The Higher Learning In America — Chapter 3
The Academic Administration and Policy
Men dilate on the high necessity of a businesslike organization and control of the university, its equipment, personnel and routine. What is had in mind in this insistence on an efficient system is that these corporations of learning shall set their affairs in order after the pattern of a well-conducted business concern. In this view the university is conceived as a business house dealing in merchantable knowledge, placed under the governing hand of a captain of erudition, whose office it is to turn the means in hand to account in the largest feasible output. It is a corporation with large funds, and for men biased by their workday training in business affairs it comes as a matter of course to rate the university in terms of investment and turnover. Hence the insistence on business capacity in the executive heads of the universities, and hence also the extensive range of businesslike duties and powers that devolve on them.
Yet when all these sophistications of practical wisdom are duly allowed for, the fact remains that the university is, in usage, precedent, and common sense preconception, an establishment for the conservation and advancement of the higher learning, devoted to a disinterested pursuit of knowledge. As such, it consists of a body of scholars and scientists, each and several of whom necessarily goes to his work on his own initiative and pursues it in his own way. This work necessarily follows an orderly sequence and procedure, and so takes on a systematic form, of an organic kind. But the system and order that so govern the work, and that come into view in its procedure and results, are the logical system and order of intellectual enterprise, not the mechanical or statistical systematization that goes into effect in the management of an industrial plant or the financiering of a business corporation.
Those items of human intelligence and initiative that go to make up the pursuit of knowledge, and that are embodied in systematic form in its conclusions, do not lend themselves to quantitative statement, and can not be made to appear on a balance-sheet. Neither can that intellectual initiative and proclivity that goes in as the indispensable motive force in the pursuit of learning be reduced to any known terms of subordination, obedience, or authoritative direction. No scholar or scientist can become an employee in respect of his scholarly or scientific work. Mechanical systematization and authoritative control can in these premises not reach beyond the material circumstances that condition the work in hand, nor can it in these external matters with good effect go farther than is necessary to supply the material ways and means requisite to the work, and to adapt them to the peculiar needs of any given line of inquiry or group of scholars. In order to their best efficiency, and indeed in the degree in which efficiency in this field of activity is to be attained at all, the executive officers of the university must stand in the relation of assistants serving the needs and catering to the idiosyncrasies of the body of scholars and scientists that make up the university;(1*) in the degree in which the converse relation is allowed to take effect, the unavoidable consequence is wasteful defeat. A free hand is the first and abiding requisite of scholarly and scientific work.
Now, in accepting office as executive head of a university, the incumbent necessarily accepts all the conditions that attach to the administration of his office, whether by usage and common sense expectation, by express arrangement, or by patent understanding with the board to which he owes his elevation to this post of dignity and command. By usage and precedent it is incumbent on him to govern the academic personnel and equipment with an eye single to the pursuit of knowledge, and so to conduct its affairs as will most effectually compass that end. That is to say he must so administer his office as best to serve the scholarly needs of the academic staff, due regard being scrupulously had to the idiosyncrasies, and even to the vagaries, of the men whose work he is called on to further. But by patent understanding, if not by explicit stipulation, from the side of the governing board, fortified by the preconceptions of the laity at large to the same effect, he is held to such a conspicuously efficient employment of the means in hand as will gratify those who look for a voluminous turnover. To this end he must keep the academic administration and its activity constantly in the public eye, with such “pomp and circumstance” of untiring urgency and expedition as will carry the conviction abroad that the university under his management is a highly successful going concern, and he must be able to show by itemized accounts that the volume of output is such as to warrant the investment. So the equipment and personnel must be organized into a facile and orderly working force, held under the directive control of the captain of erudition at every point, and so articulated and standardized that its rate of speed and the volume of its current output can be exhibited to full statistical effect as it runs.
The university is to make good both as a corporation of learning and as a business concern dealing in standardized erudition, and the executive head necessarily assumes the responsibility of making it count wholly and unreservedly in each of these divergent, if not incompatible lines.(2*) Humanly speaking, it follows by necessary consequence that he will first and always take care of those duties that are most jealously insisted on by the powers to whom he is accountable, and the due performance of which will at the same time yield some sufficiently tangible evidence of his efficiency. That other, more recondite side of the university’s work that has substantially to do with the higher learning is not readily set out in the form of statistical exhibits, at the best, and can ordinarily come to appraisal and popular appreciation only in the long run. The need of a businesslike showing is instant and imperative, particularly in a business era of large turnover and quick returns, and to meet this need the uneventful scholastic life that counts toward the higher learning in the long run is of little use; so it can wait, and it readily becomes a habit with the busy executive to let it wait.
It should be kept in mind also that the incumbent of executive office is presumably a man of businesslike qualifications, rather than of scholarly insight, — the method of selecting the executive heads under the present régime makes that nearly a matter of course. As such he will in his own right more readily appreciate those results of his own management that show up with something of the glare of publicity, as contrasted with the slow-moving and often obscure working of inquiry that lies (commonly) somewhat beyond his intellectual horizon. So that with slight misgivings, if any, he takes to the methods of organization and control that have commended themselves in that current business enterprise to which it is his ambition to assimilate the corporation of learning.
These precedents of business practice that are to afford guidance to the captain of erudition are, of course, the precedents of competitive business. It is one of the unwritten, and commonly unspoken, commonplaces lying at the root of modern academic policy that the various universities are competitors for the traffic in merchantable instruction, in much the same fashion as rival establishments in the retail trade compete for custom. Indeed, the modern department store offers a felicitous analogy, that has already been found serviceable in illustration of the American university’s position in this respect, by those who speak for the present régime as well as by its critics. The fact that the universities are assumed to be irreconcilable competitors, both in the popular apprehension and as evidenced by the manoeuvres of their several directors, is too notorious to be denied by any but the interested parties. Now and again it is formally denied by one and another among the competing captains of erudition, but the reason for such denial is the need of it.(3*)
Now, the duties of the executive head of a competitive business concern are of a strategic nature, the object of his management being to get the better of rival concerns and to engross the trade. To this end it is indispensable that he should be a “strong man” and should have a free hand, — though perhaps under the general and tolerant surveillance of his board of directors. Any wise board of directors, and in the degree in which they are endowed with the requisite wisdom, will be careful to give their general manager full discretion, and not to hamper him with too close an accounting of the details of his administration, so long as he shows gratifying results. He must be a strong man; that is to say, a capable man of affairs, tenacious and resourceful in turning the means at hand to account for this purpose, and easily content to let the end justify the means. He must be a man of scrupulous integrity, so far as may conduce to his success, but with a shrewd eye to the limits within which honesty is the best policy, for the purpose in hand. He must have full command of the means entrusted to him and full control of the force of employees and subordinates who are to work under his direction, and he must be able to rely on the instant and unwavering loyalty of his staff in any line of policy on which he may decide to enter. He must therefore have free power to appoint and dismiss, and to reward and punish, limited only by the formal ratification of his decisions by the board of directors who will be careful not to interfere or inquire unduly in these matters, — so long as their strong man shows results.
The details and objective of his strategy need not be known to the members of the staff; indeed, all that does not concern them except in the most general way. They are his creatures, and are responsible only to him and only for the due performance of the tasks assigned them; and they need know only so much as will enable them to give ready and intelligent support to the moves made by their chief from day to day. The members of the staff are his employees, and their first duty is a loyal obedience; and for the competitive good of the concern they must utter no expression of criticism or unfavourable comment on the policy, actions or personal characteristics of their chief, so long as they are in his employ. They have eaten his bread, and it is for them to do his bidding.
Such is the object-lesson afforded by business practice as it bears on the duties incumbent on the academic head and on the powers of office delegated to him. It is needless to remark on what is a fact of common notoriety, that this rule drawn from the conduct of competitive business is commonly applied without substantial abatement in the conduct of academic affairs.(4*)
Under this rule the academic staff becomes a body of graded subalterns, who share confidence of the chief in varying degrees, but who no decisive voice in the policy or the conduct of affairs of the concern in whose pay they are held. The faculty is conceived as a body of employees, hired to render certain services and turn out certain scheduled vendible results.
