The Higher Learning in America — Veblen


Introductory: The Place of the University in Modern Life

In any known civilization there will be found something in the way of esoteric knowledge. This body of knowledge will vary characteristically from one culture to another, differing both in content and in respect of the canons of truth and reality relied on by its adepts. But there is this common trait running through all civilizations, as touches this range of esoteric knowledge, that it is in all cases held, more or less closely, in the keeping of a select body of adepts or specialists — scientists, scholars, savants, clerks, priests, shamans, medicinemen — whatever designation may best fit the given case.

In the apprehension of the given society within which any such body of knowledge is found it will also be found that the knowledge in question is rated as an article of great intrinsic value, in some way a matter of more substantial consequence than any or all of the material achievements or possessions of the community. It may take shape as a system of magic or of religious beliefs, of mythology, theology, philosophy or science. But whatever shape it falls into in the given case, it makes up the substantial core of the civilization in which it is found, and it is felt to give character and distinction to that civilization.

In the apprehension of the group in whose life and esteem it lives and takes effect, this esoteric knowledge is taken to embody a systematization of fundamental and eternal truth; although it is evident to any outsider that it will take its character and its scope and method from the habits of life of the group, from the institutions with which it is bound in a web of give and take. Such is manifestly the case in all the historic phases of civilization, as well as in all those contemporary cultures that are sufficiently remote from our everyday interests to admit of their being seen in adequate perspective. A passably dispassionate inquiry into the place which modern learning holds in modern civilization will show that such is also the case of this latest, and in the mind of its keepers the most mature, system of knowledge. It should by no means be an insuperably difficult matter to show that this “higher learning” of the modern world, the current body of science and scholarship, also holds its place on such a tenure of use and wont, that it has grown and shifted in point of content, aims and methods in response to the changes in habits of life that have passed over the Western peoples during the period of its growth and ascendancy. Nor should it be embarrassingly difficult to reach the persuasion that this process of change and supersession in the scope and method of knowledge is still effectually at work, in a like response to institutional changes that still are incontinently going forward.1

To the adepts who are occupied with this esoteric knowledge, the scientists and scholars on whom its keeping devolves, the matter will of course not appear in just that light; more particularly so far as regards that special segment of the field of knowledge with the keeping and cultivation of which they may, each and several, be occupied. They are, each and several, engaged on the perfecting and conservation of a special line of inquiry, the objective end of which, in the view of its adepts, will necessarily be the final and irreducible truth as touches matters within its scope. But, seen in perspective, these adepts are themselves to be taken as creatures of habit, creatures of that particular manner of group life out of which their preconceptions in matters of knowledge, and the manner of their interest in the run of inquiry, have sprung. So that the terms of finality that will satisfy the adepts are also a consequence of habituation, and they are to be taken as conclusive only because and in so far as they are consonant with the discipline of habituation enforced by that manner of group life that has induced in these adepts their particular frame of mind.

Perhaps at a farther remove than many other current phenomena, but none the less effectually for that, the higher learning takes its character from the manner of life enforced on the group by the circumstances in which it is placed. These constraining circumstances that so condition the scope and method of learning are primarily, and perhaps most cogently, the conditions imposed by the state of the industrial arts, the technological situation; but in the second place, and scarcely less exacting in detail, the received scheme of use and wont in its other bearings has its effect in shaping the scheme of knowledge, both as to its content and as touches the norms and methods of its organization. Distinctive and dominant among the constituent factors of this current scheme of use and wont is the pursuit of business, with the outlook and predilections which that pursuit implies. Therefore any inquiry into the effect which recent institutional changes may have upon the pursuit of the higher learning will necessarily be taken up in a peculiar degree with the consequences which an habitual pursuit of business in modern times has had for the ideals, aims and methods of the scholars and schools devoted to the higher learning.

The Higher Learning as currently cultivated by the scholars and scientists of the Western civilization differs not generically from the esoteric knowledge purveyed by specialists in other civilizations, elsewhere and in other times. It engages the same general range of aptitudes and capacities, meets the same range of human wants, and grows out of the same impulsive propensities of human nature. Its scope and method are different from what has seemed good in other cultural situations, and its tenets and canons are so far peculiar as to give it a specific character different from these others; but in the main this specific character is due to a different distribution of emphasis among the same general range of native gifts that have always driven men to the pursuit of knowledge. The stress falls in a somewhat obviously different way among the canons of reality by recourse to which men systematize and verify the knowledge gained; which is in its turn due to the different habituation to which civilized men are subjected, as contrasted with the discipline exercised by other and earlier cultures.

In point of its genesis and growth any system of knowledge may confidently be run back, in the main, to the initiative and bias afforded by two certain impulsive traits of human nature: an Idle Curiosity, and the Instinct of Workmanship.2

In this generic trait the modern learning does not depart from the rule that holds for the common run. Men instinctively seek knowledge, and value it. The fact of this proclivity is well summed up in saying that men are by native gift actuated with an idle curiosity, — “idle” in the sense that a knowledge of things is sought, apart from any ulterior use of the knowledge so gained.3 This, of course, does not imply that the knowledge so gained will not be turned to practical account. In point of fact, although the fact is not greatly relevant to the inquiry here in hand, the native proclivity here spoken of as the instinct of workmanship will unavoidably incline men to turn to account, in a system of ways and means, whatever knowledge so becomes available. But the instinct of workmanship has also another and more pertinent bearing in these premises, in that it affords the norms, or the scheme of criteria and canons of verity, according to which the ascertained facts will be construed and connected up in a body of systematic knowledge. Yet the sense of workmanship takes effect by recourse to divers expedients and reaches its ends by recourse to varying principles, according as the habituation of workday life has enforced one or another scheme of interpretation for the facts with which it has to deal.

The habits of thought induced by workday life impose themselves as ruling principles that govern the quest of knowledge; it will therefore be the habits of thought enforced by the current technological scheme that will have most (or most immediately) to say in the current systematization of facts. The working logic of the current state of the industrial arts will necessarily insinuate itself as the logical scheme which must, of course, effectually govern the interpretation and generalizations of fact in all their commonplace relations. But the current state of the industrial arts is not all that conditions workmanship. Under any given institutional situation, — and the modern scheme of use and wont, law and order, is no exception,workmanship is held to a more or less exacting conformity to several tests and standards that are not intrinsic to the state of the industrial arts, even if they are not alien to it; such as the requirements imposed by the current system of ownership and pecuniary values. These pecuniary conditions that impose themselves on the processes of industry and on the conduct of life, together with the pecuniary accountancy that goes with them — the price system have much to say in the guidance and limitations of workmanship. And when and in so far as the habituation so enforced in the traffic of workday life goes into effect as a scheme of logic governing the quest of knowledge, such principles as have by habit found acceptance as being conventionally salutary and conclusive in the pecuniary conduct of affairs will necessarily leave their mark on the ideals, aims, methods and standards of science and those principles and scholarship. More particularly, standards of organization, control and achievement, that have been accepted as an habitual matter of course in the conduct of business will, by force of habit, in good part reassert themselves as indispensable and conclusive in the conduct of the affairs of learning. While it remains true that the bias of workmanship continues to guide the quest of knowledge, under the conditions imposed by modern institutions it will not be the naive conceptions of primitive workmanship that will shape the framework of the modern system of learning; but rather the preconceptions of that disciplined workmanship that has been instructed in the logic of the modern technology and sophisticated with much experience in a civilization in whose scheme of life pecuniary canons are definitive.

The modern technology is of an impersonal, matter-of-fact character in an unexampled degree, and the accountancy of modern business management is also of an extremely dispassionate and impartially exacting nature. It results that the modern learning is of a similarly matter-of-fact, mechanistic complexion, and that it similarly leans on statistically dispassionate tests and formulations. Whereas it may fairly be said that the personal equation once — in the days of scholastic learning — was the central and decisive factor in the systematization of knowledge, it is equally fair to say that in later time no effort is spared to eliminate all bias of personality from the technique or the results of science or scholarship. It is the “dry light of science” that is always in request, and great pains is taken to exclude all color of sentimentality.

Yet this highly sterilized, germ-proof system of knowledge, kept in a cool, dry place, commands the affection of modern civilized mankind no less unconditionally, with no more afterthought of an extraneous sanction, than once did the highly personalized mythological and philosophical constructions and interpretations that had the vogue in the days of the schoolmen.

Through all the mutations that have passed over this quest of knowledge, from its beginnings in puerile myth and magic to its (provisional) consummation in the “exact” sciences of the current fashion, any attentive scrutiny will find that the driving force has consistently been of the same kind, traceable to the same proclivity of human nature. In so far as it may fairly be accounted esoteric knowledge, or a “higher learning,” all this enterprise is actuated by an idle curiosity, a disinterested proclivity to gain a knowledge of things and to reduce this knowledge to a comprehensible system. The objective end is a theoretical organization. a logical articulation of things known, the lines of which must not be deflected by any consideration of expediency or convenience, but must run true to the canons of reality accepted at the time. These canons of reality, or of verity, have varied from time to time, have in fact varied incontinently with the passage of time and the mutations of experience. As the fashions of modern time have come on, particularly the later phases of modern life, the experience that so has shaped and reshaped the canons of verity for the use of inquiring minds has fallen more and more into the lines of mechanical articulation and has expressed itself ever more unreservedly in terms of mechanical stress. Concomitantly the canons of reality have taken on a mechanistic complexion, to the neglect and progressive disuse of all tests and standards of a more genial sort; until in the off-hand apprehension of modern men, “reality” comes near being identified with mechanical fact, and “verification” is taken to mean a formulation in mechanical terms. But the final test of this reality about which the inquiries of modern men so turn is not the test of mechanical serviceability for human use, but only of mechanistically effectual matter-of-fact.

