Popular Science Monthly/Volume 69/November 1906/University Control






By Professor J. J. STEVENSON


AMPLE justification for further consideration of problems connected with university control exists in the vastness of the interests concerned. The commissioner of education, in his last report, states that in the United States there are 607 colleges and universities, with almost 22,000 instructors and approximately 118,000 students; with property, real and personal, valued at $465,000,000 and an income in 1901 of $40,000,000. All recognize that the management of our colleges and universities as purely business enterprises is almost beyond reproach; but there is no such consensus of opinion respecting the administration of the trust itself, many believing that this is wasteful and inefficient, while some seem ready to assert that good faith has not been kept toward donors, many of whom had no definite conception of the work for which their money was given, but had confidence in the wisdom, integrity and qualifications of those to whom they entrusted the gifts.

The American university is a corporation managed by a board of trustees, often self-perpetuating, which, according to the state law, controls all details of management. The vast material interests have made necessary a separation of business affairs from those of educational work and control over the latter has been concentrated in the hands of a president, who gradually became director of the whole organization, determining not only its educational policy, but also, in not a few instances, dominating even the financial affairs. The arguments justifying this evolution are plausible. Experience shows that in every organization, left to itself, some one man, through native force, gains control. University trustees should not permit this matter to adjust itself as the one, thus gaining control, might be swayed by wrong motives or might be ill-balanced—in either case injury would come. Far better for the trustees to select some man of all-around fitness and to recognize him as the responsible head. Acting on this principle, trustees appoint as responsible president one who from their standpoint possesses the necessary qualifications and make him practically attorney in fact for the board, giving him free hand in all departments of the work.

Advantages of the American Plan

That this procedure is good appears at once by comparison of conditions prior to the civil war with those at this time. In the earlier days, when the autocratic system existed only in germ, the resources of colleges and universities were small and increased slowly. Buildings, for the most part, were uninviting and students were few. The faculties, in most cases, were small but made up of strong men, faithful teachers, fruitful investigators. Salaries were modest, but the social conditions were equally modest, and the professor's position made up in honor what it lacked in pecuniary reward. The equipment, even in what are now great universities, was insignificant; a professor desiring to make investigations in physics or chemistry, either purchased or manufactured the necessary apparatus, while another, pursuing special studies in any branch of literature, spent his savings in gathering material. Too often the college provided rooms for teaching, the instructor provided the rest. Yet it must be conceded that the colleges did admirable work. They imparted not a great deal of knowledge, for the courses were very narrow, but there was a system in the training which sharpened many a dull intellect and made the already sharp intellect keener. The purpose confessedly was not to impart knowledge, but to train the intellect, to fit the man for professional study.

All was changed after the civil war. The material needs of the country demanded opportunity for a new type of training, adapted to the needs of men with wholly different aims. This required chiefly the imparting of knowledge with intellectual training as subordinate; not cultural studies, but studies in applied knowledge. Technical or semi-technical schools were established, and wealthy business men, on their own initiative, gave vast sums for such schools. To retain their place, the universities quickly developed along the same lines, placing technical schools alongside of those for law and medicine. This work of expansion was placed in charge of the president, who, under pressure of the new responsibilities, soon ceased to be teacher and became merely administrative officer. The splendid results of this policy are visible everywhere in all departments of our universities. Instead of simple factory-like buildings, imposing fireproof buildings surround the campus, which, in its turn, is no longer a grass plot, mowed two or three times a year, but a beautiful park; the library building is a credit to the architect and the shelves are well filled; the gymnasium is usually a noble building, a proof of anxiety for the physical well-being of students; the laboratories are equipped elegantly and abundantly; the museums are impressive; the mechanical workshops are marvels of completeness; students, in the old as well as in the new courses, formerly counted by scores are counted now by hundreds, and the number of instructors has increased proportionately; in material resources, the unit is no longer tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars; the gifts to educational institutions during the last forty years make a sum so vast as to be almost incredible. The history of college growth in material resources during the last four decades is like a leaf from the Arabian Nights and Aladdin's lamp seems no longer a fairy tale. This history tells, too, of devotion and suffering on the part of some college presidents as noble as that of the early martyrs, and deserving a measure of honor which will never be given, as theirs was the day of 'small things.'