The chief may take advice; and, as is commonly the practice in analogous circumstances in commercial business, he will be likely to draw about him from among the faculty a conveniently small number of advisers who are in sympathy with his own ambitions, and who will in this way form an unofficial council, or cabinet, or “junta,” to whom he can turn for informal, anonymous and irresponsible, advice and moral support at any juncture. He will also, in compliance with charter stipulations and parliamentary usage, have certain officially recognized advisers, — the various deans, advisory committees, Academic Council, University Senate, and the like, — with whom he shares responsibility, particularly for measures of doubtful popularity, and whose advice he formally takes coram publico; but he can not well share discretion with these, except on administrative matters of inconsequential detail. For reasons of practical efficiency, discretion must be undivided in any competitive enterprise. There is much fine-spun strategy to be taken care of under cover of night and cloud.
But the academic tradition, which still drags on the hands of the captains of erudition, has not left the ground prepared for such a clean-cut businesslike organization and such a campaign of competitive strategy. By tradition the faculty is the keeper of the academic interests of the university and makes up a body of loosely-bound noncompetitive co-partners, with no view to strategic team play and no collective ulterior ambition, least of all with a view to engrossing the trade. By tradition, and indeed commonly by explicit proviso, the conduct of the university’s academic affairs vests formally in the president, with the advice and consent of the faculty, or of the general body of senior members of the faculty. In due observance of these traditions, and of the scholastic purposes notoriously underlying all university life, certain forms of disinterested zeal must be adhered to in all official pronouncements of the executive, as well as certain punctilios of conference and advisement between the directive head and the academic staff.
All of which makes the work of the executive head less easy and ingenuous than it might be. The substantial demands of his position as chief of a competitive business are somewhat widely out of touch with these forms of divided responsibility that must (formally) be observed in administering his duties, and equally out of touch with the formal professions of disinterested zeal for the cause of learning that he is by tradition required to make from time to time. All that may reasonably be counted on under these trying circumstances is that he should do the best he can, — to save the formalities and secure the substance. To compass these difficult incongruities, he will, as already remarked above, necessarily gather about him, within the general body of the academic personnel, a corps of trusted advisors and agents, whose qualifications for their peculiar work is an intelligent sympathy with their chief’s ideals and methods and an unreserved subservience to his aims, — unless it should come to pass, as may happen in case its members are men of force and ingenuity, that this unofficial cabinet should take over the direction of affairs and work out their own aims and purposes under cover of the chief’s ostensibly autocratic rule.
Among these aids and advisers will be found at least a proportion of the higher administrative officials, and among the number it is fairly indispensable to include one or more adroit parliamentarians, competent to procure the necessary modicum of sanction for all arbitrary acts of the executive, from a distrustful faculty convened as a deliberative body. These men must be at least partially in the confidence of the executive head. From the circumstances of the case it also follows that they will commonly occupy an advanced academic rank, and so will take a high (putative) rank as scholars and scientists. High academic rank comes of necessity to these men who serve as coadjutors and vehicles of the executive policy, as does also the relatively high pay that goes with high rank; both are required as a reward of merit and an incitement to a zealous serviceability on the one hand, and to keep the administration in countenance on the other hand by giving the requisite dignity to its agents. They will be selected on the same general grounds of fitness as their chief, — administrative facility, plausibility, proficiency as public speakers and parliamentarians, ready versatility of convictions, and a staunch loyalty to their bread. Experience teaches that scholarly or scientific capacity does not enter in any appreciable measure among the qualifications so required for responsible academic office, beyond what may thriftily serve to mask the conventional decencies of the case.
It is, further, of the essence of this scheme of academic control that the captain of erudition should freely exercise the power of academic life and death over the members of his staff, to reward the good and faithful servant and to abase the recalcitrant. Otherwise discipline would be a difficult matter, and the formally requisite “advice and consent” could be procured only tardily and grudgingly.
Admitting such reservations and abatement as may be due, it is to be said that the existing organization of academic control under business principles falls more or less nearly into the form outlined above. The perfected type, as sketched in the last paragraphs, has doubtless not been fully achieved in practice hitherto, unless it be in one or another of the newer establishments with large ambitions and endowment, and with few traditions to hamper the working out of the system. The incursion of business principles into the academic community is also of relatively recent date, and should not yet have had time to pervade the organization throughout and with full effect; so that the régime of competitive strategy should as yet be neither so far advanced nor so secure a matter of course as may fairly be expected in the near future. Yet the rate of advance along this line, and the measure of present achievement, are more considerable than even a very sanguine advocate of business principles could have dared to look for a couple of decades ago.
In so far as these matters are still in process of growth, rather than at their full fruition, it follows that any analysis of the effects of this régime must be in some degree speculative, and must at times deal with the drift of things as much as with accomplished fact. Yet such an inquiry must approach its subject as an episode of history, and must deal with the personal figures and the incidents of this growth objectively, as phenomena thrown up to view by the play of circumstances in the dispassionate give and take of institutional change. Such an impersonal attitude, it is perhaps needless to remark, is not always easy to maintain in dealing with facts of so personal, and often of so animated, a character. Particularly will an observer who has seen these incidents from the middle and in the making find it difficult uniformly to preserve that aloof perspective that will serve the ends of an historical appreciation. The difficulty is increased and complicated by the necessity of employing terms, descriptions and incidents that have been habitually employed in current controversy, often with a marked animus. Men have taken sides on these matters, and so are engaged in controversy on the merits of the current régime and on the question of possible relief and remedy for what are considered to be its iniquities. Under the shadow of this controversy, it is nearly unavoidable that any expression or citation of fact that will bear a partisan construction will habitually be so construed. The vehicle necessarily employed must almost unavoidably infuse the analysis with an unintended colour of bias, to one side or the other of the presumed merits of the case. A degree of patient attention is therefore due at points where the facts cited, and the characterization of these facts and their bearing, would seem, on a superficial view, to bear construction as controversial matter.
In this episode of institutional growth, plainly, the executive head is the central figure. The light fails on him rather than on the forces that move him, and it comes as a matter of course to pass opinions on the resulting incidents and consequences, as the outcome of his free initiative rather than of the circumstances whose creature he is. No doubt, his initiative, if any, is a powerful factor in the case, but it is after all a factor of transmission and commutation rather than of genesis and self-direction; for he is chosen for the style and measure of initiative with which he is endowed, and unless he shall be found to measure up to expectations in kind and degree in this matter he will go in the discard, and his personal ideals and initiative will count as little more than a transient obstruction. He will hold his place, and will count as a creative force in his world, in much the same degree in which he responds with ready flexibility to the impact of those forces of popular sentiment and class conviction that have called him to be their servant. Only so can he be a “strong man”; only in so far as, by fortunate bent or by its absence, he is enabled to move resistlessly with the parallelogram of forces.
The exigencies of a businesslike administration demand that there be no division of powers between the academic executive and the academic staff; but the exigencies of the higher learning require that the scholars and scientists must be left quite free to follow their own bent in conducting their own work. In the nature of things this work cannot be carried on effectually under coercive rule. Scientific inquiry can not be pursued under direction of a layman in the person of a superior officer. Also, learning is, in the nature of things, not a competitive business and can make no use of finesse, diplomatic equivocation and tactful regard for popular prejudices, such as are of the essence of the case in competitive business. It is, also, of no advantage to learning to engross the trade. Tradition and present necessity alike demand that the body of scholars and scientists who make up the university must be vested with full powers of self-direction, without ulterior consideration. A university can remain a corporation of learning, de facto, on no other basis.
As has already been remarked, business methods of course have their place in the corporation’s fiscal affairs and in the office-work incident to the care of its material equipment. As regards these items the university is a business concern, and no discussion of these topics would be in place here. These things concern the university only in its externals, and they do not properly fall within the scope of academic policy or academic administration. They come into consideration here only in so far as a lively regard for them may, as it sometimes does, divert the forces of the establishment from its ostensible purpose.
Under the rule imposed by those businesslike preconceptions that decide his selection for office, the first duty of the executive head is to see to the organization of an administrative machinery for the direction of the university’s internal affairs, and the establishment of a facile and rigorous system of accountancy for the control and exhibition of the academic work. In the same measure in which such a system goes into effect the principles of competitive business will permeate the administration in all directions; in the personnel of the academic staff, in the control and intercourse of teachers and students, in the schedule of instruction, in the disposition of the material equipment, in the public exhibits and ceremonial of the university, as well as in its pecuniary concerns.