So it has come about that modern civilization is in a very special degree a culture of the intellectual powers, in the narrower sense of the term, as contrasted with the emotional traits of human nature. Its achievements and chief merits are found in this field of learning, and its chief defects elsewhere. And it is on its achievements in this domain of detached and dispassionate knowledge that modern civilized mankind most ingenuously plumes itself and confidently rests its hopes. The more emotional and spiritual virtues that once held the first place have been overshadowed by the increasing consideration given to proficiency in matter-of-fact knowledge. As prime movers in the tide of civilized life, these sentimental movements of the human spirit belong in the past, -at least such is the self-complacent avowal of the modern spokesmen of culture. The modern technology, and the mechanistic conception of things that goes with that technology, are alien to the spirit of the “Old Order.” The Church, the court, the camp, the drawing-room, where these elder and perhaps nobler virtues had their laboratory and playground, have grown weedy and gone to seed. Much of the apparatus of the old order, with the good old way, still stands over in a state of decent repair, and the sentimentally reminiscent endeavors of certain spiritual “hold-overs” still lend this apparatus of archaism something of a galvanic life. But that power of aspiration that once surged full and hot in the cults of faith, fashion, sentiment, exploit, and honor, now at its best comes to such a head as it may in the concerted adulation of matter-of-fact.

This esoteric knowledge of matter-of-fact has come to be accepted as something worth while in its own right, a self-legitimating end of endeavor in itself, apart from any bearing it may have on the glory of God or the good of man. Men have, no doubt, always been possessed of a more or less urgent propensity to inquire into the nature of things, beyond the serviceability of any knowledge so gained, and have always been given to seeking curious explanations of things at large. The idle curiosity is a native trait of the race. But in past times such a disinterested pursuit of unprofitable knowledge has, by and large, not been freely avowed as a legitimate end of endeavour; or such has at any rate been the state of the case through that later segment of history which students commonly take account of. A quest of knowledge has overtly been rated as meritorious, or even blameless, only in so far as it has appeared to serve the ends of one or another of the practical interests that have from time to time occupied men’s attention. But latterly, during the past few generations, this learning has so far become an avowed “end in itself” that “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” is now freely rated as the most humane and meritorious work to be taken care of by any enlightened community or any public-spirited friend of civilization.

The expediency of such “increase and diffusion” is no longer held in doubt, because it has ceased to be a question of expediency among the enlightened nations, being itself the consummation upon which, in the apprehension of civilized men, the advance of culture must converge. Such has come to be the long-term common sense judgment of enlightened public opinion. A settled presumption to some such effect has found lodgment as a commonplace conviction in the popular mind, in much the same measure and in much the same period of time as the current body of systematic knowledge has taken on the character of matter of fact. For good or ill, civilized men have come to hold that this matter-of-fact knowledge of things is the only end in life that indubitably justifies itself. So that nothing more irretrievably shameful could overtake modern civilization than the miscarriage of this modern learning, which is the most valued spiritual asset of civilized mankind.

The truth of this view is borne out by the professions even of those lieutenants of the powers of darkness who are straining to lay waste and debauch the peoples of Christendom. In high-pitched concert they all swear by the name of a “culture” whose sole inalienable asset is this same intellectual mastery of matters of fact. At the same time it is only by drawing on the resources of this matter-of-fact knowledge that the protagonists of reaction are able to carry on their campaign of debauchery and desolation.

Other interests that have once been held in higher esteem appear by comparison to have fallen into abeyance, — religious devotion, political prestige, fighting capacity, gentility, pecuniary distinction, profuse consumption of goods. But it is only by comparison with the higher value given to this enterprise of the intellect that such other interests appear to have lost ground. These and the like have fallen into relative disesteem, as being sordid and insubstantial by comparison. Not that these “lower” human interests, answering to the “lower” ranges of human intellect, have fallen into neglect; it is only that they have come to be accounted “lower,” as contrasted with the quest of knowledge; and it is only on sober second thought, and perhaps only for the ephemeral present, that they are so accounted by the common run of civilized mankind. Men still are in sufficiently hot pursuit of all these time-worn amenities, and each for himself is, in point of fact, more than likely to make the pursuit of such self-seeking ends the burden of his life; but on a dispassionate rating, and under the corrective of deliberate avowal, it will appear that none of these commend themselves as intrinsically worth while at large. At the best they are rated as expedient concessions to human infirmity or as measures of defense against human perversity and the outrages of fortune. The last resort of the apologists for these more sordid endeavours is the plea that only by this means can the ulterior ends of a civilization of intelligence be served. The argument may fairly be paraphrased to the effect that in order to serve God in the end, we must all be ready to serve the Devil in the meantime.

It is always possible, of course, that this pre-eminence of intellectual enterprise in the civilization of the Western peoples is a transient episode; that it may eventually — perhaps even precipitately, with the next impending turn in the fortunes of this civilization — again be relegated to a secondary place in the scheme of things and become only an instrumentality in the service of some dominant aim or impulse, such as a vainglorious patriotism, or dynastic politics, or the breeding of a commercial aristocracy. More than one of the nations of Europe have moved so far in this matter already as to place the primacy of science and scholarship in doubt as against warlike ambitions; and the aspirations of the American community appear to be divided — between patriotism in the service of the captains of war, and commerce in the service of the captains of finance. But hitherto the spokesmen of any such cultural reversion are careful to declare a perfunctory faith in that civilization of disinterested intellectual achievement which they are endeavouring to suborn to their several ends. That such pro forma declarations are found necessary argues that the faith in a civilization of intelligence is still so far intact as to require all reactionaries to make their peace with it.

Meantime the easy matter-of-course presumption that such a civilization of intelligence justifies itself goes to argue that the current bias which so comes to expression will be the outcome of a secure and protracted experience. What underlies and has brought on this bent in the temper of the civilized peoples is a somewhat intricate question of institutional growth, and can not be gone into here; but the gradual shifting of this matter-of-fact outlook into the primacy among the ideals of modern. Christendom is sufficiently evident in point of fact, to any attentive student of modern times. Conceivably, there may come an abrupt term to its paramount vogue, through some precipitate sweep of circumstances; but it did not come in by anything like the sudden intrusion of a new invention in ideals — after the fashion of a religious conversion nor by the incursion of a hitherto alien element into the current scheme of life, but rather by force of a gradual and unintended, scarcely perceptible, shifting of emphasis between the several cultural factors that conjointly go to make up the working scheme of things.

Along with this shifting of matter-of-fact knowledge into the foreground among the ideals of civilized life, there has also gone on a similarly unpremeditated change in the attitude of those persons and establishments that have to do with this learning, as well as in the rating accorded them by the community at large. Again it is a matter of institutional growth, of self-wrought changes in the scheme of use and wont; and here as in other cases of institutional growth and displacement, the changes have gone forward for the most part blindly, by impulse, without much foreknowledge of any ulterior consequences to which such a sequence of change might be said to tend. It is only after the new growth of use and wont has taken effect in an altered range of principles and standards, that its direction and ulterior consequences can be appreciated with any degree of confidence. But this development that has thrown up matter-of-fact knowledge into its place of paramount value for modern culture has in a peculiar degree been unintended and unforeseen; the like applies to the case of the schools and the personnel involved; and in a peculiar degree the drift and bearing of these changes have also not been appreciated while they have been going forward, doubtless because it has all been a peculiarly unprecedented phenomenon and a wholly undesigned drift of habituation. History records nothing that is fairly comparable. No era in the historic past has set a pattern for guidance in this matter, and the experience of none of the peoples of history affords a clue by which to have judged beforehand of the probable course and outcome of this specifically modern and occidental phase of culture.

Some slight beginnings and excursions in the way of a cultivation of matter-of-fact learning there may have been, now and again, among the many shifting systems of esoteric lore that have claimed attention here and there, early and late; and these need by no means be accounted negligible. But they have on the whole come to nothing much better than broken excursions, as seen from the point of view of the latterday higher learning, and they have brought into bearing nothing appreciable in the way of establishments designed without afterthought to further the advance of disinterested knowledge. Anything like a cultural era that avowedly takes such a quest of knowledge as its chief and distinctive characteristic is not known to history. From this isolated state of the case it follows, unfortunately, that this modern phase is to be studied only in its own light; and since the sequence of development has hitherto reached no secure consummation or conclusion, there is also much room for conflicting opinions as to its presumptive or legitimate outcome, or even as to its present drift.


