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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 73/July 1908/The Progress of Science

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 73‎ | July 1908

PSM V73 D096 Edwin Ray Lankester.jpg
Sir Edwin Ray Lankester
Who has recently retired from the directorship ot the British Museum of Natural History


Recent events at Syracuse, Cincinnati and Oklahoma direct attention to the anomalous conditions of university control that obtain in this country. Elsewhere throughout the world the university is a republic of scholars, administered by them. Here it is a business corporation. The ultimate control is lodged in a board of absentee trustees, whose chief duty is the election of a president. The qualifications most regarded in the president are the ability to get money for the institution and a good presence at public functions; but he is expected to "run" the university. The professors and instructors are employed "at the pleasure of the trustees," and so long as the president maintains his position this means at his pleasure. Advances in salary or position, appropriations for apparatus, etc., are subject to the same pleasure. In larger institutions the department-store system naturally grows up. Deans and heads of departments are responsible to the president, and their subordinates are responsible to them.

As a matter of fact, men are not dominated by governments and laws, but conversely. In a great university, such as Harvard, courtesy and consideration do not fail. In the smaller colleges, there is the spirit of the family. So long as the best men are found at our colleges and universities, it may not matter greatly under what system of academic government they live. But there is real danger that the existing system may prove repulsive to men of the highest intelligence and character, and that mediocrity and time-serving may be developed, where we need the most vigorous ability and independence. Then we have occasional i academic scandals which exhibit the seamy side of the system.

At Syracuse University the chancellor did not like the dean of the School of Applied Science, and has dismissed him, giving no grounds except that he had. been a disappointment to the administration. However this may be, it appears that the dean has conducted the affairs of his school with skill, and has the sympathies of his colleagues at Syracuse and in the engineering profession, of the students: and the alumni. A competent engineer can earn far more by practising his profession than as a professor, and the Syracuse dean has not been forced to sacrifice his independence to feed his children. He has consequently conducted a good public fight, which will doubtless lead to an improvement of affairs at Syracuse and elsewhere. The Syracuse chancellor has written: "Our professors have nothing to do with the hiring, continuing or dismissing of professors and students." But when Syracuse recently needed a professor of botany, men looked askance at the position, and the same thing will happen now when the deanship of the school of engineering must be filled. Neither the largest stadium in the world, nor a chancellor who is a methodist orator, nor a president of a board of trustees, whose corporation controls the kerosine of the country, suffices to make a university.

At the University of Cincinnati there was a few years ago a deplorable state of affairs. A president was brought there to dismiss a large part of the faculty and then he was in turn dismissed. Now the head of the department of philosophy has been dismissed because his family relations are not approved. It is not alleged that he is immoral, and it is admitted that he is a good teacher and an able investigator, but his conduct and opinions are said to be subversive of the family. Whatever may be the merits of the case, the administrative methods do not show to advantage.

In the new state of Oklahoma "the best constitution in the world" has not provided an ideal educational system. Indeed the conditions approach opera bouffe too nearly to be taken quite seriously. The head of the state university, the heads of the normal schools and of other institutions have been dismissed and supplanted by southern democrats. At the university the question appears to be not whether a professor is an able teacher and investigator, but whether he is a good southern methodist and democrat, who does not dance. Such conditions are transient. The danger is that methods which can not be approved in politics and business may obtain such footing in our universities that they will no longer be centers of democratic individualism and of intellectual and moral leadership.



Uriah A. Boyden, a Boston inventor and engineer who died in 1879, bequeathed property valued at over $230,000 for "the establishment and maintenance of an astronomical observatory on some mountain peak at such an elevation as to be free, so far as practicable, from the impediments to accurate observations which occur in the observatories now existing, owing to atmospheric influences." The fund was transferred by the trustees named in the will to the Harvard College Observatory, which carried out the provisions by the establishment of the Arequippa Observatory in Peru. An illustrated account of this mountain observatory and of the researches that have been undertaken there was contributed to a recent volume of the Monthly by the director, Professor Solon I. Bailey. Prior to the foundation of the Arequippa Observatory in 1891, several expeditions were sent out to determine the conditions that would best fulfil the terms of Mr. Boyden's will, and an account of this preliminary work has just been published in "The Annals of the Harvard College

PSM V73 D098 Pike peak observatory station.png

Station at Pike's Peak.