Within the range of academic interests proper, these business principles primarily affect the personnel and the routine of instruction. Here their application immediately results in an administrative system of bureaux or departments, a hierarchical gradation of the members of the staff, and a rigorous parcelment and standardization of the instruction offered. Some such system is indispensable to any effective control of the work from above, such as is aimed at in the appointment of a discretionary head of the university, — particularly in a large school; and the measure of control desired will decide the degree of thoroughness with which this bureaucratic organization is to be carried through. The need of a well-devised bureaucratic system is greater the more centralized and coercive the control to which the academic work is to be subject; and the degree of control to be exercised will be greater the more urgent the felt need of a strict and large accountancy may be. All of which resolves itself into a question as to the purposes sought by the installation of such a system.
For the everyday work of the higher learning, as such, little of a hierarchical gradation, and less of bureaucratic subordination, is needful or serviceable; and very little of statistical uniformity, standard units of erudition, or detail accountancy, is at all feasible. This work is not of a mechanical character and does not lend itself, either in its methods or its results, to any mechanically standardized scheme of measurements or to a system of accounting per cent per time unit. This range of instruction consists substantially in the facilitation of scholarly and scientific habits of thought, and the imposition of any appreciable measure of such standardization and accounting must unavoidably weaken and vitiate the work of instruction, in just the degree in which the imposed system is effective.
It is not within the purpose of this inquiry to go into the bearing of all this on the collegiate (undergraduate) departments or on the professional and technical schools associated with the university proper in American practice. But something of a detailed discussion of the system and principles of control applied in these schools is necessary because of its incidental bearing on graduate work.
It is plain beyond need of specification that in the practical view of the public at large, and of the governing boards, the university is primarily an undergraduate school, with graduate and professional departments added to it. And it is similarly plain that the captains of erudition chosen as executive heads share the same preconceptions, and go to their work with a view primarily to the needs of their undergraduate departments. The businesslike order and system introduced into the universities, therefore, are designed primarily to meet the needs and exploit the possibilities of the undergraduate school; but, by force of habit, by a desire of uniformity, by a desire to control and exhibit the personnel and their work, by heedless imitation, or what not, it invariably happens that the same scheme of order and system is extended to cover the graduate work also.
While it is the work of science and scholarship, roughly what is known in American usage as graduate work, that gives the university its rank as a seat of learning and keeps it in countenance as such with laymen and scholars, it is the undergraduate school, or college, that still continues to be the larger fact, and that still engages the greater and more immediate attention in university management. This is due in part to received American usage, in part to its more readily serving the ends of competitive ambition; and it is a fact in the current academic situation which must be counted in as a chronic discrepancy, not to be got clear of or to be appreciably mitigated so long as business principles continue to rule.
What counts toward the advancement of learning and the scholarly character of the university is the graduate work, but what gives statistically formidable results in the way of a numerous enrolment, many degrees conferred, public exhibitions, courses of instruction — in short what rolls up a large showing of turnover and output — is the perfunctory work of the undergraduate department, as well as the array of vocational schools latterly subjoined as auxiliaries to this end. Hence the needs and possibilities of the undergraduate and vocational schools are primarily, perhaps rather solely, had in view in the bureaucratic organization of the courses of instruction, in the selection of the personnel, in the divisions of the school year, as well as in the various accessory attractions offered, such as the athletic equipment, facilities for fraternity and other club life, debates, exhibitions and festivities, and the customary routine of devotional amenities under official sanction.
The undergraduate or collegiate schools, that now bulk so large in point of numbers as well as in the attention devoted to their welfare in academic management, have undergone certain notable changes in other respects than size, since the period of that shifting from clerical control to a business administration that marks the beginning of the current régime. Concomitant with their growth in numbers they have taken over an increasing volume of other functions than such as bear directly on matters of learning. At the same time the increase in numbers has brought a change in the scholastic complexion of this enlarged student body, of such a nature that a very appreciable proportion of these students no longer seek residence at the universities with a view to the pursuit of knowledge, even ostensibly. By force of conventional propriety a “college course” — the due term of residence at some reputable university, with the collegiate degree certifying honourable discharge — has become a requisite of gentility. So considerable is the resulting genteel contingent among the students, and so desirable is their enrolment and the countenance of their presence, in the apprehension of the university directorate, that the academic organization is in great part, and of strategic necessity, adapted primarily to their needs.
This contingent, and the general body of students in so far as this contingent from the leisure class has leavened the lump, are not so seriously interested in their studies that they can in any degree be counted on to seek knowledge on their own initiative. At the same time they have other interests that must be taken care of by the school, on pain of losing their custom and their good will, to the detriment of the university’s standing in genteel circles and to the serious decline in enrolment which their withdrawal would occasion. Hence college sports come in for an ever increasing attention and take an increasingly prominent and voluminous place in the university’s life; as do also other politely blameless ways and means of dissipation, such as fraternities, clubs, exhibitions, and the extensive range of extra-scholastic traffic known as “student activities.”
At the same time the usual and average age of the college students has been slowly falling farther back into the period of adolescence; and the irregularities and uncertain temper of that uneasy period consequently are calling for more detailed surveillance and a more circumspect administration of college discipline. With a body of students whose everyday interest, as may be said without exaggeration, lies in the main elsewhere than in the pursuit of knowledge, and with an imperative tradition still standing over that requires the college to be (ostensibly at least) an establishment for the instruction of the youth, it becomes necessary to organize this instruction on a coercive plan, and hence to itemize the scholastic tasks of the inmates with great nicety of subdivision and with a meticulous regard to an exact equivalence as between the various courses and items of instruction to which they are to be subjected. Likewise as regards the limits of permissible irregularities of conduct and excursions into the field of sports and social amenities.
To meet the necessities of this difficult control, and to meet them always without jeopardizing the interests of the school as a competitive concern, a close-cut mechanical standardization, uniformity, surveillance and accountancy are indispensable. As regards the schedule of instruction, bona fide students will require but little exacting surveillance in their work, and little in the way of an apparatus of control. But the collegiate school has to deal with a large body of students, many of whom have little abiding interest in their academic work, beyond the academic credits necessary to be accumulated for honourable discharge, — indeed their scholastic interest may fairly be said to centre in unearned credits.
For this reason, and also because of the difficulty of controlling a large volume of perfunctory labour, such as is involved in undergraduate instruction, the instruction offered must be reduced to standard units of time, grade and volume. Each unit of work required, or rather of credit allowed, in this mechanically drawn scheme of tasks must be the equivalent of all the other units; otherwise a comprehensive system of scholastic accountancy will not be practicable, and injustice and irritation will result both among the pupils and the schoolmasters. For the greater facility and accuracy in conducting this scholastic accountancy, as well as with a view to the greater impressiveness of the published schedule of courses offered, these mechanical units of academic bullion are increased in number and decreased in weight and volume; until the parcelment and mechanical balance of units reaches a point not easily credible to any outsider who might naively consider the requirements of scholarship to be an imperative factor in academic administration. There is a well-considered preference for semi-annual or quarterly periods of instruction, with a corresponding time limit on the courses offered; and the parcelment of credits is carried somewhat beyond the point which this segmentation of the school year would indicate. So also there prevails a system of grading the credits allowed for the performance of these units of task-work, by percentages (often carried out to decimals) or by some equivalent scheme of notation; and in the more solicitously perfected schemes of control of this task-work, the percentages so turned in will then be further digested and weighed by expert accountants, who revise and correct these returns by the help of statistically ascertained index numbers that express the mean average margin of error to be allowed for each individual student or instructor.
In point of formal protestation, the standards set up in this scholastic accountancy are high and rigorous; in application, the exactions of the credit system must not be enforced in so inflexible a spirit as to estrange that much-desired contingent of genteel students whose need of an honourable discharge is greater than their love of knowledge. Neither must its demands on the student’s time and energy be allowed seriously to interfere with those sports and “student activities” that make up the chief attraction of college life for a large proportion of the university’s young men, and that are, in the apprehension of many, so essential a part in the training of the modern gentleman.