But notorious facts make this much plain, that civilized mankind looks to this quest of matter-of-fact knowledge as its most substantial asset and its most valued achievement, — in so far as any consensus of appreciation or of aspirations is to be found among civilized mankind; and there is no similar consensus bearing on any other feature of that scheme of life that characterizes modern civilization. It is similarly beyond dispute that men look to the modern system of schools and related establishments of learning for the furtherance and conservation of this intellectual enterprise. And among the various items of this equipment the modern university is, by tradition, more closely identified with the quest of knowledge than any other. It stands in a unique and peculiarly intimate relation to this intellectual enterprise. At least such is the current apprehension of the university’s work. The university is the only accepted institution of the modern culture on which the quest of knowledge unquestionably devolves; and the visible drift of circumstances as well as of public sentiment runs also to making this the only unquestioned duty incumbent on the university.

It is true, many other lines of work, and of endeavor. that may not fairly be called work, are undertaken by schools of university grade; and also, many other schools that call themselves “universities” will have substantially nothing to do with the higher learning. But each and several of these other lines of endeavor, into which the universities allow themselves to be drawn, are open to question. Their legitimacy remains an open question in spite of the interested arguments of their spokesmen, who advocate the partial submergence of the university in such enterprises as professional training, undergraduate instruction, supervision and guidance of. the secondary school system, edification of the unlearned by “university extension” and similar excursions into the field of public amusement, training of secondary school teachers, encouragement of amateurs by “correspondence,” etc. What and how much of these extraneous activities the university should allow itself is a matter on which there is no general agreement even among those whose inclinations go far in that direction; but what is taken for granted throughout all this advocacy of outlying detail is the secure premise that the university is in the first place a seminary of the higher learning, and that no school can make good its pretensions to university standing except by proving its fitness in this respect.4

The conservation and advancement of the higher learning involves two lines of work, distinct but closely bound together: (a) scientific and scholarly inquiry, and (b) the instruction of students.5 The former of these is primary and indispensable. It is this work of intellectual enterprise that gives its character to the university and marks it off from the lower schools. The work of teaching properly belongs in the university only because and in so far as it incites and facilitates the university man’s work of inquiry, — and the extent to which such teaching furthers the work of inquiry is scarcely to be appreciated without a somewhat extended experience. By and large, there are but few and inconsequential exceptions to the rule that teaching, as a concomitant of investigation, is distinctly advantageous to the investigator; particularly in so far as his work is of the nature of theoretical inquiry. The instruction necessarily involved in university work, therefore, is only such as can readily be combined with the work of inquiry, at the same time that it goes directly to further the higher learning in that it trains the incoming generation of scholars and scientists for the further pursuit of knowledge. Training for other purposes is necessarily of a different kind and is best done elsewhere; and it does not become university work by calling it so and imposing its burden on the men and equipment whose only concern should be the higher learning.

University teaching, having a particular and special purpose — the pursuit of knowledge — it has also a particular and special character, such as to differentiate it from other teaching and at the same time leave it relatively ineffective for other purposes. Its aim is to equip the student for the work of inquiry, not to give him facility in that conduct of affairs that turns such knowledge to “practical account.” Hence the instruction that falls legitimately under the hand of the university man is necessarily subsidiary and incidental to the work of inquiry, and it can effectually be carried on only by such a teacher as is himself occupied with the scrutiny of what knowledge is already in hand and with pushing the inquiry to further gains. And it can be carried on by such a teacher only by drawing his students into his own work of inquiry. The student’s relation to his teacher necessarily becomes that of an apprentice to his master, rather than that of a pupil to his schoolmaster.

A university is a body of mature scholars and scientists, the “faculty,” — with whatever plant and other equipment may incidentally serve as appliances for their work in any given case. The necessary material equipment may under modern conditions be very considerable, as may also the number of care-takers, assistants, etc.; but all that is not the university, but merely its equipment. And the university man’s work is the pursuit of knowledge, together with whatever advisory surveillance and guidance he may consistently afford such students as are entering on the career of learning at a point where his outlook and methods of work may be of effect for them. No man whose energies are not habitually bent on increasing and proving up the domain of learning belongs legitimately on the university staff. The university man is, properly, a student, not a schoolmaster. Such is the unmistakable drift of sentiment and professed endeavour, in so far as it is guided by the cultural aspirations of civilized mankind rather than by the emulative strategy of individuals seeking their own preferment.6

All this, of course, implies no undervaluing of the work of those men who aim to prepare the youth for citizenship and a practical career. It is only a question of distinguishing between things that belong apart. The scientist and the scholar on the one hand, and the schoolmaster on the other hand, both belong within the later growth of civilization; but a differentiation of the two classes, and a division of their work, is indispensable if they are to do their work as it should be done, and as the modern community thoughtfully intends that it should be done. And while such a division of labour has hitherto not been carried through with any degree of consistency, it is at least under way, and there is nothing but the presumption of outworn usage that continues to hold the two lines of work together, to the detriment of both; backed, it is true, by ambitions of self-aggrandizement on the part of many schools and many of their directorates.

The schoolmaster and his work may be equally, or more, valuable to the community at large — presumably more rather than less — but in so far as his chief interest is of the pedagogical sort his place is not in the university. Exposition, instruction and drill belong in and professional schools. The consistent aim there is, and should be, to instruct, to inculcate a knowledge of results, and to give the pupil a working facility in applying it. On the university level such information and training is (should be) incidental to the work of research. The university man is almost unavoidably a teacher, by precept and example, but he can not without detriment to his work as scientist or scholar serve as a taskmaster or a vehicle of indoctrination. The student who comes up to the university for the pursuit of knowledge is expected to know what he wants and to want it, without compulsion. If he falls short in these respects, if he has not the requisite interest and initiative, it is his own misfortune, not the fault of his teacher. What he has a legitimate claim to is an opportunity for such personal contact and guidance as will give him familiarity with the ways and means of the higher learning, — any information imparted to him being incidental to this main work of habituation. He gets a chance to make himself a scholar, and what he will do with his opportunities in this way lies in his own discretion.

The difference between the modern university and the lower and professional schools is broad and simple; not so much a difference of degree as of kind. There is no difficulty about apprehending or appreciating this difference; the dispute turns not on the practicability of distinguishing between the two, but on the desirability of letting such a distinction go into effect. It is a controversy between those who wish to hold fast that which once was good and those who look to make use of the means in hand for new ends and meet new exigencies.

The lower schools (including the professional schools) are, in the ideal scheme, designed to fit the incoming generation for civil life; they are therefore occupied with instilling such knowledge and habits as will make their pupils fit citizens of the world in whatever position in the fabric of workday life they may fall. The university on the other hand is specialized to fit men for a life of science and scholarship; and it is accordingly concerned, with such discipline only as will give efficiency in the pursuit of knowledge and fit its students for the increase and diffusion of learning. It follows that while the lower schools necessarily take over the surveillance of their pupils’ everyday life, and exercise a large measure of authority and responsible interference in that behalf, the university assumes (or should assume) no responsibility for its students’ fortunes in the moral, religious, pecuniary, domestic, or hygienic respect.

Doubtless the larger and more serious responsibility in the educational system belongs not to the university but to the lower and professional schools. Citizenship is a larger and more substantial category than scholarship; and the furtherance of civilized life is a larger and more serious interest than the pursuit of knowledge for its own idle sake. But the proportions which the quest of knowledge is latterly assuming in scheme of civilized life require that the establishments the to which this interest is committed should not be charged with extraneous duties; particularly not with extraneous matters themselves of such grave consequence as this training for citizenship and practical affairs. These are too serious a range of duties to be taken care of as a side-issue, by a seminary of learning, the members of whose faculty, if they are fit for their own special work, are not men of affairs or adepts in worldly wisdom.


In point of historical pedigree the American universities are of another derivation than their European counterpart; although the difference in this respect is not so sharp a matter of contrast as might be assumed at first sight. The European (Continental) universities appear to have been founded, originally, to meet the needs of professional training, more particularly theological (and philosophical) training in the earlier times. The American universities are, historically, an outgrowth of the American college; and the latter was installed, in its beginnings, largely as a means of professional training; chiefly training for Divinity, secondarily for the calling of the schoolmaster. But in neither case, neither in that of the European university nor in that of the American College, was this early vocational aim of the schools allowed to decide their character in the long run, nor to circumscribe the lines of their later growth. In both cases, somewhat alike, the two groups of schools came to their mature development, in the nineteenth century, as establishments occupied with disinterested learning, given over to the pursuit of intellectual enterprise, rather than as seminaries for training of a vocational kind. They still had a vocational value, no doubt, and the vocational needs of their students need not have been absent from the considerations that guided their directorates. It would particularly be found that the (clerical) directorates of the American colleges had more than half an eye to the needs of Divinity even at so late a date as when, in the third quarter of the century, the complexion of the American college situation began seriously to change. It is from this period — from the era of the Civil War and the Reconstruction — that the changes set in which have reshaped the academic situation in America.

At this era, some half a century ago, the American college was, or was at least pressed to be, given over to disinterested instruction, not specialized with a vocational, or even a denominational, bias. It was coming to take its place as the superior or crowning member, a sort of capstone, of the system of public instruction. The life history of any one of the state universities whose early period of growth runs across this era will readily show the effectual guidance of such an ideal of a college, as a superior and definitive member in a school system designed to afford an extended course of instruction looking to an unbiassed increase and diffusion of knowledge. Other interests, of a professional or vocational kind, were also entrusted to the keeping of these new-found schools; but with a conclusive generality the rule holds that in these academic creations a college establishment of a disinterested, non-vocational character is counted in as the indispensable nucleus, — that much was at that time a matter of course.

