The Higher Learning In America — Chapter 8
Summary and Trial Balance
As in earlier passages, so here in speaking of profit and loss, the point of view taken is neither that of material advantage, whether of the individuals concerned or of the community at large, nor that of expediency for the common good in respect of prosperity or of morals; nor is the appraisal here ventured upon to be taken as an expression of praise or dispraise at large, touching this incursion of business principles into the affairs of learning.
By and large, the intrusion of businesslike ideals, aims and methods into this field, with all the consequences that follow, may be commendable or the reverse. All that is matter for attention and advisement at the hands of such as aim to alter, improve, amend or conserve the run of institutional phenomena that goes to make up the current situation. The present inquiry bears on the higher learning as it comes into this current situation, and on the effect of this recourse to business principles upon the pursuit of learning.
Not that this learning is therefore to be taken as necessarily of higher and more substantial value than that traffic in competitive gain and competitive spending upon which business principles converge, and in which they find their consummate expression, — even though it is broadly to be recognized and taken account of that such is the deliberate appraisal awarded by the common sense of civilized mankind. The profit and loss here spoken for is not profit and loss, to mankind or to any given community, in respect of that inclusive complex of interests that makes up the balanced total of good and ill; it is profit and loss for the cause of learning, simply; and there is here no aspiration to pass on ulterior questions. As required by the exigencies of such an argument, it is therefore assumed, pro forma, that profit and loss for the pursuit of learning is profit and loss without reservation; very much as a corporation accountant will audit income and outlay within the affairs of the corporation, whereas, qua accountant, he will perforce have nothing to say as to the ulterior expediency of the corporation and its affairs in any other bearing.
Business principles take effect in academic affairs most simply, obviously and avowably in the way of a businesslike administration of the scholastic routine; where they lead immediately to a bureaucratic organization and a system of scholastic accountancy. In one form or another, some such administrative machinery is a necessity in any large school that is to be managed on a centralized plan; as the American schools commonly are, and as, more particularly, they aim to be. This necessity is all the more urgent in a school that takes over the discipline of a large body of pupils that have not reached years of discretion, as is also commonly the case with those American schools that claim rank as universities; and the necessity is all the more evident to men whose ideal of efficiency is the centralized control exercised through a system of accountancy in the modern large business concerns. The larger American schools are primarily undergraduate establishments, — with negligible exceptions; and under these current American conditions, of excessive numbers, such a centralized and bureaucratic administration appears to be indispensable for the adequate control of immature and reluctant students; at the same time, such an organization conduces to an excessive size. The immediate and visible effect of such a large and centralized administrative machinery is, on the whole, detrimental to scholarship, even in the undergraduate work; though it need not be so in all respects and unequivocally, so far as regards that routine training that is embodied in the undergraduate curriculum. But it is at least a necessary evil in any school that is of so considerable a size as to preclude substantially all close or cordial personal relations between the teachers and each of these immature pupils under their charge, as, again, is commonly the case with these American undergraduate establishments. Such a system of authoritative control, standardization, gradation, accountancy, classification, credits and penalties, will necessarily be drawn on stricter lines the more the school takes on the character of a house of correction or a penal settlement; in which the irresponsible inmates are to be held to a round of distasteful tasks and restrained from (conventionally) excessive irregularities of conduct. At the same time this recourse to such coercive control and standardization of tasks has unavoidably given the schools something of the character of a penal settlement.
As intimated above, the ideal of efficiency by force of which a large-scale centralized organization commends itself in these premises is that pattern of shrewd management whereby a large business concern makes money. The underlying business-like presumption accordingly appears to be that learning is a merchantable commodity, to be Produced on a piece-rate plan, rated, bought and sold by standard units, measured, counted and reduced to staple equivalence by impersonal, mechanical tests. In all its bearings the work is hereby reduced to a mechanistic, statistical consistency, with numerical standards and units; which conduces to perfunctory and mediocre wOrk throughout, and acts to deter both students and teachers from a free pursuit of knowledge, as contrasted with the pursuit of academic credits. So far as this mechanistic system goes freely into effect it leads to a substitution of salesmanlike proficiency — a balancing of bargains in staple credits — in the place of scientific capacity and addiction to study.
The salesmanlike abilities and the men of affairs that so are drawn into the academic personnel are, presumably, somewhat under grade in their kind; since the pecuniary inducement offered by the schools is rather low as compared with the remuneration for office work of a similar character in the common run of business occupations, and since businesslike employees of this kind may fairly be presumed to go unreservedly to the highest bidder. Yet these more unscholarly members of the staff will necessarily be assigned the more responsible and discretionary positions in the academic organization; since under such a scheme of standardization, accountancy and control, the school becomes primarily a bureaucratic organization, and the first and unremitting duties of the staff are those of official management and accountancy. The further qualifications requisite in the members of the academic staff will be such as make for vendibility, — volubility, tactful effrontery, conspicuous conformity to the popular taste in all matters of opinion, usage and conventions.
The need of such a businesslike organization asserts itself in somewhat the same degree in which the academic policy is guided by considerations of magnitude and statistical renown; and this in turn is somewhat closely correlated with the extent of discretionary power exercised by the captain of erudition placed in control. At the same time, by provocation of the facilities which it offers for making an impressive demonstration, such bureaucratic organization will lead the university management to bend its energies with somewhat more singleness to the parade of magnitude and statistical gains. It also, and in the same connection, provokes to a persistent and detailed surveillance and direction of the work and manner of life of the academic staff, and so it acts to shut off initiative of any kind in the work done.(1*)
Intimately bound up with this bureaucratic officialism and accountancy, and working consistently to a similar outcome, is the predilection for “practical efficiency” that is to say, for pecuniary success — prevalent in the American community.(2*) This predilection is a matter of settled habit, due, no doubt, to the fact that preoccupation with business interests characterizes this community in an exceptional degree, and that pecuniary habits of thought consequently rule popular thinking in a peculiarly uncritical and prescriptive fashion. This pecuniary animus falls in with and reinforces the movement for academic accountancy, and combines with it to further a so-called “practical” bias in all the work of the schools.
It appears, then, that the intrusion of business principles in the universities goes to weaken and retard the pursuit of learning, and therefore to defeat the ends for which a university is maintained. This result follows, primarily, from the substitution of impersonal, mechanical relations, standards and tests, in the place of personal conference, guidance and association between teachers and students; as also from the imposition of a mechanically standardized routine upon the members of the staff, whereby any disinterested preoccupation with scholarly or scientific inquiry is thrown into the background and falls into abeyance. Few if any who are competent to speak in these premises will question that such has been the outcome. To offset against this work of mutilation and retardation there are certain gains in expedition, and in the volume of traffic that can be carried by any given equipment and corps of employees. Particularly will there be a gain in the statistical showing, both as regards the volume of instruction offered, and probably also as regards the enrolment; since accountancy creates statistics and its absence does not.
Such increased enrolment as may be due to businesslike management and methods is an increase of undergraduate enrolment. The net effect as regards the graduate enrolment — apart from any vocational instruction that may euphemistically be scheduled as “graduate” — is in all probability rather a decrease than an increase. Through indoctrination with utilitarian (pecuniary) ideals of earning and spending, as well as by engendering spendthrift and sportsmanlike habits, such a businesslike management diverts the undergraduate students from going in for the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, and so from entering on what is properly university work; as witness the relatively slight proportion of graduate students outside of the professional schools — who come up from the excessively large undergraduate departments of the more expansive universities, as contrasted with the number of those who come into university work from the smaller and less businesslike colleges.
The ulterior consequences that follow from such businesslike standardization and bureaucratic efficiency are evident in the current state of the public schools; especially as seen in the larger towns, where the principles of business management have had time and scope to work out in a fair degree of consistency. The resulting abomination of desolation is sufficiently notorious. And there appears to be no reason why a similarly stale routine of futility should not overtake the universities, and give similarly foolish results, as fast as the system of standardization, accountancy and piece-work goes consistently into effect, — except only for the continued enforced employment of a modicum of impracticable scholars and scientists on the academic staff, whose unbusinesslike scholarly proclivities and inability to keep the miner’s-inch of scholastic credit always in mind, must in some measure always defeat the perfect working of standardization and accountancy.
As might be expected, this régime of graduated sterility has already made fair headway in the undergraduate work, especially in the larger undergraduate schools; and this in spite of any efforts On the part of the administration to hedge against such an outcome by recourse to an intricate system of electives and a wide diversification of the standard units of erudition so offered.
In the graduate work the like effect is only less visible, because the measures leading to it have come into bearing more recently, and hitherto less unreservedly. But the like results should follow here also, just so fast and so far as the same range of business principles come to be worked into the texture of the university organization in the same efficacious manner as they have already taken effect in the public schools. And, pushed on as it is by the progressive substitution of men imbued with the tastes and habits of practical affairs, in the place of unpractical scholarly ideals, the movement toward a perfunctory routine of mediocrity should logically be expected to go forward at a progressively accelerated rate. The visible drift of things in this respect in the academic pursuit of the social sciences, so-called, is an argument as to what may be hoped for in the domain of academic science at large. It is only that the executive is actuated by a sharper solicitude to keep the academic establishment blameless of anything like innovation or iconoclasm at this point; which reinforces the drift toward a mechanistic routine and a curtailment of inquiry in this field; it is not that these sciences that deal with the phenomena of human life lend themselves more readily to mechanical description and enumeration than the material sciences do, nor is their subject matter intrinsically more inert or less provocative of questions.
