The Higher Learning In America — Chapter 7
In this latterday academic enterprise, that looks so shrewdly to practical expediency, “vocational training” has, quite as a matter of course, become a conspicuous feature. The adjective is a new one, installed expressly to designate this line of endeavour, in the jargon of the educators; and it carries a note of euphemism. “Vocational training” is training for proficiency in some gainful occupation, and it has no connection with the higher learning, beyond that juxtaposition given it by the inclusion of vocational schools in the same corporation with the university; and its spokesmen in the university establishments accordingly take an apologetically aggressive attitude in advocating its claims. Educational enterprise of this kind has, somewhat incontinently, extended the scope of the corporation of learning by creating, “annexing,” or “affiliating” many establishments that properly lie outside the academic field and deal with matters foreign to the academic interest, — fitting schools, high-schools, technological, manual and other training schools for mechanical, engineering and other industrial pursuits, professional schools of divers kinds, music schools, art schools, summer schools, schools of “domestic science,” “domestic economy,” “home economics”, (in short, housekeeping), schools for the special training of secondary-school teachers, and even schools that are avowedly of primary grade; while a variety of “university extension” bureaux have also been installed, to comfort and edify the unlearned with lyceum lectures, to dispense erudition by mail-order, and to maintain some putative contact with amateur scholars and dilettanti beyond the pale.
On its face, this enterprise in assorted education simulates the precedents given by the larger modern business coalitions, which frequently bring under one general business management a considerable number and variety of industrial plants. Doubtless a boyish imitation of such business enterprise has had its share in the propagation of these educational excursions. It all has an histrionic air, such as would suggest that its use, at least in good part, might be to serve as an outlet for the ambition and energies of an executive gifted with a penchant for large and difficult undertakings, and with scant insight into the needs and opportunities of a corporation of the higher learning, and who might therefore be carried off his scholastic footing by the glamour of the exploits of the trustmakers. No doubt, the histrionic proclivities of the executive, backed by a similar sensibility to dramatic effect on the part of their staff and of the governing boards, must be held accountable for much of this headlong propensity to do many other things half-way rather than do the work well that is already in hand. But this visible histrionic sensibility, and the glamour of great deeds, will by no means wholly account for current university enterprise along this line; not even when there is added the urgent competitive need of a show of magnitude, such as besets all the universities; nor do these several lines of motivation account for the particular direction so taken by these excursions in partes infidelium. At the same time, reasons of scholarship or science plainly have no part in the movement.
Apart from such executive weakness for spectacular magnitude, and the competitive need of formidable statistics, the prime mover in the case is presumably the current unreflecting propensity to make much of all things that bear the signature of the “practical.” These various projections of university enterprise uniformly make some plausible claim of that nature. Any extension of the corporation’s activity can be more readily effected, is accepted more as an expedient matter of course, if it promises to have such a “practical” value. “Practical” in this connection means useful for private gain; it need imply nothing in the way of serviceability to the common good.
The same spirit shows itself also in a ceaseless revision of the schedule of instruction offered by the collegiate or undergraduate division as such, where it leads to a multiplication of courses desired to give or to lead up to vocational training. So that practical instruction, in the sense indicated, is continually thrown more into the foreground in the courses offered, as well as in the solicitude of the various administrative boards, bureaux and committees that have to do with the organization and management of the academic machinery.
As has already been remarked, these directive boards, committees, and chiefs of bureau are chosen, in great part, for their businesslike efficiency, because they are good office-men, with “executive ability”; and the animus of these academic businessmen, by so much, becomes the guiding spirit of the corporation of learning, and through their control it acts intimately and pervasively to order the scope and method of academic instruction. This permeation of the university’s everyday activity by the principles of competitive business is less visible to outsiders than the various lines of extraneous enterprise already spoken of, but it touches the work within the university proper even more radically and insistently; although, it is true, it affects the collegiate (undergraduate) instruction more immediately than what is fairly to be classed as university work. The consequences are plain. Business proficiency is put in the place of learning. It is said by advocates of this move that learning is hereby given a more practical bent; which is substantially a contradiction in terms. It is a case not of assimilation, but of displacement and substitution, garnished with circumlocution of a more or less ingenuous kind.
Historically, in point of derivation and early growth, this movement for vocational training is closely related to the American system of “electives” in college instruction, if it may not rather be said to be a direct outgrowth of that pedagogical expedient.(1*) It dates back approximately to the same period for its beginnings, and much of the arguments adduced in its favour are substantially the same as have been found convincing for the system of electives. Under the elective system a considerable and increasing freedom has been allowed the student in the choice of what he will include in his curriculum; so that the colleges have in this way come to refer the choice of topics in good part to the guidance of the student’s own interest. To meet the resulting range and diversity of demands, an increasing variety of courses has been offered, at the same time that a narrower specialization has also taken effect in much of the instruction offered. Among the other leadings of interest among students, and affecting their choice of electives, has also been the laudable practical interest that these young men take in their own prospective material success.(2*) So that this — academically speaking, extraneous — interest has come to mingle and take rank with the scholarly interests proper in shaping the schedule of instruction. A decisive voice in the ordering of the affairs of the higher learning has so been given to the novices, or rather to the untutored probationers of the undergraduate schools, whose entrance on a career of scholarship is yet a matter of speculative probability at the best.
