Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/June 1913/The American college, as it looks from the inside
|THE AMERICAN COLLEGE, AS IT LOOKS FROM THE INSIDE|
THE future of higher education in America depends upon the position we shall grant to the college and university professor. The growing conception that the faculty—not buildings, nor advertisements, nor pyrotechnic display—but the faculty, makes the school is bound eventually to be accepted.
But before a faculty can make a school, it must be a real collegium, a corporation of teachers, besides whom everything and every one in the school is insignificant, their wards excepted, who, however, are wards.
On the other hand, it is all very well for professors to talk about being the big part of the show, bigger than the students, the equipment and the administration. We believe they should be, but we do not believe they should be, unless they are. A weak faculty can not direct the course of a school nor wisely elect additional members to their own body.
To qualify to do this, there must be, first, thorough scholarship—not $800 to $2,000-a-year scholarship, but $2,500 to $5,000-a-year learning. A mercenary view, you say. Granted. But it is the only one that has any weight with the majority of your good constituency. In our day a professor, as well as any other man, is respected according to the salary he can command. Gainsay it who can.
But you say, "Where does the college professor's idealism come in?" Why, it doesn't come in; it's gone, and you drove it out of the back door. You have respected him as he has been able to have a fine house, and all talk of his working for the love of learning—and poverty—is fol-de-rol. $2,500 to $5,000-a-year scholarship it must be, or be held in disdain by the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker, and any one else who can "sport" a "machine" and dress his women folk in the latest creations.
But beyond scholarship the faculty needs a sense of dignity as a body. Professors, as a rule, nowadays, are not overburdened with personal dignity. In our democratic rage to level all classes downward, we have levelled the college professor from his one-time dignified manner and station to the niveau of the untrained and unfinished student and the unmannered and illiterate townsman. Your professor slaps his darky laborer on the back with the manner of a pal, he addresses his students as "fellows," he puts his feet upon the table in his room, he howls and even cusses on the foot-ball field—and if he does not do these things, you and your callow sons will rise up to boycott him and dub him "uppish."
But if professors are not overburdened with personal dignity, the sense of dignity and the right to be respected and heard as a body in the faculty is positively wanting. This is true not only in a few schools, but, almost without exception, in all. The trouble, as indicated, lies as much with the professors themselves as with others. Faculties have failed to demand respect for their views and findings. The average faculty does not respect its own decrees. As Americans, I assume, our (respect for law may be taken to be nil, but the intelligence of the allwise faculty should dictate some respect at least for their own laws. But they have none. Oh, there are a few schools which have codified the rulings passed from time to time by the faculty, but in the great majority of cases no one in the school knows anything about past legislation. It might be found, possibly, by running through the faculty minutes of the past years, but who would be so foolish as to do that when it is so easy simply to "knock off" a new law whenever the need arises, and thus make the law von Fall zu Fall, as Bismarck made politics.
What the college "senate," as we sometimes proudly call the faculty, needs is a sense of dignity as a body, after the fashion of the original "senate" which wrote its own name first in the proud phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus. Far be it from the American college senate to write its name ahead of anything! This is the style it employs: The Students, Administration, the Janitors and the Senate of So and So. Most faculty men are too jealous of each other and of their "stand in" with the administration ever to pull together in anything that makes for strength in the faculty. Then there are, of course, the invertebrates and the weak whom ye have with ye alway; but that brings me to another chapter.
It is the chapter entitled: Scholarship not wanted in America! There are various reasons for this ukase which has gone forth. First, men of real scholarship might some time take it into their heads really to make the sons of fond parents study. Such old-fashioned notions would mean calamity—calamity to culture, because to get culture you must do nothing for at least four years. As the average small college has it: a four-years' loaf makes a well-bred man. Calamity to education for citizenship, for education for citizenship, as the cry is now penetrating to the small college, means, I fear: athletics, social intercourse, random talks by lawyers, politicians; a lot of frothy stuff about the glory and responsibility of citizenship, without the first idea of obedience to law and institutions, the very crown and cornerstone of good citizenship, without that most essential asset in the citizen; the power to do prolonged hard work.
And then it is fashionable to be in administrative work. Young men come to college asking for a course leading to the college presidency. Why not? The administrative officers are mentioned in the local paper oftener than any one else. The professor gets no notice unless it be the college green-goods man who sells intellectual gold bricks to the woman's club.
Consequence: Did you ever hear of a college fledgling whose supreme passion was to become a great scholar? Exhibit him, if you have, for he is a rarissima avis indeed. No, the premium is not on scholarship, as it is, for example, in the German universities. Thus it comes about that more and more rarely the really capable scholar does not go over to administrative work.
How shall we ever rear a race of scholars when there is neither pay nor honor in scholarship? The scant money compensation is patent, and honor is more than money to the idealist, and such, after all, the college professor is. There was a time when the highest ambition of every German youth was to be a poet. Why? Because two great world-poets were the most honored men in Germany. To-day it is different—every German youth burns to become a soldier, a politician—because these are the honored personages of the realm.
Who upholds scholarship as a great and valuable possession in America? Do we do it even in the colleges? In the smaller colleges the stimulus to scholarship is often wanting. The college library consists of some few thousand volumes of, in great part, antediluvian literature, presented perhaps by some alumnus of that early period, a few books for class readings, and a couple dozen journals. And should the faculty ask for more, the trustees answer them like they answered Oliver Twist: Why there's the Encyclopedia Britannica and the whole of the World's Best Literature: What more do you want, you snobs?
What shall Oliver, do? Oh, occasionally a lively one works hard during vacations and at other times to get something done. But more often he chokes down his intellectual hunger, gets to tinkering with real estate, rubber stock, subsides into nocuous desuetude, and chews his little denominational cud. This brings me to chapter the last, which relates to Rousseau's dictum that a slave can not educate free men.
Students, especially immature ones, will imitate and model after their teachers. I am aware that the present plan of college studies, which, like a hotel dinner, gives you a lot of scraps, the whole not amounting to anything substantial, precludes a student's getting really interested in any branch of study or in any professor. Nevertheless, students will emulate their teachers. The greater the model now, the better for your boy and girl, and anything or anybody that undermines the respect, dignity and worth of the teacher, that makes him "unfree" is a drawback to education.