Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/September 1913/The Next College President
|THE NEXT COLLEGE PRESIDENT|
IT was in the autumn of 1911 that the press gave wide publicity to a meeting of college presidents, deans and professors convened in honor of the installation of the chancellor of a metropolitan university. At the dinner that closed the ceremonies one of the speakers, himself the president of another great university, assured the audience that being a university president was great fun since among other perquisites of the position was that of being able to dine on college professors.
The press reports of the dinner were read by a near-professor as he sat in his modest study in a distant college town. The phrase used by the distinguished university president seemed strangely familiar, and turning to a package of notes in his desk he found among them the record of a conversation with a former colleague and read in the words of his friend, "Sometimes the board of trustees eats the president, sometimes the president eats the board of trustees, but both always eat the faculty."
It was indeed passing strange, the near-professor pondered, to find such unanimity of opinion between a great university president and a humble college professor as to the part in the educational system played by the college faculty, and henceforth he felt his own course was clear; if the high cost of living restricted his own daily menu, he could at least serve the cause of education by cheerfully recognizing his place and becoming the baked meats for the table of his academic superior.
But before consciously laying his head on the president's dinner platter, it seemed wise to the near-professor to turn again to his bulky package of notes. They were the accumulations of several years and they represented the reports of presidents of colleges in nearly every state in the union, anonymous articles by college professors that had appeared in all of the leading reviews of the country, anonymous letters on educational organization written to the press and turned over to him by a journalist brother, memoranda of conversation that he had had with professors from other colleges when they were separated by the Atlantic from their academic dinner tables, descriptions of the organization of education in nearly every country in Europe, private letters from personal friends whose official heads had yielded a Barmecide feast to various college presidents, and fragments from his own observation and experience.
As he examined the mass of material he was conscious of a secret fear lest its very presence in his desk should betray him into the hands of his official superiors. He could indeed justify its presence there on the ground that the accumulation was in large part accidental, that "he had not meant to do it," that the small field of knowledge in which he had been permitted to work had been so intimately connected with all questions of organization that he could not well avoid an interest in the by-product of educational organization—still and all, he had to admit that he was a victim of abject, craven fear. Yet in his early youth he had fortified himself against the oncoming of age by committing to memory Longfellow's "Morituri Salutamus," and now its appeal to banish fear, doubt and indecision stood him in good stead, not so much against old age, for that seemed farther away than it had at twenty, as against the spectre of a frowning chief and a possible official decapitation. The material in his desk, he reasoned, might be of some slight service in the discussion of a question that was filling every year a larger and ever increasingly larger place in the minds of all engaged in educational work, whether as college professors or as teachers in the public schools. He was as much in honor bound, he reasoned again, to make his contribution to the cause of education as he was to pay his pew rent in church and to give of his wife's substance to the foreign missionary cause.
Turning his attention first to the organization of the so-called "higher institutions of learning," the near-professor found that the factors directly and indirectly concerned are eight.
The factor least immediately involved is the public at large and it may be called collectively the state. It has no direct part in the government of higher educational institutions except in those states where members of the boards of regents are elected by popular vote. The state has, however, a direct financial interest in the subject since the property of educational institutions on private foundations is exempt from taxation, and on the other hand public educational institutions are supported by state taxation.
The parents of students have as such no part either direct or indirect in the management of a college, nor do they consciously to themselves exert the most remote influence on the conduct of its affairs. Nevertheless, the parent is a potent factor in shaping the policy of a college, through serving as a foil against proposed innovations. Do the students desire a larger measure of self government, the parent "who would not approve" prevents its realization. Do the alumni favor a radical departure from the curriculum that has been in force, the parent "likes what we have and sends his son here to get it," and hence no change is made. Does some one suggest dropping the Latin salutatory and the valedictory from the commencement exercises, the parent "likes the present plan" and therefore the Latin salutatory and the valedictory are retained. If the college authorities believe that they stand in loco parentis, they are certainly right in governing their action by the supposed wishes of parents. Yet it is not known that a poll of the parents has ever been taken on any subject of college policy, it is quite possible that the expressions of approval or disapproval of proposed changes are purely individual, it is even probable that the opinions expressed are such as are felt to be in harmony with the wishes of the administration, and it is altogether credible that the shade of the absent parent has been evoked to give countenance to policies of the administration as unalterable as were the laws of the Medes and Persians.
The benefactor has long been recognized as a powerful, although unacknowledged, influence in the administration of the college on a private foundation. Pie is a member of the board of trustees and as such wields great authority. He is consulted on all matters of college policy, his wishes are deferred to whenever a difference of opinion arises between him and his colleagues, and he is the power behind the throne on which sits the college president. To him more than to any other giver is applied the adage that one must not look a gift horse in the mouth. If the benefactor is interested in science and wishes to give the college a physical laboratory, the college accepts it without question although its greatest need may be for a new library building. If the benefactor thinks "the boys" need more athletics, he spends a fortune on a stadium even though the college may be in crying need of funds to pay the salaries of its professors. If the benefactor thinks a building would adorn a sightly part of the campus, he puts one there, even though the college may not have sufficient funds to keep it adequately cleaned, warmed and lighted. "I would a thousand times rather have dealings with a state legislature than with the private benefactor on whose will or whims the welfare of a university depends," said a president who had had experience as the head of a state university and of one controlled by "the munificent benefactor." It is possible to meet political influence fairly, squarely and openly, but it is impossible to meet the undue personal influence of the private benefactor who may be giving to the college his time and his energies, as well as his funds, but is practically irresponsible. The zeal of the benefactor is appreciated, yet it often is an illustration of misdirected energy since the educational interest realized on the capitalistic benefaction is sometimes in inverse proportion to the amount invested.
