Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/July 1911/University Standards and Student Activities
|UNIVERSITY STANDARDS AND STUDENT ACTIVITIES|
By ORRIN LESLIE ELLIOTT
REGISTRAR, STANFORD UNIVERSITY
IN a recent address before the Stanford Forum Professor Barrows made reference to the current criticism and depreciation of the American college. This criticism may be summed up in the statement that the college does not make good. Its output is woefully disappointing. Its business is to prepare young men and women for effective living in their time and place, to equip them for the responsibilities and duties which every generation in turn must meet and discharge if the standards of civilization are to be maintained and pushed forward. The charge is that college graduates do not meet the test; they do not measure up to the requirements; they are deficient in those very qualities which the higher education is supposed especially to nurture.
Professor Barrows would frankly accept the situation: the fact is mainly true; the explanation is that too much has been expected of the college. College students are too immature. As one goes about the campus i J is groups of boys and girls that he meets, full of the playtime spirit, not taking learning seriously, their minds filled with games and social functions. Better recognize that it is so, consider the college period as an extension of the playground, and not expect of it equipment for the serious part of life.
Professor Barrows was holding a brief for the graduate school, whose function should be, as he conceived it, to do exactly what it is unreasonable to expect of the undergraduate college. That point I do not wish to follow. But that which Professor Barrows passed off carelessly as an added argument for the graduate school may well be the object of further inquiry. If it is true that the college has failed there is something pathetic in the situation thus presented; because education is the one thing to which democracy has pinned its faith. And the outward progress of education has been all and more than its wildest enthusiasts could have dreamed. From kindergarten to university the wealth of the state has been poured out, and the state's bounty supplemented by unparalleled private munificence, until the highest education is within reach of the humblest youth in the land. Within a single generation, while population has increased but a hundred per cent., the attendance upon institutions of higher education has increased four hundred per cent. The expansion in secondary education has been no less significant. In 1880 there were no four-year high schools in the United States, and the whole number of secondary schools, public and private, was only 1,400. In 1907 the number had risen to 10,238, an increase of over 700 per cent. And the modern high-school course comprehends a broader training than was given by the college of fifty years ago! Everything would seem to be prepared for college work of the highest efficiency.
By common admission, quite the contrary is the case. Different colleges are differently affected, but the same virus has found its way to all. "The college has lost its definiteness of aim," says ex-President Woodrow Wilson. "There is-no question," affirms Mr. Flexner, "that the college is under fire. . . . The college faces the new and unforeseen problems rather helplessly. It is bewildered. . . . Unless I greatly err, the college has already lost a trick or two." "Notwithstanding the enormous improvement and growth in machinery, plant and facilities of our colleges," declares Mr. Birdseye, "their methods and systems are archaic and the average of their product—from the point of good workmanship—has decidedly deteriorated." "The important thing "—I quote from Flexner's "American College"—"is to realize that the American college is deficient, and unnecessarily deficient, alike in earnestness and in pedagogical intelligence; that in consequence our college students are, and for the most part, emerge, flighty, superficial, and immature, lacking, as a class, concentration, seriousness and thoroughness. . . . A youth may win his degree on a showing that would in an office cost him his desk." There is "on the one side a formidable array of scholars and scientists, libraries, laboratories, publications; on the other, a large miscellaneous student body, marked by an immense sociability on a commonplace basis and wide-spread absorption in trivial and boyish interests. How are we to account for the disparity? Clearly the college fails to enlist a respectable portion of the youth's total energy in intellectual effort; either its sincerity or its pedagogical intelligence is discredited by the occupations and diversions which it finds not incompatible with its standards and expectations." "So far as the colleges are concerned," says Professor Münsterberg, "one imperative change stands in the center of every platform: scholarship must receive a more dignified standing in the eyes of the undergraduates. . . . So long as the best human material in our colleges considers it as more or less below its level to exert effort on its studies; so long