Throughout the above summary review, as also through the foregoing inquiry, the argument continually returns to or turns about two main interests, — notoriety and the academic executive. These two might be called the two foci about which swings the orbit of the university world. These conjugate foci lie on a reasonably short axis; indeed, they tend to coincide; so that the orbit comes near the perfection of a circle; having virtually but a single centre, which may perhaps indifferently be spoken of as the university’s president or as its renown, according as one may incline to conceive these matters in terms of tangible fact or of intangible.
The system of standardization and accountancy has this renown or prestige as its chief ulterior purpose, — the prestige of the university or of its president, which largely comes to the same net result. Particularly will this be true in so far as this organization is designed to serve competitive ends; which are, in academic affairs, chiefly the ends of notoriety, prestige, advertising in all its branches and bearings. It is through increased creditable notoriety that the universities seek their competitive ends, and it is on such increase of notoriety, accordingly, that the competitive endeavours of a businesslike management are chiefly spent. It is in and through such accession of renown, therefore, that the chief and most tangible gains due to the injection of competitive business principles in the academic policy should appear.
Of course, this renown, as such, has no substantial value to the corporation of learning; nor, indeed, to any one but the university executive by whose management it is achieved. Taken simply in its first incidence, as prestige or notoriety, it conduces in no degree to the pursuit of knowledge; but in its ulterior consequences, it appears currently to be believed, at least ostensibly, that such notoriety must greatly enhance the powers of the corporation of learning. These ulterior consequences are (believed to be), a growth in the material resources and the volume of traffic.
Such good effects as may follow from a sedulous attention to creditable publicity, therefore, are the chief gains to be set off against the mischief incident to “scientific management” in academic affairs. Hence any line of inquiry into the business management of the universities continually leads back to the cares of publicity, with what might to an outsider seem undue insistence. The reason is that the businesslike management and arrangements in question are habitually — and primarily required either to serve the ends of this competitive campaign of publicity or to conform to its schedule of expediency. The felt need of notoriety and prestige has a main share in shaping the work and bearing of the university at every point. Whatever will not serve this end of prestige has no secure footing in current university policy. The margin of tolerance on this head is quite narrow; and it is apparently growing incontinently narrower.
So far as any university administration can, with the requisite dignity, permit itself to avow a pursuit of notoriety, the gain that is avowedly sought by its means is an increase of funds, — more or less ingenuously spoken of as an increase of equipment. An increased enrolment of students will be no less eagerly sought after, but the received canons of academic decency require this object to be kept even more discreetly masked than the quest of funds.
The duties of publicity are large and arduous, and the expenditures incurred in this behalf are similarly considerable. So that it is not unusual to find a Publicity Bureau — often apologetically masquerading under a less tell-tale name — incorporated in the university organization to further this enterprise in reputable notoriety. Not only must a creditable publicity be provided for, as one of the running cares of the administration, but every feature of academic life, and of the life of all members of the academic staff, must unremittingly (though of course unavowedly) be held under surveillance at every turn, with a view to furthering whatever may yield a reputable notoriety, and to correcting or eliminating whatever may be conceived to have a doubtful or untoward bearing in this respect.
This surveillance of appearances, and of the means of propagating appearances, is perhaps the most exacting detail of duty incumbent on an enterprising executive. Without such a painstaking cultivation of a reputable notoriety, it is believed, a due share of funds could not be procured by any university for the prosecution of its work as a seminary of the higher learning. Its more alert and unabashed rivals, it is presumed, would in that case be able to divert the flow of loose funds to their own use, and would so outstrip their dilatory competitor in the race for size and popular acclaim, and therefore, it is sought to be believed, in scientific and scholarly application.
In the absence of all reflection — not an uncommon frame of mind in this connection — one might be tempted to think that all this academic enterprise of notoriety and conciliation should add something appreciable to the aggregate of funds placed at the disposal of the universities; and that each of these competitive advertising concerns should so gain something appreciable, without thereby cutting into the supply of funds available for the rest. But such is probably not the outcome, to any appreciable extent; assuredly not apart from the case of the state universities that are dependent on the favour of local politicians, and perhaps apart from gifts for conspicuous buildings.
With whatever (slight) reservation may be due, publicity in university management is of substantially the same nature and effect as advertising in other competitive business; and with such reservation as may be called for in the case of other advertising, it is an engine of competition, and has no aggregate effect. As is true of competitive gains in business at large, so also these differential gains of the several university corporations can not be added together to make an aggregate. They are differential gains in the main, of the same nature as the gains achieved in any other game of skill and effrontery. The gross aggregate funds contributed to university uses from all sources would in all probability be nearly as large in the absence of such competitive notoriety and conformity. Indeed, it should seem likely that such donors as are gifted with sufficient sense of the value of science and scholarship to find it worth while to sink any part of their capital in that behalf would be somewhat deterred by the spectacle of competitive waste and futile clamour presented by this academic enterprise; so that the outcome might as well be a diminution of the gross aggregate of donations and allowances. But such an argument doubtless runs on very precarious grounds; it is by no means evident that these munificent patrons of learning habitually distinguish between scholarship and publicity. But in any case it is quite safe to presume that to the cause of learning at large, and therefore to the community in respect of its interest in the advancement of learning, no appreciable net gain accrues from this competitive publicity of the seats of learning.
In some slight, or doubtful, degree this competitive publicity, including academic pageants, genteel solemnities, and the like, may conceivably augment the gross aggregate means placed at the disposal of the universities, by persuasively keeping the well-meaning men of wealth constantly in mind of the university’s need of additional funds, as well as of the fact that such gifts will not be allowed to escape due public notice. But the aggregate increase of funds due to these endeavours is doubtless not large enough to offset the aggregate expenditure on notoriety. Taken as a whole, and counting in all the wide-ranging expenditure entailed by this enterprise in notoriety and the maintenance of academic prestige, university publicity doubtless costs appreciably more than it brings. So far as it succeeds in its purpose, its chief effect is to divert the flow of funds from one to another of the rival establishments. In the aggregate this expedient for procuring means for the advancement of learning doubtless results in an appreciable net loss.
The net loss, indeed, is always much more considerable than would be indicated by any statistical showing; for this academic enterprise involves an extensive and almost wholly wasteful duplication of equipment, personnel and output of instruction, as between the rival seats of learning, at the same time that it also involves an excessively parsimonious provision for actual scholastic work, as contrasted with publicity; so also it involves the overloading of each rival corps of instructors with a heterogeneous schedule of courses, beyond what would conduce to their best efficiency as teachers. This competitive parcelment, duplication and surreptitious thrift, due to a businesslike rivalry between the several schools, is perhaps the gravest drawback to the American university situation.
It should be added that no aggregate gain for scholarship comes of diverting any given student from one school to another duplicate establishment by specious offers of a differential advantage; particularly when, as frequently happens, the differential inducement takes the form of the extra-scholastic amenities spoken of in an earlier chapter, or the greater alleged prestige of one school as against another, or, as also happens, a surreptitiously greater facility for achieving a given academic degree.
In all its multifarious ways and means, university advertising carried beyond the modicum that would serve a due “publicity of accounts” as regards the work to be done, accomplishes no useful aggregate result. And, as is true of advertising in other competitive business, current university publicity is not an effective means of spreading reliable information; nor is it designed for that end. Here as elsewhere, to meet the requirements of competitive enterprise, advertising must somewhat exceed the point of maximum veracity.
In no field of human endeavour is competitive notoriety and a painstaking conformity to extraneous standards of living and of conduct so gratuitous a burden, since learning is in no degree a competitive enterprise; and all mandatory observance of the conventions — pecuniary or other — is necessarily a drag on the pursuit of knowledge. In ordinary competitive business, as, e.g., merchandising, advertisement is a means of competitive selling, and is justified by the increased profits that come to the successful advertiser from the increased traffic; and on the like grounds a painstaking conformity to conventional usage, in appearances and expenditure, is there wisely cultivated with the same end in view. In the affairs of science and scholarship, simply as such and apart from the personal ambitions of the university’s executive, there is nothing that corresponds to this increased traffic or these competitive profits,(3*) — nor will the discretionary officials avow that such increased traffic is the purpose of academic publicity. Indeed, an increased enrolment of students yields no increased net income, nor is the corporation of learning engaged (avowedly, at least) in an enterprise that looks to a net income. At the same time, such increased enrolment as comes of this competitive salesmanship among the universities is made up almost wholly of wasters, accessions from the genteel and sporting classes, who seek the university as a means of respectability and dissipation, and who serve the advancement of the higher learning only as fire, flood and pestilence serve the needs of the husbandman.