The student body is as yet a somewhat inert mass as regards its attitude toward educational policies. The force of tradition is strong and tradition makes the student, at least in theory, passive and receptive rather than active and creative; it teaches him unquestioning obedience to authority; it scoffs at his desire to know the meaning of what he does; it mocks his wish to have a part in deciding the policy that controls his daily actions. Even the community in which he lives is prone to scorn his efforts to play a part in the settlement of the questions that intimately concern him.
A few years ago internal troubles in one of our universities led to a rumor that the president had asked for the resignation of every member of the faculty. In consequence of this a mass meeting of the students was called, but before the students assembled a message was sent them by the president saying that no meeting would be permitted unless the students agreed to act in accordance with his wishes.
A few days later one of the city papers in discussing the situation said editorially,
Nevertheless, tradition does not always remain impregnable and there are signs of weakness in some of its strongholds. The college student may have come from a school city where in a public high school he has had some small share in educational legislation and administration. He may have entered from a private secondary school where self-government has attained a vigorous growth. If in college his abilities lead him into the field of science, the spirit of investigation he meets there turns his questioning mind to the investigation of education; if his interests lie in political science the organization of the state directs his thoughts to the organization of education; if he is absorbed in economics, the question of the mutual relations of capital and labor, of employer and employee, of the individual and the state lead to questions of the mutual relationship of all parties concerned in education; the very process of education trains him in mental activity and he is quick to apply this activity to the study of the conditions in which he is placed.
Again, he can not escape the discussion of all phases of the question as it is presented in the daily press and in current periodicals. The spirit of research, of investigation and of inquiry in every form is abroad in every land, and it has its influence on the college student. Democracy in the state, in society, in industry, is taking on new meanings and is making new applications. Experiments in self-government are being tried in reformatory, corrective and penal institutions, and even hospitals for the feeble-minded and for the insane are turning to the same plan as part of their remedial treatment.
Even the college student himself has often had personal experience in matters of government. The average age of the college man at graduation is about twenty-three and he has been a possible voter for two years. If he has sufficient maturity to have a voice in the decisions of affairs of state, is it not reasonable to suppose, he asks, that he can be given some small share in the decision of educational matters that immediately affect him?
That the college undergraduate has had as yet so small a share in the conduct and policy of the institution with which he is temporarily connected by no means augurs that his share will continue permanently negligible.
The alumni of a college have but recently been given a representation on boards of trustees. This representation has not always been warmly welcomed by the boards as previously organized, and it has been granted only through the persistent efforts of alumni organizations. These efforts have been made because of a growing feeling that some official medium of communication is necessary between a board of trustees and the undergraduate body. The college has, moreover, been enlarging its activities along lines not strictly academic, and with the increasing interest in college athletics, college dramatics and college musical clubs, appeals have been made to the alumni to assist in financing these enterprises. These appeals have usually been made through class organizations, alumni associations, and the graduate and undergraduate college press, and the very appeals themselves have stimulated interest in general college affairs. One result has therefore apparently been to increase the general contributions of the alumni to their alma mater and this fact has furnished another and perhaps more valid reason for the election of a limited number of trustees by and from the alumni themselves.
Just how effective this representation is in influencing the policy of boards of control is at least a question. The alumni trustees are always in a minority, they hold office for a limited term while their colleagues on the board usually are elected for life, their point of view may not always be that of the other members of the board, yet they are often cautious, if not in reality timid, in expressing views divergent from those of the majority, they represent a body having no legal but only a sentimental relationship to the institution, and they are as a rule only contributors of ideas not signers of checks. But if the direct results of alumni representation seem somewhat negligible, the indirect results of such representation have been most wholesome. It has stimulated the loyalty and the enthusiasm of college graduates in behalf of their own college, it has led to acquaintance among the alumni representatives of different colleges and thus to the exchange of facts, opinions and experiences to the profit of all concerned, it has resulted in a more intelligent appreciation of what the great educational problems of the day really are, and it has aroused a desire to have these problems investigated by experts in order that the layman may have put before him authoritative data as a basis for discussion. If we have everywhere to-day a passion for education that partakes of the religious fervor of an earlier time it may in large part be explained by this thin entering wedge of alumni representation on boards of college trustees.
The part taken by the state, the parent, the benefactor, the undergraduate body and the alumni is either too slight to have an appreciable effect in formulating educational policy, or it is too irresponsible to be met and discussed in the open, or it is prophetic of future opportunities rather than a chronicle of past achievement.