Such a system of accountancy acts to break the continuity and consistency of the work of instruction and to divert the interest of the students from the work in hand to the making of a passable record in terms of the academic “miner’s inch.” Typically, this miner’s inch is measured in terms of standard text per time unit, and the immediate objective of teacher and student so becomes the compassing of a given volume of prescribed text, in print or lecture form, — leading up to the broad principle: “Nichts als was im Buche steht.” Which puts a premium on mediocrity and perfunctory work, and brings academic life to revolve about the office of the Keeper of the Tape and Sealing Wax. Evidently this organization of departments, schedules of instruction, and scheme of scholastic accountancy, is a matter that calls for insight and sobriety on the part of the executive; and in point of fact there is much deliberation and solicitude spent on this behalf.
The installation of a rounded system of scholastic accountancy brings with it, if it does not presume, a painstaking distribution of the personnel and the courses of instruction into a series of bureaux or departments. Such an organization of the forces of the establishment facilitates the oversight and control of the work, at the same time that it allows the array of scheduled means, appliances and personnel at its disposal to be statistically displayed to better effect. Under existing circumstances of rivalry among these institutions of learning, there is need of much shrewd management to make all the available forces of the establishment count toward the competitive end; and in this composition it is the part of worldly wisdom to see that appearances may often be of graver consequence than achievement, — as is true in all competitive business that addresses its appeal to a large and scattered body of customers. The competition is for custom, and for such prestige as may procure custom, and these potential customers on whom it is desirable to produce an impression, especially as regards the undergraduate school, are commonly laymen who are expected to go on current rumour and the outward appearance of things academic.
The exigencies of competitive business, particularly of such retail trade as seems chiefly to have contributed to the principles of businesslike management in the competing schools, throw the stress on appearances. In such business, the “good will” of the concern has come to be (ordinarily) its most valued and most valuable asset. The visible success of the concern, or rather the sentiments of confidence and dependence inspired in potential customers by this visible success, is capitalized as the chief and most substantial element of the concern’s intangible assets. And the accumulation of such intangible assets, to be gained by convincing appearances and well-devised pronouncements, has become the chief object of persistent endeavour on the part of sagacious business men engaged in such lines of traffic. This, that the substance must not be allowed to stand in the way of the shadow, is one of the fundamental principles of management which the universities, under the guidance of business ideals, have taken over from the wisdom of the business community.
Accepting the point of view of the captains of erudition, and so looking on the universities as competitive business concerns, and speaking in terms applicable to business concerns generally, the assets of these seminaries of learning are in an exceptional degree intangible assets. There is, of course, the large item of the good-will or prestige of the university as a whole, considered as a going concern. But this collective body of “immaterial capital” that pertains to the university at large is made up in great part of the prestige of divers eminent persons included among its personnel and incorporated in the fabric of its bureaucratic departments, and not least the prestige of its executive head; in very much the same way as the like will hold true, e. g., for any company of public amusement, itinerant or sedentary, such as a circus, a theatrical or operatic enterprise, which all compete for the acclamation and custom of those to whom these matters appeal.
For the purposes of such competition the effectual prestige of the university as a whole, as well as the detail prestige of its personnel, is largely the prestige which it has with the laity rather than with the scholarly classes. And it is safe to say that a somewhat more meretricious showing of magnitude and erudition will pass scrutiny, for the time being, with the laity than with the scholars. Which suggests the expediency for the university, as a going concern competing for the traffic, to take recourse to a somewhat more tawdry exhibition of quasi-scholarly feats, and a somewhat livelier parade of academic splendour and magnitude, than might otherwise be to the taste of such a body of scholars and scientists. As a business proposition, the meretricious quality inherent in any given line of publicity should not consign it to neglect, so long as it is found effectual for the end in view.
Competitive business concerns that find it needful to commend themselves to a large and credulous body of customers, as, e. g., newspapers or department stores, also find it expedient somewhat to overstate their facilities for meeting all needs, as also to overstate the measure of success which they actually enjoy. Indeed, much talent and ingenuity is spent in that behalf, as well as a very appreciable outlay of funds. So also as touches the case of the competitive seminaries of learning. And even apart from the exigencies of intercollegiate rivalry, taken simply as a question of sentiment it is gratifying to any university directorate to know and to make known that the stock of merchantable knowledge on hand is abundant and comprehensive, and that the registration and graduation lists make a brave numerical showing, particularly in case the directive head is duly imbued with a businesslike penchant for tests of accountancy and large figures. It follows directly that many and divers bureaux or departments are to be erected, which will then announce courses of instruction covering all accessible ramifications of the field of learning, including subjects which the corps of instructors may not in any particular degree be fit to undertake. A further and unavoidable consequence of this policy, therefore, is perfunctory work.
For establishments that are substantially of secondary school character, including colleges and undergraduate departments, such a result may not be of extremely serious consequence; since much of the instruction in these schools is of a perfunctory kind anyway. But since the university and the college are, in point of formal status and of administrative machinery, divisions of the same establishment and subject to the same executive control; and since, under competitive business principles, the collegiate division is held to be of greater importance, and requires the greater share of attention; it comes about that the college in great measure sets the pace for the whole, and that the undergraduate scheme of credits, detailed accountancy, and mechanical segmentation of the work, is carried over into the university work proper. Such a result follows more consistently and decisively, of course, in those establishments where the line of demarkation between undergraduate and graduate instruction is advisedly blurred or disregarded. It is not altogether unusual latterly, advisedly to efface the distinction between the undergraduate and the graduate division and endeavour to make a gradual transition from the one to the other.(5*) This is done in the less conspicuous fashion of scheduling certain courses as Graduate and Senior, and allowing scholastic credits acquired in certain courses of the upper-class undergraduate curriculum to count toward the complement of graduate credits required of candidates for advanced degrees. More conspicuously and with fuller effect the same end is sought at other universities by classifying the two later years of the undergraduate curriculum as “Senior College”; with the avowed intention that these two concluding years of the usual four are scholastically to lie between the stricter undergraduate domain, now reduced to the freshman and sophomore years, on the one hand, and the graduate division as such on the other hand. This “Senior College” division so comes to be accounted in some sort a halfway graduate school; with the result that it is assimilated to the graduate work in the fashion of its accountancy and control; or rather, the essentially undergraduate methods that still continue to rule unabated in the machinery and management of this “senior college” are carried over by easy sophistication of expediency into the graduate work; which so takes on the usual, conventionally perfunctory, character that belongs by tradition and necessity to the undergraduate division; whereby in effect the instruction scheduled as “graduate” is, in so far, taken out of the domain of the higher learning and thrown back into the hands of the schoolmasters. The rest of the current undergraduate standards and discipline tends strongly to follow the lead so given and to work over by insensible precession into the graduate school; until in the consummate end the free pursuit of learning should no longer find a standing-place in the university except by subreption and dissimulation; much after the fashion in which, in the days of ecclesiastical control and scholastic lore, the pursuit of disinterested knowledge was constrained to a shifty simulation of interest in theological speculations and a disingenuous formal conformity to the standards and methods that were approved for indoctrination in divinity.
Perfunctory work and mechanical accountancy may be sufficiently detrimental in the undergraduate curriculum, but it seems altogether and increasingly a matter of course in that section; but it is in the graduate division that it has its gravest consequences. Yet even in undergraduate work it remains true, as it does in all education in a degree, that the instruction can be carried on with best effect only on the ground of an absorbing interest on the part of the instructor; and he can do the work of a teacher as it should be done only so long as he continues to take an investigator’s interest in the subject in which he is called on to teach. He must be actively engaged in an endeavour to extend the bounds of knowledge at the point where his work as teacher falls. He must be a specialist offering instruction in the specialty with which he is occupied; and the instruction offered can reach its best efficiency only in so far as it is incidental to an aggressive campaign of inquiry on the teacher’s part.
But no one is a competent specialist in many lines; nor is any one competent to carry on an assorted parcel of special inquiries, cut to a standard unit of time and volume. One line, somewhat narrowly bounded as a specialty, measures the capacity of the common run of talented scientists and scholars for first-class work, whatever side-lines of subsidiary interest they may have in hand and may carry out with passably creditable results. The alternative is schoolmaster’s task-work; or if the pretense of advanced learning must be kept up, the alternative which not unusually goes into effect is amateurish pedantry, with the charlatan ever in the near background. By and large, if the number of distinct lines of instruction offered by a given departmental corps appreciably exceeds the number of men on the staff, some of these lines or courses will of necessity be carried in a perfunctory fashion and can only give mediocre results, at the best. What practically happens at the worst is better left under the cover of a decent reticence.