Competitive publicity, therefore, and its maid-servant conventional observance, would appear in all this order of things to have no serious motive, or at least none that can freely be avowed; as witness the unwillingness of any university administration formally to avow that it seeks publicity or expends the corporate funds in competitive advertising. So that on its face this whole academic traffic in publicity and genteel conventionalities appears to be little else than a boyish imitation of the ways and means employed, with shrewd purpose, in business enterprise that has no analog with the pursuit of knowledge. But the aggregate yearly expenditure of the universities on this competitive academic publicity runs well up into the millions, and it involves also an extensive diversion of the energies of the general body of academic men to these purposes of creditable notoriety; and such an expenditure of means and activities is not lightly to be dismissed as an unadvised play of businesslike fancy on the part of the university authorities.
Unquestionably, an unreflecting imitation of methods that have been found good in retail merchandising counts for something in the case, perhaps for much; for the academic executives under whose surveillance this singularly futile traffic is carried on are commonly men of commonplace intelligence and aspiration, bound by the commonplace habits of workday intercourse in a business community. The histrionic afflatus is also by no means wanting in current university management, and when coupled with commonplace ideals in the dramatic art its outcome will necessarily be a tawdry, spectacular pageantry and a straining after showy magnitude. There is also the lower motive of unreflecting clannishness on the part of the several university establishments. This counts for something, perhaps for more than one could gracefully admit. It stands out perhaps most baldly in the sentimental rivalry — somewhat factitious, it is true — shown at intercollegiate games and similar occasions of invidious comparison between the different schools. It is, of course, gratifying to the clannish conceit of any college man to be able to hold up convincing statistical exhibits showing the greater glory of “his own” university, whether in athletics, enrolment, alumni, material equipment, or schedules of instruction; whether he be an official, student, alumnus, or member of the academic staff; and all this array and circumstance will appeal to him the more unreservedly in proportion as he is gifted with a more vulgar sportsmanlike bent and is unmoved by any dispassionate interest in matters of science or scholarship; and in proportion, also, as his habitual outlook is that of the commonplace man of affairs. In the uncritical eyes of the commonplace men of affairs, whose experience in business has trained them into a quasi-tropismatic approval of notoriety as a means of advertising, these puerile demonstrations will, of course, have a high value simply in their own right. Sentimental chauvinism of this kind is a good and efficient motive to emulative enterprise, as far as it goes, but even when backed with the directorate’s proclivity to businesslike make-believe, it can, after all, scarcely be made to cover the whole voluminous traffic that must on any consistent view go in under the head of competitive publicity.
The abiding incentives to this traffic in publicity and genteel observance must be sought elsewhere than in the boyish emotions of rivalry and clanish elation that animates the academic staff, or even in the histrionic interest which the members of the staff or the directorate may have in the prestige of their own establishment. The staff, indeed, are not in any sensible degree accountable for this pursuit of prestige, since they have but little discretion in these matters; in substance, the government of a competitive university is necessarily of an autocratic character, whatever plausible forms of collective action and advisement it may be found expedient to observe. The seat of discretion is in the directorate; though many details of administration may be left to the deliberations of the staff, so long as these details do not impinge on the directorate’s scheme of policy. The impulse and initiative to this enterprise in publicity, as well as the surveillance and guidance in the matter, radiates from this centre, and it is here, presumably, that the incentives to such enterprise are immediately felt. The immediate discretion in the conduct of these matters rests in the hands of the directive academic head, with the aid and advice of his circle of personal counsellors, and with the backing of the governing board.
The incentives that decide the policy of publicity and guide its execution must accordingly be such as will appeal directly to the sensibilities of the academic head and of the members of the governing board; and this applies not only as regards the traffic in publicity by print and public spectacles, but also as regards the diversion of the corporation of learning to utilitarian ends, and as regards the traffic in conventional observances and conformity to popular opinion. What these incentives may be, that so appeal to the authorities in discretion, and that move them to divert the universities from the pursuit of knowledge, is not altogether easy to say; more particularly it is not easy to find an explanation that shall take account of the facts and yet reflect no discredit on the intelligence or the good faith of these discretionary authorities.
The motives that actuate the members of the governing boards are perhaps less obscure than those which determine the conduct of the academic executive. The governing boards are, in effect, made up of businessmen, who do not habitually look beyond the “practical” interest of commercial gain and the commonplaces of commercial routine and political bravado. It is (should be) otherwise with the academic management, who are, by tradition, presumed to be animated with scholarly ideals, and whose avowed ulterior motive is in all cases the single-minded furtherance of the cause of learning.
On its face it should not seem probable that motives of personal gain, in the form of pecuniary or other material interest, would have a serious part in the matter. In all probability there is in no case a sensible pecuniary gain to the university as such from its expenditures on publicity, and there is still less question of gain in any other than the pecuniary respect. There is also commonly no very substantial pecuniary gain to be derived from this business either by the academic head or by the members of the board, — an exceptional instance to the contrary will not vitiate this general proposition. It all brings no appreciable pecuniary return to them, particularly so far as it is concerned with the pursuit of prestige; and apart from exceptional, and therefore negligible, cases it admits of no appreciable conversion of funds to private use. At the same time it seems almost an affront to entertain the notion that these impassively purposeful men of affairs are greatly moved by personal motives of vanity, vaingloriously seeking renown for efficiently carrying on a traffic in publicity that has no other end than renown for efficiently carrying it on. And yet it will be found extremely difficult to take account of the facts and at the same time avoid such an odiously personal interpretation of them.
Such, indeed, would have to be the inference drawn by any one who might ingenuously take the available facts at their face value, — not counting as facts the dutiful protestations of the authorities to the contrary. But it should be kept in mind that a transparent ingenuousness is not characteristic of business phenomena, within the university or without. A degree of deviation, or “diplomacy,” may be forced on the academic management by the circumstances of their office, particularly by the one-eyed business sense of their governing boards. Indeed, admissions to such an effect are not altogether wanting.
Rated as they are, in the popular apprehension, as gentlemen and scholars, and themselves presumably accepting this rating as substantially correct, no feature of the scheme of management imposed on the academic executive by business principles should (presumably) be so repugnant to their sensibilities and their scholarly judgment as this covert but unremitting pursuit of an innocuous notoriety, coupled as it necessarily is with a systematic misdirection of the academic forces to unscholarly ends; but prudential reasons will decide that this must be their chief endeavour if they are to hold their own as a competitive university. Should the academic head allow his sense of scholarly fitness and expediency to hamper this business of reputable notoriety, it is, perhaps with reason, feared that such remissness would presently lead to his retirement from office; at least something of that kind seems a fair inference from the run of the facts. His place would then be supplied by an incumbent duly qualified on this score of one-eyed business sagacity, and one who would know how to keep his scholarly impulses in hand. It is at least conceivable that the apprehension of some such contingency may underlie current university management at some points, and it may there fore in some instances have given the administration of academic affairs an air of light-headed futility, when it should rather be credited with a sagaciously disingenuous yielding to circumstance.
The run of the facts as outlined above, and the line of inference just indicated as following from them, reflect no great credit on the manly qualities of the incumbents of executive office; but the alternative, as also noted above, is scarcely preferable even in that respect, while it would be even less flattering to their intellectual powers. Yet there appears to be no avoiding the dilemma so presented. Of disinterested grounds for the common run of academic policy there seem to be only these two lines to choose between: — either a short-sighted and headlong conformity to the vulgar prejudice that does not look beyond “practical” training and competitive expansion, coupled with a boyish craving for popular display; or a strategic compromise with the elders of the Philistines, a futile doing of evil in the hope that some good may come of it.
This latter line of apology is admissible only in those cases where the university corporation is in an exceptionally precarious position in respect of its endowment, where it is in great need and has much to hope for in the way of pecuniary gain through stooping to conventional prejudices, that are of no scholastic value, but that are conceived to bind its potential benefactors in a web of fatally fragile bigotry; or, again, where the executive is in sensible danger of being superseded by an administration imbued with (conceivably) yet lower and feebler scholarly ideals.
Now, it happens that there are notable instances of universities where such a policy of obsequiously reputable notoriety and aimless utilitarian management is pursued under such circumstances of settled endowment and secure tenure as to preclude all hazard of supersession on the part of the executive and all chance of material gain from any accession of popular renown or stagnant respectability. There is a small class of American university corporations that are so placed, by the peculiar circumstances of their endowment, as to be above the apprehension of need, so long as they are content to live anywhere nearly within the domain of learning; at the same time that they have nothing to lose through alienating the affections of the vulgar, and nothing to gain by deferring to the sentimental infirmities of elderly well-to-do persons. This class is not a numerous one; not large enough to set the pace for the rest; but evidently also not numerous enough to go on their own recognizances, and adopt a line of policy suited to their own circumstances and not bound to the fashion set by the rest. Some of the well known establishments of this class have already been alluded to in another connection.