Those who have spoken for an extensive range of electives have in a very appreciable measure made use of that expedient as a means of displacing what they have regarded as obsolete or dispensable items in the traditional college curriculum. In so advocating a wider range and freedom of choice, they have spoken for the new courses of instruction as being equally competent with the old in point of discipline and cultural value; and they have commonly not omitted to claim — somewhat in the way of an obiter dictum, perhaps — that these newer and more vital topics, whose claims they advocate, have also the peculiar merit of conducing in a special degree to good citizenship and the material welfare of the community. Such a line of argument has found immediate response among those pragmatic spirits within whose horizon “value” is synonymous with “pecuniary value,” and to whom good citizenship means proficiency in competitive business. So it has come about that, while the initial purpose of the elective system appears to have been the sharpening of the students’ scholarly interests and the cultivation of a more liberal scholarship, it has by force of circumstances served to propagate a movement at cross purposes with all scholarly aspiration.
All this advocacy of the practical in education has fallen in with the aspirations of such young men as are eager to find gratuitous help toward a gainful career, as well as with the desires of parents who are anxious to see their sons equipped for material success; and not least has it appealed to the sensibilities of those substantial citizens who are already established in business and feel the need of a free supply of trained subordinates at reasonable wages. The last mentioned is the more substantial of these incentives to gratuitous vocational training, coming in, as it does, with the endorsement of the community’s most respected and most influential men. Whether it is training in any of the various lines of engineering, in commerce, in journalism, or in the mechanic and manual trades, the output of trained men from these vocational schools goes, in the main, to supply trained employees for concerns already profitably established in such lines of business as find use for this class of men; and through the gratuitous, or half gratuitous, opportunities offered by these schools, this needed supply of trained employees comes to the business concerns in question at a rate of wages lower than what they would have to pay in the absence of such gratuitous instruction.
Not that these substantial citizens, whose word counts for so much in commendation of practical education, need be greatly moved by selfish consideration of this increased ease in procuring skilled labour for use in their own pursuit of gain; but the increased and cheaper supply of such skilled workmen is “good for business,” and, in the common sense estimation of these conservative businessmen, what is good for business is good, without reservation. What is good for business is felt to be serviceable for the common good; and no closer scrutiny is commonly given to that matter. While any closer scrutiny would doubtless throw serious doubt on this general proposition, such scrutiny can not but be distasteful to the successful businessmen; since it would unavoidably also throw a shadow of doubt on the meritoriousness of that business traffic in which they have achieved their success and to which they owe their preferential standing in the community.
In this high rating of things practical the captains of industry are also substantially at one with the current common-sense award of the vulgar, so that their advocacy of practical education carries the weight of a self-evident principle. It is true, in the long run and on sober reflection the award of civilized common sense runs to the effect that knowledge is more to be desired than things of price; but at the same time the superficial and transient workday sense of daily needs — the “snap judgment” of the vulgar — driven by the hard usage of competitive bread-winning, says that a gainful occupation is the first requisite of human life; and accepting it without much question as the first requisite, the vulgar allow it uncritically to stand as the chief or sole and that is worth an effort. And in so doing they are not so far out of their bearings; for to the common man, under the competitive system, there is but a scant margin of energy or interest left over and disposable for other ends after the instant needs of bread-winning have been met.
Proficiency and single-mindedness in the pursuit of private gain is something that can readily be appreciated by all men who have had the usual training given by the modern system of competitive gain and competitive spending. Nothing is so instantly recognized as being of great urgency, always and everywhere, under this modern, pecuniary scheme of things. So that, without reflection and as a matter of course, the first and gravest question of any general bearing in any connection has come to be that classic of worldly wisdom: What profiteth it a man? and the answer is, just as uncritically, sought in terms of pecuniary gain. And the men to whom has been entrusted the custody of that cultural heritage of mankind that can not be bought with a price, make haste to play up to this snap judgment of the vulgar, and so keep them from calling to mind, on second thought, what it is that they, after all, value more highly than the means of competitive spending.