Even those preferred lines of instruction which in their own right engage the serious interest of the instructors can get nothing better than superficial attention if the time and energy of the instructors are dissipated over a scattering variety of courses. Good work, that is to say sufficiently good work to be worth while, requires a free hand and a free margin of time and energy. If the number of distinct lines of instruction is relatively large, and if, as happens, they are distributed scatteringly among the members of the staff, with a relatively large assignment of hours to each man, so as to admit no assured and persistent concentration on any point, the run of instruction offered will necessarily be of this perfunctory character, and will therefore be of such amateurish and pedantic quality. Such an outcome is by no means unusual where regard is had primarily to covering a given inclusive range of subjects, rather than to the special aptitudes of the departmental corps; as indeed commonly happens, and as happens particularly where the school or the department in question is sufficiently imbued with a businesslike spirit of academic rivalry. It follows necessarily and in due measure on the introduction of the principles, methods, and tests of competitive business into the work of instruction.(6*)
Under these principles of accountancy and hierarchical control, each of the several bureaux of erudition — commonly called departments — is a competitor with all its fellow bureaux in the (thrifty) apportionment of funds and equipment, — for the businesslike university management habitually harbours a larger number of departments than its disposable means will adequately provide for. So also each department competes with its fellow departments, as well as with similar departments in rival universities, for a clientele in the way of student registrations. These two lines of competition are closely interdependent. An adverse statistical showing in the number of students, or in the range, variety and volume of courses of instruction offered by any given department; is rated by the businesslike general directorate as a shortcoming, and it is there fore likely to bring a reduction of allowances. At the same time, of course, such an adverse showing reflects discredit on the chief of bureau, while it also wounds his self-respect. The final test of competency in such a chief, under business principles, is the statistical test; in part because numerical tests have a seductive air of businesslike accountancy, and also because statistical exhibits have a ready use as advertising material to be employed in appeals to the potential donors and the unlearned patrons of the university, as well as to the public at large.
So the chief of bureau, with the aid and concurrence of his loyal staff, will aim to offer as extensive and varied a range of instruction as the field assigned his department will admit. Out of this competitive aggrandizement of departments there may even arise a diplomatic contention between heads of departments, as to the precise frontiers between their respective domains; each being ambitious to magnify his office and acquire merit by including much of the field and many of the students under his own dominion.(7*) Such a conflict of jurisdiction is particularly apt to arise in case, as may happen, the number of scholastic departments exceeds the number of patently distinguishable provinces of knowledge; and competitive business principles constantly afford provocation to such a discrepancy, at the hands of an executive pushed by the need of a show of magnitude and large traffic. It follows, further, from these circumstances, that wherever contiguous academic departments are occupied with such closely related subject matter as would place them in a position to supplement one another’s work, the negotiations involved in jealously guarding their respective frontiers may even take on an acrimonious tone, and may involve more or less of diplomatic mischief-making; so that, under this rule of competitive management, opportunities for mutual comfort and aid will not infrequently become occasion for mutual distrust and hindrance.
The broader the province and the more exuberant the range of instruction appropriated to a given department and its corps of teachers, the more creditable will be the statistical showing, and the more meagre and threadbare are likely to be the scientific results. The corps of instructors will be the more consistently organized and controlled with a view to their dispensing accumulated knowledge, rather than to pursue further inquiry in the direction of their scholarly inclination or capacity; and frequently, indeed, to dispense a larger volume and a wider range of knowledge than they are in any intimate sense possessed of.
It is by no means that no regard is had to the special tastes, aptitudes, and attainments of the members of the staff, in so apportioning the work; these things are, commonly, given such consideration as the exigencies of academic competition will permit; but these exigencies decide that the criterion of special fitness becomes a secondary consideration. Wherever the businesslike demands of a rounded and extensive schedule of courses traverse the lines of special aptitude and training, the requirements of the schedule must rule the case; whereas, of course, the interests of science and scholarship, and of the best efficiency in the instruction given, would decide that no demands of the schedule be allowed to interfere with each man’s doing the work which he can do best, and nothing else.
A schedule of instruction drawn on such lines of efficiency would avoid duplication of course, and would curtail the number of courses offered by any given department to such a modicum as the special fitness of the members of the staff would allow them to carry to the best effect. It would also proceed on the obvious assumption that co-ordinate departments in the several universities should supplement one another’s work, — an assumption obvious to the meanest academic common sense. But amicable working arrangements of this kind between departments of different universities, or between the several universities as a whole, are of course virtually barred out under the current policy of competitive duplication. It is out of the question, in the same manner and degree as the like co-operation between rival department stores is out of the question. Yet so urgently right and good is such a policy of mutual supplement and support, except as a business proposition, that some exchange of academic civilities paraded under its cloak is constantly offered to view in the manoeuvres of the competing captains of erudition. The well-published and nugatory(8*) periodic conferences of presidents commonly have such an ostensible purpose.
Competitive enterprise, reinforced with a sentimental penchant for large figures, demands a full schedule of instruction. But to carry such a schedule and do the work well would require a larger staff of instructors in each department, and a larger allowance of funds and equipment, than business principles will countenance. There is always a dearth of funds, and there is always urgent use for more than can be had; for the enterprising directorate is always eager to expand and project the business of the concern into new provinces of school work,secondary, primary, elementary, normal, professional, technical, manual-training, art schools, schools of music, elocution, book-keeping, housekeeping, and a further variety that will more readily occur to those who have been occupied with devising ways and means of extending the competitive traffic of the university. Into these divers and sundry channels of sand the pressure of competitive expansion is continually pushing additional half-equipped, under-fed and over-worked ramifications of the academic body. And then, too, sane competitive business practice insists on economy of cost as well as a large output of goods. It is “bad business” to offer a better grade of goods than the market demands, particularly to customers who do not know the difference, or to turn out goods at a higher cost than other competing concerns. So business exigencies, those exigencies of economy to which the businesslike governing boards are very much alive, preclude any department confining itself to the work which it can do best, and at the same stroke they preclude the authorities from dealing with any department according to such a measure of liberality as would enable it to carry on the required volume of work in a competent manner.
In the businesslike view of the captains of erudition, taken from the standpoint of the counting-house, learning and university instruction are a species of skilled labour, to be hired at competitive wages and to turn out the largest merchantable output that can be obtained by shrewd bargaining with their employees; whereas, of course, in point of fact and of its place in the economic system, the pursuit of learning is a species of leisure, and the work of instruction is one of the modes of a life so spent in “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” It is to be classed as “leisure” only in such a sense of that term as may apply to other forms of activity that have no economic, and more particularly no pecuniary, end or equivalence. It is by no means hereby intended to imply that such pursuit of knowledge is an aimless or indolent manner of life; nothing like dissipation has a legitimate place in it, nor is it “idle” in any other sense than that it is extra-economic, not without derogation to be classed as a gainful pursuit. Its aim is not the increase or utilization of the material means of life; nor can its spirit and employment be bought with a price. Any salary, perquisites, or similar emoluments assigned the scholars and scientists in the service of civilization, within the university or without, are (should be) in the nature of a stipend, designed to further the free use of their talent in the prosecution of this work, the value of which is not of a pecuniary kind. But under the stress of businesslike management in the universities the drift of things sets toward letting the work of science and scholarship to the lowest bidder, on a roughly applicable piece-wage plan. The result is about such a degree of inefficiency, waste and stultification as might fairly be expected; whereof there are abundantly many examples, that humble the pride of the scholars and rejoice the heart of the captains of erudition.
The piece-wage plan never goes into effect in set form, or has not hitherto done so, — although there are schools of nominally university grade in which there is a recognized and avowed endeavour so to apportion the weekly hours of class-room exercises to the pay of the teachers as to bring the pay per class-hour per semester to a passably uniform level for the general body of the staff. That the piece-wage plan has so little avowed vogue in the academic wage scheme may at first sight seem strange; the body of academic employees are as defenceless and unorganized as any class of the wage-earning population, and it is among the unorganized and helpless that the piece-wage plan is commonly applied with the best effect; at the same time the system of scholastic accountancy, worked out for other purposes and already applied both to instructors, to courses of instruction, and to divisions of the school year, has already reduced all the relevant items to such standard units and thorough equivalence as should make a system of piece-wages almost a matter of course. That it has not formally been put in practice appears to be due to tradition, and to that long-term common sense appreciation of the nature of learning that will always balk at rating this work as a frankly materialistic and pecuniary occupation. The academic personnel, e. g., are unable to rid themselves of a fastidious — perhaps squeamish — persuasion that they are engaged in this work not wholly for pecuniary returns; and the community at large are obscurely, but irretrievably and irresponsibly, in the same suspicious frame of mind on that head. The same unadvised and unformulated persuasion that academic salaries are after all not honestly to be rated as wages, is doubtless accountable for certain other features of academic management touching the pay-roll; notably the failure of the employees to organize anything like a trades-union, or to fall into line on any workable basis of solidarity on such an issue as a wage-bargain, as also the equivocal footing on which the matter of appointments and removals is still allowed to stand; hence also the unsettled ethics of the trade in this respect.