The further development shows two marked features: The American university has come into bearing; and the college has become an intermediate rather than a terminal link in the conventional scheme of education. Under the names “undergraduate” and “graduate,” the college and the university are still commonly coupled together as subdivisions of a complex whole; but this holding together of the two disparate schools is at the best a freak of aimless survival. At the worst, and more commonly, it is the result of a gross ambition for magnitude on the part of the joint directorate. Whether the college lives by itself as an independent establishment on a foundation of its own, or is in point of legal formality a subdivision of the university establishment, it takes its place in the educational scheme as senior member of the secondary school system, and it bears no peculiarly close relation to the university as a seat of learning. At the closest it stands to the university in the relation of a fitting school; more commonly its relations are closer with the ordinary professional and vocational schools; and for the most part it stands in no relation, beyond that of juxtaposition, with the one or the other.

The attempt to hold the college and the no means together in bonds of ostensible Solidarity is by university an advisedly concerted adjustment to the needs of scholarship as they run today. By historical accident the older American universities have grown into bearing on the ground of an underlying college, and the external connection so inherited has not usually been severed; and by ill-advised, or perhaps unadvised, imitation the younger universities have blundered into encumbering themselves with an undergraduate department to simulate this presumptively honourable pedigree, to the detriment both of the university and of the college so bound up with it. By this arrangement the college — undergraduate department — falls into the position of an appendage, a side issue, to be taken care of by afterthought on the part of a body of men whose chief legitimate interest runs — should run — on other things than the efficient management of such an undergraduate training-school, — provided always that they are a bona fide university faculty, and not a body of secondary-school teachers masquerading under the assumed name of a university.

The motive to this inclusion of an undergraduate department in the newer universities appears commonly to have been a headlong eagerness on the part of the corporate authorities to show a complete establishment of the conventionally accepted pattern, and to enroll as many students as possible.

Whatever may have been true for the earlier time, when the American college first grew up and flourished, it is beyond question that the undergraduate department which takes the place of the college today cannot be rated as an institution of the higher learning. At the best it is now a school for preliminary training, preparatory to entering on the career of learning, or in preparation for the further training required for the professions; but it is also, and chiefly, an establishment designed to give the concluding touches to the education of young men who have no designs on learning, beyond the close of the college curriculum. It aims to afford a rounded discipline to those whose goal is the life of fashion or of affairs. How well, or how ill, the college may combine these two unrelated purposes is a question that does not immediately concern the present inquiry. It is touched on here only to point the contrast between the American college and the university.

It follows from the character of their work that while the university should offer no set curriculum, the college has, properly, nothing else to offer. But the retention or inclusion of the college and its aims within the university corporation has necessarily led to the retention of college standards and methods of control even in what is or purports to be university work; so that it is by no means unusual to find university (graduate) work scheduled in the form of a curriculum, with all that boarding-school circumstance and apparatus that is so unavoidable an evil in all undergraduate training. In effect, the outcome of these short-sighted attempts to take care of the higher learning by the means and method of the boys’ school, commonly is to eliminate the higher learning from the case and substitute the aims and results of a boys’ training-school.

Undergraduate work being task work, it is possible, without fatal effect, to reduce it to standard units of time and volume, and so control and enforce it by a system of accountancy and surveillance; the methods of control, accountancy and coercion that so come to be worked out have all that convincing appearance of tangible efficiency that belongs to any mechanically defined and statistically accountable routine, such as will always commend itself to the spirit of the schoolmaster; the temptation to apply such methods of standardized routine wherever it is at all feasible is always present, and it is cogently spoken for by all those to whom drill is a more intelligible conception than scholarship. The work of learning, which distinctively belongs in the university, on the other hand, is a matter of personal contact and co-operation between teacher and student, and is not measurable in statistical units or amenable to mechanical tests; the men engaged in this work can accordingly offer nothing of the same definite character in place of the rigid routine and accountancy advocated by the schoolmasters; and the outcome in nearly all cases where the control of both departments vests in one composite corporate body, as it usually does, is the gradual insinuation of undergraduate methods and standards in the graduate school; until what is nominally university work settles down, in effect, into nothing more than an extension of the undergraduate curriculum. This effect is had partly by reducing such of the graduate courses as are found amenable to the formalities of the undergraduate routine, and partly by dispensing with such graduate work as will not lend itself, even ostensibly, to the schoolmaster’s methods.

What has been said of the college in this connection holds true in the main also of the professional and technical schools. In their aims, methods and achievements these schools are, in the nature of the case, foreign to the higher learning. This is, of course, not said in disparagement of their work; rather the contrary. As is the case with the college, so these schools also are often included in the university corporation by ties of an external and factitious kind, frequently by terms of the charter. But this formal inclusion of them under the corporate charter does not set aside the substantial discrepancy between their purpose, work and animus and those of the university proper. It can only serve to trouble the single-mindedness of both. It leaves both the pursuit of learning and the work of preparation for the professions somewhat at loose ends, confused with the bootless illusion that they are, in some recondite way, parallel variants of a single line of work.

In aim and animus the technical and professional schools are “practical,” in the most thorough going manner; while the pursuit of knowledge that occupies the scientists and scholars is not “practical” in the slightest degree. The divergent lines of interest to be taken care of by the professional schools and the university, respectively, are as widely out of touch as may well be within the general field of human knowledge. The one is animated wholly by considerations of material expediency, and the range of its interest and efforts is strictly limited by consideration of the useful effect to which the proficiency that it gives is to be turned; the other knows nothing of expediency, and is influenced by no consideration of utility or disutility, in its appreciation of the knowledge to be sought. The animus of the one is worldly wisdom; of the other, idle curiosity. The two are incommensurably at variance so far as regards their purpose, and in great measure also as regards their methods of work, and necessarily so.

But with all this divergence of purpose and animus there is after all a broad and very substantial bond of community between the technical schools, on the one hand, and the proper work of the university, on the other hand, in that the two are, in great measure, occupied with the same general range of materials and employ somewhat the same logical methods in handling these materials. But the relation that results from this community of material is almost wholly external and mechanical. Nor does it set up any presumption that the two should expediently be included in the same corporate establishment, or even that they need be near neighbors or need maintain peculiarly close relations of personnel. The technical schools, and in a less degree the professional schools not properly classed as technical, depend in large measure on results worked out by the scientists, who properly belong in the universities. But the material so made use of for technical ends are taken over and turned to account without afterthought. The technologist’s work is related to that of the scientists very much as the work of the designer is related to that of the inventor. To a considerable extent the scientists similarly depend on the work of the technical men for information, and for correction and verification of their own theoretical work. But there is, on this account, nothing to gain by associating any given technical school with any given university establishment; incorporation in any given university does not in any degree facilitate the utilization of the results of the sciences by the technical men; nor is it found in practice to further the work of the sciences. The schools in question do not in any peculiar degree draw on the work of the scientists attached to their particular university, nor do these scientists, on the other hand, have any special use for the work of their associated technical schools. In either case the source drawn on is the general literature of the subject, the body of materials available at large, not the work of particular men attached to particular schools. The generalizations of science are indispensable to the technical men; but what they draw on is the body of science at large, regardless of what any given university establishment may have had to do with the work out of which the particular items of scientific information have emerged. Nor is this scientific material useful to the technologists for the further pursuit of science; to them the scientific results are data, raw material to be turned to practical use, not means by which to carry scientific inquiry out to further results.

Similarly, the professions and the technical schools afford valuable data for the use of the professed scholars and scientists, information that serves as material of Investigation, or that will at least be useful as a means of extending correcting, verifying and correlating lines of inquiry on which they are engaged. But the further bearing of these facts upon the affairs of life, their expediency or futility, is of no interest or consequence. The affairs of life, except the affairs of learning, do not touch the interest of the university man as a scholar or scientist. What is of importance to him in all these matters with which the professions and technologists are busy is their bearing on those matters of fact into which his scientific interest leads him to inquire. The tests and experiments carried out at these technical schools, as well as the experience gathered by the members of their staff, will occasionally afford him material for further inquiry or means whereby to check results already arrived at; but for such material he does not by preference resort to any one of the technical schools as contrasted with any other, and it is quite an idle question whether the source of any such serviceable information is a school attached to his own university. The investigator finds his material where he can; which comes to saying that he draws on the general body of technical knowledge, with no afterthought as to what particular technical school may have stood in some relation or other to the information which he finds useful.