In the eye of the law the only authority responsible for the conduct of the affairs of a college is that vested in the board of control, usually denominated a board of regents or a board of trustees. The nature and the measure of this responsibility is largely determined by the source of the financial support of the institutions concerned.
Higher institutions of learning are of two general types as regards this support. In universities supported by the state, the members of the board of regents may be appointed by the governor of the state or elected by the qualified voters of the state; in either of these cases, the members of the board hold office for a limited term of years. Colleges on a private foundation are controlled by a board of trustees whose members form a close corporation. They are self-perpetuating and are elected for life, although a recent modification of this plan provides that members of the board are to hold office for a limited term and membership may be automatically changed at the end of a definite period. But irrespective of number of members, term of office, and method of appointment or election, the result is the anomalous one of placing in control of nearly every great and every small institution of higher learning in America a body of men that have no connection with the educational work of the institution, that are not members of its faculties, that are not necessarily numbered among its graduates or its former students, or indeed among those of any other college or university. Yet the control of these external bodies over our educational institutions is absolute in that both the financial and the educational policy come within their jurisdiction, and their control is irresponsible in that they render no account of their stewardship and as a rule they hold office for life, not during good behavior. Technically and legally all-powerful, these external boards of control do not exercise their authority directly, but they delegate it to their appointee, the college president. He thus in his turn becomes all-powerful, not by virtue of original and vested authority but through authority delegated to him by these boards.
It is thus seen that the most important function of this external board of control is to-day that of appointing the college president, and that the great power in the educational world thereby becomes the college or university president.
The position of the American college president is absolutely unique in the educational world, yet the evolution of the office has been a simple one and it is easily traced. The great majority of the older colleges in America were founded either by ecclesiastical organizations or, in communities where the civil and the ecclesiastical power, were identical, by the state, and the function of its college was to educate young men for the ministry. Thus it followed that at first the college president sustained much the same relation to the student body that the pastor of a church sustained to the members of his congregation—he was the spiritual teacher and adviser, the religious head of an institution founded for religious purposes. The first and the final test of his qualification for the position was that of orthodoxy, and when this was called in question his position as president of a college was no longer tenable. But as the ecclesiastical rigor that bound both church and state gradually relaxed, a change took place in the qualifications demanded of a college president. Education as a process came to be more emphasized and it became necessary for the college president to be not only a clergyman, but also to have a strong and commanding personality. The college president became the great teacher—a class of which Mark Hopkins will always stand as the type—and his chief financial duty was to raise funds for scholarships for the education of "worthy young men."
The next step in the evolution of the college president came when the college was frequented by young men whose career in life was to be, not the ministry, but one of the other learned professions, or business, or some branch of applied science. This necessitated the development of the secular side of education, and with this development came the demand for increased appliances, for laboratories, for large additions to libraries and museums, for the enlargement in every direction of the educational plant. Funds must be raised to provide this equipment and on the shoulders of the college president was laid the burden of securing them. Thus the college president became not only the religious head and the educational head of the institution, but its financial agent.
But it followed naturally that if large endowments were to be secured by the college president, he must be "a good mixer" with those who might be persuaded to contribute to the college. A clergyman, a scholar, a recluse, might possibly teach, but other qualifications for raising funds were imperative. He must be a man of fine presence, genial manner, consummate tact, a ready and acceptable public speaker—he must be in the best sense of the work, "a man of the world." The college president thus added to his previous qualifications of clergyman. teacher, and financial agent that of a fitting social representative of the institution.
But increased and increasing endowments entailed the burden of organizing and administering them. The funds secured must be wisely used and no one could hope to be successful as the head of an educational institution who did not unite with the ability to raise funds that of a wise administrator.
But wise administration is a complex term. It implies the organization not only of the internal but of the external affairs of an institution—the care of buildings and of grounds, and even familiarity with a species of hotel-keeping if the college has dormitories or residence halls.
Thus by an accumulation of duties that have been added as the scope of the college has broadened, the college president has added to his primary qualification of religious head that of educational head, financial head, social head and administrative head, including the duties of superintendent of buildings and grounds and even those of hotel proprietor. It has been a veritable piling of Ossa on Pelion and the office has become so burdened with duties and responsibilities that it seems as if it must break down of its own weight.
A person unfamiliar with the situation might reasonably conclude that all of our colleges and universities were threatened with bankruptcy and had been placed in the hands of a receiver so unlimited are the powers that have been conferred on their presidents. But those whose acquaintance with present conditions makes it possible for them to understand the steps by which this present development has been reached know that the powers now placed in the hands of the president have been cumulative and in a measure accidental rather than the result of fixed plan.
Of the eight factors concerned in college legislation and administration, seven have been considered. It remains only to examine the part taken by the faculty in the government of the colleges with which they are associated. Singularly enough this part seems entirely negligible. The faculty of a college has no voice in the election of a president who is to rule over them by appointive if not by divine right, nor are its members, as far as known, ever consulted when a choice of president is to be made, nor are even expressions of opinion sought from them.