For divers reasons, but mainly reasons of competitive statistics, which resolve themselves, again, in the main into reasons of expedient publicity, it is desired that the enrolment should be very large and should always and unremittingly increase, — due regard being always had, of course, to the eminent desirability of drawing into the enrolment many students from the higher levels of gentility and pecuniary merit. To this end it is well, as has already been remarked above, to announce a very full schedule of instruction and a free range of elective alternatives, and also to promote a complete and varied line of scholastic accessories, in the way of athletics, clubs, fraternities, “student activities,” and similar devices of politely blameless dissipation.
These accessories of college life have been strongly on the increase since the business régime has come in. They are held to be indispensable, or unavoidable; not for scholarly work, of course, but chiefly to encourage the attendance of that decorative contingent who take more kindly to sports, invidious intrigue and social amenities than to scholarly pursuits. Notoriously, this contingent is, on the whole, a serious drawback to the cause of learning, but it adds appreciably, and adds a highly valued contribution, to the number enrolled; and it gives also a certain, highly appreciated, loud tone (“college spirit”) to the student body; and so it is felt to benefit the corporation of learning by drawing public attention. Corporate means expended in provision for these academic accessories — “side shows,” as certain ill-disposed critics have sometimes called them — are commonly felt to be well spent. Persons who are not intimately familiar with American college life have little appreciation of the grave solicitude given to these matters.
During some considerable number of years past, while the undergraduate enrolment at the universities has been increasing rapidly, the attitude of the authorities has progressively been undergoing a notable change touching these matters of extra-scholastic amenity. It is in great measure a continuation of changes that have visibly been going forward in the older universities of the country for a longer period, and it is organically bound up with the general shifting of ground that marks the incursion of business principles.
While the authorities have turned their attention primarily to the undergraduate division and its numerical increase, they have at the same time, and largely with the same end in view, endeavoured to give it more of the character of a “gentleman’s college”, that is to say, an establishment for the cultivation of the graces of gentility and a suitable place of residence for young men of spendthrift habits. The improvement sought in these endeavours is not so much the increase and acceleration of scholarly pursuits, as a furthering of “social” proficiency. A “gentleman’s college” is an establishment in which scholarship is advisedly made subordinate to genteel dissipation, to a grounding in those methods of conspicuous consumption that should engage the thought and energies of a well-to-do man of the world. Such an ideal, more or less overtly, appears to be gaining ground among the larger universities; and, needless to say, it is therefore also gaining, by force of precedent and imitation, among the younger schools engaged in more of a struggle to achieve a secure footing of respectability.
Its bearing on the higher learning is, of course, sufficiently plain; and its intimate connection with business principles at large should be equally plain. The scheme of reputability in the pecuniary culture comprises not only the imperative duty of acquiring something more than an equitable share of the community’s wealth, but also the dutiful privilege of spending this acquired wealth, and the leisure that goes with it, in a reputably conspicuous way, according to the ritual of decorum in force for the time being. So that proficiency in the decorously conspicuous waste of time and means is no less essential in the end than proficiency in the gainful conduct of business. The ways and means of reputably consuming time and substance, therefore, is by prescriptive necessity to be included in the training offered at any well-appointed undergraduate establishment that aims in any comprehensive sense to do its whole duty by the well-to-do young men under its tutelage.(9*) It is, further and by compulsion of the same ideals, incumbent on such an establishment to afford these young men a precinct dedicate to cultured leisure, and conventionally sheltered from the importunities of the municipal police, where an adequate but guarded indulgence may be had for those extravagances of adolescence that count for so much in shaping the canons of genteel intercourse.
There is, of course, no intention here to find fault with this gentlemanly ideal of undergraduate indoctrination, or with the solicitude shown in this behalf by the captains of erudition, in endeavouring to afford time, place and circumstance for its due inculcation among college men. It is by no means here assumed that learning is substantially more to be desired than proficiency in genteel dissipation. It is only that the higher learning and the life of fashion and affairs are two widely distinct and divergent lines, both lying within the current scheme of civilization; and that it is the university’s particular office in this scheme to conserve and extend the domain of knowledge. There need be no question that it is a work of great social merit and consequence to train adepts in the ritual of decorum, and it is doubtless a creditable work for any school adapted to that purpose to equip men for a decorative place in polite society, and imbue them with a discriminating taste in the reputable waste of time and means. And all that may perhaps fall, not only legitimately, but meritoriously, within the province of the undergraduate school; at least it is not here intended to argue the contrary. At the same time a secure reputation for efficiency and adequate facilities along this line of aspirations on the part of any such school will serve a good business purpose in duly attracting students — or residents — from the better classes of society, and from those classes that aspire to be “better.”
But this is essentially not university work. In the nature of the case it devolves on the college, the undergraduate school; and it can not be carried through with due singleness of purpose in an establishment bound by tradition to make much of that higher learning that is substantially alien to the spirit of this thing. If, then, as indications run, the large undergraduate schools are in due course to develop somewhat unreservedly into gentlemen’s colleges, that is an additional reason why, in the interest of both parties, the divorce of the university from the collegiate division should be made absolute. Neither does the worldly spirit that pervades the gentlemen’s college further the university’s interest in scholarship, nor do the university’s scholarly interests further the college work in gentility.
Well to the front among these undergraduate appurtenances of gentlemanship are the factional clubs known as Greek-letter fraternities. These touch the province of learning in the universities only incidentally and superficially, as they do not in practice enter the graduate division except by way of a thin aftermath of factional animus, which may occasionally infect such of the staff as are gifted with a particularly puerile temperament. They are, in effect, competitive organizations for the elaboration of the puerile irregularities of adolescence, and as such they find little scope among the graduate students or among the adult personnel at large. But as part of the apparatus of the undergraduate division they require a strict surveillance to keep them within the (somewhat wide) limits of tolerance; and so their presence affects the necessary discipline of the school at large, entailing a more elaborate and rigorous surveillance and more meddling with personal habits than would otherwise be required, and entailing also some slight corporate expense.
Much the same is true for the other social clubs, not of an advisedly factional character, that are latterly being installed by authority under university patronage and guaranteed by the university funds; as, also, and in a more pronounced degree, for college athletics, except that the item of expense in connection with these things is much more serious and the resulting diversion of interest from all matters of learning is proportionally greater. Among these means of dissipating energy and attention, college athletics is perhaps still the most effective; and it is also the one most earnestly pushed by the businesslike authorities, at the same time that it is the most widely out of touch with all learning, whether it be the pursuit of knowledge or the perfunctory taskwork of the collegiate division. So notorious, indeed, is the discrepancy between college athletics and scholarly work that few college authorities latterly venture to avow as cordial a support of this training in sportsmanship as they actually give. Yet so efficient a means of attracting a certain class of young men is this academic enterprise in sports that, in practical effect, few schools fail to give it all the support that the limits of decorum will admit. There is probably no point at which specious practices and habitual prevarication are carried so far as here. Little need be said of the threadbare subterfuges by which (ostensibly surreptitious) pecuniary inducements are extended to students and prospective students who promise well as college athletes;(10*) or of the equally threadbare expedients by which these members of the gild of sportsmen are enabled to meet the formal requirements of scholarship imposed by shamefaced intercollegiate bargaining.(11*)
But apart from such petty expedients, however abundant and commonplace, there is the more significant practice of retaining trainers and helpers at the university’s expense and with academic countenance. There is the corps of workmen and assistants to take care of the grounds, buildings and apparatus, and there is the corps of trainers and coaches, masseurs and surgeons, masquerading under the caption of “physical culture,” whose chief duty is to put the teams in form for the various contests. One may find a football or baseball coach retained officially as a member of the faculty and carried on the academic pay-roll, in a university that practices a penurious economy in the equipment and current supply of materials and services necessary to the work of its scientific laboratories, and whose library is in a shameful state of neglect for want of adequate provision for current purchases and attendance. The qualifications of such a “professor” are those of a coach, while in point of scholarly capacity and attainments it would be a stretch of charity to say that he is of quite a neutral composition. Still, under the pressure of intercollegiate competition for the services of such expert lanistae, he may have to be vested with the highest academic rank and conceded the highest scholastic honours, with commensurate salary. Expediency may so decide, partly to cloak the shamefulness of the transaction, partly to meet the exacting demands of a coach whose professional services have a high commercial rating in the sporting community, and who is presumed to be indispensable to the university’s due success in intercollegiate athletics.