PSM V73 D099 Station at mount wilson.png

Station at Mt. Wilson.

Observatory,' by Professor William H. Pickering.

The first expedition was to the summit of Pikes Peak, in 1887, where at an altitude of 14,200 feet, there was a stone hut erected, by the U. S. Signal Service. Observations were made for a month, and it was concluded that altitude was not as important a factor in "the seeing" as dryness. In the following year an expedition went to California and erected a pier and a building with a revolving drum on Mt. Wilson at an altitude of 5,700 feet. This observatory was occupied for more than a year, and the definition was found to be good. There was, however, some question as to the title of the land and there were advantages in selecting a location for the observation of southern stars. As Mr. Bailey had reported favorably on the Peruvian climate, the next expedition was sent there, and the Mt. Wilson site was abandoned. It has since been occupied by the buildings and fine instruments of the Solar Observatory of the Carnegie Institution.

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Station at Jamaica.

The expedition to Peru arrived in Arequippa at the beginning of 1891, and a site for the observatory was selected on the crest of a ridge about 300 feet above the city. Here was erected an observatory in which there have been carried forward under the direction of Professor Bailey important observations on the southern stars.

After working in the observatory established by Professor Lowell in Arizona, Professor W. H. Pickering concluded that neither dryness nor altitude is the important factor affecting the quality of the seeing, and, in order to study the problem further, an expedition to Jamaica was undertaken in 1899, where observations were made at several stations from the sea-level to an altitude of 2,300 feet. In a second Jamaica expedition the following year a horizontal telescope, with an 18-inch mirror and 15-inch lens, was erected at Mandeville.

Professor Pickering concludes that elevation above the sea-level gives somewhat better definition, especially towards the horizon, and avoids dust and haze. A dry climate has advantages in its freedom from dew, cloud and fog, but does not give better definition than one that is moist. A low latitude has three advantages: The definition is better, the bodies to be observed pass near the zenith and a larger portion of the heavens is brought into view.



On the invitation of Dartmouth College the American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold a special meeting at Hanover, N. H., from June 29 to July 3. The American Physical Society and the Geological Society of America will meet with the association, and regular programs will be arranged only in physics and in geology. There will, however, be public lectures and numerous interesting excursions, and those able to attend may look forward to a pleasant visit to a typical New England college under the most favorable conditions. The railways offer rates of a fare and a third on the certificate plan, and excellent local arrangements are assured for the entertainment of visitors. Many members regret the transfer of the annual meeting of the association from the summer to the winter. It is certainly true that the large meetings in a city are likely to sacrifice the social pleasures to business efficiency and to neglect one of the main objects of the association—the diffusion of science. A meeting such as this at Hanover should be attractive to those who wish to meet their colleagues amid pleasant surroundings, and to those not professionally engaged in scientific work but interested in it. Men and women of this class are especially welcomed to the present summer meeting and may feel free to attend without being elected in advance to membership. Those who go are certain to find the meeting both pleasant and useful.



We record with regret the deaths of Dr. Heinrich Maschke, professor of mathematics in the University of Chicago; of M. Albert de Lapparent, the eminent French geologist; of Dr. K. Möbius, professor of zoology at Berlin, and of Dr. Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp, eminent for his researches in organic chemistry.

The house of representatives concurring with the senate and by a unanimous vote, has granted an annuity for life of $125 a month to the widows of the late Major James Carroll, surgeon, U. S. army, and the late acting assistant surgeon, Jesse W. Lazear, whose lives were sacrificed in the study of yellow fever in Cuba.