It is also true that no college professor is ever a member of the board of trustees that governs the institution with which he is connected, and that he is even in some cases expressly prohibited from ever becoming a member of the governing body. The corporate state may be represented by its governor who may be ex officio a member of the board of trustees of a college within the state; the state at large may through the votes of its citizens choose the boards of regents who control the policy of the state university; the educational system of the state may be represented by the state superintendent of the public instruction who may also be an ex officio member of a board of trustees; ecclesiastical bodies are as such sometimes represented on boards of trustees; the alumni now have representatives elected by and from their own number on many boards of trustees. But members of a college faculty have no voice whatever in the election of boards of trustees who control the policy of a college, nor have they any representation on the board of trustees. It is indeed sometimes said they are so represented by the president of the college, but since the president is elected by the trustees, not by the faculty, such a statement seems to be a mere juggling with words.
The question therefore of who is in actual control of our colleges and universities can be answered clearly, authoritatively and emphatically—it is the college president and the university president. The answer does not follow as a result of eliminating from the eight factors concerned in the problem all of the other seven whose authority has been shown to be either negligible or negative—it has been given in unmistakable terms on more than one occasion when a new college president has been elected or inaugurated, as also at other times and in other places.
The theory of the presidency is definitely stated in a series of statutes defining the powers and duties of the president that were drawn up a few years ago when a president was sought for an important university. They were formulated by the trustees after consultation with the leading candidate for the position, and the}^ are given in full as being probably the most explicit statement as yet made concerning the office.
Second. The president shall have the power of nominating the dean of each faculty, subject to the approval of the board of trustees.
Third. The president shall have the right to attend all meetings of the board and to address the board upon all subjects connected with the university. He shall be ex-officio a member of all standing committees of the board.
Fourth. The president shall have the exclusive right to transmit all communications from each faculty and from each member thereof, to the board.
Fifth. The president shall have the right to recommend to the board the vacation of professorships and other positions in all departments.
Sixth. The president shall have the exclusive right to nominate professors in all departments except in so far as this may be inconsistent with the contracts under which certain of the departments are now conducted.
Seventh. The president shall have ultimate authority in all matters of discipline.
Eighth. The president shall have the right to advise the board in all matters of expenditure.Ninth. The president shall have control of all employees engaged in the preservation and maintenance of the buildings of all departments of the university, and he shall be the chief custodian of such buildings.
At another great university a popular professor of another institution was offered the presidency, but he
At a third great institution where the power of control came to be vested in a single person, it was announced that the trustee had paid "a high compliment to President ————— by giving him absolute power over the management of the educational affairs of the University."
At a fourth institution the candidate selected by the board of trustees dictated his own terms in accepting the office of president of a college and it was announced that "the board of trustees has accepted the principles proposed by ————— and all direction of the faculty will proceed from him."
At another time a university president took summary action in regard to several members of the faculty, and when "the persons concerned" asked the reason for the action they received the reply from the president, "I have no reasons to give. It is my pleasure." It is possible that the distinguished president was only unconsciously reflecting his morning lesson from Kipling,
Now these are the laws of the Jungle,
And many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law
And the haunch and the hump is—Obey.
The privilege of overriding legislation of the faculty is claimed by the president of at least one great university. Somewhat recently when the name of a student who was a candidate for a degree in arts was presented to the faculty, the head of one department reported that the candidate had not completed all the work prescribed by the faculty as necessary before obtaining the degree. The president refused to allow the faculty to vote on the case and later stated in the press, over his own signature, "that the president of the university has the authority and privilege of submitting to the trustees a recommendation for any degree without consulting any faculty or any member of a faculty."
These illustrations could be multiplied almost indefinitely. They seem to furnish some ground for the observation of a college professor that "the college presidency is a despotism untempered by assassination."
That the college president "is bearing up well" under these manifold duties and responsibilities and that unlike his brother politician in the state he does not "view the present situation with alarm" there is abundant evidence on every side to prove. He has in the first place written two or three books on the subject—that the number is so limited is in itself perhaps indicative of the insignificant part the whole subject takes in his mind. A more extended source of information is found in the memoirs of college presidents who have taken the public into their confidence. Occasionally the college president has written an anonymous magazine article; in one of these he has enlarged on the perplexities of his position, which he likens to those of a stage-coach driver compelled to prod one lazy horse into doing his share of the work while at the same time trying to prevent another spirited one from kicking over the traces. The near-professor was a near-instructor at the time he read this particular article, but he still vividly recalls the strong desire he felt to urge the college president to give up stage-coach driving for a living and get another job.
But the college president, unlike the college professor, seldom finds it necessary or wishes to conceal his identity. Educational reviews, educational associations, the inaugurations of brother presidents, and public educational functions of every description give him abundant opportunity to express his opinions in regard to the present distribution of powers between president and faculty and to give his general approval of the principle "it's heads I win and tails you lose."
At a somewhat recent inauguration of a university president, the previous incumbent of the position gave an address on "The University Presidency." In this he states that "the president must mark out his official course for himself and bear the responsibility of it without cavil. He can not expect that the work he has to do will make everybody happy. It will discomfit many. In one way or another they will give him all the trouble they can." This statement seems so absolutely final as to make it unnecessary to add further illustrations, many though there be at command.