Concomitant with this growing insistence on vocational training in the schools, and with this restless endeavour of the academic authorities to gratify the demand, there has also come an increasing habitual inclination of the same uncritical character among academic men to value all academic work in terms of livelihood or of earning capacity.(3*) The question has been asked, more and more urgently and openly, What is the use of all this knowledge?(4*) Pushed by this popular prejudice, and themselves also drifting under compulsion of the same prevalent bias, even the seasoned scholars and scientists — Matthew Arnold’s “Remnant” — have taken to heart this question of the use of the higher learning in the pursuit of gain. Of course it has no such use, and the many shrewdly devised solutions of the conundrum have necessarily run out in a string of sophistical dialectics. The place of disinterested knowledge in modern civilization is neither that of a means to private gain, nor that of an intermediate step in “the roundabout process of the production of goods.”
As a motto for the scholars’ craft, Scientia pecuniae ancillans is nowise more seemly than the Schoolmen’s Philosophia theologiae ancillans.(5*) Yet such inroads have pecuniary habits of valuation made even within the precincts of the corporation of learning, that university men, — and even the scholarly ones among them, — are no more than half ashamed of such a parcel of fatuity. And relatively few among university executives have not, within the past few years, taken occasion to plead the merits of academic training as a business proposition. The man of the world — that is to say, of the business world puts the question, What is the use of this learning? and the men who speak for learning, and even the scholars occupied with the “humanities,” are at pains to find some colourable answer that shall satisfy the worldly-wise that this learning for which they speak is in some way useful for pecuniary gain.(6*)
If he were not himself infected with the pragmatism of the market-place, the scholar’s answer would have to be. Get thee behind me!
Benjamin Franklin — high-bred pragmatist that he was — once put away such a question with the rejoinder: What is the use of a baby? To civilized men — with the equivocal exception of the warlike politicians — this latter question seems foolish, criminally foolish. But there once was a time, in the high days of barbarism, when thoughtful men were ready to canvass that question with as naive a gravity as this other question, of the use of learning, is canvassed by the substantial citizens of the present day. At the period covered by that chapter in ancient history, a child was, in a way, an article of equipment for the up-keep of the family and its prestige, and more remotely for the support of the sovereign and his prestige. So that a male child would be rated as indubitably worth while if he gave promise of growing into a robust and contentious man. If the infant were a girl, or if he gave no promise of becoming an effective disturber of the peace, the use or expediency of rearing the child would become a matter for deliberation; and not infrequently the finding of those old-time utilitarians was adverse, and the investment was cancelled. The habit of so deliberating on the pragmatic advisability of child-life has been lost, latterly; or at any rate such of the latterday utilitarians as may still entertain a question of this kind in any concrete case are ashamed to have it spoken of nakedly. Witness the lame but irrepressible sentimental protest against the Malthusian doctrine of population.
It is true, in out-of-the-way corners and on the lower levels — and on the higher levels of imperial politics where men have not learned to shrink from shameful devices, the question of children and of the birth-rate is still sometimes debated as a question of the presumptive use of offspring for some ulterior end. And there may still be found those who are touched by the reflection that a child born may become a valuable asset as a support for the parents’ old age. Such a pecuniary rating of the parental relation, which values children as a speculative means of gain, may still be met with. But wherever modern civilization has made its way at all effectually, such a provident rating of offspring is not met with in good company. Latterday common sense does not countenance it.
Not that a question of expediency is no longer entertained, touching this matter of children, but it is no longer the patriarchal-barbarian question as to eventual gains that may be expected to accrue to the parent or the family. Except in the view of those statesmen of the barbarian line who see the matter of birth-rate from the higher ground of dynastic politics, a child born is not rated as a means, but as an end. At least conventionally, it is no longer a question of pecuniary gain for the parent but of expediency for the child. No mother asks herself if her child will pay.
Civilized men shrink from anything like rating children as a contrivance for use in the “round-about process of the production of goods.” And in much the same spirit, and in the last analysis on much the same grounds, although in a less secure and more loosely speculative fashion, men also look to the higher learning as the ripe fulfilment of material competency, rather than as a means to material success. In their thoughtful intervals, the most businesslike pragmatists will avow such an ideal. But in workday detail, when the question turns concretely on the advisability of the higher education, the workday habit of pecuniary traffic asserts itself, and the matter is then likely to be argued in pecuniary terms. The barbarian animus, habitual to the quest of gain, reverts, and the deliberation turns on the gainfulness of this education, which has in all sobriety been acknowledged the due end of culture and endeavour. So that, in working out the details, this end of living is made a means, and the means is made an end.
No doubt, what chiefly urges men to the pursuit of knowledge is their native bent of curiosity, — an impulsive proclivity to master the logic of facts; just as the chief incentive to the achievement of children has, no doubt, always been the parental bent. But very much as the boorish element in the present and recent generations will let the pecuniary use of children come in as a large subsidiary ground of decision, and as they have even avowed this to be their chief concern in the matter; so, in a like spirit, men trained to the business system of competitive gain and competitive spending will not be content to find that they can afford the quest of that knowledge which their human propensity incites them to cultivate, but they must back this propensity with a shamefaced apology for education on the plea of its gainfulness.