Statistical display, spectacular stage properties, vainglorious make-believe and obsequious concessions to worldly wisdom, should seem to have no place in the counsels of these schools; which should therefore hopefully be counted on to pursue the quest of knowledge with that single mind which they profess. Yet such is eminently, not to say pre-eminently, not the case. Their policy in these matters commonly differs in no sensible degree from that pursued by the needier establishments that are engaged in a desperate race of obsequiousness, for funds to be procured by favour of well-to-do donors, or through the support of worldly-wise clergymen and politicians. Indeed, some of the most pathetic clamour for popular renown, as well as instances of the most profligate stooping to vulgar prejudice, are to be credited to establishments of this, potentially independent, class. The management, apparently, are too well imbued with the commonplace preconceptions of worldly wisdom afloat among the laity, to admit of their taking any action on their own deliberate initiative or effectually taking thought of that pursuit of learning that has been entrusted to their care. So, perhaps through some puzzleheaded sense of decorum, they have come to engage in this bootless conventional race for funds which they have no slightest thought of obtaining, and for an increased enrolment which they advisedly do not desire.
In the light of these instances, one is constrained to believe that the academic executive who has so been thrown up as putative director of the pursuit of learning must go in for this annexation of vocational schools, for amateurish “summer sessions,” for the appointment of schoolmasters instead of scholars on the academic staff, for the safe-keeping and propagation of genteel conventionalities at the cost of scholarship, for devout and polite ceremonial, — one is constrained to believe that such a university executive goes in for this policy of tawdry routine because he lacks ordinary intelligence or because he lacks ordinary courage. His discretion is overborne either by his own store of unreflecting prejudice, or by fear of losing. personal prestige among the ignorant, even though he has no substantial ground, personal or official, for so yielding to current prejudice. Such appears to be the state of the case in these instances, where the exigencies of university politics afford no occasion for strategic compromise with the worldly-wise; which pointedly suggests that the like threadbare motives of unreflecting imitation and boyish make-believe may also have unduly much to do with academic policy, even in that common run of cases that might otherwise have best been explained as an effect of shrewd strategy, designed to make terms with the mischievous stupidity of an underbred laity.
But any discussion of motives necessarily has an invidious air, and so can not but be distasteful. Yet, since this executive policy can be explained or understood only as the outcome of those motives that appeal decisively to the discretionary officials, it is necessary to pursue the inquiry a degree farther at this point, even at the cost of such slight odium as may not be avoided, and at the risk of a certain appearance of dispraise. It is perhaps needless to say that this question of motivation is not gone into here except as it may serve to exhibit the run of the facts. The run of the facts is not intelligible except in the light of their meaning as possible motives to the pursuit of that policy of which they are the outcome.
On the above considerations, it follows that the executive heads of these competitive universities are a picked body of men, endowed with a particular bent, such as will dispose them to be guided by the run of motives indicated. This will imply that they are, either by training or by native gift, men of a somewhat peculiar frame of mind, — peculiarly open to the appeal of parade and ephemeral celebrity, and peculiarly facile in the choice of means by which to achieve these gaudy distinctions; peculiarly solicitous of appearances, and peculiarly heedless of the substance of their performance. It is not that this characterization would imply exceptionally great gifts, or otherwise notable traits of character; they are little else than an accentuation of the more commonplace frailties of commonplace men. As a side light on this spiritual complexion of the typical academic executive, it may be worth noting that much the same characterization will apply without abatement to the class of professional politicians, particularly to that large and long-lived class of minor politicians who make a living by keeping well in the public eye and avoiding blame.(4*)
There is, indeed more than a superficial or accidental resemblance between the typical academic executive and the professional politician of the familiar and more vacant sort, both as regards the qualifications requisite for entering on this career and as regards the conditions of tenure. Among the genial make-believe that goes to dignify the executive office is a dutiful protest, indeed, a somewhat clamorous protest, of conspicuous self-effacement on the part of the incumbent, to the effect that the responsibilities of office have come upon him unsought, if not unawares; which is related to the facts in much the same manner and degree as the like holds true for the manoeuvres of those wise politicians that “heed the call of duty” and so find themselves “in the hands of their friends.” In point of fact, here as in political office-seeking, the most active factor that goes to decide the selection of the eventual incumbents of office is a tenacious and aggressive self-selection. With due, but by no means large, allowance for exceptions, the incumbents are chosen from among a self-selected body of candidates, each of whom has, in the common run of cases, been resolutely in pursuit of such an office for some appreciable time, and has spent much time and endeavour on fitting himself for its duties. Commonly it is only after the aspirant has achieved a settled reputation for eligibility and a predilection for the office that he will finally secure an appointment. The number of aspirants, and of eligibles, considerably exceeds the number of such executive offices, very much as is true for the parallel case of aspirants for political office.
As to the qualifications, in point of character and attainments, that so go to make eligibility for the executive office, it is necessary to recall what has been said in an earlier chapter(5*) on the characteristics of those boards of control with whom rests the choice in these matters of appointment. These boards are made up of well-to-do businessmen, with a penchant for popular notability. and the qualifications necessary to be put in evidence by aspirants for executive office are such as will convince such a board of their serviceability. Among the indispensable general qualifications, therefore, will be a “businesslike” facility in the management of affairs, an engaging address and fluent command of language before a popular audience, and what is called “optimism,” — a serene and voluble loyalty to the current conventionalities and a conspicuously profound conviction that all things are working out for good, except for such untoward details as do not visibly conduce to the vested advantage of the well-to-do businessmen under the established law and order. To secure an appointment to executive office it is not only necessary to be possessed of these qualifications, and contrive to put them in evidence; the aspirant must ordinarily also, to use a colloquialism, be willing and able to “work his passage” by adroit negotiation and detail engagements on points of policy, appointments and administration.
The greater proportion of such aspirants for executive office work their apprenticeship and manage their campaign of office-seeking while engaged in some university employment. To this end the most likely line of university employment is such as will comprise a large share of administrative duties, as, e.g., the deanships that are latterly receiving much attention in this behalf; while of the work of instruction the preference should be given to such undergraduate class-work as will bring the aspirant in wide contact with the less scholarly element of the student body, and with those “student activities” that come favourably under public observation; and more particularly should one go in for the quasi-scholarly pursuits of “university extension”; which will bring the candidate into favourable notice among the quasi-literate leisure class; at the same time this employment conduces greatly to assurance and a flow of popular speech.
It is by no means here intended to convey the assumption that appointments to executive office are currently made exclusively from among aspiring candidates answering the description outlined above, or that the administrative deanships that currently abound in the universities are uniformly looked on by their incumbents as in some sort a hopeful novitiate to the presidential dignity. The exceptions under both of these general propositions would be too numerous to be set aside as negligible, although scarcely numerous enough or consequential enough entirely to vitiate these propositions as a competent formulation of the typical line of approach to the coveted office. The larger and more substantial exception would, of course, be taken to the generalization as touching the use of the deanships in preparation for the presidency.
The course of training and publicity afforded by the deanships and extension lectures appears to be the most promising, although it is not the only line of approach. So, e.g., as has been remarked in an earlier passage, the exigencies of academic administration will ordinarily lead to the formation of an unofficially organized corps of counsellors and agents or lieutenants, who serve as aids to the executive head. While these aids, factors, and gentlemen-in-waiting are vested with no official status proclaiming their relation to the executive office or their share in its administration, it goes without saying that their vicarious discretion and their special prerogatives of access and advisement with the executive head do not commonly remain hidden from their colleagues on the academic staff, or from interested persons outside the university corporation; nor, indeed, does it appear that they commonly desire to remain unknown.
In the same connection, as has also been remarked above, and as is sufficiently notorious, among the large and imperative duties of executive office is public discourse. This is required, both as a measure of publicity at large and as a means of divulging the ostensible aims, advantages and peculiar merits of the given university and its chief. The volume of such public discourse, as well as the incident attendance at many public and ceremonial functions, is very considerable; so much so that in the case of any university of reasonable size and spirit the traffic in these premises is likely to exceed the powers of any one man, even where, as is not infrequently the case, the “executive” head is presently led to make this business of stately parade and promulgation his chief employment. In effect, much of this traffic will necessarily be delegated to such representatives of the chief as may be trusted duly to observe its spirit and intention; and the indicated bearers of these vicarious dignities and responsibilities will necessarily be the personal aids and counsellors of the chief; which throws them, again, into public notice in a most propitious fashion.
So also, by force of the same exigencies of parade and discourse, the chief executive is frequently called away from home on a more or less extended itinerary; and the burden of dignity attached to the thief office is such as to require that its ostensible duties be delegated to some competent lieutenant during these extensive absences of the chief; and here, again, this temporary discretion and dignity will most wisely and fittingly be delegated to some member of the corps of personal aids who stands in peculiarly close relations of sympathy and usefulness to the chief. It has happened more than once that such an habitual “acting head” has come in for the succession to the executive office.