as it gladly leaves the high marks to the second-rate grinds, and considers it the part of a real gentleman to spend four years with work done well enough not to be dismissed, and poorly enough never to excel, there is something vitally wrong in the academic atmosphere." President Lowell, in a recent address before the University Convocation at Albany, said: "It requires little familiarity with students to recognize that they not only regard the athlete or the man of social prominence as a far more promising personality than the high scholar, but that rank itself is in their minds little or no indication whatever of the qualities that make for success in life. This feeling seems to have been progressive, as is shown by the very words used to indicate the student who works hard. A generation ago he was called a 'grind,' but now he is often referred to as a 'greasy grind,' the adjective, of course, being used to denote contempt. In fact, it may be doubted whether the respect for scholarship has ever been so low in any institution of learning as it is in American colleges at the present day." We may listen also to the breezy catalogue of our neighbor, Professor Gayley. Speaking of the college student, he says: "What with so-called 'college activities,' by which he must prove his allegiance to the university, and social functions by which he must recreate his jaded soul, no margin is left for the one and only college activity—which is study. Class meetings, business meetings, committee meetings, editorial meetings, football rallies, vicarious athletics on the bleachers, garrulous athletics in dining room and parlor and on the porch, rehearsals of the glee club, rehearsals of the mandolin club and of the banjo, rehearsals for dramatics, college dances and class banquets, fraternity dances and suppers, preparations for the dances and banquets, more committees for the preparations; a running up and down the campus for ephemeral items for ephemeral articles in ephemeral papers, a soliciting of advertisements, a running up and down for subscriptions to the dances and the dinners and the papers and the clubs; a running up and down in college politics, making tickets, pulling wires, adjusting combinations, canvassing for votes—canvassing the girls for votes, spending hours at sorority houses for votes—spending hours at sorority houses for sentiment; talking rubbish unceasingly, thinking rubbish, revamping rubbish—rubbish about high junks, rubbish about low, rubbish about rallies, rubbish about pseudo-civic honor, rubbish about girls;—what margin of leisure is left for the one activity of the college, which is study?"
According to the Briggs report of 1904 Harvard students averaged twelve hours of class-room work and thirteen hours of outside work per week, or four hours per day only, devoted to the business of the undergraduate. Four years later the dean could still say: "That the present standard of work 'to pass' is low, the investigations of the Committee on Improving Instruction showed; undergraduates of to-day almost without exception frankly admit it. To obtain the necessary number of 'grades above D' ('the requisite number of C's,' is the common phrase) requires almost no steady, and only briefly concentrated, labor; nowhere except in a college would the work which produces 'the requisite number of C's,' the so-called satisfactory record, be tolerated from youths of equal age and endowment—nowhere else where young men are supposed to be seriously at work is so low a standard in quality endured." In his report of the same year Dean Ferry, of Williams, says: "The spirit of the college is excellent in all respects save that of lack of seriousness toward the work of the class room. Could the undergraduate be made to believe that it is worth while to devote serious and uninterrupted effort to the study of the matter set before him in his college courses, the atmosphere of the college would leave little to be desired."
Mr. Birdseye counted twenty-seven distinct interests and occupations which engage the student in a modern university, outside of the work for which the university exists. "The teachers in our colleges," says Woodrow Wilson, "are men of learning and conceive it their duty to impart learning; but their pupils do not desire it; and the parents of their pupils do not desire it for them. . . . Many of the parents of our modern undergraduates will frankly tell you that what they want for their sons is not so much what they will get in the class room as something else, which they are at a loss to define, which they will get from the associations of college life." Speaking of amusements and athletic activities, he says: "Athletics has no competitor except these amusements and petty engrossments; they have no serious competitor except athletics. The scholar is not in the game. He keeps modestly to his class room and his study and must be looked up and asked questions if you would know what he is thinking about. . . . He deplores athletics and all the other absorbing and non-academic pursuits which he sees drawing the attention of his pupils. . . but he will not enter into competition with them."