What is here said of the businesslike spirit of the latterday “educators” is not to be taken as reflecting disparagingly on them or their endeavours. They respond to the call of the times as best they can. That they do so, and that the call of the times is of this character, is a fact of the current drift of things; which one may commend or deprecate according as one has the fortune to fall in with one or the other side of the case; that is to say according to one’s habitual bent; but in any event it is to be taken as a fact of the latterday situation, and a factor of some force and permanence in the drift of things academic, for the present and the calculable future. It means a more or less effectual further diversion of interest and support from science and scholarship to the competitive acquisition of wealth, and therefore also to its competitive consumption. Through such a diversion of energy and attention in the schools, the pecuniary animus at large, and pecuniary standards of worth and value, stand to gain, more or less, at the cost of those other virtues that are, by the accepted tradition of modern Christendom, held to be of graver and more enduring import. It means an endeavour to substitute the pursuit of gain and expenditure in place of the pursuit of knowledge, as the focus of interest and the objective end in the modern intellectual life.
This incursion of pecuniary ideals in academic policy is seen at its broadest and baldest in the Schools of Commerce, — “Commerce and Politics,” “Business Training,” “Commerce and Administration,” “Commerce and Finance,” or whatever may be the phrase selected to designate the supersession of learning by worldly wisdom. Facility in competitive business is to take the place of scholarship, as the goal of university training, because, it is alleged, the former is the more useful. The ruling interest of Christendom, in this view, is pecuniary gain. And training for commercial management stands to this ruling interest of the modern community in a relation analogous to that in which theology and homiletics stood to the ruling interest in those earlier times when the salvation of men’s souls was the prime object of solicitude. Such a seminary of business has something of a sacerdotal dignity. It is the appointed keeper of the higher business animus.(7*)
Such a school, with its corps of instructors and its equipment, stands in the university on a tenure similar to that of the divinity school. Both schools are equally extraneous to that “intellectual enterprise” in behalf of which, ostensibly, the university is maintained. But while the divinity school belongs to the old order and is losing its preferential hold on the corporation of learning, the school of commerce belongs to the new order and is gaining ground. The primacy among pragmatic interests has passed from religion to business, and the school of commerce is the exponent and expositor of this primacy. It is the perfect flower of the secularization of the universities. And as has already been remarked above, there is also a wide-sweeping movement afoot to bend the ordinary curriculum of the higher schools to the service of this cult of business principles, and so to make the ordinary instruction converge to the advancement of business enterprise, very much as it was once dutifully arranged that the higher instruction should be subservient to religious teaching and consonant with the demands of devout observances and creeds.
It is not that the College of Commerce stands alone as the exponent of worldly wisdom in the modern universities; nor is its position in this respect singular, except in the degree of its remoteness from all properly academic interests. Other training schools, as in engineering and in the other professions, belong under the same general category of practical aims, as contrasted with the aims of the higher learning. But the College of Commerce stands out pre-eminent among these various training schools in two respects: (a) While the great proportion of training for the other professions draws largely on the results of modern science for ways and means, and therefore includes or presumes a degree of familiarity with the work, aims and methods of the sciences, so that these schools have so much of a bond of community with the higher learning, the school of commerce on the other hand need scarcely take cognizance of the achievements of science, nor need it presume any degree of acquaintance on the part of its students or adepts with the matter or logic of the sciences;(8*) (b) in varying degrees, the proficiency given by training in the other professional schools, and required for the efficient pursuit of the other professions, may be serviceable to the community at large; whereas the business proficiency inculcated by the schools of commerce has no such serviceability, being directed singly to a facile command of the ways and means of private gain.(9*) The training that leads up to the several other professions, of course, varies greatly in respect of its draught on scientific information, as well as in the degree of its serviceability to the community; some of the professions, as, e. g., Law, approach very close to the character of business training, both in the unscientific and unscholarly nature of the required training and in their uselessness to the community; while others, as, e. g., Medicine and the various lines of engineering, differ widely from commercial training in both of these respects. With the main exception of Law (and, some would add, of Divinity?) the professional schools train men for work that is of some substantial use to the community at large. This is particularly true of the technological schools. But while the technological schools may be occupied with work that is of substantial use, and while they may draw more or less extensively on the sciences for their materials and even for their methods, they can not, for all that, claim standing in the university on the ground of that disinterested intellectual enterprise which is the university’s peculiar domain.
