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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/June 1915/The Liberal Arts and Scientific Management

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 86‎ | June 1915



THERE are no doubt a great many easily attainable data which the general public or its individual members, in the effort to improve civic or industrial affairs, may well employ some one to collect and set in order for them. There may even be some justification for the existence of the professional investigator, though there is the greatest danger that as a class and in the long run he will do more harm than good by seeing too much or seeing awry.

It is safe to say, however, that not even the professional investigator will ever fathom the mystery of the college professor—and of course I mean him of the less demonstrable sort, the professor of liberal arts. Man is an ingenious animal, and the professional investigator is a superman, but there are limits to human capacity.

If the professional investigator ever compiles an intelligible report on the college professor, it will be either because he himself is a college professor, or because he takes the word of the college professor; and even then it will satisfy neither professor nor public.

It would be surprising indeed if a college professor—a real college professor, I repeat, one of the useless kind; not one of the kind whose services are so easily translated into money and who are really nothing but business men—it would be a great surprise if a real college professor ever undertook a "survey" of his fellows. He knows too much about the nature of their calling. Next to the ministry, or even beyond it, the profession of liberal arts is removed from the rough business of life, and occupies itself with the affairs of the mind and soul. The religious life and the intellectual life have always set their own standards, and always will. Both of them know and feel what they are aiming at, and they alone really know. The world may indeed fix the manner and amount of college receipt and expenditure, but the purposes and methods and results of liberal education have never been susceptible of "scientific management," and never will be. The world's inability to set standards, or even to comprehend them, is proved by its very attempt to investigate. Investigation is really an avowal of the intention to force the liberal arts into the moulds of worldly business. Were the intention to succeed, the result would be, not liberal education, but worldly business.

It would be quite as surprising if the college professor attempted to give "scientific" answers to the questions of the professional investigator. The last thing that either the professor of liberal arts or his disciples would attempt is a scientific or "practical" demonstration of his efficiency. He is unable to demonstrate it, in the ordinary sense, even to himself, to say nothing of the world.

Add to these reasons that even if the college professor could demonstrate his importance, he would be the last man to do so in the blanks of a questionnaire, and you have my excuse for presuming to speak for him when the professional investigator is already in the field.


The college professor's work may be considered in several aspects.

The first of these aspects is the one most familiar to the general public, and is consequently the basis on which his work is usually estimated. This is the classroom aspect.

But even this aspect is only superficially understood. The profession of teaching is thought of as an occupation in which a certain amount of previously acquired knowledge and method is applied in routine. It is like the goldsmith's occupation, or the dentist's, or any other calling with fixed office or working hours. The professor of liberal arts himself is thought of as a person who spends a minimum of time in routine work, has a great many unemployed hours during the school year, and during a very long vacation is absolutely free.

The fact is, however, that the average college professor spends almost as much time in class room and office as the average clerk in the employ of corporation or state. Count in the time he is in the laboratory and office before and after classes—in faculty and committee meetings, in conferences with individual students and colleagues—and you will find him employed more hours than the clerk. Count in the time he spends after these duties are done—in reading and correcting themes, exercises and notes, in reading and refining on the lessons and lectures of the next day—and you will find him far exceeding the limits of the carpenter's and bricklayer's day, and even that of the common laborer.

Nor is this all the time and effort he expends. The professor's work is never out of his mind. Coming or going, eating and drinking, the college and its affairs are always with him. If he is not talking of them or doing them, he is thinking of them. The Saturday which he is supposed to give up to recreation is more likely than not a busier intellectual day than the others. The Sunday which he is supposed to devote to worship and meditation is also given in no small part to reading and thinking which inevitably center about the college work. His very recreation becomes, in spite of him, a part of the college business. He walks with a friend, and they discuss college problems. He reads with his wife, and they choose their magazine articles and books with a view to the effect upon his college work. He engages in physical exercise, and it is for the sake of intellectual efficiency. The significance to him of red blood is that without it he can be neither inspired nor inspiring. And the long vocation—on that, too, he looks with the professional eye. The long vacation is his great opportunity for the reading and writing that routine work has made impossible during the year—for the renewal of his intellectual storage batteries for another year. More likely than not, he does less reading and writing than he desires because he knows that his physical and nervous batteries also need re-storing.

The physical and nervous expenditure of the college professor's life is not usually appreciated. Talk is cheap, we are told, with the implication that it is easy, and there is no denying that to some kinds of people some kinds of talk are both cheap and easy; but the sustained talk of a fifty-minute lecture, or the almost sustained talk of a recitation period, especially if the lecturer or teacher is warmed with enthusiasm, is not a task to be repeated many times on the same day without a manner of exhaustion far different from mere bodily fatigue, and more lasting. It should surprise no one that men and women who spend five days of the week in work of such intensity, and two more in work that differs only in degree, feel at the year's end the need of a prolonged period for recuperation.