It comes, therefore, to something like a general rule, that the discipline which makes the typical captain of erudition, as he is seen in the administration of executive office, will have set in before his induction into office, not infrequently at an appreciable interval before that event, and involving a consequent, more or less protracted, term of novitiate, probation and preliminary seasoning; and the aspirants so subjected to this discipline of initiation are at the same time picked men, drawn into the running chiefly by force of a facile conformity and a self-selective predisposition for this official dignity.
The resulting captain of erudition then falls under a certain exacting discipline exercised by the situation in which the exigencies of office place him. These exigencies are of divers origin, and are systematically at variance among themselves. So that the dominant note of his official life necessarily becomes that of ambiguity. By tradition, — indeed, by that tradition to which the presidential office owes its existence, and except by force of which there would apparently be no call to institute Such an office at all, — by tradition the president of the university is the senior member of the faculty, its confidential spokesman in official and corporate concerns, and the “moderator” of its town meeting like deliberative assemblies. As chairman of its meetings he is, by tradition, presumed to exercise no peculiar control, beyond such guidance as the superior experience of the senior member may be presumed to afford his colleagues. As spokesman for the faculty he is, by tradition, presumed to be a scholar of such erudition, breadth and maturity as may fairly command something of filial respect and affection from his associates in the corporation of learning; and it is by virtue of these qualities of scholarly wisdom, which give him his place as senior member of a corporation of scholars, that he is, by tradition, competent to serve as their spokesman and to occupy the chair in their deliberative assembly.
Such is the tradition of the American College President, — and, in so far, of the university president, — as it comes down from that earlier phase of academic history from which the office derives its ostensible character, and to which it owes its hold on life under the circumstances of the later growth of the schools. And it will be noted that this office is distinctly American; it has no counterpart elsewhere, and there appears to be no felt need of such an office in other countries, where no similar tradition of a college president has created a presumptive need of a similar official in the universities, — the reason being evidently that these universities in other lands have not, in the typical case, grown out of an underlying college.
In the sentimental apprehension of the laity out of doors, and in a degree even in the unreflecting esteem of men within the academic precincts, the presidential office still carries something of this traditionally preconceived scholarly character; and it is this still surviving traditional preconception, which confuses induction into the office with scholarly fitness for its dignities, that still makes the office of the academic executive available for those purposes of expansive publicity and businesslike management that it has been made to serve. Except for this uncritical esteem of the office and its incumbency, so surviving out of an inglorious past, no great prestige could attach to that traffic in spectacular solemnities, edifying discourse and misdirected business control, that makes up the substantial duties of the office as now conducted. It is therefore of the utmost moment to keep up, or rather to magnify, that appearance of scholarly competence and of intimate solidarity with the corporation of learning that gives the presidential office this prestige value. But since it is only for purposes external, not to say extraneous, to the corporation of learning that this prestige value is seriously worth while, it is also only toward the outside that the make-believe of presidential erudition and scholarly ideals need seriously be kept up. For the common run of the incumbents today to pose before their faculties as in any eminent degree conversant with the run of contemporary science or scholarship, or as rising to the average even of their own faculties in this respect, would be as bootless as it is uncalled for. But the faculties, as is well enough understood, need of course entertain no respect for their executive head as a citizen of the republic of learning, so long as they at all adequately appreciate his discretionary power of use and abuse, as touches them and their fortunes and all the ways, means and opportunities of academic work. By tradition, and in the genial legendary lore that colours the proceedings of the faculty-meeting, he is still the senior member of an assemblage of scholarly gentlemen; but in point of executive fact he is their employer, who does business with and by them on a commercial footing. To the faculty, the presidential office is a business proposition, and its incumbent is chiefly an object of circumspection, to whom they owe a “hired-man’s loyalty.”
It is toward the outside, in the face of the laity out of doors, that the high fence — “the eight-fold fence” — of scholarly pretension is to be kept up. Hence the indicated means of its up-keep are such as will presumably hold the (transient) respect and affection of this laity,quasi-scholarly homiletical discourse, frequent, voluminous, edifying and optimistic; ritualistic solemnities, diverting and vacant; spectacular affectations of (counterfeit) scholastic usage in the way of droll vestments, bizarre and archaic; parade of (make-believe) gentility; encouragement and (surreptitious) subvention of athletic contests; promulgation of (presumably ingenuous) statistics touching the volume and character of the work done.
It is only by keeping up these manifestations toward the outside, and making them good in the esteem of the unlearned, that the presidential office can be made to serve the ends of the board of control and the ambitions of the incumbent; and this large apparatus and traffic of make-believe, therefore, is the first and most unremitting object of executive solicitude. It is the “place whereon to stand” while moving the academic universe. The uses to be made of the standing-place so achieved have already been set out in some detail in earlier chapters. They centre about three main considerations: Visible magnitude, bureaucratic organization, and vocational training.
As already noted in earlier passages, the boards of control are bodies of businessmen in whose apprehension the methods successfully employed in competitive business are suitable for all purposes of administration; from which follows that the academic head who is to serve as their general manager is vested, in effect, with such discretionary powers as currently devolve on the discretionary officials of business corporations; from which follows, among other things, that the members of the faculty come to take rank as employees of the concern, hired by and responsible to the academic head.
The first executive duty of the incumbent of office, therefore, is to keep his faculty under control, so as to be able unhampered to carry out the policy of magnitude and secularization with a view to which the governing board has invested him with his powers. This work of putting the faculty in its place has by this time been carried out with sufficient effect, so that its “advice and consent” may in all cases be taken as a matter of course; and should a remnant of initiative and scholarly aspiration show itself in any given concrete case in such a way as to traverse the lines of policy pursued by the executive, he can readily correct the difficulty by exercise of a virtually plenary power of appointment, preferment and removal, backed as this power is by a nearly indefeasible black-list. So well is the academic black-list understood, indeed, and so sensitive and trustworthy is the fearsome loyalty of the common run among academic men, that very few among them will venture openly to say a good word for any one of their colleagues who may have fallen under the displeasure of some incumbent of executive office. This work of intimidation and subornation may fairly be said to have acquired the force of an institution, and to need no current surveillance or effort.(6*)
The subservience of the faculty, or of a working majority, may safely be counted on. But the forms of advisement and responsibility are still necessary to be observed; the president is still, by tradition, the senior member of the faculty, and its confidential spokesman. From which follows a certain, at least pro forma, disingenuousness in the executive’s coercive control of academic policy, whereby the ostensible discretion and responsibility comes to rest on the faculty, while the control remains with the executive. But, after all, this particular run of ambiguity and evasions has reached such settled forms and is so well understood that it no longer implies an appreciable strain on the executive’s veracity or on his diplomatic skill. It belongs under the category of legal fiction, rather than that of effectual prevarication.
So also as regards the businesslike, or bureaucratic, organization and control of the administrative machinery, and its utilization for vocational ends and statistical showing. All that has been worked out in its general features, and calls, in any concrete case, for nothing much beyond an adaptation of general practices to the detail requirements of the special case. It devolves, properly, on the clerical force, and especially on those chiefs of clerical bureau called “deans,” together with the many committees-for-the-sifting-of-sawdust into which the faculty of a well-administered university is organized. These committees being, in effect if not in intention, designed chiefly to keep the faculty talking while the bureaucratic machine goes on its way under the guidance of the executive and his personal counsellors and lieutenants. These matters, then, are also well understood, standardized, and accepted, and no longer require a vigilant personal surveillance from the side of the executive.
As is well and seemly for any head of a great concern, these matters of routine and current circumlocution are presently delegated to the oversight of trusted subalterns, in a manner analogous to the delegation of the somewhat parallel duties of the caretakers of the material equipment. Both of these hierarchical corps of subordinates are in a somewhat similar case, in that their duties are of a mechanically standardized nature, and in that it is incumbent on both alike to deal in a dispassionate, not to say impersonal, way each with the particular segment of apparatus and process entrusted to his care; as is right and good for any official entrusted with given details of bureaucratic routine.
The exacting duties that remain personally incumbent on the academic executive, and claiming his ordinary and continued attention, therefore, are those of his own official prestige on the one hand, and the selection, preferment, rejection and proscription of members of the academic staff. These two lines of executive duty are closely correlated; not only in that the staff is necessarily to be selected with a view to their furthering the prestige of their chief and his university, but also in that the executive’s experience in the course of this enterprise in publicity goes far to shape his ideals of scholarly endeavour and to establish his standards of expediency and efficiency in the affairs of learning.