The manifest aim, and indeed the avowed purpose, of these many expedients of management and concessions to fashion and frailty is the continued numerical growth of the undergraduate school, — the increase of the enrolment and the obtaining of funds by use of which to achieve a further increase. To bring this assiduous endeavour into its proper light, it is to be added that most of these undergraduate departments are already too large for the best work of their kind. Since these undergraduate schools have grown large enough to afford a secure contrast as against the smaller colleges that are engaged in the same general field, it is coming to be plain to university men who have to do with the advanced instruction that, for the advanced work in science and scholarship, the training given by a college of moderate size commonly affords a better preparation than is had in the very large undergraduate schools of the great universities. This holds true, in a general way, in spite of the fact that the smaller schools are handicapped by an inadequate equipment, are working against the side-draft of a religious bias, with a corps of under-paid and over-worked teachers in great part selected on denominational grounds, and are under-rated by all concerned. The proposition, however, taken in a general way and allowing for exceptions, is too manifestly true to admit of much question; particularly in respect of preparation for the sciences proper, as contrasted with the professions.
The causes of this relative inefficiency that seems to attach unavoidably to the excessively large undergraduate establishments can not be gone into here; in part they are obvious, in part quite obscure. But in any case the matter can not be gone into here, except so far as it has an immediate bearing on the advanced work of the university, through the inclusion of these collegiate schools in the university corporation and under the same government. As has already been remarked, by force of the competitive need of a large statistical showing and a wide sweep of popular prestige and notoriety, and by reason of other incentives of a nature more intimate to the person of the executive, it is in effect a matter of course that the undergraduate school and its growth becomes the chief object of solicitude and management with a businesslike executive; and that so its shaping of the foundations of the establishment as a whole acts irresistibly to fashion the rest of the university administration and instruction in the image of the undergraduate policy. Under the same compulsion it follows also that whatever elements in the advanced work of the university will not lend themselves to the scheme of accountancy, statistics, standardization and coercive control enforced in and through the undergraduate division, will tend to be lost by disuse and neglect, as being selectively unfit to survive under that system.
The advanced work falls under the same stress of competition in magnitude and visible success; and the same scheme of enforced statistical credits will gradually insinuate itself into the work for the advanced degrees; so that these as well as the lower degrees will come to be conferred on the piece-work plan. Throughout the American universities there is apparent such a movement in the direction of a closer and more mechanical specification of the terms on which the higher degrees are to be conferred, — a specification in terms of stipulated courses of class-room work and aggregate quantity of standard credits and length of residence. So that his need of conformity to the standard credit requirements will therefore constrain the candidate for an advanced degree to make the substantial pursuit of knowledge subordinate to the present pursuit of credits, to be attended to, if at all, in the scant interstitial intervals allowed by a strictly drawn accountancy. The effect of it all on their animus, and on the effective prosecution of the higher learnings by the instructors, should be sufficiently plain; but in case of doubt any curious person may easily assure himself of it by looking over the current state of things as they run in any one of the universities that grant degrees.
Nothing but continued workday familiarity with this system of academic grading and credit, as it takes effect in the conduct and control of instruction, and as its further elaboration continues to employ the talents and deliberation of college men, can enable any observer to appreciate the extraordinary lengths to which this matter is carried in practice, and the pervasive way in which it resistlessly bends more and more of current instruction to its mechanical tests and progressively sterilizes all personal initiative and ambition that comes within its sweep. And nothing but the same continued contact with the relevant facts could persuade any outsider that all this skilfully devised death of the spirit is brought about by well-advised efforts of improvement on the part of men who are intimately conversant with the facts, and who are moved by a disinterested solicitude for the best academic good of the students under their charge. Yet such, unmistakably, are the facts of the case.
While the initial move in this sterilization of the academic intellect is necessarily taken by the statistically-minded superior officers of the corporation of learning, the detail of schedules and administrative routine involved is largely left in the discretion of the faculty. Indeed, it is work of this character that occupies nearly the whole of the attention of the faculty as a deliberative body, as well as of its many and various committees. In these matters of administrative routine and punctilio the faculty, collectively and severally, can exercise a degree of initiative and discretion. And these duties are taken as seriously as well may be, and the matters that so come within the faculty’s discretion are handled in the most unambiguous spirit of responsible deliberation. Each added move of elaboration is taken only after the deliberative body has assured itself that it embodies a needed enhancement of the efficiency of the system of control. But each improvement and amplification also unavoidably brings the need of further specification and apparatus, desired to take care of further refinements of doubt and detail that arise out of the last previous extensions of the mechanism. The remedy sought in all such conjunctures is to bring in further specifications and definitions, with the effect of continually making two specifications grow where one grew before, each of which in its turn will necessarily have to be hedged about on both sides by like specifications, with like effect;(12*) with the consequence that the grading and credit system is subject to a ceaseless proliferation of ever more meticulous detail. The underlying difficulty appears to be not that the collective wisdom of the faculty is bent on its own stultification, as an unsympathetic outsider might hastily conclude, but that there is in all the deliberations of such a body a total disregard of common sense. It is, presumably, not that the constituent members are quite devoid of that quality, but rather that no point in their elaboration of apparatus can feasibly be reached, beyond which a working majority can be brought conscientiously to agree that dependence may safely be placed on common sense rather than on further and more meticulous and rigorous specification.
It is at this point that the American system of fellowships falls into the scheme of university policy; and here again the effect of business principles and undergraduate machinery is to be seen at work. At its inception the purpose of these fellowships was to encourage the best talent among the students to pursue disinterested advanced study farther and with greater singleness of purpose and it is quite plain that at that stage of its growth the system was conceived to have no bearing on intercollegiate competition or the statistics of registration. This was something over thirty years ago. A fellowship was an honourable distinction; at the same time it was designed to afford such a stipend as would enable the incumbent to devote his undivided energies to scholastic work of a kind that would yield no pecuniary return. Ostensibly, such is still the sole purpose of the fellowships; the traditional decencies require (voluble and reiterated) professions to that effect. But in point of practical effect, and progressively, concomitant with the incursion of business principles into university policy, the exigencies of competitive academic enterprise have turned the fellowships to account in their own employ. So that, in effect, today the rival universities use the fellowships to bid against one another for fellows to come into residence, to swell the statistics of graduate registration and increase the number of candidates for advanced degrees. And the eligible students have learned so to regard the matter, and are quite callously exploiting the system in that sense.
Not that the fellowships have altogether lost that character of a scholarly stipendiary with which they started out; but they have, under businesslike management, acquired a use not originally intended; and the new, competitive use of them is unequivocally their main use today. It would be hazardous to guess just how far the directorates of the rival universities consciously turn the fellowships to account in this enterprising way, or how far, on the other hand, they are able to let self-deception cover the policy of competitive bargaining in which they are engaged; but it would be difficult to believe that their right hand is altogether ignorant of what their left hand is doing. It would doubtless also be found that both the practice and the animus back of it differ appreciably from one school to another. But there is no element of hazard in the generalization that, by and large, such competitive use of the fellowships is today their chief use; and that such is the fact is quite openly avowed among the academic staff of some universities at least.