The college professor does not measure his time—which means that he also does not begrudge it. And the reason why he does not is that in the main his pleasure coincides with his duty. He gives his time ungrudgingly because he likes to. I do not forget the fine bits of humor about the professor—"a man with not enough brains to be a clerk, and too little muscle to dig ditches." As a matter of fact, he is a college professor because he is fitted for and enjoys the intellectual life, and because he has followed his bent. Almost, if not quite as much as the clergyman, he has been "called." He has not selected his vocation; his vocation has selected him. And almost, if not quite as much, with him as with the clergyman, salary is but an accident of vocation.

The college professor's liking for his work, together with his comparative liberty, is no doubt responsible for the impression that he has an easy time. In one way, the impression is well grounded. He does enjoy a degree of liberty, for his vacations are long and his work elastic. Time does pass rapidly and easily, because he is for a great part of it absorbed in congenial tasks. Of the necessary drudgery of the profession, let us say nothing here. If it is criminal to accept pay for what one likes to do, he is indeed an offender.

But it should not be forgotten by the efficiency zealots that the college professor and his work represent an all-important principle in scientific management. Congeniality of task is a great factor of industrial economy, and the greatest promoter of both the employer's material interest and his peace of mind. The liberal arts professor's critics should remember that actual enjoyment of occupation is a greater stimulus to working well and working long than any office regulation or promise of salary.

The college professor is working hours enough. Not infrequently, he is working too many hours for either his own or the general good. The clear head and the buoyant heart are as indispensable to teaching as to preaching—one of them perhaps more so—and neither is possible to the jaded man. Should benevolent legislation—or professorial trades-unionism—get far enough to forbid the professor's working more than eight hours a day, or after six o'clock, or with too great rapidity, it is conceivable that in respect at least of buoyancy his work would be improved.

The college professor is working hours enough, and he is earning his salary. I am not going to make a display of statistics here. They could be made to prove a great many things—among them, that it is no wonder college professors marry late, have few children, and seem glad of the opportunity to earn a few dollars outside the college walls. But statistics are always under suspicion of perjury, so it will be just as well, and much simpler, merely to repeat that the professor is earning his salary, and to let it go at that. For my first year's instruction, in one of the many "greatest universities in the world," I received eight hundred dollars and the satisfaction of hard work in fields I liked. One hundred dollars went for books, and I was married. To qualify for this position, I had spent four years as undergraduate and four years more as graduate, two of them in Europe. Salaries may have advanced somewhat during the past fifteen years, but the prices of wives and babies, and other necessities of a really human life, have shown them a clean pair of heels.

This is not a complaint—at least, not an ill-natured complaint. There is no doubt that if college professors in general, especially those in the smaller institutions, were better paid, the level of ability in the profession would be raised. Books, travel and study abroad, are the great means of growth in the intellectual life, and there are very few who can afford them. But there is no great reason for thinking that a rise in salaries on a large scale would have the commensurate effect upon teaching. There may be some truth in the assertion sometimes made that the brightest and most capable young men in college are attracted to the more highly paid professions, with the implication that the teaching profession suffers; but there is not much cause for worry on this account. Any professor of experience will say that among all these "bright and capable" young men there is only once in a while a real mind, and that the peculiar combination of mind and soul that constitutes the ideal of the teacher is even more rare; and that the young man who possesses the combination rarely fails to enter the teaching profession—naturally, and not for the financial reason.

It would be a sorry event for liberal education—and for technical education too—if the principles of scientific management were really applied: if the professor's preparation were formally prescribed, if hours were fixed and tasks made absolutely definite, if promotions and salaries were determined as in the business world, and all the worldly ways of inspection, stimulation, and compulsion were introduced. There is already too much of all this—too much talk of "units," of the " instructional force" and the "educational plant," of "efficiency" and "output," of "investment" and "returns." One university not more than a thousand miles from where I sit has a noon whistle. If things keep on at this rate, some day when it blows, some hungry or time-grudging scientifically managed professor will drop an expensive piece of apparatus, and the state will pay dearly for its whistle.

No one, however, need worry lest this sorry day come in very truth. Teaching is an inspirational calling. Love of the intellectual life is its foundation and its effect. Inspiration may not be handled, weighed, measured, bought or sold. No college professor ever succeeded because he was "managed." The possible loss through irregularity in the college professor's work is nothing compared with the certain loss should he learn to work in the spirit of the clerk or the union man.