Neither to the man engaged in university work nor to the technical schools that may serve him as occasional sources of material is there any advantage to be derived from their inclusion in the university establishment. Indeed, it is a detriment to both parties, as has already been remarked, but more decidedly to the university men. By including the technical and professional schools in the university corporation the technologists and professional men attached to these schools are necessarily included among the academic staff, and so they come to take their part in the direction of academic affairs at large. In what they so do toward shaping the academic policy they will not only count for all they are worth, but they are likely to count for something more than their due share in this respect; for they are to some extent trained to the conduct of affairs, and so come in for something of that deference that is currently paid to men of affairs, at the same time that this practical training gives them an advantage over their purely academic colleagues, in the greater assurance and adroitness with which they are able to present their contentions. By virtue of this same training, as well as by force of current practical interest, the technologist and the professional man are, like other men of affairs, necessarily and habitually impatient of any scientific or scholarly work that does not obviously lend itself to some practical use. The technologist appreciates what is mechanically serviceable; the professional man, as, for instance, the lawyer, appreciates what promises pecuniary gain; and the two unite with the business-man at large in repudiating whatever does not look directly to such a utilitarian outcome. So that as members of the academic staff these men are likely to count at their full weight toward the diversion of the university’s forces from disinterested science and scholarship to such palpably utilitarian ends.

But the active measures so taken by the academic authorities at the instance of the schoolmasters and “practical” men are by no means the only line along which their presence in the academic corporation affects the case. Intimate association with these “utilitarians” unavoidably has its corrupting effect on the scientists and scholars, and induces in them also something of the same bias toward “practical” results in their work; so that they no longer pursue the higher learning with undivided interest, but with more or less of an eye to the utilitarian main chance; whereby the advantages of specialization, which are the reason for these schools, are lost, and the pride of the modern community is wounded in its most sensitive spot — the efficiency of its specialists.

So also, on the other hand, the formal incorporation of these technological and professional men in the academic body, with its professedly single-minded interest in learning, has its effect on their frame of mind. They are, without intending it, placed in a false position, which unavoidably leads them to court a specious appearance of scholarship, and so to invest their technological discipline with a degree of pedantry and sophistication; whereby it is hoped to give these schools and their work some scientific and scholarly prestige, and so lift it to that dignity that is pressed to attach to a non-utilitarian pursuit of learning. Doubtless this pursuit of scholarly prestige is commonly successful, to the extent that it produces the desired conviction of awe in the vulgar, who do not know the difference; but all this make-believe scholarship, however successfully staged, is not what these schools are designed for; or at least it is not what is expected of them, nor is it what they can do best and most efficiently.

To the substantial gain of both parties, though with some lesion of the vanity of both, the separation between the university and the professional and technical schools should be carried through and made absolute. Only on such conditions can either the one or the other do its own work in a workmanlike manner. Within the university precincts any aim or interest other than those of irresponsible science and scholarship — pursuit of matter-of-fact knowledge — are to be rated as interlopers.


To all this there is the ready objection of the schoolmasters and utilitarians that such a project is fantastic and unpractical, useless and undesirable; that such has not been the mission of the university in the past, nor its accepted place and use in the educational system of today and yesterday,. that the universities of Christendom have from their first foundation been occupied with professional training and useful knowledge; that they have been founded for utilitarian purposes and their work has been guided mainly or altogether by utilitarian considerations; — all of which is conceded without argument. The historical argument amounts to saying that the universities were founded before modern civilization took on its modern character, before the disinterested pursuit of knowledge had come to take the first place among the ideals of civilized mankind, and that they were established to take care of those interests which were then accounted of first importance, and that this intellectual enterprise in pursuit of disinterested knowledge consequently was not at that time confided to the care of any special establishment or freely avowed as a legitimate interest in its own right.

It is true that, by historical accident, the university at large has grown out of professional training-schools, primarily schools for training in theology, secondarily in law and medicine. It is also true, in like wise and in like degree, that modern science and scholarship have grown out of the technology of handicraft and the theological philosophy of the schoolmen.7 But just as it would be a bootless enterprise to cut modern science back into handicraft technology, so would it be a gratuitous imbecility to prune back the modern university to that inchoate phase of its life-history and make it again a corporation for the training of theologians, jurists and doctors of medicine. The historical argument does not enjoin a return to the beginning of things, but rather an intelligent appreciation of what things are coming to.

The genesis of the university at large, taken as an institution of civilized life, is an incident of the transition from the barbarian culture of the middle ages to modern times, and its later growth and acquirement of character is an incident of the further growth of modern civilization; and the character of this later growth of the university reflects the bent of modern civilization, as contrasted with the barbarian spirit of things in the mediaeval spiritual world.

In a general way, the place of the university in the culture of Christendom is still substantially the same as it has been from the beginning. Ideally, and in the popular apprehension, it is, as it has always been, a corporation for the cultivation and care of the community’s highest aspirations and ideals. But these ideals and aspirations have changed somewhat with the changing scheme of the Western civilization; and so the university has also concomitantly so changed in character, aims and ideals as to leave it still the corporate organ of the community’s dominant intellectual interest. At the same time, it is true, these changes in the purpose and spirit of the university have always been, and are always being, made only tardily, reluctantly, concessively, against the protests of those who are zealous for the commonplaces of the day before yesterday. Such is the character of institutional growth and change; and in its adaptation to the altered requirements of an altered scheme of culture the university has in this matter been subject to the conditions of institutional growth at large. An institution is, after all, a prevalent habit of thought, and as such it is subject to the conditions and limitations that surround any change in the habitual frame of mind prevalent in the community.

The university of medieval and early modern times, that is to say the barbarian university, was necessarily given over to the pragmatic, utilitarian disciplines, since that is the nature of barbarism; and the barbarian university is but another, somewhat sublimated, expression of the same barbarian frame of mind. The barbarian culture is pragmatic, utilitarian, worldly wise, and its learning partakes of the same complexion. The barbarian, late or early, is typically an unmitigated pragmatist; that is the spiritual trait that most profoundly marks him off from the savage on the one hand and from the civilized man on the other hand. “He turns a keen, untroubled face home to the instant need of things.”

The high era of barbarism in Europe, the Dark and Middle Ages, is marked off from what went before and from what has followed in the cultural sequence, by a hard and fast utilitarian animus. The all-dominating spiritual trait of those times is that men then made the means of life its end. It is perhaps needless to call to mind that much of this animus still survives in later civilized life, especially in so far as the scheme of civilized life is embodied in the competitive system. In that earlier time, practical sagacity and the serviceability of any knowledge acquired, its bearing on individual advantage, spiritual or temporal, was the ruling consideration, as never before or since. The best of men in that world were not ashamed to avow that a boundless solicitude for their own salvation was their worthiest motive of conduct, and it is plain in all their speculations that they were unable to accept any other motive or sanction as final in any bearing. Saint and sinner alike knew no higher rule than expediency, for this world and the next. And, for that matter, so it still stands with the saint and the sinner, — who make up much of the commonplace human material in the modern community; although both the saint and the sinner in the modern community carry, largely by shamefaced subreption, an ever increasing side-line of other and more genial interests that have no merit in point of expediency whether for this world or the next.

Under the rule of such a cultural ideal the corporation of learning could not well take any avowed stand except as an establishment for utilitarian instruction, the practical expediency of whose work was the sole overt test of its competency. And such it still should continue to be according to the avowed aspirations of the staler commonplace elements in the community today. By subreption, and by a sophisticated subsumption under some ostensibly practical line of interest and inquiry, it is true, the university men of the earlier time spent much of their best endeavour on matters of disinterested scholarship that had no bearing on any human want more to the point than an idle curiosity; and by a similar turn of subreption and sophistication the later spokesmen of the barbarian ideal take much complacent credit for the “triumphs of modern science” that have nothing but an ostensible bearing on any matter of practical expediency, and they look to the universities to continue this work of the idle curiosity under some plausible pretext of practicality.

So the university of that era unavoidably came to be organized as a more or less comprehensive federation of professional schools or faculties devoted to such branches of practical knowledge as the ruling utilitarian interests of the time demanded. Under this overshadowing barbarian tradition the universities of early modern times started out as an avowed contrivance for indoctrination in the ways and means of salvation, spiritual and temporal, individual and collective, — in some sort a school of engineering, primarily in divinity, secondarily in law and politics, and presently in medicine and also in the other professions that serve a recognized utilitarian interest. After that fashion of a university that answered to this manner of ideals and aspirations had once been installed and gained a secure footing, its pattern acquired a degree of authenticity and prescription, so that later seminaries of learning came unquestioningly to be organized on the same lines; and further changes of academic policy and practice, such as are demanded by the later growth of cultural interests and ideals, have been made only reluctantly and with a suspicious reserve, gradually and by a circuitous sophistication; so that much of the non-utilitarian scientific and scholarly work indispensable to the university’s survival under modern conditions is still scheduled under the faculties of law or medicine, or even of divinity.

But the human propensity for inquiry into things, irrespective of use or expediency, insinuated itself among the expositors of worldly wisdom from the outset; and from the first this quest of idle learning has sought shelter in the university as the only establishment in which it could find a domicile, even on sufferance, and so could achieve that footing of consecutive intellectual enterprise running through successive generations of scholars which is above all else indispensable to the advancement of knowledge. Under the régime of unmitigated pragmatic aims that ruled the earlier days of the European universities, this pursuit of knowledge for its own sake was carried on as a work of scholarly supererogation by men whose ostensibly sole occupation was the promulgation of some accredited line of salutary information. Frequently it had to be carried on under some colourable masquerade of practicality. And yet so persistent has the spirit of idle curiosity proved to be, and so consonant with the long-term demands even of the laity, that the dissimulation and smuggling-in of disinterested learning has gone on ever more openly and at an ever increasing rate of gain; until in the end, the attention given to scholarship and the non-utilitarian sciences in these establishments has come far to exceed that given to the practical disciplines for which the several faculties were originally installed. As time has passed and as successive cultural mutations have passed over the community, shifting the centre of interest and bringing new ideals of scholarship, and bringing the whole cultural fabric nearer to its modern complexion, those purposes of crass expediency that were of such great moment and were so much a matter of course in earlier academic policy, have insensibly fallen to the rank of incidentals. And what had once been incidental, or even an object of surreptitious tolerance in the university, remains today as the only unequivocal duty of the corporation of learning, and stands out as the one characteristic trait without which no establishment can claim rank as a university.