In looking about for a scapegoat our critics have found the elective system the most handy. Those who hark back to the old humanistic college, like Princeton's ex-president, and those who recognize that the old has gone forever, like Mr. Flexner, seem to unite on this point. The elective system does well enough for the seriously minded. What does it do for his brother, of opposite inclination? asks Mr. Flexner. "It simply furnishes him an abundant opportunity to exercise a low ingenuity in picking his way to a degree with the least exertion, the least inconvenience in the way of hours, the least shock to the prejudices which function for him in place of ideas, tastes and convictions. He comes out at the spout as he went in at the hopper—except for the additional moral havoc wrought by four years of 'beating the game.'" Woodrow Wilson finds the evil of the elective system, not so much in the easy escape of the loafer as in the heterogeneity introduced, the dilution of the college atmosphere with professional and vocational aims. "It is notorious," he says, "how deep and how narrow the absorptions of the professional school are. . . . The work to be done in them is as exact, as definite, as exclusive as that of the office and the shop. . . . It does not beget generous' comradeship or any ardor of altruistic feeling such as the college begets. It does not contain that general air of the world of science and letters in which the mind seeks no special interest, but feels every intimate impulse of the spirit set free to think and observe and listen—listen to all the voices of the mind." Yet Princeton, of all American colleges freest of the taint of the elective system, had become, as described by ex-President Wilson himself, the pleasantest country club in America. Under the preceptorial system ex-President Wilson is now able to report Princeton as a place where undergraduates do a fair amount of good, intelligent work—"but," he adds, "nothing to get excited about"!
President Lowell notes that what has given these twenty-seven occupations—at least the absorbing ones—their fascination is the spirit of emulation which they foster and bring out to its fullest extent. The corrective therefor is to put the spirit of emulation into scholarship, to find the American equivalent to the Oxford and Cambridge dual pass-and-honor system. On this point Professor Münsterberg says: "If we can foster scholarship by an appeal to the spirit of rivalry, by all means let us use it. We may hope that as soon as better traditions have been formed, and higher opinions have been spread, the interest in the serious work will replace the motives of vanity. . . . Of course, no one can overlook some intrinsic difficulties in the way of such plans. No artificial premium can focus on the scholar that same amount of flattering interest and notoriety which the athletic achievement represents, in that little field, a performance which may be compared with the best. The scholarly work of the undergraduate, on the other hand, at its highest point necessarily remains nothing but a praiseworthy exercise, incomparable with the achievements of great scholars. The student football player may win a world's record; the student scholar in the best case may justify noble hopes, but his achievement will be surpassed by professional scholars every day."
In trying to domesticate the Oxford-Cambridge system Columbia has hit upon an interesting principle of segregation, described in the October Educational Review. A generation ago few students entered college without the definite desire to obtain a scholarly education. The student body was small and united in aim. To-day conditions are far otherwise. The spread of popular secondary education, the rapid increase and distribution of wealth, have placed a college education within the reach of those lacking both scholarly ambition and the traditions of culture, but to whom have come the opportunity and desire for social betterment. A boy of this sort is sent to college in order that in later life he may mingle freely and equally with college-bred men, that he may learn how to get along with his fellows, and by contact with them have his angularities removed. "It is quite idle," declares Professor Mitchell, "to object that the college exists primarily for the production of scholarship and the training of scholars. . . . That has happened in collegiate education which is not unknown in commercial industry: the by-products have been discovered to possess unsuspected values, and in the wide-spread popular demand for them a profound change has been wrought in the college clientèle and in the needs which the colleges are called upon to meet. By a very slight and entirely logical extension of the system of free election we could let each take, for an appropriate fee, whatever he might desire of the goods the college had to offer." This deduction Professor Mitchell rejects because "on every side the system of free election has failed and broken into chaos precisely because the college is not a commercial enterprise." "Yet it is equally futile and ridiculous to attempt to make scholars of those who have no scholarly aptitude or ambition." Both kinds, however, may find their satisfaction in the same college, though not, he thinks, in the same classes. For the one class Columbia will provide scholarly training; for the other, something different. In Mr. Dooley's college, when the applicant for admission arrives, "th' prisidint takes him into a Turkish room, gives him a cigareet, an' says: 'Me dear boy, what special branch iv learnin' wud ye like to have studied f'r ye be our compitint professors?'" The Columbia president will not do this; but Columbia's enforced regimen for by-product majors will at least eschew the "futile and ridiculous" attempt to impose scholarship upon them.