By usage, guided, no doubt, by a shrewd sense of expediency in the choice of means, it has, in the typical case, come to be the settled policy of these incumbents of executive office to seek the competitively requisite measure of public prestige chiefly by way of public oratory. Now and again his academic rank, backed by the slow-dying tradition that his office should be filled by a man of scholarly capacity, will bring the incumbent before some scientific body or other; where he commonly avoids offence. But, as has been remarked above, it is the laity that is to be impressed and kept propitiously in mind of the executive and his establishment, and it is therefore the laity that is to be conciliated with presidential addresses; it is also to the laity that the typical academic executive is competent to speak without stultification. Hence the many edifying addresses before popular audiences, at commencements, inaugurations, dedications, club meetings, church festivals, and the like. So that an executive who aspires to do his whole duty in these premises will become in some sort an itinerant dispensary of salutary verbiage; and university presidents have so come to be conventionally indispensable for the effusion of graceful speech at all gatherings of the well-to-do for convivial deliberation on the state of mankind at large.(7*)
Throughout this elocutionary enterprise there runs the rigorous prescription that the speaker must avoid offence, that his utterances must be of a salutary order, since the purpose of it all is such conciliation of goodwill as will procure at least the passive good offices of those who are reached by the presidential run of language. But, by and large, it is only platitudes and racy anecdotes that may be counted on to estrange none of the audiences before which it is worth while for the captains of erudition to make their plea for sanity and renown. Hence the peculiarly, not to say exuberantly, inane character of this branch of oratory, coupled with an indefatigable optimism and good-nature. This outcome is due neither to a lack of application nor of reflection on the part of the speakers; it is, indeed, a finished product of the homiletical art and makes up something of a class of its own among the artistic achievements of the race. At the same time it is a means to an end.(8*)
However, the clay sticks to the sculptor’s thumb, as the meal-dust powders the miller’s hair and the cobbler carries sensible traces of the pitch that goes into his day’s work, and as the able-bodied seaman “walks with a rolling gait.” So also the university executive, who by pressure of competitive enterprise comes to be all things to all audiences, will come also to take on the colour of his own philandropic pronouncements; to believe, more or less conveniently, in his own blameless utterances. They necessarily commit him to a pro forma observance of their tenor; they may, of course, be desired as perfunctory conciliation, simply, but in carrying conviction to the audience the speaker’s eloquence unavoidably bends his own convictions in some degree. And not only does the temper of the audience sympathetically affect that of the speaker, as does also his familiar contact with the same range of persons, such as goes with and takes a chief place in this itinerant edification; but there is also the opportunity which all this wide-ranging itinerary of public addresses affords for feeling out the state of popular sentiment, as to what ends the university is expected to serve and how it is expected best to serve them. Particularly do the solemn amenities of social intercourse associated with this promulgation of lay sermons lend themselves felicitously to such a purpose; and this contact with the public and its spokesmen doubtless exercises a powerful control over the policies pursued by these academic executives, in that it affords them the readiest, and at the same time the most habitual, indication as to what line of policy and what details of conduct will meet with popular approval, and what will not.
Since, then, it is necessarily the endeavour of the competitive executives to meet the desires of their public as best they can, consistently with the demands of magnitude and éclat imposed by their position as chiefs of these competitive concerns, it becomes a question of some moment what the character of this select public opinion may be, to which their peregrinations expose them; and how far and with what limitations the public opinion that so habitually impinges on their sensibilities and shapes their canons of procedure may be taken as reflecting the sentiments of the public at large, or of any given class of the population.
The public that so contributes to the habitual bent of the academic executives is necessarily a select fraction of the laity, of course, — self-selected by virtue of membership in the various clubs, churches and other like organizations under whose auspices the edification and amenities in question are commonly brought into bearing, or by virtue of voluntary attendance at these occasions of quasi-culture and gentility. It is somewhat exclusive fragment of the public, pecuniarily of a middling grade, as is indeed also its case in other than the pecuniary respect. Apart from the (very consequential) convivial gatherings where businessmen will now and again come together and lend a genial ear to these executive spokesmen of philandropism, it will be found that at the audiences, and at their attendant solemnities of hospitality, the assembly is made up of very much the same elements as make up the effective constituency of the moderately well-to-do churches.(9*) Neither the small minority of the wholly idle rich, nor the great majority who work with their hands, are present in appreciable force; particularly not the latter, who are busy elsewhere; nor do the learned class come in evidence in this connection, — except, of course, the “scholars by appointment,” within whose official competency lie precisely such occasions of public evidence.
Doubtless, the largest, tone-giving and effective, constituent in this self-selected public on whose temper the university president typically leans, and from whose bent his canons of circumspection are drawn, is the class of moderately well-to-do and serious-minded women who have outlived the distractions of maternity, and so have come to turn their parental solicitude to the common good, conceived as a sterilization of the proprieties. The controlling ideals of efficiency and expediency in the affairs of the higher learning accordingly, in so far as they are not a precipitate of competitive business principles simply, will be chiefly of this derivation. Not that the captains of erudition need intimately harbour precisely those notions of scholarship which this constituency would enjoin upon them, and for which they dutifully speak in their conciliatory sermons before these audiences; but just as happens in all competitive retail business that has to deal with a large and critical constituency, so here, — the captains find themselves constrained in their management of the affairs of learning to walk blamelessly in the sight of this quasi-public spirited wing of the laity that has by force of circumstances come to constitute the public, as seen in the perspective of the itinerant philandropist.
The executive and all his works and words must avoid blame from any source from which criticism might conceivably affect the traffic with which he is occupied,such is the first of those politic principles that govern the conduct of competitive business. The university must accordingly be managed with a first view to a creditable rating in those extraneous respects, touching which that select laity that make up the executive’s effective public are competent to hold convictions. The resulting canons of management will be chiefly of the nature of tabus, since blame is best avoided by a code of avoidance. and since the forum in which these tabus are audited is a forum in which the matronly negations of piety, propriety and genteel usage take precedence of work, whether scholarly or otherwise, a misdirected cowardice not infrequently comes to rule the counsels of the captains of erudition, — misdirected not only in the more obvious sense that its guidance is disserviceable to the higher learning, but also (what is more to the immediate point) in the sense that it discredits the executive and his tactics in the esteem of that workday public that does not habitually give tongue over the cups at five-o’clock.(10*)
It is perhaps unnecessary, as it would assuredly be ungraceful, to pursue this quasi-personal inquiry into the circumstances that so determine that habitual attitude of the executive. The difficulties of such an ambiguous position should be sufficiently evident, and the character of the demands which this position makes on the incumbent should be similarly evident, so far as regards conduciveness to clean and honest living within the premises of this executive office. It may, however, not be out of place to call to mind one or two significant, and perhaps extenuating, traits among those conventions that go to make up the situation. Unlike what occurs in the conduct of ordinary business and in the professions, there has hitherto been worked out no code of professional ethics for the guidance of men employed in this vocation, — with the sole exception of that mandatory inter-presidential courtesy that binds all members of the craft to a strict enforcement of the academic black-list, — all of which leaves an exceptionally broad field for casuistry. So that, unlike what happens in the business community at large, no standardization has here determined the limits of legitimate prevarication; nor can such a standardization and limit be worked out so long as the executive is required, in effect, to function as the discretionary employer of his academic staff and hold them to account as agents for whom he is responsible, at the same time that he must, in appearance, be their confidential spokesman and their colleague in the corporation of learning. And it is impossible to forego either of these requirements, since the discretionary power of use and abuse is indispensable to the businesslike conduct of the enterprise, while the appearance of scholarly co-partnery with the staff is indispensable to that prestige on which rests the continued exercise of this power. And so also it has similarly proved unavoidable (perhaps as an issue of human infirmity) that the executive be guided in effect by a meretricious subservience to extra-scholastic conventions, all the while that he must profess an unbiassed pursuit of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”
With all due endeavour to avoid the appearance of a study in total depravity, the foregoing analysis has come, after all, to converge on the growth and derivation of those peculiar ambiguities and obliquities that give character to the typical academic executive. Not that all academic executives, without exception, are (in the historical present) to be found fully abreast of that mature phase of the type that would so be reflected by the exigencies of their office as outlined above. Nor need it be believed or argued that no man may enter on these duties of office but such as are specially fitted, by native gift and previous training, for just such an enterprise in meretricious notoriety as these official duties enjoin. The exceptions to such a rule are not altogether rare, and the incumbent may well have entered on the duties of office with preconceptions and aims somewhat at variance with what its discipline inculcates. But, it should be called to mind, the training that makes a typical executive comes with the most felicitous and indefeasible effect not in the predisposing discipline of candidature but in the workday conduct of office. And so consistent and unremitting is this drift of the duties of office, overt and covert, that, humanly speaking, any one who submits to its discipline through an appreciable period of years must unavoidably come to conform to type. Men of unmanageably refractory temperament, such as can not by habituation be indued with the requisite deviation and self-sufficiency, will of necessity presently be thrown out, as being incompetent for this vocation. Instances of such rejection after trial will come to mind, but such instances are, after all, not so frequent or so striking as to throw doubt on the general rule. The discipline of executive office will commonly shape the incumbent to its uses. It should seem beyond reason to expect that a decade of exposure to the exigencies of this high office will leave the incumbent still amenable to the dictates of commonplace tolerance and common honesty.
As intimated above, men with ingrained scholarly ideals and a consistent aim to serve the ends of learning will still occasionally be drawn into the executive office by force of circumstances — particularly by force of the slow-dying preconception that the preferences of the academic staff should count for something in the choice of their senior member; and this will happen in spite of the ubiquitous candidature of aspirants who have prepared themselves for this enterprise by sedulous training in all the arts of popularity and by a well organized backing of influential “friends.” The like happened more frequently a quarter of a century ago, at the time when the current situation was taking shape under the incipient incursion of business principles into university policy. But it does not appear that those incumbents who so enter on these duties, will fare notably otherwise in the end than do the others whose previous training has already bent them to the typical policy of deviation, from the outset.