Philosophy — the avowed body of theoretical science in the late medieval time — had grown out of the schoolmen’s speculations in theology, being in point of derivation a body of refinements on the divine scheme of salvation; and with a view to quiet title, and to make manifest their devotion to the greater good of eschatological expediency, those ingenious speculators were content to proclaim that their philosophy is the handmaid of theology — Philosophia theologiae ancillans. But their philosophy has fallen into the alembic of the idle curiosity and has given rise to a body of modern science, godless and unpractical, that has no intended or even ostensible bearing on the religious fortunes of mankind; and their sanctimonious maxim would today be better accepted as the subject of a limerick than of a homily. Except in degree, the fortunes of the temporal pragmatic disciplines, in Law and Medicine, have been much the same as that of their elder sister, Theology. Professionalism and practical serviceability have been gradually crowded into the background of academic interests and overlaid with quasi-utilitarian research — such as the history of jurisprudence, comparative physiology, and the like. They have in fact largely been eliminated.8

And changes running to this effect have gone farthest and have taken most consistent effect in those communities that are most fully imbued with the spirit of the modern peaceable civilization. It is in the more backward communities and schools that the barbarian animus of utilitarianism still maintains itself most nearly intact, whether it touches matters of temporal or of spiritual interest. With the later advance of culture, as the intellectual interest has gradually displaced the older ideals in men’s esteem, and barring a reactionary episode here and there, the university has progressively come to take its place as a seat of the higher learning, a corporation for the pursuit of knowledge; and barring accidental reversions, it has increasingly asserted itself as an imperative necessity, more and more consistently, that the spirit of disinterested inquiry must have free play in these seminaries of the higher learning, without afterthought as to the practical or utilitarian consequences which this free inquiry may conceivably have for the professional training or for the social, civil or religious temper of the students or the rest of the community. Nothing is felt to be so irremediably vicious in academic policy as a coercive bias, religious, political, conventional or professional, in so far as it touches that quest of knowledge that constitutes the main interest of the university.

Professional training and technological work at large have of course not lost ground, either in the volume and the rigour of their requirements or in the application bestowed in their pursuit; but as within the circle of academic interests, these utilitarian disciplines have lost their preferential place and have been pushed to one side; so that the professional and technical schools are now in fact rated as adjuncts rather than as integral constituents of the university corporation. Such is the unmistakable sense of this matter among academic men. At the same time these vocational schools have, one with another, progressively taken on more of a distinctive, independent and close-knit structure; an individual corporate existence, autonomous and academically self-sufficient, even in those cases where they most tenaciously hold to their formal connection with the university corporation. They have reached a mature phase of organization, developed a type of personnel and control peculiar to themselves and their special needs, and have in effect come out from under the tutelage of the comprehensive academic organization of which they once in their early days were the substantial core. These schools have more in common among themselves as a class than their class have with the academic aims and methods that characterize the university proper. They are in fact ready and competent to go on their own recognizances, — indeed they commonly resent any effective interference or surveillance from the side of the academic corporation of which they nominally continue to be members, and insist on going their own way and arranging their own affairs as they know best. Their connection with the university is superficial and formal at the best, so far as regards any substantial control of their affairs and policy by the university authorities at large; it is only in their interference with academic policy, and in injecting their own peculiar bias into university affairs, that they count substantially as corporate members of the academic body. And in these respects, what is said of the professional and technical schools holds true also of the undergraduate departments.

It is quite feasible to have a university without professional schools and without an undergraduate department; but it is not possible to have one without due provision for that non-utilitarian higher learning about which as a nucleus these utilitarian disciplines cluster. And this in spite of the solicitous endeavours of the professional schools to make good their footing as the substantial core of the corporation.


As intimated above, there are two main reasons for the continued and tenacious connection between these schools and the universities: (a) ancient tradition, fortified by the solicitous ambition of the university directorate to make a brave show of magnitude, and (b) the anxiety of these schools to secure some degree of scholarly authentication through such a formal connection with a seat of learning. These two motives have now and again pushed matters fairly to an extreme in the reactionary direction. So, for instance, the chances of intrigue and extra-academic clamour have latterly thrown up certain men of untempered “practicality” as directive heads of certain universities, and some of these have gone so far as to avow a reactionary intention to make the modern university a cluster of professional schools or faculties, after the ancient barbarian fashion.9 But such a policy of return to the lost crudities is unworkable in the long run under modern conditions. It may serve excellently as a transient expedient in a campaign of popularity, and such appears to have been its chief purpose where a move of this kind has been advocated, but it runs on superficial grounds and can afford neither hope nor fear of a permanent diversion in the direction so spoken for.

In the modern community, under the strain of the price system and the necessities of competitive earning and spending, many men and women are driven by an habitual bias in favour of a higher “practical” efficiency in all matters of education; that is to say, a more single-minded devotion to the needs of earning and spending. There is, indeed, much of this spirit abroad in the community, and any candidate for popular favour and prestige may find his own advantage in conciliating popular sentiment of this kind. But there is at the same time equally prevalent through the community a long-term bias of another kind, such as will not enduringly tolerate the sordid effects of pursuing an educational policy that looks mainly to the main chance, and unreservedly makes the means of life its chief end. By virtue of this long-term idealistic drift, any seminary of learning that plays fast and loose in this way with the cultural interests entrusted to its keeping loses caste and falls out of the running. The universities that are subjected in this fashion to an experimental reversion to vocationalism, it appears, will unavoidably return presently to something of the non-professional type, on pain of falling into hopeless discredit. There have been some striking instances, but current not ions of delicacy will scarcely admit a citation of nam es and dates. And while the long-term drift of the modern idealistic bias may not permit the universities permanently to be diverted to the service of Mammon in this fashion, yet the unremitting endeavours of “educators” seeking prestige for worldly wisdom results at the best in a fluctuating state of compromise, in which the ill effects of such bids for popularity are continually being outworn by the drift of academic usage.

The point is illustrated by the American state universities as a class, although the illustration is by no means uniformly convincing. The greater number of these state schools are not, or are not yet, universities except in name. These establishments have been founded, commonly, with a professed utilitarian purpose, and have started out with professional training as their chief avowed aim. The purpose made most of in their establishment has commonly been to train young men for proficiency in some gainful occupation; along with this have gone many half-articulate professions of solicitude for cultural interests to be taken care of by the same means. They have been installed by politicians looking for popular acclaim, rather than by men of scholarly or scientific insight, and their management has not infrequently been entrusted to political masters of intrigue, with scant academic qualifications; their foundations has been the work of practical politicians with a view to conciliate the good will of a lay constituency clamouring for things tangibly “useful” — that is to say, pecuniarily gainful. So these experts in short-term political prestige have made provision for schools of a “practical” character; but they have named these establishments “universities” because the name carries an air of scholarly repute, of a higher, more substantial kind than any naked avowal of material practicality would give. Yet, in those instances where the passage of time has allowed the readjustment to take place, these quasi-“universities,” installed by men of affairs, of a crass “practicality,” and in response to the utilitarian demands of an unlearned political constituency, have in the long run taken on more and more of an academic, non-utilitarian character, and have been gradually falling into line as universities claiming a place among the seminaries of the higher learning. The long-term drift of modern cultural ideals leaves these schools no final resting place short of the university type, however far short of such a consummation the greater number of them may still be found.

What has just been said of the place which the university occupies in modern civilization, and more particularly of the manner in which it is to fill its place, may seem something of a fancy sketch. It is assuredly not a faithful description of any concrete case, by all means not of any given American university; nor does it faithfully describe the line of policy currently pursued by the directorate of any such establishment. Yet it is true to the facts, taken in a generalized way, and it describes the type to which the American schools unavoidably gravitate by force of the community’s long-term idealistic impulsion, in so far as their drift is not continually corrected and offset by vigilant authorities who, from motives of their own, seek to turn the universities to account in one way and another. It describes an institutional ideal; not necessarily an ideal nursed by any given individual, but the ideal logically involved in the scheme of modern civilization, and logically coming out of the historical development of Western civilization hitherto, and visible to any one who will dispassionately stand aside and look to the drift of latterday events in so far as they bear on this matter of the higher learning, its advancement and conservation.