But extreme as this statement of a former university president must seem to all who take an active interest in the organization of our educational system, much as these extreme statements are in themselves to be deprecated, irritating and exasperating as must seem the official relationships between college president and college faculty in view of this apparently prevailing conception of the college presidency as held by the college president, it must, after all, never be forgotten, even by those who suffer from the system, that the college president of to-day is the victim of the very virtues of his official predecessors. An overconscientious desire to do all that he should has often led him to undertake more than he can accomplish; a real desire to save his colleagues from undue burdens has led him to assume tasks that his colleagues needed to perform for the sake of their own educational growth; a belief in his own divine right to rule—a belief born of his ecclesiastical ancestry—has carried with it the corresponding belief in the right of others to be ruled; a conviction that if it is his duty "to break in" an unruly team, it is the duty of the team to be broken in; all of these and still other inherited and accumulated beliefs explain the origin of conditions that in the great majority of colleges to-day result in probably more or less friction between the president of the college and the faculty. If there is little friction evident, it is because of strong personal attachment between the president and the members of the faculty individually—there is occasional lack of friction in spite of the system, not because of it.
But explanations, however reasonable and satisfactory they may be, do not alter the fact that the college president has not only freely expressed his opinion in regard to his own place in the educational system, but he has also on occasions shown why the present arrangement has been foreordained to perpetuity.
The first reason alleged for the continuance of the present system of external legislation and autocratic administration is that college faculties are unable to do business. "It goes without saying, and properly and without adverse criticism, that the temper of mind which turns a man to the higher forms of scholarship and to investigation and research is not the temper which fits him for executive work," is the statement of a former university president, but it was made before the election of President Wilson. Another president finds that "a faculty is made up chiefly of specialists, for the most part untrained in the business of administration and without special responsibility for the college and the larger relationships." Still a third finds "that a faculty that governs itself in an extreme degree is likely to be extremely conservative; it is likely to perpetuate traditions; it is likely not to be in touch with progressive thought," though the danger to be anticipated from faculty government is, in the opinion of a fourth, "its radical tendencies." This difference in point of view may, however, be explained by the geographical location of the two institutions whose presidents have given these judgments—one is east and one is west. And yet another emphatic, unqualified statement is made that "the very worst form of government for college or university is that of a faculty."
This very insistence on the inability of the corporate faculty thereby tends to make a faculty incompetent. That a man quickly becomes what he is thought to be has been learned in nearly every other field but that of normal education. Even those who deal with criminals are learning that the quickest way to make a man guilty of crime is to believe him capable of committing a crime, that trust and confidence win a wavering man to the side of law and order while suspicion and distrust send him to the side of lawlessness and crime. But no hope seems to be held out for the college faculty—it ever hears from the platform and through the press that it is incapable of doing business and the discouraging feature of the situation is that the American college faculty is coming to believe it.
It is also asserted that the college professor does not wish to take a larger part than he now has in the direction of educational policy. "I have heard a good deal about the growing impatience at the amount of business detail forced on the faculty because of this faculty form of government" is the statement made by a university president. "By far the greatest number in every faculty neither desire to assume administrative burdens nor are extraordinarily competent for such tasks" is the opinion of another president. Even so eminent a man as ei-President Eliot has shown much solicitude on this point when he says:
The near-professor from the safe retreat of his desk in the middle west ventures to ask by what authority ex-President Eliot presumes to speak for the American college professor, why he assumes that the election of a college president, once in say forty years, should be a more serious reduction in the attractiveness of the scholar's life than is a vote every four years for the electors of the federal president, why the cooperative annual arrangement of the budget of an institution should be a greater infringement on the professional career than is the unaided preparation of the domestic budget with a limited salary and a growing family, why the implication is made that it is only professors of bad quality who grasp at things so far beyond their reach as the selection of professors and other teachers, and why indeed a representative of Puritan New England could imagine that even a college professor would falter in his duty if that duty led him for a brief period from the attractiveness of the scholar's life into the more arduous paths heretofore trodden alone by the college president.
Another reason assigned is the infirmities of temper charged up to the college professor. One president complains:
Another reports that he has to deal with men "not altogether ripe for translation." It is a member of a board of trustees who arraigns the entire faculty over which he and his fellow trustees exercise jurisdiction with the seven deadly sins of "jealousy," "bickerings," "professional incompetency," "demoralization," "discourtesy," "lack of discipline," and "laziness"—if this term properly translates the statements that "no original work worthy of note has been done by the members of the faculty," and that "the professors are practically unknown to the literature of their respective subjects, even after long years of identification with their respective departments of instruction." Truly the members of university faculties may set forth not only the private tables of university presidents, but also the extension dining tables of boards of trustees.
The near-professor recalled that he had once read the story of a conversation between Browning and a Jewish friend in which the latter had sought an explanation for the repugnance often inspired by some of his race and found it, he thought, in the difference in appearance and manner between the Jews and the Christians of a certain class. Browning replied:
Still another reason assigned is that it is not the business of the faculty. "The business of university faculties is teaching. It is not legislation and it is not administration," is the emphatic statement of one president. "The special office of the faculty is to teach," states a second president. "The duties of a professor are investigation and instruction," adds a third. No statement seems to be so generally endorsed by college presidents as that "it is the business of teachers to teach."