I am frank to say that if the analyses represent the case at all fairly, the remedies seem inadequate. The elective system, for example, is a manifestation on the academic side of a transformation which has covered the whole range of college activity. Many causes have contributed to this result. The quickening principle was the German university ideal carried over to the American college by pioneers in that great procession of American youth who have sought the stimulus of German scholarship. Coincident with this has been the development of secondary education and the postponement of the period of college training. When the entering age was pushed up from twelve and thirteen to sixteen, eighteen, and even higher, a change in discipline was necessary. The multiplication of subjects of study made some sort of selection inevitable. If Harvard were to schedule but seventeen courses the elective system could be abandoned—for seventeen courses constitute a four years' program; whereas, if all the courses now offered were prescribed for graduation it would take the student more than seventy years to earn his degree. Of sheer necessity some freedom of choice must be conceded; and the invitation to the student to share in the selective process has been the most clarifying principle in modern higher education. The system has grown because it has worked. The supplanting of the old self-improvement, or culture, theory by the German ideal of scholarship gave a tremendous impulse to serious college work. And with serious college work in hand, both the old paternalism and the childishness of the schoolboy college must necessarily slough off. "I will not ask you to be true to us," President White said at the opening of Cornell University in 1868. "I will ask you to be true to yourselves. In Heaven's name be men! Is it not time that some poor student traditions be supplanted by better? You are not here to be made; you are here to make yourselves. You are not here to hang upon a university; you are here to help build a university. This is no place for children's tricks and toys, for exploits which only excite the wonderment of boarding-school misses. You are here to begin a man's work in the greatest time and land the world has yet known." Cornell students responded to this appeal, and so did students the country over to similar appeals. Throwing dead cats through class room windows, locking professors in their rooms, muffling college bells, levitating domestic animals to third-floor chapels, and like customs, though they died hard, actually died. Definiteness of purpose was given to college study. The new subjects, with their fresh and unexplored fields, absorbed the student and gave him a seriousness his predecessor had lacked. A manlier attitude prevailed. Co-education began to arrive; and in all the state universities particularly, the presence of a body of serious-minded young women did much to elevate the atmosphere of college life. The superfluous energies of youth heretofore wasted in boyish tricks and worse turned to athletic sports, and to developing, one after the other, the twenty-seven activities Mr. Birdseye has noted. The testimony to the improvement in manners and morals within the student body is overwhelming. Petty regulations and rules of conduct atrophied and dropped off. College students began to be regarded and to feel as men and women, with responsibility for their own conduct—to the profit of all and to the immense relief of college authorities.
The flowering period of this cycle may be roughly fixed as the twenty-five years from 1870 to 1895. All went well so long as the impulse set free by the liberalizing of the college curriculum lasted, and while the college constituency was essentially homogeneous. In the later years certain vital changes were taking place, partly as the result of these very movements, partly from influences outside the college. Wealth and luxury became widely diffused. The schools multiplied and were free, and the opportunity of school and college came without effort. Going to college became part of the ordinary routine of a boy's and girl's life. With youths that were earnest there came also to college doors troops of the unearnest. The twenty-seven student activities became more and more engrossing. Within the college boundaries there has grown up a rival institution, with antagonistic aims and ideals, to which the student body gives first allegiance.
If the college faces this new situation rather helplessly, as Mr. Flexner affirms, it is because analogy has here played its old trick. As a matter of fact, absolute election of studies by the student has nowhere existed. But in the wider matters of conduct and in the question whether to study or not to study the college has drifted without any clear principle of action. College students were treated as men and women, with good results. Therefore they are men and women. Therefore whatever the results, they must be treated as men and women with the privileges and responsibilities of men and women. Whatever happens, the college can do nothing except in the sphere of moral influence. As Mr. Birdseye sees it, "substantially all direct control of the personal freedom of the students has been given up except in cases where their action becomes scandalous or they break the public law. . . . The absolute personal freedom, which in many instances is but another name for laxity, undoubtedly tends strongly and constantly to personal shiftlessness and laziness as well as to bad mental and moral habits. . . . With the freedom of their fraternity and club life and the absence of faculty and parental restraint, have come constant distractions from study in connection with a succession throughout the year of class, fraternity, and intercollegiate games of football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, chess; of rowing, track and athletic meets; of glee, mandolin and banjo and other musical and dramatic clubs or associations; of receptions and other social functions, of literary dailies, weeklies, monthlies and annuals; and even of intercollegiate debates. . . . In most colleges there has grown up a decidedly false atmosphere, which affects adversely the personal lives of a greater or less proportion of the students." "I know of no place," wrote the dean of a western university to Mr. Birdseye, "where so much fine material coming from the country and small towns has been ruined by a single half-year of idleness and extravagance. The worst elements of city, social and fraternity life seem to be those most eagerly grasped after and most incessantly followed."