An illustrative instance or two may well be to the point. And the same illustrations will perhaps also serve to enforce the view that anything like an effectual university — a seminary of the higher learning, as distinct from an assemblage of vocational schools — is not a practicable proposition in America under current conditions. Such seems to be the conclusion vouched for by the two most notable attempts of the kind during the past quarter-century. The two instances in question should appear to afford clear experimental evidence to that effect, though it is always possible to allege that personal or local conditions may so far have affected these experimental instances as still to leave the case in doubt.
In these two instances, in the Middle West and in the Far West, the matter has been tried out under conditions as favourable to the cause of learning as the American community may hope to offer, barring only the possible inhibition due to an untoward local colour of sentiment. Each of these two great establishments has been favoured with an endowment of such magnitude as would be adequate to the foundation of an effectual university, sufficient to the single-minded pursuit of the higher learning, with all the “modern appliances” requisite to scientific and scholarly work, if only their resources had been husbanded with a single mind to that end; and in either case the terms of the endowment have been sufficiently tolerant to admit such pursuit of knowledge without arrière pensée. The directive hands, too, under whose discretionary control each of these establishments entered on its adventures and attained its distinctive character, were men who, at one point or another in their administration of academic policy, entertained a sincerely conceived scholarly ambition to create a substantial university, an institution of learning.(11*) And, in a general way, the two attempts have equally failed of their avowed initial purpose.
In the persons of their discretionary heads, the two enterprises were from the outset animated with widely divergent ideals and aspirations in matters of scholarship, and with singularly dissimilar and distinctive traits of character, resembling one another in little else than a sincere devotion to the cause of scholarship and an unhampered discretion in their autocratic management of affairs; but it is an illuminating comment on the force of circumstances governing these matters, that these two establishments have gone down to substantially the same kind and degree of defeat, — a defeat not extreme but typical, both in kind and degree. In the one case, the more notorious, the initial aim (well known to persons intimately in touch with the relevant facts at the time) was the pursuit of scholarship, somewhat blatant perhaps, but none the less sincere and thoughtful; in the companion-piece it was in a like degree the pursuit of scientific knowledge and serviceability, though, it is true, unschooled and puzzle-headed to a degree. In both enterprises alike the discretionary heads so placed in control had been selected by individual businessmen of the untutored sort, and were vested with plenary powers. Under pressure of circumstances, in both cases alike, the policy of forceful initiative and innovation, with which both alike entered on the enterprise, presently yielded to the ubiquitous craving for statistical magnitude and the consequent felt need of conciliatory publicity; until presently the ulterior object of both was lost in the shadow of these immediate and urgent manoeuvres of expediency, and it became the rule of policy to stick at nothing but appearances.
So that both establishments have come substantially to surrender the university ideal, through loss of effectual initiative and courage, and so have found themselves running substantially the same course of insidious compromise with “vocational” aims, undergraduate methods, and the counsels of the Philistines. The life-history of each, while differing widely in detail of ways and methods, is after all macle up, for the greater part, of futile extensions, expansions, annexations, ramifications, affiliations and pronunciamentos, in matters that are no more germane to the cause of learning than is the state of the weather. In the one case, the chase after a sufficient notoriety took the direction of a ravenous megalomania, the busiest concern of which presently came to be how most conspicuously to prolong a shout into polysyllables; and the further fact that this clamorous raid on the sensibilities of the gallery was presently, on a change of executive personnel, succeeded by a genial surrender to time and tide, an aimless gum-shod pusillanimity, has apparently changed the drift of things in no very appreciable degree.(12*)
In the companion-piece, the enterprise has been brought to the like manner and degree of stultification under the simple guidance of an hysterically meticulous deference to all else than the main facts. In both cases alike the executive solicitude has come to converge on a self-centred and irresponsible government of intolerance, differing chiefly in the degree of its efficiency. Of course, through all this drift of stultification there has always remained — decus et solamen — something of an amiably inefficient and optimistic solicitude for the advancement of learning at large, in some unspecified manner and bearing, some time, but not to interfere with the business in hand.
It is not that either of these two great schools is to be rated as useless for whatever each is good for, but only that that pursuit of learning on which both set out in the beginning has fallen into abeyance, by force of circumstances as they impinge on the sensibilities of a discretionary executive. As vocational schools and as establishments for the diffusion of salutary advice on the state of mankind at large, both are doubtless all that might be desired; particularly in respect of their statistical showing. It is only that the affairs of the higher learning have come definitively to take a subsidiary, or putative, place. In these establishments; and to all appearance irretrievably so, because both are now committed to so large and exacting a volume of obligations and liabilities, legal and customary, extraneous and alien to their legitimate interest, that there is no longer a reasonable chance of their coming to anything of serious import in the way of the higher learning, even, conceivably, under the most enlightened management in the calculable future. In their bootless chase after a blameless publicity, both have sunk their endowment in conspicuous real estate, vocational, technical and accessory schools, and the like academic side-issues, to such an extent as to leave them without means to pursue their legitimate end in any adequate manner, even if they should harbour an effectual inclination to pursue it.(13*)
These remarks on the typical traits of the academic executive have unavoidably taken the colour of personalities. That such is the case should by no means be taken as intentionally reflecting anything like dispraise on those persons who have this (unavoidable) work of stultification in hand. Rather, it is dispassionately to be gathered from the run of the facts as set out above that those persons on whom these exigencies impinge will, by force of habituation, necessarily come to take the bent which these current conditions enforce, and without which this work could not well be done; all on the supposition — and it is by no means an extravagant assumption — that these persons so exposed to these agencies of spiritual disintegration are by native gift endowed with the commonplace traits of human nature, no more and no less. It is the duties of the office, not a run of infirmities peculiar to the incumbents of office, that make the outcome. Very much like that of the medicine-man, the office is one which will not abide a tolerant and ingenuous incumbent.(14*)
In all the above argument and exposition, touching the executive office and its administrative duties, the point of the discussion is, of course, not the personal characteristics of the typical executive, nor even the spiritual fortunes of the persons exposed to the wear and tear of executive office; although these matters might well engage the attention of any one given to moralizing. The point is, of course, that precarious situation in which the university, considered as a corporation of the higher learning, is placed under these current conditions, and the manner in which these current conditions give rise to this situation. Seen from the point of view of the higher learning, and disregarding considerations extraneous to that interest, it is evident that this run of events, and the conditions which determine them, are wholly untoward, not to say disastrous.
Now, this inquiry is nowise concerned to reform, deflect or remedy this current drift of things academic away from the ancient holding ground of the higher learning; partly because such an enterprise in reform and rehabilitation lies beyond its competence; and partly, again, because in all this current move to displace the higher learning there may conceivably be other ends involved, which may be worth while in some other bearing that is alien to the higher learning but of graver consequence for the fortunes of the race, — urgent needs which can only be served by so diverting effort and attention from this pursuit. Yet, partly out of a reasonable deference to the current prejudice that any mere negative criticism and citation of grievances is nothing better than an unworthy experiment in irritation; and more particularly as a means to a more adequate appreciation of the rigorous difficulties inherent in this current state and drift of things; it may not be out of place to offer some consideration of remedial measures that have been attempted or projected, or that may be conceived to promise a way out.
As is well known, divers and various remedial measures have been advocated by critics of current university affairs, from time to time; and it is equally evident on reflection that these proposed remedial measures are with fair uniformity directed to the treatment of symptoms, — to relieve agitation and induce insensibility. However, there is at least one line of aggressively remedial action that is being tried, though not avowedly as a measure to bring the universities into line with their legitimate duties, but rather with a view to relieving them of this work which they are no longer fit to take care of. It is a move designed to shift the seat of the higher learning out of the precincts of the schools. And the desperate case of the universities, considered as seminaries of science and scholarship, is perhaps more forcibly brought in evidence by what is in this way taking place in the affairs of learning outside the schools than by their visible failure to take care of their own work. This evidence goes to say that the difficulties of the academic situation are insurmountable; any rehabilitation of the universities is not contemplated in this latterday movement. And it is so coming to be recognized, in effect though tacitly, that for all their professions of a single-minded addiction to the pursuit of learning, the academic establishments, old and new, are no longer competent to take the direction of affairs in this domain.
So it is that, with a sanguine hope born of academic defeat, there have latterly been founded certain large establishments, of the nature of retreats or shelters for the prosecution of scientific and scholarly inquiry in some sort of academic quarantine, detached from all academic affiliation and renouncing all share in the work of instruction. In point of form the movement is not altogether new. Foundations of a similar aim have been had before. But the magnitude and comprehensive aims of the new establishments are such as to take them out of the category of auxiliaries and throw them into the lead. They are assuming to take over the advance in science and scholarship, which has by tradition belonged under the tutelage of the academic community. This move looks like a desperate surrender of the university ideal. The reason for it appears to be the proven inability of the schools, under competitive management, to take care of the pursuit of knowledge.