The professional knowledge and skill of physicians, surgeons, dentists, pharmacists, agriculturists, engineers of all kinds, perhaps even of journalists, is of some use to the community at large, at the same time that it may be profitable to the bearers of it. The community has a substantial interest in the adequate training of these men, although it is not that intellectual interest that attaches to science and scholarship. But such is not the case with the training designed to give proficiency in business. No gain comes to the community at large from increasing the business proficiency of any number of its young men. There are already much too many of these businessmen, much too astute and proficient in their calling, for the common good. A higher average business efficiency simply raises activity and avidity in business to a higher average pitch of skill and fervour, with very little other material result than a redistribution of ownership; since business is occupied with the competitive wealth, not with its production. It is only by a euphemistic metaphor that we are accustomed to speak of the businessmen as producers of goods. Gains due to such efficiency are differential gains only. They are a differential as against other businessmen on the one hand, and as against the rest of the community on the other hand. The work of the College of Commerce, accordingly, is a peculiarly futile line of endeavour for any public institution, in that it serves neither the intellectual advancement nor the material welfare of the community.
The greater the number and the higher the proficiency of the community’s businessmen, other things equal, the worse must the rest of the community come off in that game of skilled bargaining and shrewd management by which the businessmen get their gains. Gratuitous or partly gratuitous training for business will presumably increase the number of highly proficient businessmen. As the old-fashioned economists would express it, it will increase the number of “middlemen,” of men who “live by their wits.” At the same time it should presumably increase the average efficiency of this increased number. The outcome should be that the resulting body of businessmen will be able, between them, to secure a larger proportion of the aggregate wealth of the community; leaving the rest of the community poorer by that much,except for that (extremely doubtful) amount by which shrewd business management is likely to increase the material wealth-producing capacity of the community. Any such presumed increase of wealth-producing capacity is an incidental concomitant of business traffic, and in the nature of the case it can not equal the aggregate increased gain that goes to the businessmen. At the best the question as to the effect which such an aggregate increased business efficiency will have on the community’s material welfare is a question of how large the net loss will be; that it will entail a net loss on the community at large is in fact not an open question.
A college of commerce is designed to serve an emulative purpose only — individual gain regardless of, or at the cost of, the community at large — and it is, therefore, peculiarly incompatible with the collective cultural purpose of the university. It belongs in the corporation of learning no more than a department of athletics.(10*) Both alike give training that is of no use to the community,except, perhaps, as a sentimental excitement. Neither business proficiency nor proficiency in athletic contests need be decried, of course. They have their value, to the businessmen and to the athletes, respectively, chiefly as a means of livelihood at the cost of the rest of the community, and it is to be presumed that they are worth while to those who go in for that sort of thing. Both alike are related to the legitimate ends of the university as a drain on its resources and an impairment of its scholarly animus. As related to the ostensible purposes of a university, therefore, the support and conduct of such schools at the expense of the universities is to be construed as a breach of trust.
What has just been said of the schools of commerce is, of course, true also of the other training schools comprised in this latterday university policy, in the degree in which these others aim at the like emulative and unscholarly results. It holds true of the law schools, e. g., typically and more largely than of the generality of professional and technical schools. Both in point of the purely competitive value of their training and of the unscientific character of their work, the law schools are in very much the same case as the schools of commerce; and, no doubt, the accepted inclusion of law schools in the university corporation has made the intrusion of the schools of commerce much easier than it otherwise would have been. The law school’s inclusion in the university corporation has the countenance of ancient tradition, it comes down as an authentic usage from the mediaeval era of European education, and from the pre-history of the American universities. But in point of substantial merit the law school belongs in the modern university no more than a school of fencing or dancing. This is particularly true of the American law schools, in which the Austinian conception of law is followed, and it is more particularly true the more consistently the “case method” is adhered to. These schools devote themselves with great singleness to the training of practitioners, as distinct from jurists; and their teachers stand in a relation to their students analogous to that in which the “coaches” stand to the athletes. What is had in view is the exigencies, expedients and strategy of successful practice; and not so much a grasp of even those quasi-scientific articles of metaphysics that lie at the root of the legal system. What is required and inculcated in the way of a knowledge of these elements of law is a familiarity with their strategic use.
The profession of the Law is, of course, an honourable profession, and it is doubtless believed by its apologists to be a useful profession, on the whole; but a body of lawyers somewhat less numerous, and with a lower average proficiency in legal subtleties and expedients, would unquestionably be quite as serviceable to the community at large as a larger number of such men with a higher efficiency; at the same time they would be less costly, both as to initial cost and as to the expenses of maintenance that come of that excessive volume and retardation of litigation due to an extreme facility in legal technique on the part of the members of the bar.