Disadvantages of the American Plan

But all this is only one side of the picture, that which presents itself to a merely casual observer; it is the purely material side. There is another side, not so patent in some of its aspects, yet so apparent in others that even the newspaper humorist, that most casual of observers, has not failed to detect and to utilize it. The thoughtful observer, familiar in some degree with matters of education, is led soon to doubt if, in this great development, the interests of education have been regarded as paramount. He asks respecting endowments, and learns, not altogether to his amazement, that in the rush they have been overlooked; and he may learn too that by the acquisition of buildings, the available resources of the college have been lessened, as both giver and receiver failed to provide for maintenance; he may discover also that in carrying out plans of one sort or another, obligations were assumed before means were secured to meet them. It is wise to examine the other side somewhat minutely.

Effect on the Trustees.—On one hand, the growth of financial interests has made compulsory the appointment of successful business men to the boards, while the urgency for additional funds has led to selection of men very prominent in all callings—extremely busy men. On the other hand, the extraordinary growth, internally, of the colleges and universities has made no longer possible for the trustee that familiar acquaintance with professors and with the departmental needs which he ought to have. Ordinarily, one finds in a board two or three members who become so attached to some school or department as to give genuine attention to its affairs and who do gain much information respecting it; but most of the others have no leisure, or think they have none. To make this isolation complete, there is no official communication with the faculties except through the president, for cases are very rare in which the faculties have representatives in or before the board of trustees. Unfamiliar with educational affairs, unacquainted with the needs of the college under their care, too often without personal knowledge of the professors or their qualifications, these trustees select a president. Recognizing their inability to perform the duties devolving upon them under the law, they practically transfer their responsibilities to their appointee, and thereafter their principal function seems to be simple legalization of his acts. Although the average trustee of to-day is a far abler man than his predecessor of a generation ago, circumstances have made him far less efficient as trustee; in too many instances he is director in name only and many men seem to assume the office with as little sense of responsibility as though they were to be directors in a corporation of which one man holds a controlling interest. The creature has become greater than his creator and the board of trustees has lost even its old-time efficiency as 'a pipe-line for shekels.'

Effect on the President.—Formerly, the president was to all intents simply a professor with some additional responsibilities for which he received additional remuneration. But the president of this day is very different. His duties have been summed up recently by Dr. A. S. Draper, and the catalogue as given is sufficiently interesting to deserve at least partial reproduction. The president must

see that the property is cared for; that the teachers are efficient; that proper men are found to fill the chairs; that the institution's work is organized properly; that the resources are assigned rightly to the several departments

Decide the lines along which the institution should develop; uphold proper ideals and make them attractive to real men—old and young; be forehanded and peer into the future; initiate policies; puncture fallacious logic and much of it; augment the resources of the institution; make the whole efficient for increasing service; manage and guide students, who must be dealt with individually; construct as well as administer; declare the best university opinion concerning popular movements and serious interests of the state; connect the university with the life of the multitude; exert university influence for quickening and guiding public opinion; be able to work harmoniously with others;

but he must work out his official course for himself.

As Dr. Draper is not speaking of the small college with one hundred students, no one will be disposed to dispute his assertion that the position calls for a rare man. It may be added that a board of trustees competent to make intelligent choice of this rare man would be composed of still rarer men. If they should be fortunate enough to find him they could not keep him, for such ability is in demand, and some life insurance company would soon offer him several times the salary for a small fraction of the work. Undoubtedly Dr. Draper has summarized the requirements as they are idealized in some minds and no doubt there are men who feel assured that he has described the work they actually do, the whole work of the trustees as well as the whole internal work of the institution aside from teaching. Beyond all question, there are those who attempt this. But appointments are not made on the basis of this rare, broad qualification. The only question is as to the candidate's ability to meet the requirement which the board thinks most urgent—usually one which in the list seems to be of rather secondary importance. And one may not censure the board for this. As the number of colleges is far beyond the country's needs, financial stringency is ordinarily the only requirement with which the trustee is familiar. The selection, as a rule, is not made because the candidate is qualified to control an educational institution, but rather without any reference to that matter. As a rule the appointee is not a teacher. He is apt to entertain great respect for education and none too much for educating or educators.