It is altogether probable that college professors would agree that their chief, if not their only, raison d'être is teaching, if the term teaching is made elastic enough to cover the time and opportunity needed to pursue knowledge. For how can the blind lead the blind, how can we make bricks without straw, are the ever iterated and re-iterated cries of those weighed down with the burdens of daily teaching, of those who have no opportunity themselves of drinking at the Pierian spring, yet must hold the cup to the lips of others. "Our function in the educational system is indeed teaching," they may well say, "but we must ourselves seek and find knowledge if we are to pass it on to others."
But who shall define the limits of teaching, or prescribe the boundaries of the educational field, or determine the nature of those questions that are "purely professional," or set now on this side and then on that the subjects that concern special departments and those that concern education in general? Teaching and new buildings, teaching and improved equipment, teaching and additional instructors, teaching and academic freedom, teaching and pensions, are all questions of Siamese twinship. Who shall separate teaching from any other part of the educational body without thereby taking from it the breath of life?
It must be evident that the present method of collegiate organization has not only produced friction, for among all the colleges and universities located between Maine and California and between Florida and Washington the number can be counted on the fingers of one hand where there is no friction of an aggravated character either between the board of trustees and the president, or between the president and the faculty, but that it has also resulted in serious incongruities of conditions and of relationships.
Some of these incongruities are connected with the office of the president. They result from attempting to fit the round peg into the square hole and they would be amusing did they not so vitally concern our entire educational system. If a successful business man is elected the president of a college, he may inaugurate a campaign of efficiency in order to determine "just how much work each member of the educational staff is doing in the matter of instruction, what he is producing in connection with his chosen line of specialization and—in short—to determine his value to the institution as compared with that of his colleagues." If a person without even the first college degree is called to a college presidency, he may be solemnly asked in the first interview granted the representatives of the press to enunciate his views in regard to the graduate school. If a clergyman is transplanted from a city or a country parish to the presidency of a great university, he may at once begin planning for new schools of civil and mining engineering. If an eminent physician is invited to become a college president he may immediately promulgate fantastic schemes for strengthening the college by the introduction of a plan to promote friendly rivalry among the professors.
It is safe to say that if positions were reversed the incongruities would be apparent to all. No professor of mathematics would be called to the pastorate of a city church, no head of a department of modern languages would ipso facto be deemed qualified for the headship of a theological seminary, no professor of English could without special medical training receive a license to practise medicine, no professor of chemistry would be considered a qualified lawyer.
One of the most unfortunate features of the official relationship between president and faculty is that if a member of the faculty raises a question in regard to a matter of college policy it is regarded as an unjustifiable interference on his part. His question may seem to him altogether devoid of harm—he may ask in regard to the probable site of a new building, the nature of the campus hedge that is to be set out, or whether the city fathers have ordered the campus drinking water boiled, but in any case he is probably warned that the shoemaker should stick to his last.
It is also unfortunately true that any criticism of the policy of the administration is often resented as "a personal attack on the president." A member of the faculty may question the wisdom of admitting students poorly prepared, or of retaining students whose ill health makes it difficult for them to do their college work, or of dismissing students who have presented a petition stating-what they believe to be grievances, but all such questions are too often interpreted as "attacks on the president."
In one institution where autocratic rule has been carried to an intolerable degree, one of the professors at one time suggested some improvements that might be made in the institution. He was quickly removed and no protest was made by his colleagues either collectively or individually because they were too timid to do so or because they were too much hampered by the meager salaries paid to feel justified in running the risk of removal. But in spite of apparent acquiescence in the action of the president, one by one the members of a small group were dropped on the suspicion of being sympathizers with the erring professor because known to be his personal friends. They were afterwards pursued by a relentless persecution that for years prevented any of the number from securing positions in the educational field for which their ability and professional qualifications fitted them.
At the time of friction between a president and members of the faculty due to the unexplained demand made for the resignation of several of its members, the professors involved sent to the board of trustees a respectful petition asking for a full and open investigation of their work. This petition was characterized by the board as "rank insubordination," since a by-law of the university provided that all communications from the faculty should come to the board through the hands of the president. "The communication should be treated with just the respect it deserves," said a member of the board of trustees in a public meeting. "It is an insult to the board and to the President; it is rank discourtesy, and for one, I do not propose to stand it. I move the letter be sent to the writer." "And the board concurred," is the comment of the press, "smashing the right of petition at one very large and full swoop."
The policy of concealment that prevails makes it difficult for the public to know what the situation really is. The public knows that more than one university professor has been dismissed, or his resignation has been demanded "for the good of the institution," and it draws the conclusion that these are examples of martyrdom in the cause of academic freedom of speech. In a few instances such has been the case, but in other instances, men have been relieved of their positions because they have been incompetent to fill them. Such men have sometimes chosen to assume that they were dismissed for holding opinions at variance with those of the administration, but those who have been familiar with the situation have wondered less that these professors were dismissed from their positions than that were ever appointed to them. To president and faculty alike lack of frankness and freedom of expression brings needlessly harsh and often unmerited criticism.