It will also be found true that both the schools of law and those of commerce, and in a less degree the other vocational schools, serve the advantage of one class as against another. In the measure in which these schools accomplish what they aim at, they increase the advantage of such men as already have some advantage over the common run. The instruction is half-way gratuitous; that is the purpose of placing these schools on a foundation or maintaining them at the public expense. It is presumed to be worth more than its cost to the students. The fees and other incidental expenses do not nearly cover the cost of the schools; otherwise no foundation or support from the public funds would be required, and the universities would have no colourable excuse for going into this field. But even if the instruction and facilities offered by these schools are virtually gratuitous, yet the fees and incidental expenses, together with the expenditure of time and the cost of living required for a residence at the schools, make up so considerable an item of expense as effectually to exclude the majority of those young men who might otherwise be inclined to avail themselves of these advantages. In effect, none can afford the time and expense of this business training, whether in Commerce, Law, or the other professions, except those who are already possessed of something more than the average wealth or average income; and none, presumably, take kindly to this training, in commerce or law, e.g., except those who already have something more than the average taste and aptitude for business traffic, or who have a promising “opening” of this character in sight. So that this training that is desired to serve the private advantage of commercial students is, for the greater part, extended to a select body of young men; only such applicants being eligible, in effect, as do not on any showing need this gratuity.
In proportion to the work which it undertakes, the College of Commerce is — or it would be if it lived up to its professions — the most expensive branch of the university corporation. In this connection the case of the law school offers a significant object-lesson of what to expect in the further growth of the schools of commerce. The law school is of older standing and maturer growth, at the same time that its aims and circumstances are of much the same general character as those that condition the schools of commerce; and it is therefore to be taken as indicating something of what must be looked for in the college of commerce if it is to do the work for which it is established. The indications, then, are (a) that the instruction in the field of commercial training may be expected gradually to fall into a more rigidly drawn curriculum, which will discard all irrelevant theoretical excursions and will diverge more and more widely from the ways of scientific inquiry, in proportion as experience and tactful organization bring the school to a maturer insight into its purposes and a more consistent adherence to its chief purpose of training expert men for the higher business practice; and (b) that the personnel of its staff must increasingly be drawn from among the successful businessmen, rather than from men of academic training.
Among the immediate consequences of this latter feature, as shown in the example of the law schools, is a relatively high cost. The schedule of salaries in the law schools attached to the universities, e. g., runs appreciably higher than in the university proper. the reason being, of course, that men suitable efficiently to serve as instructors and directive officials in a school of law are almost necessarily men whose services in the practice of the law would command a high rate of pay. What is needed in the law school (as in the school of commerce) is men who are practically conversant with the ways and means of earning large fees, — that being the point of it all. Indeed, the scale of pay which their services will command in the open market is the chief and ordinary test of their fitness for the work of instruction. The salaries paid these men of affairs, who have so been diverted to the service of the schools, is commonly some multiple of the salary assigned to men of a comparable ability and attainments in the academic work proper. The academic rank assigned them is also necessarily, and for the like reason, commensurate with their higher scale of pay; all of which throws an undue preponderance of discretion and authority into the hands of these men of affairs, and so introduces a disproportionate bias in favour of unscientific and unscholarly aims and ideals in the university at large.
Judged by the example of the law schools, then, the college of commerce, if it is to live and thrive, may be counted on to divert a much larger body of funds from legitimate university uses, and to create more of a bias hostile to scholarly and scientific work in the academic body, than the mere numerical showing of its staff would suggest. It is fairly to be expected that capable men of affairs, drawn from the traffic of successful business for this service, will require even a higher rate of pay, at the same time that they will be even more cordially out of sympathy with the ideals of scholarship, than the personnel of the law schools. Such will necessarily be the outcome, if these schools are at all effectually to serve the purpose for which they are created.
But for the present, as matters stand now, near the inception of this enterprise in training masters of gain, such an outcome has not been reached. Neither have the schools of commerce yet been placed on such a footing of expensiveness and authoritative discretion as the high sanction of the quest of gain would seem properly to assign them; nor are they, as at present organized and equipped, at all eminently fit to carry out the work entrusted to their care. Commonly, it is to be admitted, the men selected for the staff are men of some academic training, rather than men of affairs who have shown evidence of fitness to give counsel and instruction, by eminently gainful success in business. They are, indeed, commonly men of moderate rating in the academic community, and are vested with a moderate rank and authority; and the emoluments of these offices are also such as attach to positions of a middling grade in academic work, instead of being comparable with the gains that come to capable men engaged in the large business outside. Yet it is from among these higher grades of expert businessmen outside that the schools of commerce must draw their staff of instructors and their administrative officers if they are to accomplish the task proposed to them. A movement in this direction is already visibly setting in.
It is reasonably to be expected that one or the other result should follow: either the college of commerce must remain, somewhat as in practice it now is, something in the way of an academic division, with an academic routine and standards, and with an unfulfilled ambition to serve the higher needs of business training; with a poorly paid staff of nondescript academic men, not peculiarly fitted to lead their students into the straight and narrow way of business success, nor yet eminently equipped for a theoretical inquiry into the phenomena of business traffic and their underlying causes so that the school will continue to stand, in effect, as a more or less pedantic and equivocal adjunct of a department of economics; or the schools must be endowed and organized with a larger and stricter regard to the needs of the higher business traffic; with a personnel composed of men of the highest business talent and attainments, tempted from such successful business traffic by the offer of salaries comparable with those paid the responsible officials of large corporations engaged in banking, railroading, and industrial enterprises, — and they must also be fitted out with an equipment of a corresponding magnitude and liberality.