Suppose we follow the course of an imaginary freshman at the composite college of our critics; one who is well prepared, with a sense of the importance of his undertaking, and unsophisticated. What he seeks the college has to offer: facilities, scholarly standards, inspiring teachers. It is not at all certain that he will reach his goal. In the first place the scholarly atmosphere is not very evident—to a freshman. For days, weeks even, before the opening old students have drifted in. They have not done this in order to consult the authorities the better to plan and prepare for the studies of the year. They have plans of their own. They are at starting the wheel within the wheel. They are about the planning of courses in athletics, in dramatics, in rushing, in tubbing, in college traditions generally. They have their own uses for the incoming freshman class, and their own elaborate and trying admission requirements. They condescend to notice the faculty's college when it becomes necessary to take their protégés in tow and make a dead set against some assumed weak spot in the college's entrance defenses. Mostly, to the freshman's eye, there is a whir of automobiles, a rushing to and fro with excited conferences over innumerable projects which bear little relation to the ideals with which he set out from home. The conversation he hears is not of studies or ideals of study. The standards of conduct, of appreciation of priceless opportunity, are what might be expected of a generation brought up on the modern daily newspaper, with town and city environment, whose fathers will set them up in business when college days are over, and who will take with ill-grace and much contempt of regulations the little learning they can not avoid without risking the pleasures and excitements which chiefly mark their progress toward a learned degree. If the freshman is put wise early he learns to submit with as much composure as possible to whatever rough treatment of his own person the college world decrees as appropriate to his crude state of development: the college authorities not being in this game, either. If above the hubbub his ear catches the announcement of an address to the entering class by the president of the college on Thursday evening, he knows that is a signal for special activity on the part of his sophomore friends. Consequently he stays in his room—unless, perchance, constrained to come flying forth in unceremonious fashion. But if the meeting be advertised for midday he may hear, for a moment, an echo of those ideals and principles which had beckoned and fortified him as he made his decision for a college course. This impression, however, is quickly swallowed up in the whoop-er-up speeches and cheers in behalf of college activities, in which the faculty seemingly participates with equal abandon. On registration day, for a brief space the college once more seems to hold sway; then it and its ideals fade into dim distance, while the real, absorbing college of student life resumes the scepter. When classes begin he follows instinctively a habit not yet outgrown, and essays to enroll with his instructors. But the freshman who had been something of a leader in his home school, who was thought to have learned a measure of self-reliance, who had even filled a position of responsibility in a very real experiment in self-government, now finds that he has by no means learned his place. While the academic sideshow of lectures and recitations is getting itself started in halting fashion, the freshman is in the fierce struggle and joy of real college life. As free of conventional wrappings as nature made him, he is paraded and tubbed in open daylight around faculty lawns and by campus houses, and whiles away the forenoon in stunts which teach him his place some more and further his initiation into that innermost, sacredest circle, the knights of the college tradition. Since nothing can be done unless you get student sentiment behind it, the faculty sits in helpless inactivity; or, if the emotions are much stirred, rushes to its laboratories and attempts to think out some serum which will work upon the student mind and permit it to look with favor upon the studies of the college curriculum!
At last, it may be, the freshman is started in his studies. But attending classes and studying lessons is not as he had pictured it. The men whose names and imposing academic biographies had awed him from the pages of the college catalogue he must now learn to look at from the angle of his sophisticated companions. This one, frankly, is a chump; this other can be counted on to do the fair thing and not flunk a fellow; that one will be down on you anyhow. One is to be worked in one way; another, in another way. In this class you can safely cut as much as you like; in this other it is necessary to look after answering roll call. The main object is to keep from flunking out; for as yet absolute immunity has not been achieved, and real college life is too pleasurable to be hazarded too far. Getting something from the course is at least secondary. Getting the credit at present seems necessary, and, when hard pressed, one's wits need to be well sharpened. Why should one be too scrupulous, since it is only the book account that matters? Bluffing runs naturally into something more effective, and the freshman sees the game of cheating going on almost as a matter of course. Sometimes the instructor seems to him to be aware of the game, but too embarrassed to call for the cards; can not afford, in fact, to become unpopular, for may not the instructor's comfort, not to say his standing in the college, depend on the good will of the student? Once in a while the committee—blankety symbol of all that is hateful in an otherwise lovely environment—the committee connects with some luckless offender, who, bruised and bewildered, presently finds himself at the edge of the campus. All of which would be tragic, were it not so grotesque, for but a single head has been hit out of a multitude just below the line of breastworks. More and more absorbing are the activities of the college of student life; more and more the faculty's college and its obtrusive exercises become an incubus, more and more its occasional interferences become irritating and objects of student wrath. Dissipation masks as good fellowship. The grosser temptations lose horns and hoof. The freshman himself may be nor athlete, nor actor, nor editor, nor society devotee. But he learns to be vicariously active in all these pursuits; in an atmosphere of hazing, shamming, bleachering, beating the game, his whole moral and intellectual structure suffers irreparable shock.