The newly-appointed president may or may not have an ideal—that is unimportant. He finds quickly, except in some of the older universities, that the board of trustees has an ideal; that board expects a commercial success, more money, more students. The president's path is marked out for him; he is not to be successor to Hopkins, Witherspoon or Day; he is to be a wandering mendicant, exposed to rebuffs and disappointments of the most galling type; he is to feel that prospective heirs look on him as attempting to rob the widow and orphan. However sharply one may assert that the president's office, as it now exists, is an injury to higher education, he must recognize the heroic sense of duty which prevents so many presidents from abandoning their posts.

The most serious matter in this connection is the complete alienation of the president from the work of teaching. In the smaller institutions, where he is still professor of some branch of philosophy, his work as teacher is wholly subordinate to that as traveling collector of funds. In the larger universities, teaching is impossible, and the president is simply managing officer of a great corporation, with buttons on his desk which keep him in touch with managers of departments. His work is purely administrative, and in the very nature of the case he comes to regard all within the corporation's range as his subordinates. If he have had thorough training as a college professor, it is possible for him to retain some touch with the educational side; but if, as is usually the case, he have had no such training, his interest in educational matters is apt to become purely academic. And such a condition is fully in accord with the popular notion respecting the president's duties; the position needs a man of great executive capacity, great energy, magnetic personality, capable of keeping himself in public view, so as to advertise the university, to attract students and to increase the resources. Recently a new president was chosen for a promising young college. Interviews with trustees and others appeared promptly in the newspapers stating that with this man's magnetism, the institution will have a million dollars and a thousand students within ten years—not a word about education or elevation of grade. A notable illustration is the frequent reference to President Roosevelt as the proper successor to President Eliot of Harvard—though every thoughtful man at all familiar with university needs and objects must recognize that President Roosevelt, with all his remarkable ability, has not the qualifications required for control of a university, large or small.

Yet this officer, becoming every year less and less fitted to preside over educational affairs, becomes each year more firmly fixed as autocrat, for, if at all successful in raising money, he. soon develops into the administration. The trustees may be restless, when ignored, but that is unimportant, for they know very little about the institution, while ordinarily the trespass upon their prerogative is so gradual that no new advance is sufficient to justify decisive action. The president, originally a lawyer, clergyman or business man, has sole power over appointments of professors, over the fixing of their salaries and over the curriculum itself, for he may establish a new chair at any time. It is not too much to say that the office of college president, as it exists in most of our colleges and universities, is the great menace to higher education in America.

Effect on the professors.—The all-essential portion of the university is the teaching staff; it does the work for which the college or university was founded; all other portions of the organization, trustees, president and 'what not' were intended for the encouragement and strengthening of this staff. Under the American system, the relations have been reversed.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt to convince the community that college professors are singularly child-like in simplicity and in lack of business capacity. One president has dilated on the unworldliness of college professors, and has left the impression that he thinks low salaries not altogether bad as they tend to encourage high thinking and indifference to worldly affairs. Another describes the ideal trustee in glowing terms, he stands transfixed while contemplating the majesty of the president, but in the professors he finds only material for ridicule. Teachers as a rule are impractical; faculty meetings seem to be but burlesques, and he clinches his description of unfitness by the broad assertion that faculties can not be entrusted with the selection of professors. In reading such statements one can not repress amazement that men so efficient as many college professors are in executive work, in political affairs, in corporations of many types, should lose all as soon as they come into contact with their life's work. At the same time he finds comfort in remembering that some important colleges in this country exist to-day only because professors assumed the business burden when trustees had thrown it down in despair; and he can not forget that the most successful presidents, judged even from the ordinary standpoint of success, were chosen from the faculties of the colleges over which they preside. One is at least safe in asserting that the training of college professors in business matters is quite equal to that of men in the clerical profession, from which so many college presidents have been selected.