As a sequel and symptom of this use of the fellowship stipends in bargaining for an enlarged enrolment of advanced students, it has become a moot question in academic policy whether a larger number of fellowships with smaller stipends will give a more advantageous net statistical result than a smaller number of more adequate stipends. An administration that looks chiefly to the short-term returns — as is commonly the practice in latterday business enterprise — will sensibly incline to make the stipends small and numerous; while the converse will be true where regard is had primarily to the enrolment of carefully selected men who may reflect credit on the institution in the long run. Up-to-date business policy will apparently commend the former rather than the latter course; for business practice, in its later phases, is eminently guided by consideration of short-term gains. It is also true that the average stipend attached to the fellowships offered today is very appreciably lower than was the practice some two or three decades ago; at the same time that the cost of living — which these stipends were originally designed to cover — has increased by something like one hundred per cent. As final evidence of the decay of scholarly purpose in the matter of fellowships, and as a climax of stultification, it is to be added that stipends originally established as an encouragement to disinterested scholarship are latterly being used to induce enrolment in the professional schools attached to the universities.(13*)
One further point of contact and contamination is necessary to be brought into this account of the undergraduate administration and its bearing on advanced work. The scholastic accessories spoken of above — clubs, fraternities, devotional organizations, class organizations, spectacles and social functions, athletics, and “student activities” generally — do not in any appreciable degree bear directly on the advanced work, in as much as they find no ready lodgement among the university students proper. But they count, indirectly and effectually, toward lowering the scholarly ideals and keeping down the number of advanced students, chiefly by diverting the interest and energies of the undergraduate men from scholarly pursuits and throwing them into various lines of business and sportsmanship.
The subsidized clubs work, in these premises, to much the same effect as the fraternities; both are, in effect, designed to cultivate expensive habits of life. The same is true in a higher degree of athletic sports. The full round of sportsmanlike events, as well as the round schedule of social amenities for which the polite side of undergraduate life (partly subsidized) is designed to give a taste and training, are beyond the compass of men devoted to scholarship. In effect these things come in as alternatives to the pursuit of knowledge. These things call for a large expenditure of time and means, neither of which can be adequately met by the scientist or scholar. So that men who have been trained to the round of things that so go to make up the conventional scheme of undergraduate interests can not well look to a career in the higher learning as a possible outcome of their residence in college. On the other hand, young men habitually, and no doubt rightly, expect a business career to yield an income somewhat above the average of incomes in the community, and more particularly in excess of the commonplace incomes of academic men; such an income, indeed, as may afford the means to cover the conventional routine of such polite expenditures. So that, in the absence of an independent income, some sort of a business career that promises well in the pecuniary respect becomes the necessary recourse of the men to whom these amenities of expenditure have become habitual through their undergraduate training. With like effect the mental discipline exercised by these sports and polite events greatly favours the growth of tactful equivocation and a guarded habit of mind, such as makes for worldly wisdom and success in business, but which is worse than useless in the scholar or scientist. And further and perhaps more decisively, an undergraduate who does his whole duty in the way of sports, fraternities, clubs, and reputable dissipation at large, commonly comes through his undergraduate course with a scanty and superficial preparation for scholarly or scientific pursuits, if any. So that even in case he should still chance to harbour a penchant for the pursuit of learning he will be unfit by lack of training.
NOTES:1. Cf. George T. Ladd, “The Need of Administrative Changes in the American University,” reprinted in University Control, by J. McKeen Cattell; especially pp. 352-353.
2. Cf. George T. Ladd, as above, pp. 351-352.
3. Apart from the executive’s need of satisfying the prejudices of the laity in this matter, there is no ground for this competition between the universities, either in the pecuniary circumstances of the several establishments or in the work they are to take care of. So much is admitted on all hands. But the fact remains that no other one motive has as much to do with shaping academic policy as this same competition for traffic. The cause of it appears to be very little if anything else than that the habits of thought induced by experience in business are uncritically carried over into academic affairs.
Critics of the present régime are inclined to admit that the colleges of the land are in great part so placed as to be thrown into competition by force of circumstances, both as to the acquisition of funds and as to the enrolment of students. The point may be conceded, though with doubt and reservation, as applies to the colleges; for the universities there is no visible ground of such rivalry, apart from unreflecting prejudice on the part of the laity, and an ambition for popular acclaim on the part of the university directorate.
4. An incumbent of executive office, recently appointed, in one of the greater universities was at pains a few years ago to speak his mind on this head, to the effect that the members of the academic staff are employees in the pay of the university and under the orders of its president, and as such they are bound to avoid all criticism of him and his administration so long as they continue on the pay-roll; and that if any member of the staff has any fault to find with the conduct of affairs he must first sever his connection with the university, before speaking his mind. These expressions were occasioned by the underhand dismissal of a scholar of high standing and long service, who had incurred the displeasure of the president then in charge, by overt criticism of the administration. As to its general features the case might well have been the one referred to by Professor Ladd (University Control, as above, p. 359), though the circumstances of the dismissal offer several details of a more discreditable character than Professor Ladd appears to have been aware of.
5. The strategic reason for this is the desire to retain for graduate registration any student who might otherwise prefer to look for graduate instruction elsewhere. The plan has not been found to work well, and it is still on trial.
6. At least one such businesslike chief of bureau has seriously endeavoured so to standardize and control the work of his staff as to have all courses of lectures professed in the department reduced to symmetrical and permanent shape under the form of certified syllabi, which could then be taken over by any member of the staff, at the discretion of the chief, and driven home in the lecture room with the accredited pedagogical circumstance and apparatus. The scheme has found its way into academic anecdote, on the lighter side, as being a project to supply standard erudition in uniform packages, “guaranteed under the pure food law, fully sterilized. and sealed without solder or acids”; to which it is only necessary to “add hot air and serve.”
7. So, e. g., it is known to have, on occasion, became a difficult question of inter-bureaucratic comity, whether commercial geography belongs of right to the department of geology or to that of economics; whether given courses in Hebrew are equitably to be assigned to the department of Semitics or to that of Religions; whether Church History is in fairness to be classed with profane History or with Divinity, etc., — questions which, except in point of departmental rivalry, have none but a meretricious significance.
8. Nugatory, that is, for the ostensible purpose of reducing inter-academic rivalry and duplication. However, there are other matters of joint interest to the gild of university executives, as, e.g., the inter-academic, or inter-executive, blacklist, and similar recondite matters of presidential courtesy and prestige, necessary to be attended to though not necessary to be spread abroad.
9. The English pattern of boys’ schools and gentlemanly university residence has doubtless afforded notable guidance to the “Educators” who have laboured for the greater gentility of American college life; at the same time that the grave authenticity of these English customs has at many a difficult passage sewed opportunely to take the edge off the gentlemen-educators’ sense of shame.
10. Illustrative instances have little value as anecdotes and not much more as circumstantial evidence; their abundance and outrance are such as to have depreciated their value in both respects. Yet to any who may not know of this traffic by familiar contact one or two commonplace instances may perhaps not seem too much. So, a few years ago, in one of the greater of the new universities, a valued member of one of the athletic teams was retained at an allowance of $40 a month as bookkeeper to the janitor of one of the boys’ dormitories on the campus. At the same university and about the same time two other athletes were carried on university pay as assistants to the editor of the weekly bulletin announcing the programme of academic events for the week; though in this case, to the relief of the editor in question, only one of the two assistants reported at his office, and that only once, during the year of their incumbency. These, as already remarked, are commonplace occurrences. The more spectacular instances of shrewd management in these premises can not well be dealt with otherwise than by a canny silence; that being also the course approved by current practice.
11. A single instance may tolerantly be admitted here. Among the formal requirements that would admit students to a free pursuit of sportsmanship, at the same university as above mentioned, without imputation of professionalism, was specified the ability to read at sight such a passage in a given foreign language as would satisfy the instructor in charge that the candidate was competent in the language in question. The instructor responsible in this case, a man of high academic rank and gifted with a sympathetic good-will toward the “boys,” submitted in fulfilment of the test a copy of the Lord’s Prayer in this foreign tongue, and passed the (several) candidates on finding them able passably to repeat the same in English. It would scarcely be fair to distinguish this episode by giving names and places, since equally ingenious expedients have been in use elsewhere.
12. “And then there came another locust and carried off another grain of wheat, and then there came another locust,” etc., etc.
13. More than one instance might be cited where a student whose privately avowed and known aim was the study and practice of Law has deliberately been induced by the offer of a fellowship stipend to register, for the time being, as an academic graduate student and as candidate for the academic doctor’s degree. In the instances that come to mind the students in question have since completed their law studies and entered practice, without further troubling about the academic degree for which they once were ostensible candidates.