A second aspect of the college professor is less familiar. I mean that in which he is seen in the larger or richer institutions, where the greater amount of money has made it possible for him to realize more fully the ideals of his class.

It is in this second aspect that the college professor is most freely criticized. The general public, usually in the person of some one with a political or journalistic axe to grind, runs an eye through the columns of the semester program, and is surprised to find a professor scheduled for twelve hours, or ten, or even as few as six.

"Six hours!" exclaims the general public. "But of course that means six hours a day."

"No, six hours a week. Be assured of the incredibly outrageous fact."

The general public is aghast.

"What? Three thousand dollars a year for teaching six hours a week for nine months? Why, that's $13.888888. . . an hour!"

No wonder the general public is aghast. It was scandalized even before, when told of the professor in the smaller institution who received a smaller salary for four or five times the instruction. If it is the case of a state institution, and the general public pays the professor's salary and owns him, there is likely in these days to be at least the threat of investigation and "general cleaning up." For the public has been educated by the professional demagogue to assume that dirt is normal.

The demagogue does not encourage the public to reflect. It would interfere alike with his pleasure and his profit.

And yet reflection is easy. Like the professor in the small college, the university professor has administrative duties. He is chairman of a large department, perhaps, and that sometimes means oversight of the work of a score of instructors and the expenditure of large sums for books and apparatus. If he is not, he must nevertheless keep office hours, attend meetings and conferences, conduct a correspondence with teachers' agencies, school boards, and alumni, answer questions, make reports, and perhaps inspect schools. He must attend various association meetings, local and national, whose work is an integral part of his profession. He has social duties which are in reality professional—departmental dinners, the entertainment of visiting scholars and lecturers.

Last of all, he must prepare for the six hours, for which he is there first of all. If the general public would examine only a little more closely, it would perhaps find that all the six hours consisted of lectures, or the conduct of graduate work, and that they required a great deal of writing and an incredible amount of reading. A lecture in the history of the fine arts may involve the reading of two or three recent books. A lecture in science may entail a week's work in the preparation of experimental apparatus. One sitting of the seminar may require the examination of half a dozen technical articles. This kind of work is different from the mere teaching of how to construe a sentence, how to solve a problem in algebra, or how to perform a chemical analysis. The greatest and most depressing burden of the professor with few hours of instruction is the obligation to keep abreast of his subject—an obligation which it is impossible for even the minutest specialist in the longest established subject fully to meet.

If the general public will use pencil and paper after all the facts are in, it will find that, instead of six hours in the week for nine months in the year, the college professor is spending on the average eight hours a day for six days in the week through the whole of the year, and that, instead of $13.888888. . . an hour, he receives $1.201923072692. . .

This is for expert service in a profession requiring unusually protracted preparation, and involving social relations with the best paid classes of the community. If the college professor were a mere scientific manager of time and money, he would be insane to continue in a profession which never makes him rich, which brings him on the average only a living, and which is frequently a luxury made possible only by independent means. And yet there are those who think that the professor himself should be scientifically managed. What does keep him at work and give him value at all is something incalculable—an internal, driving, not an external, compelling force; and neither scientific management nor trades-unionism has yet learned to deal with internal, driving forces.


There is a third aspect of the liberal arts professor's function which is still more imperfectly appreciated by the ordinary public.

The college professor is an expert. Like all other experts, he is the means of contact between the mind of the public and the mind of learning. These two minds are unable to communicate with any degree of ease; the world, with all the business it has to do, can not hope to find time for the examination and sifting of the immense piles of fact that constitute the great bodies of knowledge.

The professor is an interpreter. He receives, transforms, and transmits. If he is a professor of science, he interprets the world of nature. If he is a professor of art, he interpret's ideals of beauty. Without his services, art and science would be to the general run of mankind "a mere arrangement of colors, or a rough footway where they may very well break their shins"—to use a phrase from Stevenson. If he is a historian, he interprets the past, and the present in the light of the past. If he is a professor of literature or philosophy, he interprets the wisdom, the emotion, and the conduct of human experience. He is a mediator between his own generation and generations gone. He bridges the chasm between the modern and the ancient, the quick and the dead. He is the lens that gathers and brings to a focus the thousand rays of knowledge. He is second only to the artist in helping the race to remember what it has done, and how, and why, and to what purpose. The artist made the records; the professor of liberal arts interprets them.