Let us hasten away from this impossible college and come back for a brief space to the real institution, in which nevertheless some portion of this virus is at work. And first, it is safe to say that the day is not to be saved by a return to fixed programs of study made out of faculty piecings. Nor can Woodrow Wilson, or his successors, succeed in drawing off from the great mass of undergraduates the saving remnant foreordained to be separated for four years from all training that bears upon a special task—attractive as that ideal may be. Nor will President Hadley's ideal—" where a student learns things that he is not going to use in after life by methods that he is going to use "—ever again dominate the college. President Wilson found the work of the professional school "as exact, as definite, as exclusive as that of the office and the shop." The college can stand a large infusion of this ideal. Columbia's plan of providing an academic annex for majors in dullness, athletics and social functions seems none too promising. The junior college, and other compartment arrangements, useful perhaps as administrative makeshifts, are futile as attempts to segregate differing ideals of education.
In turning to greater administrative efficiency as a remedy, one can not but sympathize with the gentle plaint of Professor Showerman: "The professor thought of the administration of his college—of all the regents, registrars, clerks, secretaries, committees, and advisers, of all the printing and writing and classifying and pigeonholing, of all the roll-calling and quizzing and examination. What was all this marvellous system for? Why, simply this: in order that young men and women who came to college to get an education might be prevented from avoiding the very thing they came for! "Humiliating as the admission may be, that is about what it has come to. Of regents and registrars and pigeonholing and classifying we have perhaps a sufficiency. But of that concern for what Mr. Birdseye calls the student life department—ninety per cent, of the student's actual time—there is, alas, not a sufficiency.
Professor Barrows, who frankly abandons the undergraduate college as a period of serious intellectual effort, would still think of it as a moral opportunity—not for courses in ethics and formal moral teaching, I take it, but that by some process or other these bright, alert girls and boys might be enough arrested in their absorbing play to see, in the scholarly atmosphere shed from above, in the quiet ideals of the cloister, in generous comradeship with generous comrades, a moral quality and beauty that should win their allegiance and emulation. As a matter of fact, there has been too much reliance on the theory that somehow, through the mysterious processes of providence, just spending four years in college is in itself a saving and redeeming grace; that somehow shamming, and dissipation, and moral lapse in college do not count in later life—since these also are exercise and training in the rights and responsibilities of manhood and womanhood. "One way to deal with these strange, excited, inexperienced and intensely human things called freshmen/' says Dean Briggs, of Harvard, "is to let them flounder till they drown or swim; and this way has been advocated by men who have no sons of their own. It is delightfully simple, if we can only shut eye and ear and heart and conscience; and it has a kind of plausibility in the examples of men who through rough usage have achieved strong character. 'The objection,' as the master of a great school said the other day, 'is the waste; and,' he added, 'it is such an awful thing to waste human life!'"