Many if not most of those men who are occupied with the guidance of university affairs would disown such a projected ideal, as being too narrow and too unpractical to fit into the modern scheme of things, which is above all else a culture of affairs; that it does not set forth what should be aimed at by any who have the good of mankind at heart, or who in any sensible degree appreciate the worth of real work as contrasted with the leisurely intellectual finesse of the confirmed scientist and man of letters. These and the like objections and strictures may be well taken, perhaps. The question of what, in any ulterior sense, ought to be sought after in the determination of academic policy and the conduct of academic affairs will, however, not coincide with the other question, as to what actually is being accomplished in these premises, on the one hand, nor as to what the long-term cultural aspirations of civilized men are setting toward, on the other hand.

Now, it is not intended here to argue the merits of the current cultural ideals as contrasted with what, in some ulterior sense, ought to be aimed at if the drift of current aspirations and impulse should conceivably permit a different ideal to be put into effect. It is intended only to set forth what place, in point of fact and for better or worse, the higher learning and the university hold in the current scheme of Western civilization, as determined by that body of instinctive aspirations and proclivities that holds this civilization to its course as it runs today; and further to show how and how far certain institutional factors comprised in this modern scheme of life go to help or hinder the realization of this ideal which men’s aspirations and proclivities so make worth while to them. The sketch here offered in characterization of the university and its work, therefore, endeavours to take account of the community’s consensus of impulses and desires touching the animus and aims that should move the seminaries of the higher learning, at the same time that it excludes those subsidiary or alien interests in whose favour no such consensus is found to prevail.

There are many of these workday interests, extraneous to the higher learning, each and several of which may be abundantly good and urgent in its own right; but, while they need not be at cross purposes with the higher learning, they are extraneous to that disinterested pursuit of knowledge in which the characteristic intellectual bent of modern civilization culminates. These others are patent, insistent and palpable, and there need be no apprehension of their going by default. The intellectual predilection — the idle curiosity — abides and asserts itself when other pursuits of a more temporal but more immediately urgent kind leave men free to take stock of the ulterior ends and values of life; whereas the transient interests, preoccupation with the ways and means of life, are urgent and immediate, and employ men’s thought and energy through the greater share of their life. The question of material ways and means, and the detail requirements of the day’s work, are for ever at hand and for ever contest the claims of any avowed ulterior end; and by force of unremitting habituation the current competitive system of acquisition and expenditure induces in all classes such a bias as leads them to overrate ways and means as contrasted with the ends which these ways and means are in some sense designed to serve.

So, one class and another, biassed by the habitual preoccupation of the class, will aim to divert the academic equipment to some particular use which habit has led them to rate high; or to include in the academic discipline various lines of inquiry and training which are extraneous to the higher learning but which the class in question may specially have at heart; but taking them one with another, there is no general or abiding consensus among the various classes of the community in favour of diverting the academic establishment to any other specific uses, or of including in the peculiar work of the university anything beyond the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

Now, it may be remarked by the way, that civilized mankind should have come so to set their heart on this chase after a fugitive knowledge of inconsequential facts may be little to the credit of the race or of that scheme of culture that so centres about this cult of the idle curiosity. And it is perhaps to their credit, as well as to the credit of the community whose creatures they are, that the spokesmen of some tangible ideal, some materially expedient aspiration, embodying more of worldly wisdom, are for ever urging upon the institutions of the higher leaning one or another course of action of a more palpably expedient kind. But, for better or worse, the passage of time brings out the fact that these sober and sensible courses of policy so advocated are after all essentially extraneous, if not alien, to those purposes for which a university can be maintained, on the ground afforded by the habits of thought prevalent in the modern civilized community.

One and another of these “practical” and expedient interests have transiently come to the front in academic policy, and have in their time given a particular bent to the pursuit of knowledge that has occupied the universities. Of these extraneous interests the two most notable have, as already indicated above, been the ecclesiastical and the political. But in the long run these various interests and ideals of expediency have, all and several, shown themselves to be only factional elements in the scheme of culture, and have lost their preferential voice in the shaping of academic life. The place in men’s esteem once filled by church and state is now held by pecuniary traffic, business enterprise. So that the graver issues of academic policy which now tax the discretion of the directive powers, reduce themselves in the main to a question between the claims of science and scholarship on the one hand and those of business principles and pecuniary gain on the other hand. In one shape or another this problem of adjustment, reconciliation or compromise between the needs of the higher learning and the demands of business enterprise is for ever present in the deliberations of the university directorate. This question gathers in its net all those perplexing details of expediency that now claim the attention of the ruling bodies.


Since the paragraphs that make up the foregoing chapter were written the American academic community has been thrown into a new and peculiar position by the fortunes of war. The progress and the further promise of the war hold in prospect new and untried responsibilities, as well as an unexampled opportunity. So that the outlook now (June 1918) would seem to be that the Americans are to be brought into a central place in the republic of learning; to take a position, not so much of dominance as of trust and guardianship; not so much by virtue of their own superior merit as by force of the insolvency of the European academic community.

Again, it is not that the war is expected to leave the lines of European scholars and scientists extinct; although there is no denying the serious inroads made by the war, both in the way of a high mortality among European men of learning, and in the way of a decimation of the new men on whom the hopes of the higher learning for the incoming generation should have rested. There is also a serious diversion of the young forces from learning to transiently urgent matters of a more material, and more ephemeral nature. But possibly more sinister than all these losses that are in a way amenable to statistical record and estimate, is the current and prospective loss of morale. Naturally, it would be difficult and hazardous to offer an appraisal of this prospective loss of morale, with which it is to be expected that the disintegrated European community of learned men will come through the troubled times. But that there is much to be looked for on this score, that there is much to be written off in the way of lowered aggregate efficiency and loss of the spirit of team-work, — that much there is no denying, and it is useless to blink the fact.

There has already a good deal of disillusionment taken effect throughout the nations of Christendom in respect of the temper and trustworthiness of German scholarship these past three or four years, and it is fairly beyond computation what further shift of sentiment in this respect is to be looked for in the course of a further Possible period of years given over to the same line of experience. Doubtless, the German scholars, and therefore the German seats of learning whose creatures and whose custodians these German scholars are, have earned much of the distrust and dispraise that is falling to their share. There is no overlooking the fact that they have proved the frailty of their hold on those elementary principles of sobriety and single mind that underlie all sound work in the field of learning. To any one who has the interest of the higher learning at heart, the spectacle of maudlin chauvinism and inflated scurrility unremittingly placed on view by the putative leaders of German science and scholarship can not but be exceedingly disheartening.

It may be argued, and it may be true, of course, that much of this failure of intelligence and spiritual force among Germany’s men of learning is of the nature of a transient eclipse of their powers; that with the return of settled conditions there is due to come a return of poise and insight. But when all due argument has been heard, it remains true that the distrust set afoot in the mind of their neighbours, by this highly remarkable exhibition of their personal equation, will long inure to the disability of Germany’s men of learning as a force to be counted on in that teamwork that is of the essence of things for the advancement of learning. In effect, Germany, and Germany’s associates in this warlike enterprise, will presumably be found bankrupt in this respect on the return of peace, even beyond the other nations.

These others have also not escaped the touch of the angel of decay, but the visible corruption of spiritual and intellectual values does not go the same length among them. Nor have these others suffered so heavy a toll on their prospective scholarly man power. It is all a matter of degree and of differential decline, coupled with a failure of corporate organization and of the usages and channels of communion and co-operation. Chauvinistic self-sufficiency and disesteem of their neighbours have apparently also not gone so deep and far among the other nations; although here again it is only a relative degree of immunity that they enjoy.

And all this holds true of the Americans in much the same way as of the rest; except that the Americans have, at least hitherto, not been exposed to the blight in anything like the same degree as any one of those other peoples with whom they come in comparison here. It is, of course, not easy to surmise what may yet overtake them, and the others with them; but judged on the course of things hitherto, and on the apparent promise of the calculable future, it is scarcely to be presumed that the Americans are due to suffer so extreme a degree of dilapidation as the European peoples, — even apart from the accentuated evil case of the Germans. The strain has hitherto been lighter here, and it promises so to continue, whether the further duration of the war shall turn out to be longer or shorter. The Americans are, after all, somewhat sheltered from the impact; and so soon as the hysterical anxiety induced by the shock has had time to spend itself, it should reasonably be expected that this people will be able soberly to take stock of its assets and to find that its holdings in the domain of science and scholarship are, in the main, still intact.

Not that no loss has been incurred, nor that no material degree of derangement is to be looked for, but in comparison with what the experience of the war is bringing to the Europeans, the case of the Americans should still be the best there is to be looked for and the best is always good enough, perforce. So it becomes a question, what the Americans will do with the best opportunity which the circumstances offer. And on their conduct of their affairs in this bearing turns not only their own fortune in respect of the interests of science and scholarship, but in great measure the fortunes of their overseas friends and co-partners in the republic of learning as well.