And the professor of liberal arts is not an interpreter only. He is an apostle. There is an intellectual life, as there is a spiritual, to enter which ye must be born again. The professor is the priest of this life. His great ambition is to bring minds into the intellectual kingdom. He guides, inspires, converts, baptizes, ministers. Outwardly, he is concerned with concrete instruction; in reality, he is much more concerned with the quickening of the mind. The kingdom of the intellectual is within you. To say it once more, the professor's calling is inspirational. If at any time inspiration fails him, nothing so makes him unhappy, nothing is so missed by his students. The tongues of men and angels can not make up for it.

There is a still larger service of the intellectual expert upon which the public rarely reflects. The college professor has a function and a duty beyond the class room, beyond his community, beyond his state. To put it in a word, it is the college professor, first of all, who is responsible for the intellectual standard of the world.

The direct personal contact of the professor with his students is of course one means of his contributing to the world's intellectual ideals. Through the scattering abroad of alumni his ideas are disseminated and his spirit communicated to society in general. But this is only one means.

It is in taking for granted that this indirect contact with the world is all, that the unreflecting are most mistaken. The college professor's work must not be thought of too much in terms of recitation room and students. The professorial class has its ways of reaching the world at large directly as well as indirectly. The liberal arts professor contributes to the intellectual life of his own community in the lectures and papers which he is so freely called on to give. He carries his message to the confines of state and even of nation. He may be invited to carry it to the great centers of the whole intellectual world. Still further, he contributes by means of the written as well as the spoken word. In the main, the solidly intellectual product of the entire press, whether in technical or popular form, whether in magazine or book, is the work of his hand. Even the lighter product is mostly the work of his disciples.

Add to interpretation, dissemination and inspiration, the duty of discovery. The college professor's function includes not only the increase of knowledge in the individual and the elevation of the intellectual standard in the world at large, but the actual advancement of learning. College and professor alike are not for their own campus alone, but for society in general.

Naturally, the delivering of lectures and the writing of articles and the conduct of experiment and research can not be done by men who consume most of their time and all of their energy in the recitation room and office. This is where the ignorance and narrowness of those who would scientifically manage the professor's time are most clearly manifest. The cry of "students and class room first," like other demagogic cries, never fails to win a measure of applause.

There are two considerations, however, upon which the critics of these activities should be taught to reflect. One is that, as a matter of fact, other things being equal, professors who lecture, write, and engage in research, are better teachers than those who do not. The professor who is not engaged in this way does not grow. Long continued power of inspiration depends upon continual growth, and growth depends upon continual discovery. It may be discovery, for the general intellectual world, of what has not yet been known, or it may be discovery, for the professor himself, of what the world of intellect already knows—the conquest of the intellectual heritage which none of us can possess without conquest; but discovery of some sort is essential both to usefulness and happiness, because it is essential to freshness and vigor of growth. The other consideration has already been mentioned—the relation of institutions of learning and their faculties to the world of universal learning.

The college professor with the sis hours is not denying himself recreation and health for selfish ends, except as some little craving for distinction moves him. Least of all is he investigating and writing books because he will be paid money for it. He studies and publishes because he is impelled by the law of his being and the ideal of his calling. The intellectual life is, and always has been, a freemasonry. Learning is, and always has been, almost as much as religion, without money and without price. The apostle of scientific management who imagines that it may be dealt with after the manner of a commodity, is ignorant. The state that attempts to follow his counsel is stupidly, even if unintentionally, illiberal and uncivic.

As to whether the advancement of learning and the elevation of the intellectual standard constitute a benefit to the state, any one who has read of dark ages and ages of enlightenment, or is acquainted with cultivated men and ignorant, or has lived in intellectual and intellectless centers, may settle the question for himself. It is the difference between running water and the stagnant pool.

And further, as to the uses of advanced scholarship in the liberal arts. The public is familiar with the absurdities of the dry-as-dust professor, and takes great credit to itself when it more or less goodhumoredly tolerates him. It does not stop to think that the books and articles and lectures which are its own sole means of intelligent thinking about the past and present of nature and mankind are possible only because of the patience and devotion of those same dry-as-dust professors, who have searched out the details of fact from which enlightened conclusions could be drawn. It does not stop to think that knowledge has always proceeded from above downward—which is only another way of saying that not all men can be leaders, and that progress is always a matter of leadership.

Least of all does the public stop to think, while clamoring for the practical and discouraging the liberal arts, that pure learning, learning for the mere satisfaction of the learner, has always preceded applied learning. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but pure science has always been its father, and pure science is dependent for its spirit upon the household of pure learning.


There is still another aspect of the liberal arts professor. So far, it is his active side that we have considered. But his contribution to society lies not only in the services of teacher and scholar. It lies also. in his personal qualities. More than the members of almost any other profession or class, he contributes by Being, as well as by Doing.