Both trustees and presidents act on the principle that professors need guardians. The college faculties, especially, are practically ignored; little by little their authority has been curtailed until now it extends little beyond the class-room. In some of the larger institutions, faculties no longer choose their officers. Faculty meetings in some departments are unimportant affairs, and professors attend them as they perform other unimportant things, because they are on the list of duties. Certainly the meetings are characterized by pointless discussions, but this is due to the presiding officer, the president himself or his representative, who lets go his hold on the tiller and leaves the craft to wander at will. But there is no reason why the discussions should be other than aimless; decisions carry no weight except in matters wholly insignificant. The board of trustees in its innocence is available to correct any erroneous decision. Professor Jastrow refers to a case in which the faculty was informed that its action was a matter of indifference, that the trustees would decide the matter as the president wished. The writer has learned of another case in which the faculty received no such preliminary information, but was permitted to waste its energies in long and careful consideration of a proposition involving an important principle. Not many days after the decision was reached, the faculty was called together to receive information that their action had been overslaughed by the trustees. How much interest or importance should attach to faculty meetings is not difficult to comprehend.

Some newspapers have much to say respecting subordination of professors to millionaires who have given large sums to colleges. The writer has found none of this among professors and he has yet to find the giver who has shown desire to meddle with 'professorial freedom.' But there is a subordination which the writer knows leads young men to despise the professor's calling, leads them, in Mr. Monroe's words, to look with scorn upon a calling in which the individual is annihilated. The president, too often a graduate from one of the narrowest courses in college, too often belonging for much of his later life to a dogmatic profession, has power to make and does make appointments on his own motion to chairs in literature, philosophy as well as in pure and applied science; he controls promotions and salaries; the professors are subordinate to him individually as the faculties are collectively. Young men, knowing the conditions, refuse to enter the calling; others, ignorant of them, spend years in preparation and enter the calling only to find, when too late to escape, that their ideal was as a will o' the wisp.

The assertion is made that, were it not for this control, professors would become perfunctory in their work. Some kind of control is needed even for the best of men that matters be not at loose ends, but it should be intelligent to be efficient. A successful business man, an eminent lawyer, a great clergyman, would not prove efficient as superintendent of a shop for grinding microscope lenses or for manufacturing chronometers. And if occasionally he expressed opinions belittling the skill required for the work or showed preference for quantity rather than for quality of work, his control would be of doubtful value. This is a condition in too many colleges, with the result that the president is on one side, the faculty on the other, with nothing but distrust in common.

It is strange that so few college professors become perfunctory in their work. They receive little personal recognition. If they exert themselves to build up the library, museum or apparatus, if they induce an acquaintance to give an endowment, all these are so many packages thrown into the president's basket of achievements. Their services are not acknowledged even in a material way. Their salaries are petty; the salary of a rowing coach in a great university is larger than that of an assistant professor who has done efficient work for many years; in case of urgent deficit, the first relief suggested is in reduction of the professors' salaries. In other professions, experience and efficiency lead to promotion; in this other matters prevail, and too often a young man, untried, is appointed at higher salary than that received by older men of well-ascertained efficiency. It is surprising that so few men come to share the apparent opinion of president, trustees and many students that their work is of only incidental importance. Yet there is no reason why college professors should be more transcendental than other men.

These statements may seem strange to many persons of wealth. The needs of the 'poor self-denying professor' are exploited so frequently by college presidents in their appeals to generously-inclined people that the 'poor professor' is almost a byword. In truth the professor is often poor enough, but he is not guilty of exploiting his poverty or of seeking praise for self-abnegation. In any event, he has profited little from large gifts, which too often take the shape of buildings, thereby increasing the running expenses and endangering the already too small salaries. There is, indeed, sign of awakening conscience, for one day last summer it was announced that a college had received a considerable sum of money and that the salaries would be increased at once. Harvard has received a great sum, whose income is to be devoted solely to endowment; while the presidents of two other great universities have announced that increase of salaries is the most urgent need. It must be remembered, however, that these universities are in large cities, where the salaries, though counting large in dollars, have comparatively small purchasing power. Five thousand dollars in New York city is actually less than two thousand in many a college town, while two thousand dollars in that city means living in conditions incredibly narrow to dwellers in villages. This matter of salary is, however, relatively unimportant. The all important matter for consideration is the insignificant position of the professor in the organism of which he is the all-important element. These words are written with due deliberation. During his almost forty years of service, the writer has seen the gradual evolution of the president in American colleges and the resulting decadence of the professor.