Apart from a large and costly material equipment, such a college would also, under current conditions, have to be provided with a virtually unlimited fund for travelling expenses, to carry its staff and its students to the several typical seats and centres of business traffic and maintain them there for that requisite personal contact with affairs that alone can contribute to a practical comprehension of business strategy. In short, the schools would have to meet those requirements of training and information which men who today aim to prepare themselves for the larger business will commonly spend expensive years of apprenticeship to acquire. It is eminently true in business training, very much as it is in military strategy, that nothing will take the place of first-hand observation and personal contact with the processes and procedure involved; and such first-hand contact is to be had only at the cost of a more or less protracted stay where the various lines of business are carried on.
The creation and maintenance of such a College of Commerce, on such a scale as will make it anything more than a dubious make-believe, would manifestly appear to be beyond the powers of any existing university. So that the best that can be compassed in this way, or that has been achieved, by the means at the disposal of any university hitherto, is a cross between a secondary school for bank-clerks and travelling salesmen and a subsidiary department of economics.
All this applies with gradually lessened force to the other vocational schools, occupied with training for occupations that are of more substantial use to the community and less widely out of touch with the higher learning. In the light of their professions on the one side and the degree of their fulfilment on the other, it would be hazardous to guess how far the university directorate in any given case is animated with a spontaneous zeal for the furtherance of these “practical” aims which the universities so pursue, and how far on the other hand it may be a matter of politic management, to bring content to those commercially-minded laymen whose good-will is rated as a valuable asset. These men of substance have a high appreciation of business efficiency — a species of self-respect, and therefore held as a point of honour — and are consequently inclined to rate all education in terms of earning-capacity. Failure to meet the presumed wishes of the businessmen in this matter, it is apprehended, would mean a loss of support in endowment and enrolment. And since endowment and enrolment, being the chief elements of visible success, are the two main ends of current academic policy, it is incumbent on the directorate to shape their policy accordingly.
So the academic authorities face the choice between scholarly efficiency and vocational training, and hitherto the result has been equivocal. The directorate should presumably be in a position to appreciate the drift of their own action, in so diverting the university’s work to ends at variance with its legitimate purpose; and the effect of such a policy should presumably be repugnant to their scholarly tastes, as well as to their sense of right and honest living. But the circumstances of their office and tenure leave them somewhat helpless, for all their presumed insight and their aversion to this malpractice; and these conditions of office require them, as it is commonly apprehended, to take active measures for the defeat of learning, — hitherto with an equivocal outcome. The schools of commerce, even more than the other vocational schools, have been managed somewhat parsimoniously, and the effectual results have habitually fallen far short of the clever promises held out in the prospectus. The professed purpose of these schools is the training of young men to a high proficiency in the larger and more responsible affairs of business, but for the present this purpose must apparently remain a speculative, and very temperately ingenuous, aspiration, rather than a practicable working programme.
NOTES:1. “Our professors in the Harvard of the ’50s were a set of rather eminent scholars and highly respectable men. They attended to their studies with commendable assiduity and drudged along in a dreary, humdrum sort of way in a stereotyped method of classroom instruction…
“And that was the Harvard system. It remains in essence the system still — the old, outgrown, pedagogic relation of the large class-recitation room. The only variation has been through Eliot’s effort to replace it by the yet more pernicious system of premature specialization. This is a confusion of the college and university functions and constitutes a distinct menace to all true higher education. The function of the college is an all-around development, as a basis for university specializations. Eliot never grasped that fundamental fact, and so he undertook to turn Harvard college into a German university — specializing the student at 18. He instituted a system of one-sided contact in place of a system based on no contact at all. It is devoutly to be hoped that, some day, a glimmer of true light will effect an entrance into the professional educator’s head. It certainly hadn’t done so up to 1906.”- Charles Francis Adams, An Autobiography.
2. The college student’s interest in his studies has shifted from the footing of an avocation to that of a vocation.
3. So, e.g., in the later eighties, at the time when the confusion of sentiments in this matter of electives and practical academic instruction was reaching its height, one of the most largely endowed of the late-founded universities set out avowedly to bend its forces singly to such instruction as would make for the material success of its students; and, moreover, to accomplish this end by an untrammelled system of electives, limited only by the general qualification that all instruction offered was to be of this pragmatic character. The establishment in question, it may be added, has in the course of years run a somewhat inglorious career, regard being had to its unexampled opportunities, and has in the event come to much the same footing of compromise between learning and vocational training, routine and electives, as its contemporaries that have approached their present ambiguous position from the contrary direction; except that, possibly, scholarship as such is still held in slightly lower esteem among the men of this faculty — selected on grounds of their practical bias — than among the generality of academic men.
