natural history. Apparatus is necessary in physical science. Collections and equipment are really the outgrowth of the men that use them. You can not order them in advance. Professor Haeckel once said bitterly that the results of research in the great laboratories were in inverse proportion to the perfection of their appliances. An investigation may be lost in multiplicity of details or in elaboration of preparation. Some men will spend years in getting a microscope or a microtome just right and then never use it. It is said that the entire outfit of Joseph Leidy, one of the greatest of our microscopists, cost just seventy-five dollars. It was the man and not the equipment that made his investigations luminous.

Publication is necessary, but it would be the greatest of mistakes to measure a university by the number of pages printed by its members. Much of the so-called research even in Germany is unworthy of the name of science. Its subject matter is not extension of human experience, but an addition to human pedantry. To count the twists and turns of literary eccentricity may have no more intellectual significance than to count the dead leaves in the forest. Statistical work is justified not by the labor it requires, but by the laws it unveils. Elaboration of method may conceal the dearth of purpose. Moreover, it is easier to string the web of plausibility than to recover the lost clue of truth. Of a thousand doctor's theses each year scarcely a dozen contain a real addition to knowledge. In too many cases a piece of research is simply a bid for notice. American universities are always on the watch for men who can do something as it should be done. Work is often done solely to arrest the attention of the university authorities. A professorship once gained, nothing more is heard of research. The love of novelty with the itch for writing often passes for the power of original research. The fanaticism for veracity has nothing in common with versatile writing or paradoxical cleverness. It took Darwin twenty-five years of the severest work before he could get his own leave to print his own conclusions. Other writers put forth sweeping generalizations as rapidly as their typewriters can take them from dictation. In certain works which have arrested popular attention, the investigations must have gone on at the highest speed attainable by the pen of the gifted author. Such work justifies Fechner's sarcastic phrase, 'cuckoo's eggs laid in the nest of science.'

The work of science is addressed to science, no matter if half a dozen generations pass before another investigator takes up the thread. The science of the newspapers is of quite another type, and so is much of the science of famous men from whom newspaper science derives its inspiration.

While the university on its human side is interested in all that touches the life of to-day, on the scientific side it deals with the eternal verities and cares nothing for those things which are merely local or timely.

The university must conduct research to ends of power. This it has hardly begun to do in America. Half our graduate students are not ready for anything to be called investigation. They are not real students of a real university. The graduate departments of our universities are now engaged almost exclusively in training teachers. That profession may be the noblest—where noble men make it so—but it is only one of many in which success must rest on original investigation. We are proud of our crop of Doctors of Philosophy, dozens or hundreds turned out every year. But most of them are trained only to teach, and we know that half of them are predestined to failure as college teachers. We must broaden our work and widen our sympathies. We must train men in the higher effectiveness in every walk in life, men of business as well as college instructors, statesmen as well as linguists, shipbuilders as well as mathematicians, men of action as well as men of thought. This means a great deal more than annual crops of Doctors of Philosophy to scramble for the few dozen vacant instructorships open year by year.

But with all these discouragements original research is the loftiest function of the university. In its consummate excellence is found the motive for its imitation. There is but one way in which a university can discharge this function. It can not give prizes for research. It can not stimulate it by means of publication, still less by hiring men to come to its walls to pursue it. The whole system of fellowships for advanced students is on trial with most of the evidence against it. The students paid to study are not the ones who do the work. When they are such they would have done the work unpaid. The fellowship system tends to turn science into almsgiving, to make the promising youth feel that the world owes him a living.

All these plans and others have been fairly tried in America. There is but one that succeeds. Only those who do original work will train others to do it. Where the teachers are themselves original investigators devoted to truth and skilful in the search for it,—men that can not be frightened, fatigued or discouraged,—they will have students like themselves. To work under such men, students like-minded will come from the ends of the earth. It is the part of the investigators to make the university as the teachers make the college. There never was a genuine university on any other terms. It is not conceivable that there should ever be one. It is not necessary that all departments should be equal to make the university real. It was enough at Harvard to have Agassiz and Gray, Lowell, Goodwin and Holmes to justify the name of the university. Silliman and Dana made a university of Yale. Such men are as rare as they are choice, and no university faculty was ever yet composed of them alone, and none ever yet had too many of them. President Gilman has wisely said:

In the conduct of a university secure the ablest men as professors regardless of all other qualifications excepting those of personal merit and adaptation to the chairs that are to be filled. Borrow if you cannot enlist. Give them freedom. Give them auxiliaries. Give them liberal support. Encourage them to come before the world of science and of letters with their publications. Bright students soon to be men of distinction will be their loyal followers and the world will say amen.

The merit of a university depends on the men who are called to conduct it, upon them absolutely if not exclusively, for although the teacher must have such auxiliaries as books and instruments, books are nothing but paper and ink until they are read, and instruments but brass and glass until craft and skill are applied to their handling.

But it is in its men that the real university has its real being. Through the work of such men it stands in the vanguard of civilization. By such men it counts the milestones in its course, and no trick of organization, no urging of the printing press, no subsidy of students can be made to take their place.

A final word as to the practical side of advanced research. Mr. Carnegie once ascribed the foundation of his great fortune to the fact that he first employed trained chemists where other manufacturers chose workmen skilled in making steel by rule of thumb. His chemists were able to suggest improvements. They devised ways of making better steel, cheaper still, and at the same time of utilizing the refuse or slag.

In the future the success of each great enterprise must depend on the improvements it makes. The nation successful in manufacture and commerce will be the one richest in labor-aiding devices. All these nust depend on the advancement of knowledge. Pure science must precede applied science.

Once the manufacturer or the nation could employ its chemists as it needed them. Now it must make them. The advancement of any branch of science depends on the mastery of what is known before. Everything easy and everything inexpensive has been found out. To train the chemist of the future, we need constantly finer instruments of precision for his advanced work; access to greater and greater libraries that he may know what is already done, for each generation of scientific workers must stand on the shoulders of those gone before, else it can make no progress beyond them. The scholars of to-day would be helpless were it not that they can save time by drawing freely on the accumulated knowledge of the past.

To learn the elements of any science costs little. It can be learned at one end of a log with a great teacher on the other. It can be even learned without a teacher. But to master a science so as to extend its boundaries—this is quite another thing. More than a man can earn in a lifetime it costs to make a start—for this reason a university which provides means for such work is a very costly establishment; for this reason the investigator of the future must depend on the university. The nation with the best equipped universities will furnish the best trained men. On the universities the progress in manufactures and commerce must depend. Through the superiority of training Germany is passing England in the commercial world in spite of her handicaps of position and history. Through the excellence of her universities, without most of these handicaps, America is likely to excel both Germany and England.

As men of science are needed, they can not make themselves. Those with power can help them.-This fact has given the impulse to the far reaching gifts of Stanford, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Rhodes. These are not gifts but investments, put to the credit of the country's future. The people too have power. The same feeling of investment has led them to build their state universities and to entrust to them not only the work of personal culture, but of advancement in literature, science and arts. With general culture and professional training must go the advancement of knowledge, the progress of society, through the advancement of the wisdom and the power of man.