The fortunes of war promise to leave the American men of learning in a strategic position, in the position of a strategic reserve, of a force to be held in readiness, equipped and organized to meet the emergency that so arises, and to retrieve so much as may be of those assets of scholarly equipment and personnel that make the substantial code of Western civilization. And so it becomes a question of what the Americans are minded to do about it. It is their opportunity, and at the same time it carries the gravest responsibility that has yet fallen on the nation; for the spiritual fortunes of Christendom are bound up with the line of policy which this surviving contingent of American men of learning shall see fit to pursue. They are not all that is to be left over when the powers of decay shall begin to retire, nor are they, perhaps, to be the best and most valuable contingent among these prospective survivors; but they occupy a strategic position, in that they are today justly to be credited with disinterested motives, beyond the rest, at the same time that they command those material resources without which the quest of knowledge can hope to achieve little along the modern lines of inquiry. By force of circumstances they are thrown into the position of keepers of the ways and means whereby the republic of learning is to retrieve its fortunes. By force of circumstances they are in a position, if they so choose, to shelter many of those masters of free inquiry whom the one-eyed forces of reaction and partisanship overseas will seek to suppress and undo; and they are also in a position, if they so choose, to install something in the way of an international clearing house and provisional headquarters for the academic community throughout that range of civilized peoples whose goodwill they now enjoy — a place of refuge and a place of meeting, confluence and dissemination for those views and ideas that live and move and have their being in the higher learning.

There is, therefore, a work of reconstruction to be taken care of in the realm of learning, no less than in the working scheme of economic and civil institutions. And as in this other work of reconstruction, so here; if it is to be done without undue confusion and blundering it is due to be set afoot before the final emergency is at hand. But there is the difference that, whereas the framework of civil institutions may still, with passable success, be drawn on national lines and confined within the national frontiers; and while the economic organization can also, without fatal loss, be confined in a similar fashion, in response to short-sighted patriotic preconceptions; the interests of science, and therefore of the academic community, do not run on national lines and can not similarly be confined within geographical or political boundaries. In the nature of the case these interests are of an international character and can not be taken care of except by unrestricted collusion and collaboration among the learned men of all those peoples whom it may concern. Yet there is no mistaking the fact that the spirit of invidious patriotism has invaded these premises, too, and promises to bungle the outcome; which makes the needed work of reconstruction all the more difficult and all the more imperative. Unhappily, the state of sentiment on both sides of the line of cleavage will presumably not admit a cordial understanding and co-operation between the German contingent and the rest of the civilized nations, for some time to come. But the others are in a frame of mind that should lend itself generously to a larger measure of co-operation in this respect now than ever before.

So it may not seem out of place to offer a suggestion, tentatively and under correction, looking to this end. A beginning may well be made by a joint enterprise among American scholars and universities for the installation of a freely endowed central establishment where teachers and students of all nationalities, including Americans with the rest, may pursue their chosen work as guests of the American academic community at large, or as guests of the American people in the character of a democracy of culture. There should also be nothing to hinder the installation of more than one of these academic houses of refuge and entertainment; nor should there be anything to hinder the enterprise being conducted on such terms of amity, impartiality and community interest as will make recourse to it an easy matter of course for any scholars whom its opportunities may attract. The same central would at the same time, and for the time being, take care of those channels of communication throughout the academic world that have been falling into enforced neglect under the strain of the war. So also should provision be made, perhaps best under the same auspices, for the (transient) taking-over of the many essential lines of publicity and publication on which the men engaged in scholarly and scientific inquiry have learned to depend, and which have also been falling into something of a decline during the war.

Measures looking to this end might well be made, at the same time, to serve no less useful a purpose within the American Academic community. As is well known, there prevails today an extensive and wasteful competitive duplication of plant, organization and personnel among the American universities, as regards both publications and courses of instruction. Particularly is this true in respect of that advanced work of the universities that has to do with the higher learning. At the same time, these universities are now pinched for funds, due to the current inflation of prices. So that any proposal of this nature, which might be taken advantage of as an occasion for the pooling of common issues among the universities, might hopefully be expected to be welcomed as a measure of present relief from some part of the pecuniary strain under which they are now working.

But competition is well ingrained in the habitual outlook of the American schools. To take the issue to neutral ground, therefore, where this competitive animus may hopefully be counted on to find some salutary abatement, it may be suggested that a practicable nucleus for this proposed joint enterprise can well be found in one or another — perhaps in one and another — of those extra-academic foundations for research of which there already are several in existence, — as, e.g., the Carnegie Institution. With somewhat enlarged powers, or perhaps rather with some abatement of restrictions, and with such additional funds as may be required, the necessary work and organization should readily be taken care of by such an institution. Further growth and ramification would be left to future counsel and advisement.

The contemplated enterprise would necessarily require a certain planning and organization of work and something in the way of an administrative and clerical staff,a setting up of something in the way of “organization tables”; but there can be no question of offering detailed proposals on that head here. Yet the caution may well be entered here that few specifications are better than many, in these premises, and that the larger the latitude allowed from the outset, the fewer the seeds of eventual defeat, — as is abundantly illustrated by contraries.

It is also evident that such an enterprise will involve provision for some expenditure of funds; presumably a somewhat generous expenditure; which comes near implying that recourse should be had to the public revenues, or to resources that may legitimately be taken over by the public authorities from private hands where they now serve no useful purpose. There are many items of material resources in the country that come legitimately under this head. At the same time it is well in this connection to call to mind that there is no prospect of the country’s being in any degree impoverished in the course of the war; so that there need be no apprehension of a shortage of means for the carrying on of such an enterprise, if only the available sources are drawn on without prejudice. In the mind of any disinterested student of the American economic situation, there can be no serious apprehension that the American people, collectively, will be at all worse off in point of disposable means at the close of the war than they were at its beginning; quite the contrary in fact. To any one who will look to the facts it is evident that the experience of the war, and the measures taken and to be taken, are leading to a heightened industrial productiveness and a concomitant elimination of waste. The resulting net gain in productive efficiency has not gone at all far, and there need be no apprehension of its going to great lengths; but, for more or less, it is going so far as safely to promise a larger net annual production of useful goods in the immediate future than in the immediate past; and the disposable means of any people is always a matter of the net annual production, and it need be a question of nothing else. The manner in which this net product is, and is to be, shared among the classes and individuals of the community is another question, which does not belong here.

A question of graver weight and of greater perplexity touches the presumptive attitude of the several universities and their discretionary authorities in the face of any proposed measure of this kind; where the scope of the enterprise is so far beyond their habitual range of interest. When one calls to mind the habitual parochialism of the governing boards of these seminaries of the higher learning, and the meticulous manoeuvres of their executives seeking each to enhance his own prestige and the prestige of his own establishment, there is not much of an evident outlook for large and generous measures looking to the common good. And yet it is also to be called to mind that these governing boards and executives are, after all, drawn from the common stock of humanity, picked men as they may be; and that they are subject, after all, to somewhat the same impulses and infirmities as the common run, picked though they may be with a view to parochialism and blameless futility. Now, what is overtaking the temper of the common run under the strain of the war situation should be instructive as to what may be also looked for at the bands of these men in whose discretion rest the fortunes of the American universities. There should be at least a fighting chance that, with something larger, manlier, more substantial, to occupy their attention and to shape the day’s work for them, these seminaries of learning may, under instant pressure, turn their best efforts to their ostensible purpose, “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men,” and to forego their habitual preoccupation with petty intrigue and bombastic publicity, until the return of idler days.

NOTES:1. An inquiry of this kind has been attempted elsewhere: Cf. The Instinct of Workmanship. chapter vii, pp. 321-340; “The Place of Science in Modern Civilization”, American Journal of Sociology. Vol. XI (March, 1906), pp. 585-609; “The Evolution of the Scientific Point of View,” University of California Chronicle (1908), Vol. X, No. 4, pp. 395-416.

2. Cf. The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, ch.i and pp. 30-45, 52-62, 84-89.

3. In the crude surmises of the pioneers in pragmatism this proposition was implicitly denied; in their later and more advisedly formulated positions the expositors of pragmatism have made peace with it.

4. The essential function of the university is to bring together, for the transmission of experience and impulse, the sages of the passing and the picked youths of the coming generation. By the extent and fulness with which they establish these social contacts, and thus transmit the wave of cumulative experience and idealist impulse — the real sources of moral and intellectual progress — the universities are to be judged. — Victor Branford, Interpretations and Forecasts, ch. VI. “The Present as a Transition.” p 288.

5. Cf., Geo. T. Ladd, University Control, p. 349.

6. Cf., e.g., J. McKeen Cattell, University Control, Part III, ch. V., “Concerning the American University.” “The university is those who teach and those who learn and the work they do.” “The university is its men and their work. But certain externals are necessary or at least usual — buildings and equipment, a president and trustees.”

“The papers by other writers associated with Mr Cattell in this volume run to the same effect whenever they touch the same topic; and, indeed, it would be difficult to find a deliberate expression to the contrary among men entitled to speak in these premises.

It may be in place to add here that the volume referred to, on University Control, has been had in mind throughout the following analysis and has served as ground and material for much of the argument.

7. Cf. The Instinct of Workmanship, ch. vi, vii.

8. With the current reactionary trend of things political and civil toward mediaeval-barbarian policies and habits of thought in the Fatherland, something of a correlative change has also latterly come in evidence in the German universities; so that what is substantially “cameralistic science” — training and information for prospective civil servants and police magistrates is in some appreciable measure displacing disinterested inquiry in the field of economics and political theory. This is peculiarly true of those corporations of learning that come closely in touch with the Cultus Ministerium.

9. Cf. “Some Considerations On the Function of the State University.” (Inaugural Address of Edmund Janes James, Ph.D., LL.D.), Science, November 17, 1905.

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