A great mob of boys and girls are thronging the entrances of our colleges and universities. All need, most are entitled to, training; but not all are fitted and adapted to the college. Some ought to be in the shops and marts and homes acquiring discipline by contact with hard realities. Some are morally tainted and impervious to intellectual appeal. The mass is plastic and possible of development into capable, self-reliant citizenship. If the college can not find out these facts, who can? If the college can not rid itself of the unworthy, who is to do it? If the college can not make its standards dominate the college world, how can its work become effective? Up against these problems, the college must plead guilty to the charge of carelessness and ineffectiveness. In a situation where youths are on the way to manhood and womanhood, but not yet arrived, where standards are necessarily blurred and confused, the college has been more or less helpless, because it has not squarely faced the problems involved. It must be said again, the college can not go back into the old boarding-school chrysalis. Athletics, amusements, student activities, exercise of responsibility, were all welcomed into the college as aids to normal living, as making student life more wholesome. And so they were, and did. Paradoxical as it may seem, these are not yet widely enough diffused. We have come to our present plight because the college has had no consistent conception of its function in these matters. Harvard has retained the genial loafer for.the possible good that might come "from contact between his back and the bricks of the college." But what about the contagion of his presence in a place where sound standards have to struggle to keep even a foothold? Other institutions have sought to rigidly exclude those who did not measure up to a fixed standard, though by a rough surgery that has sometimes seemed to treat measles and appendicitis pretty much alike. "It is comparatively simple," says Mr. Flexner, "to extirpate those who appear to be the weaker brethren; but it is not a whit more intelligent than to pull every aching tooth." Yet the aching tooth needs attention, and it must come to pulling at last, if nothing else is done.
Again, faculties are adjured 'to become acquainted with their students and to pay them social attentions. Excellent advice—usually where it is not needed! Occasions may not be forced. Social relations spring normally out of other relations. Instructors may rightly be reminded of responsibility and duty, but the up-to-date college, as Mr. Birdseye would phrase it, can not rely on untrained, voluntary service where training and unremitting attention are needed. Nor can the college turn to its dean or adviser and demand of him the physical impossibility of knowing every student and his particular problems and needs.
We may look hopefully to the preceptorial experiment of Princeton; as also upon the system of advisers which California and other institutions are developing with a view to giving the stumbling freshman the guidance he needs, and to saving as much material as possible from the college scrap-heap. There is promise also in the serum treatment of President Lowell, and one may reasonably expect the academic doctors, in the end, to produce a really valuable compound.
Yet these are only palliatives. The effective solution of the problem—the relation of student activities to university standards—is so simple that I hesitate to mention it. It is that the college take charge of its own affairs. Through these later years alma mater has been piling up her equipment, employing more and more professors, proclaiming her wares, absorbed in the task of growing. With some uneasiness, but with affected unconcern, she has seen growing up over against her own growth this monstrous structure of student activities, this artificial world of student life encased in traditions too sacred to be scrutinized and presided over by that stuffed goddess of liberty known as college spirit. Remembering that she once relieved herself of all in loco parentis functions and that all her students are men and women, alma mater has walked gingerly around this mountain and tried her level best to fit into the place assigned her. It is alma mater who has failed to notice the aching tooth or connived to conceal its existence from the doctors of the scholarship committee. It is alma mater who has permitted athletics and dramatics and the social whirls and editorialing and the rest of the twenty-seven activities to go beyond the limits of safety and sanity. It is alma mater who can not bear the responsibility of dropping men from college, who, obsessed with the idea that goodness is not created by legislation, thinks only of serums that may influence student sentiment or grasps at Columbia's peptonized diet as a means of providing degrees for those quite divorced from college study.Alma mater's helpless concern recalls Mrs. Stetson-Gilman's encounter with the obstacle. Climbing up the mountain one day, she finds a prejudice blocking the path, cutting off the view, and absolutely refusing to move. She makes polite request, she argues, she scolds, she implores—all of no avail.
So I sat before him helpless,
In an ecstacy of woe;
The mountain mists were rising fast,
The sun was sinking slow—
When a sudden inspiration came,
As sudden winds do blow.
I took my hat, I took my stick,
My load I settled fair,
I approached that awful incubus
With an absent-minded air—
And I walked directly through him,
As if he wasn't there.
Actually the only reason why these twenty-seven activities do not stand in their proper, subordinate place—are not at once put where they belong—is the inconstant will of alma mater.
When, however, I said that the remedy was simple, I did not mean that it could be applied any how, any way. The means deserve careful thought and the exercise of such good sense as colleges may reasonably be supposed to command. But the main point is the will and determination of alma mater to have, and to have respected, standards of undergraduate conduct and achievement. In the face of such determination the loftiest structure buttressed by college tradition is a mere house of cards. Happily the mind of youth is plastic, and the hoariest college custom may on occasion be treated exactly as if it wasn't there. Certain qualities of heart and mind, with generous effort to improve opportunity, are minimum qualifications for membership in a college. The college has the duty and the authority—may it also have the courage—to set up and maintain standards which will justify indeed 2 and increasingly, democracy's faith in education.