Effect on Higher Education.—The American university is a great business corporation, conducted on business principles. The sense of ownership is as marked in president and trustees as though the corporation had been formed to make drugs or to build ships and they held all the stock. Within a few months, we have seen the spectacle of two educational corporations endeavoring to unite their properties under one control, though the faculties were opposed to the union. Intervention by the courts was necessary to prevent consummation of the deal. A few years earlier, negotiations of somewhat similar character were conducted between two other institutions, without any reference whatever to the faculties' opinion—properly enough, too, if, as stated by one of the trustees, the professors are merely employees of the corporation. The justification for such procedure is that men outside of boards of instruction see things from a higher plane than do those inside. One must refrain from commenting on this plea.

The anxiety to have the corporation do a big business makes number of matriculants quite as important, to say the least, as the character of instructors or instruction. Summer schools, at first mere incidents, are now recognized parts of several universities, and even modest colleges are not without them. They are important, affording opportunity for instruction in all subjects from Greek up or down to kitchen-gardening and dancing, affording great opportunity for cultivating the social side and adding notably to the list of matriculants. Appendages affording side passages to degrees are as welcome as summer schools, as they benefit a worthy class and add to the matriculant list. The correspondence school has not gained full recognition, but the importance of the others justifies the hope of its founders. This type of expansion has been at the expense of efficiency. New schools, new courses, are added, the catalogue becomes more bulky each year, but the number of instructors is increased in small proportion. The instructors become mere lesson-hearers. In one institution, professors offer twenty to thirty-one hours a week of actual class-room work in various schools. How much energy remains for genuine study is not difficult to determine. One need not wonder that college professors no longer lead in investigation and discovery. This anxiety for bigness has led to the prominence of semi-professional athletics, to the lowering of standards that college champions may 'get through,' to the lowering of ideals and even of morals. A student expressed well the general sentiment of his class when Columbia took its stand against certain forms of athletics—"What is Columbia coming to anyway? It's going to be nothing but an educational factory."

Conceding all that is claimed for the present system, the question still remains, Has the gain equalled the cost?

No candid man, who has examined the subject carefully, who has studied many colleges, will answer the question affirmatively. It matters not how firmly he is attached to the present system, he must acknowledge that the results, from an educator's standpoint, are not commensurate with the expenditures—more, that in some directions it has led to positive waste. If one look over a pile of college catalogues from different parts of the country, he will find whole broods of academies masquerading as colleges, even as universities, with one twentieth to one fourth of their pupils taking college studies, with a long list of teachers, with a president traveling over the country, prating on the advantage of the 'small college,' pleading the cause of the 'poor professor' and working on denominational prejudice to make good the annual deficit of which his salary and traveling expenses form a large part. There is something wrong in a system which creates a public sentiment such as permits a half-million dollar gymnasium or an immense stadium for semi-professional intercollegiate contests to be heralded as a gift to education; that receives gifts for scholarships and fellowships with as much acclaim as gifts for endowments; that points to piles of masonry and to mere lists of matriculants as proofs of success, that places the college on the basis of the shop and proves economy of management by showing as many clerks as possible on a minimum of expenditure. As far as true educational work is concerned, it is not too much too say that a very large part of the gifts might as well as not have been withheld.

Suggestions Looking to Reform

As has been said many times respecting other matters, things have reached such a pass that a change for the better must come soon. But the change will not come of itself, it must be brought about. Some have suggested that there be frequent consultations of college presidents; others, that the presidents and representatives of boards should meet for conference. But there is no promise of relief in such suggestions; whatever of promise there is looks rather toward making matters worse. There is no possibility of change for the better until there is full recognition in practise of the academically undisputed fact that the university in its essence is educational, all else about it being purely incidental. With this will come recognition of another fact, that no one should be entrusted with the executive duties of a university or college unless he have had as thorough training for the post as that required of bank presidents. It will be recognized also that choice of this executive officer should be made by those whose special training has fitted them to judge respecting the qualifications of a candidate. A board of clergymen and college professors, no matter how eminent they might be, would not be thought competent to select a president for one of our great banks. Even before recognition of these facts, men should see that no return to a proper ideal is possible so long as the whole policy of a university is dictated by one man. Recent explosions in the business world have proved this true for commercial corporations; it is equally true for educational corporations, more important than the others, in that their influence is not local and temporary.

The teaching staff must be recognized as the all-important part of the institution, for whose support and encouragement all other parts exist. The presidential wedge, now constantly widening the gap between the business and the educational interests, must be removed and the gap closed. The business man and the teacher must be brought into contact, the inevitable result being, as Mr. Monroe has said, great profit to both.