What wonder if members of college faculties, on their part, sometimes feel that they are employees, hired by the year, with a time-card, and with a "boss" to enforce discipline; that they are clerks in a department store with the floorwalker ever present to keep them at their tasks; that they are horses in stalls conveyed by railway train to some distant point unknown to them; that they are tagged and pigeonholed in the desk of the president; that they are parts of a machine, irresponsible for the results of its work. Yet they never forget that it is also true that at rare intervals great educational leaders have arisen who by natural ability and educational training have seemed ideally qualified for the headship of great educational institutions. And it has been unfortunately true that these leaders have led where there have been few to follow. Trustees, faculty, alumni and undergraduates accustomed to the old order have feared to break with the past and have turned back again when the path has narrowed and clouds have obscured the heights.
The inorganic nature of the college and the lack of relationship among its different parts is well illustrated in the typical college campus. This is crowded with buildings representing every period of architecture known and not infrequently having buildings that utterly refuse to be classified; every variety of building material has been used in their construction; when several buildings have been erected of the same material, as of brick, the incongruities are needlessly multiplied by the use of pressed brick, tapestry brick, cream brick, and every other variety and color known to the builder; when one form of brick has been somewhat consistently used, the trimmings of granite, of white marble, or of red sandstone, or of brown sandstone, add the seemingly inevitable note of discord. Even single buildings illustrate the same spirit. One college received the gift of a physics laboratory and the building was planned by the president and a local mechanic without any consultation with the professor of physics. In another university the president secured the funds for a new library building and this he felt gave him the right to decide on the plans for it and also to select its location on the campus; incidentally, the site selected was next to the athletic field. In another college, the planning of a large lecture hall to be occupied jointly by several departments was turned over to a young architect who had never planned an educational building of any sort. Without consultation with any of the departments concerned, the plans were drawn up, the building was erected, and the members of the faculty moved in. That some rooms were to be used for classes in mathematics and others for work in modern languages and still others for English had apparently in no way affected the plans.
Nor are these conditions necessarily due to differences in the period* at which college buildings have been erected—they prevail on more than one campus where the greater number of buildings have been erected in a single generation during the incumbency of a single president. Xor are they always due to the selection of different architects—in more than one instance a single architect has planned the greater number of the buildings of a college campus, yet he has been the chief of sinners in including among the buildings he has planned those that range in style from the classical period through the gothic, romanesque and renaissance to a Queen Anne house, a French château, or a feudal castle for the president.
The Architectural Record has recently published a series of articles by Montgomery Schuyler on the architecture of American colleges and more than one of the articles has emphasized the lack of harmony and the absence of a consistent plan in the buildings of a college campus. The author writes of one college:
The architecture of college buildings and the planning of a college campus may not seem to come within the range of a discussion of the next college president, but in fact nothing else in the domain of education seems to illustrate so well and so vividly the incongruities of the educational system itself. What the college is in brick and mortar, that the college is in its organization and in its educational plan. He who runs may read the incongruities of the college campus, but he who loiters has perceived but dimly, if at all, the intellectual incongruities reflected through it.
In view of these conditions who shall be the next college president? A former university president at the recent inauguration of one of his successors enumerates some twenty qualifications that should be found in the man who fills the office, although he states that "the qualities which enter into the making of an ideal college president are very widely distributed and never can be found represented in a great many men."
The members of a college faculty are ready to accept this statement of the difficulty of finding the ideal college president. But unlike members of boards of trustees they are concerning themselves not with candidates for the position of president, but with the organization of the presidency. And first of all it seems clear to one who "can easier teach twenty what were good to he done than he one of twenty to follow his own teaching "that the first plain duty is to recognize the existence of the situation and then frankly meet it.
A recent inquiry instituted among three hundred professors of science in this country seems to indicate that in the opinion of eighty-five per cent, of these the present conditions are intolerable. This opinion may be entirely wrong, but it behooves even the college president either to disprove it or to accept it. Since he is to-day, by the very nature of his position, an administrative officer and business manager, rather than an investigator, it seems improbable that he will be inclined to undertake such investigation as would give a larger basis for generalization than that already carried on by a college professor. Until such time, therefore, as the college president can broaden the basis of generalization already provided for him by a college professor he should accept the conclusions drawn and adapt his course to them.
This investigation seems to show that what many college professors to-day desire is not more administrative work, but greater legislative power. Time is now frittered away by college faculties in administration that ought to be done by the administrative officer; college faculties wish less rather than more of these responsibilities. But many college professors do believe that every question of legislation that concerns the educational work of the college no matter how remotely or how indirectly should be acted upon by themselves, that they should have representation on the boards of control, and most of all that they should be educationally enfranchised to the extent of choosing their own president. They would probably at the outset agree with Dr. Patton that "the qualities which enter into the making of an ideal college president are very widely distributed," and that "it is their assemblage and their blending in the charm of an engaging personality that creats difficulties and also makes the selection of a college president a weary search." Recognizing the weariness of the search, they would abandon it at the outset and concentrate their efforts on the consideration of what should be the organization, powers and duties of the presidency.