With the college professor, too. Being is not, as it is in the case of most professions, an accident. It is a duty strictly required of him. The college professor must be clean-lipped and clean-hearted, honest and honorable. In what other calling, except the ministry, does a single instance of scandal involve immediate dismissal? The world is as strict with the college professor as with priest or pastor. "If a man desire the office of professor, he must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."

Not all the good qualities of the college professor, however, are prescribed. He possesses some characteristics that grow more or less spontaneously out of the nature of his calling. They are not characteristics which he in any way puts on the market; but they nevertheless make his class one which the world in general may contemplate with advantage to society.

He is usually an example of professional and civic generosity. He gladly gives to his work more than the legal requirement of time, he shares his knowledge freely with the community and the world, and he contributes to local religious and civic enterprise proportionally more in time and money than the wealthy professions with whom he is socially ranked. His hardest work, the scholar's research, is done without thought of money. If he takes money for a lecture or other expert service, it is never in the spirit of the ordinary expert. He takes it with something like self-accusation, feeling it an offense against conscience. In the rare, very rare, instances when his pay is more than "nominal," he wraps it up in the term "honorarium" before handling. There is no better proof of his usual attitude toward compensation of this kind than the surprise and sneer of the worldly man when the college professor presents a bill. It is as if a clergyman should charge for funerals. It is a salutary thing for society to have in its midst one class of men who demonstrate the possibility of the uncommercial life.

The college professor is an example of the workman in love with his work, the citizen unenvious, ungrudging, unmeddling, and clean of heart. Old Gate's words on the farmer describe him as well: "They that are occupied in that pursuit are least given to evil counsel." It is a good thing for the state, in these times of asserting rights and complaining of duties, to have also some sons of this sort. It has plenty who are not.

The college professor is a pronounced example of courtesy—courtesy of manners and courtesy of mind. He is tolerant and charitable. The habit of his life is the weighing of evidence. His first impulse is to seek his opponent's point of view. Courtesy with him has no connection with commerce.

His influence is also for cosmopolitanism and internationalism. . His is the one class to whom traveling is a business as well as a pleasure. He belongs to national and international organizations, and is likely to have personal and epistolary acquaintances in all the intellectual nations of the earth. His is the one class in America that knows the languages of other peoples, and enters into their souls. As a consequence, his heart and his voice are always for brotherhood and peace.

He is a force for conservatism. His teaching and thinking are concerned with the widening of his own and his students' horizon—abroad in space to foreign lands, and abroad in time to ages past. He realizes as no one else the immensity of geologic and human experience, and the fallibility of human effort. The habit of looking for permanent values is inbred in him, of disregarding the external and the temporary. To him, "the eternal verities" is no idle phrase. He has a natural distrust of new and over-facile schemes. He is given to contemplation rather than action. He is a brake, a balance wheel, a governor, a partial correction to the shouting optimism of enthusiastic ignorance.

He is a force for idealism. He is exceptionally free from contact with the sordidness of life. His converse in letters, art and history is with the beautiful and the noble in human thought and conduct. His duty involves the constant effort to reintroduce into human life the emotional experience of the past. Imagine the idealism of the liberal arts entirely removed from higher education; you will see life appreciably harder and more sordid.


The duty of the liberal arts professor is thus best described as a duty of Being. He must Be master of his subject. He must Be familiar with the general field of knowledge. He must Be intelligent in his thinking and in his feeling—which means that he must Be cultivated. He must Be inspired. He must Be an irradiator of inspiration. He must Be pure in his living.

All he has to Do, according to the standards of worldly business, is to instruct young men and women at certain hours of the day. According to worldly business, too, he should be scientifically managed. He should be made to Do as much as other men, and the effects of his Doing should be concrete and measurable.

But whatever this Doing accomplishes must be conditioned upon the thoroughness of the Being, and Being is not susceptible of measurement. In the same way, the most important result of his instruction, and its greatest value to the student and the state, lies in the Being which is the source of all best Doing in the individual citizen; land this, too, is not susceptible of measurement.

Scientific management applied to the liberal arts—or to any other teaching—is the most unintelligent of self-contradictions. To insist on the college professor's Doing more is to compel his Being less. If society does not want him and his influence, let it abolish his office. If it does want him, it should remember that the application to him and his work of rules from the industrial world would be equivalent to abolition.

The professor who is a failure is taken care of. He is discovered and put in his place—not by regents or trustees, and least of all by a professional investigator, but by his fellows. He is not the real thing. In the case of the professor who is the real thing, the more the talk of Efficiency, the less the Service.