The organization of many universities is so complex that genuine re-adjustment can not be effected rapidly and a modus vivendi is necessary during the interval. This is possible with merely statutory changes. Faculties should elect their own officers. No change in the curriculum or assignments, no subdivision of chairs or creation of new ones should be made except upon recommendation of a committee for each faculty, consisting of trustees appointed by the board and of professors elected by the faculty concerned. Equally, no appointment to the teaching staff should be made except upon recommendation by the same committee. In respect to matters affecting the relations of two or more faculties, the trustees should act only on the recommendation of a senate consisting of the deans and a representative elected by each faculty. All faculty elections should be by ballot without previous open nomination.

But this is merely palliative; organic change is necessary to secure permanency.

Edinburgh university, burdened during a long period by unintelligent control, gained freedom after a severe struggle in which the faculties were led by Sir William Hamilton. The conflicting interests were so many that reorganization was a much more complicated problem than that for our universities. The corporate body of the university is the university court, answering to the American board of trustees, as it has final control over all matters, except appointment to certain chairs, which are under patronage. A general council, consisting of certain officers, the professors and such alumni as have paid, once for all, a stipulated fee, elects a chancellor and four members of the university court. The chancellor is not a member of the court but appoints a representative. All acts of the court involving organic change must receive his sanction, but aside from this he seems to have no serious responsibility. The Senatus Academicus, consisting of the professors, elects four of its own number to the court; the individual faculties elect their own officers and control their internal affairs, subject to appeal to the court. The matriculated students elect a rector, who is presiding officer of the court, to which he appoints a member. The Town Council of Edinburgh elects one member of the court and a principal, whose chief duty is to preside at meetings of the senatus. There are some other regulations due to peculiar conditions surrounding the university, but they are immaterial here. Under this new system, the resources of the university have increased enormously, the courses of instruction have ceased to be medieval, while the number of students, in spite of constantly increasing severity of requirements, has multiplied several fold. This method has the merit of utilizing to the best degree all groups connected with the university, while the faculties are brought into close touch with each other and with all matters affecting university interests.

Many suggestions have been made with especial view to American conditions. Professor Cattell has summarized these, making important additions of his own. The essential features of his presentation are:

The corporation should consist of professors, alumni and members of the community—in the case of a state university, the people should elect part of the corporation; trustees, chosen by this corporation to care for the secular affairs, should elect a chancellor and a treasurer. The professors should elect a president, a man with expert knowledge of education and university administration, whose salary, dignity and powers should be similar to those of individual professors. The university should be divided into schools as units, each of which should elect its dean and executive committee and should nominate men to fill vacancies. These nominations should be subject to approval by a board of advisers, consisting of professors from the school concerned, from related schools and from outside of the university; but final election should be by the university senate, and subject to veto by the trustees. Each school should have educational as well as financial autonomy and its property should be a trust fund for its benefit. Representatives from all schools should be elected to a senate, which should legislate for the university as a whole and should be co-ordinate with the trustees.

Reorganization along the lines of either method would bring about the desired result. The faculty's influence would pervade the whole institution and the work throughout would be directed to educational ends.

Undoubtedly were such changes effected others would come about. In all probability, catalogues, for a time, would show a decreased number of matriculants and possibly the total of benefactions reported to the commissioner of education would be diminished seriously. The writer has long believed with Professor Jastrow that decrease in benefactions and in the number of matriculants would not be serious evils. While the number of matriculants might be less, the proportion of students would be more and while the total of benefactions might be less, the amount devoted to genuine educational work would be more. The number of colleges might be reduced—certainly no calamity. Many so-called colleges, described by the editor of a prominent religious paper as academies with a college annex, might disappear. As academies with a few teachers, they could pay their way—with their petty college annex, they have a deficit. These gone, there would be relief to the generously-inclined; and a great amount of money, no longer wasted on them, would be available for other purposes.

  1. Articles bearing upon this subject have appeared recently by Presidents Draper and Pritchett in the Atlantic Monthly, by Mr. J. B. Monroe and Professor Jastrow in Science, by Professor Cattell in Science and the Independent, and by Professor Stevenson in the Popular Science Monthly, all of which have been utilized in preparation of this article.