What many college professors also desire is greater community of interest and of action with each other and with their official head. College presidents are wont to boast of the infrequency of the faculty meetings in their own institutions and they seem to believe that one measure of their official success is their ability to dispense wholly or in part with such meetings. Yet what is needed for the good of the cause is not fewer but many more faculty meetings. College professors are tempted, under present conditions, to confine themselves exclusively to their own line of work; they do not make connections with the work of other departments, or seek out relationships between different branches of knowledge, or see things as a whole. The college professor has in large measure been made what he is by the conditions in which he has been placed and he has lacked the courage to insist on having these conditions changed. But many men are conscious of the present, though not inevitable, limitations of vision, and they would most gladly welcome an opportunity to exchange opinions and experiences with others of the guild. Faculty meetings that should be genuine discussions of the large educational questions of the day would lengthen the range of vision of the college professor, perhaps even that of the college president; they would deepen and broaden his educational foundations; they would make him more sympathetic with the difficulties of his colleagues and more tolerant of opinions that differ from his own. "How can I hate a man I know?" asked the gentle Elia, and his own implied answer would be that given by the vast majority of college professors could friendly relationships be established among them. The great national learned societies whose annual meetings are a source of profit and inspiration to all who attend them show that college professors, given freedom of action, can conduct large meetings with decorum, and without bickerings and petty jealousies. Can it not be assumed that these same men in their own college faculties, were the opportunity offered them, could and would discuss large educational questions in the same tolerant, inquiring spirit? Is not the spirit of the seeker after truth the same both at home and abroad, and should not his own college receive the benefit of this spirit? Many men are heard year after year at the sessions of these learned societies whose voices have never been heard in their own colleges outside of their own class-rooms. Is not the college the loser, whether the college be interpreted as meaning board of trustees, president, faculty, students or alumni?
Members of college faculties want at least the opportunity of taking a more active part in the smaller as well as in the larger affairs of the college. Probably nearly every member of a college faculty belongs to a club that has rooms or a building of its own, and he finds there, hung in a conspicuous place, a "book of suggestions" wherein he is not only invited but even urged to enter any ideas he may have for the improvement of the club. He goes to the public library and he finds a box of slips whereon he may record the title and author of any book he thinks it advisable to add to the library. He works for a summer in the British Museum and one of the first books he sees is a portly volume in which he may register inquiries or make reports of conditions to be changed, and to all inquiries he speedily finds an answer recorded in the same volume, together with the thanks of the administration for calling attention to matters to be remedied. He dines on a railway train, and at the bottom of the menu card he finds an invitation to report to the officer named any lack of attention on the part of the waiters. He goes to a great railway restaurant and he finds there a request to report at the desk any complaint in regard to food or service. In more than one line of public business he sees evidences of a friendly desire for cooperation between business managements and the general public.
It is probable that few persons, even few college professors, avail themselves of these privileges or heed these invitations and even urgent entreaties. Yet the very fact that such opportunities are given the public is at once a safeguard to the organization making them in that it forestalls carping criticism, and at the same time it affords an outlet to the ill humors that would otherwise poison the minds of even reasonable men. The situation is precisely the same as that involved in the resumption of specie payments, as long as men can not get a dollar in gold for every dollar of paper money they hold, they will continue to demand gold; when every paper dollar can be redeemed in gold at its face value, men prefer the more convenient paper bills to the gold coin.
But no "book of suggestions" now hangs in the office of a college president, no slips calling for ideas are circulated by boards of trustees among college faculties, no invitations to report leaks, screws loose, or balky window shades are sent out by managers of college buildings, no notice is posted in any college building asking college professors to register complaints of the failure of other college employees to have the lantern ready at the hour appointed for the lecture or to set up on time a piece of apparatus necessary for an important experiment.
Then, too, the college professor would like to have the next college president not only listen to his suggestions, but even go so far as to occasionally ask him for opinions! As it is, the college president when he first meets his faculty and in his public inaugural address states his own conception of the function of a college and outlines what his policy is to be in connection with the particular institution over which he has been called on to preside. It is not on record that he has ever asked the members of the faculty what their opinions are on these questions. He may not be an alumnus of the college or have ever served on its faculty, yet election to the presidency of an institution with which he has no personal connection and with whose history he can have been but imperfectly acquainted is assumed to endow him with omniscience and his utterances are received as those of a prophet. The college professor would sometimes like to play the role of prophet!
The near-professor passed a pleasant hour as he reorganized the office of the college presidency, and then he turned to his Quentin Durward and to the conversation between the Scot and the Bohemian who boasted of his liberty.
"But you are subject to instant execution, at the pleasure of the Judge."
"Be it so," returned the Bohemian; "I can but die so much the sooner."
"And to imprisonment also," said the Scot; "and where, then, is your boasted freedom?"
"In my thoughts," said the Bohemian, "which no chains can bind."