4. “And why the sea is boiling hot, And whether pigs have wings.”
5. Cf. Adam Smith on the “idle curiosity.” Moral Sentiments, 1st ed., p. 351 — , esp. 355.
6. So, a man eminent as a scholar and in the social sciences has said, not so long ago: “The first question I would ask is, has not this learning a large part to play in supplementing those practical powers, instincts and sympathies which can be developed only in action, only through experience?… That broader training is just what is needed by the higher and more responsible ranks of business, both private and public…. Success in large trading has always needed breadth of view.”
7. Cf., e.g., Report of a Conference on Commercial Education and Business Progress; In connection with the dedication of the Commerce Building, at the University of Illinois, 1913. The somewhat raucous note of self-complacency that pervades this characteristic document should not be allowed to lessen its value as evidence of the spirit for which it speaks. Indeed, whatever it may show, of effrontery and disingenuousness, is rather to be taken as of the essence of the case. It might prove difficult to find an equally unabashed pronouncement of the like volume and consistency put forth under the like academic auspices; but it does by no means stand alone, and its perfections should not be counted against it.
8. This characterization applies without abatement to the schools of commerce as commonly designed at their foundation and set forth in their public announcements, and to their work in so far as they live up to their professions. At the same time it is to be noted that few of these schools successfully keep their work clear of all entanglement with theoretical discussions that have only a scientific bearing. And it is also quite feasible to organize a “school of commerce” on lines of scientific inquiry with the avowed purpose of dealing with business enterprise in its various ramifications as subject matter of theoretical investigation; but such is not the avowed aim of the established schools of this class, and such is not the actual character of the work carried on in these schools, except by inadvertence.
9. It is doubtless within the mark to say that the training given by the American schools of commerce is detrimental to the community’s material interests. In America, even in a more pronounced degree than elsewhere, business management centres on financiering and salesmanship; and American commercial schools, even in a more pronounced degree than those of other countries, centre their attention on proficiency in these matters, because these are the matters which the common sense of the American business community knows how to value, and on which it insists as indispensable qualifications in its young men. The besetting infirmity of the American business community, as witness the many and circumstantial disclosures of the “efficiency engineers,” and of others who have had occasion to speak of the matter, is a notable indifference to the economical and mechanically efficient use, exploitation and conservation of equipment and resources, coupled with an equally notable want of insight into the technological needs and possibilities of the industries which they control. The typical American businessman watches the industrial process from ambush, with a view to the seizure of any item of value that may be left at loose ends. Business strategy is a strategy of “watchful waiting,” at the centre of a web; very alert and adroit, but remarkably incompetent in the way of anything that can properly be called “industrial enterprise.”
The concatenation of circumstances that has brought American business enterprise to this inglorious posture, and has virtually engrossed the direction of business affairs in the hands of men endowed with the spiritual and intellectual traits suitable to such prehensile enterprise, can not be gone into here. The fact, however, is patent. It should suffice to call to mind the large fact, as notorious as it is discreditable, that the American business community has, with unexampled freedom, had at its disposal the largest and best body of resources that has yet become available to modern industry, in men, materials and geographical situation, and that with these means they have achieved something doubtfully second-rate, as compared with the industrial achievements of other countries less fortunately placed in all material respects.
What the schools of commerce now offer is further specialization along the same line of proficiency, to give increased facility in financiering and salesmanship. This specialization on commerce is like other specialization in that it draws off attention and interest from other lines than those in which the specialization falls; thereby widening the candidate’s field of ignorance while it intensifies his effectiveness within his specialty. The effect, as touches the community’s interest in the matter, should be an enhancement of the candidate’s proficiency in all the futile ways and means of salesmanship and “conspiracy in restraint of trade.” together with a heightened incapacity and ignorance bearing on such work as is of material use.
10. Latterly, it appears, the training given by the athletic establishments attached to the universities is also coming to have a value as vocational training; in that the men so trained and vouched for by these establishments are finding lucrative employment as instructors, coaches, masseurs, etc., engaged in similar athletic traffic in various schools, public or private. So also, and for the same reason, they are found eligible as “muscular Christian” secretaries in charge of chapters of the Y.M.C.A. and the like quasi-devout clubs and gilds. Indeed in all but the name, the athletic establishments are taking on the character of “schools” or “divisions” included under the collective academic administration, very much after the fashion of a “School of Education” or a “School of Journalism”; and they are in effect “graduating” students in Athletics, with due, though hitherto unofficial, certification of proficiency. So also, latterly, one meets with proposals, made in good faith, among official academic men to allow due “academic credit” for training in athletics and let it count toward graduation. By indirection and subreption, of course, much of the training given in athletics already does so count.