Seen from the point of view of the higher learning, this new departure, as well as the apparent need of it, is to be rated as untoward; and it reflects gravely enough on the untoward condition into which the rule of business principles is leading the American schools. Such establishments of research are capable, in any competent manner, of serving only one of the two joint purposes necessary to be served by any effective seminary of the higher learning; nor can they at all adequately serve this one purpose to the best advantage when so disjoined from its indispensable correlate. By and large, these new establishments are good for research only, not for instruction; or at the best they can serve this latter purpose only as a more or less Surreptitious or supererogatory side interest. Should they, under pressure of instant need, turn their forces to instruction as well as to inquiry, they would incontinently find themselves drifting into the same equivocal position as the universities, and the dry-rot of business principles and competitive gentility would presently consume their tissues after the same fashion.
It is, to all appearance, impracticable and inadvisable to let these institutions of research take over any appreciable share of that work of scientific and scholarly instruction that is slipping out of the palsied hands of the universities, so as to include some consistent application to teaching within the scope of their everyday work. And this cuts out of their complement of ways and means one of the chief aids to an effectual pursuit of scientific inquiry. Only in the most exceptional, not to say erratic, cases will good, consistent, sane and alert scientific work be carried forward through a course of years by any scientist without students, without loss or blunting of that intellectual initiative that makes the creative scientist. The work that can be done well in the absence of that stimulus and safe-guarding that comes of the give and take between teacher and student is commonly such only as can without deterioration be reduced to a mechanically systematized task-work, — that is to say, such as can, without loss or gain, be carried on under the auspices of a businesslike academic government.
This, imperatively unavoidable, absence of provision for systematic instruction in these new-found establishments of research means also that they and the work which they have in hand are not self-perpetuating, whether individually and in detail or taken in the large; since their work breeds no generation of successors to the current body of scientists on which they draw. As the matter stands now, they depend for their personnel on the past output of scholars and scientists from the schools, and so they pick up and turn to account what there is ready to hand in that way — not infrequently men for whom the universities find little use, as being refractory material not altogether suitable for the academic purposes of notoriety. When this academic source fails, as it presently must, with the increasingly efficient application of business principles in the universities, there should seem to be small recourse for establishments of this class except to run into the sands of intellectual quietism where the universities have gone before.
In this connection it will be interesting to note, by way of parenthesis, that even now a large proportion of the names that appear among the staff of these institutions of research are not American, and that even the American-born among them are frequently not American-bred in respect of their scientific training. For this work, recourse is necessarily had to the output of men trained elsewhere than in the vocational and athletic establishments of the American universities, or to that tapering file of academic men who are still imbued with traditions so alien to the current scheme of conventions as to leave them not amenable to the dictates of business principles. Meantime, that which is eating the heart out of the American seminaries of the higher learning should in due course also work out the like sterilization in the universities of Europe, as fast and as far as these other countries also come fully into line with the same pecuniary ideals that are making the outcome in America. And evidence is not wholly wanting that the like proclivity to pragmatic and popular traffic is already making the way of the academic scientist or scholar difficult and distasteful in the greater schools of the Old World. America is by no means in a unique position in this matter, except only in respect of the eminent degree in which this community is pervaded by business principles, and its consequent faith in businesslike methods, and its intolerance of any other than pecuniary standards of value. It is only that this country is in the lead; the other peoples of Christendom are following the same lead as fast as their incumbrance of archaic usages and traditions will admit; and the generality of their higher schools are already beginning to show the effects of the same businesslike aspirations, decoratively coloured with feudalistic archaisms of patriotic buncombe.
As will be seen from the above explication of details and circumstances, such practicable measures as have hitherto been offered as a corrective to this sterilization of the universities by business principles, amount to a surrender of these institutions to the enemies of learning, and a proposal to replace them with an imperfect substitute. That it should so be necessary to relinquish the universities, as a means to the pursuit of knowledge, and to replace them with a second-best, is due, as has also appeared from the above analysis, to the course of policy (necessarily) pursued by the executive officers placed in control of academic affairs; and the character of the policy so pursued follows unavoidably from the dependence of the executive on a businesslike governing board, backed by a businesslike popular clamour, on the one hand, and from his being (necessarily) vested, in effect, with arbitrary power of use and abuse within the academic community, on the other hand. It follows, therefore, also that no remedy or corrective can be contrived that will have anything more than a transient palliative effect, so long as these conditions that create the difficulty are allowed to remain in force.
All of which points unambiguously to the only line of remedial measures that can be worth serious consideration; and at the same time it carries the broad implication that in the present state of popular sentiment, touching these matters of control and administration, any effort that looks to reinstate the universities as effectual seminaries of learning will necessarily be nugatory; inasmuch as the popular sentiment runs plainly to the effect that magnitude, arbitrary control, and businesslike administration is the only sane rule to be followed in any human enterprise. So that, while the measures called for are simple, obvious, and effectual, they are also sure to be impracticable, and for none but extraneous reasons.
While it still remains true that the long-term common sense judgment of civilized mankind places knowledge above business traffic, as an end to be sought, yet workday habituation under the stress of competitive business has induced a frame of mind that will tolerate no other method of procedure, and no rule of life that does not approve itself as a faithful travesty of competitive enterprise. And since the quest of learning can not be carried on by the methods or with the apparatus and incidents of competitive business, it follows that the only remedial measures that hold any promise of rehabilitation for the higher learning in the universities can not be attempted in the present state of public sentiment.
All that is required is the abolition of the academic executive and of the governing board. Anything short of this heroic remedy is bound to fail, because the evils sought to be remedied are inherent in these organs, and intrinsic to their functioning.
Even granting the possibility of making such a move, in the face of popular prejudice, it will doubtless seem suicidal, on first thought, to take so radical a departure; in that it would be held to cripple the whole academic organization and subvert the scheme of things academic, for good and all: — which, by the way, is precisely what would have to be aimed at, since it is the present scheme and organization that unavoidably work the mischief, and since, also (as touches the interest of the higher learning), they work nothing but mischief.
It should be plain, on reflection, to any one familiar with academic matters that neither of these official bodies serves any useful purpose in the university, in so far as bears in any way on the pursuit of knowledge. They may conceivably both be useful for some other purpose, foreign or alien to the quest of learning; but within the lines of the university’s legitimate interest both are wholly detrimental, and very wastefully so. They are needless, except to take care of needs and emergencies to which their own presence gratuitously gives rise. In so far as these needs and difficulties that require executive surveillance are not simply and flagrantly factitious, — as, e.g., the onerous duties of publicity — they are altogether such needs as arise out of an excessive size and a gratuitously complex administrative organization; both of which characteristics of the American university are created by the governing boards and their executive officers, for no better purpose than a vainglorious self-complacency, and with no better justification than an uncritical prepossession to the effect that large size, complex organization, and authoritative control necessarily make for efficiency; whereas, in point of fact, in the affairs of learning these things unavoidably make for defeat.
Objection to any such measure of abolition is not to be grounded in their impracticability or their inefficiency, — supposing only that they could be carried out in the face of the prejudices of the ignorant and of the selfishly interested parties; the obstacles to any such move lie simply in the popular prejudice which puts implicit faith in large, complicated, and formidable organizations, and in that appetite for popular prestige that animates the class of persons from which the boards and executives are drawn.
This unreasoning faith in large and difficult combinations has been induced in the modern community by its experience with the large-scale organization of the mechanical industries, and still more particularly by the convincing pecuniary efficiency of large capital, authoritative control, and devious methods, in modern business enterprise; and of this popular prejudice the boards of control and their executive officers have at least their full share, — indeed they owe their place and power in great part to their being animated with something more than an equitable share of this popular prepossession. It is undeniable, indeed it is a matter of course, that so long as the university continues to be made up, as is now customary, of an aggregation of divers and sundry schools, colleges, divisions, etc., each and several of which are engaged in a more or less overt rivalry, due to their being so aggregated into a meaningless coalition, — so long will something formidable in the way of a centralized and arbitrary government be indispensable to the conduct of the university’s affairs; but it is likewise patent that none of the several constituent schools, colleges, etc., are any the better off, in respect of their work, for being so aggregated in such an arbitrary collective organization. The duties of the executive — aside from the calls of publicity and self-aggrandizement — are in the main administrative duties that have to do with the interstitial adjustments of the composite establishment. These resolve themselves into a co-ordinated standardization of the several constituent schools and divisions, on a mechanically specified routine and scale, which commonly does violence to the efficient working of all these diverse and incommensurable elements; with no gain at any point, excepting a gain in the facility of control control for control’s sake, at the best. Much of the official apparatus and routine office-work is taken up with this futile control. Beyond this, and requisite to the due working of this control and standardization, there is the control of the personnel and the checking-up of their task work; together with the disciplining of such as do not sufficiently conform to the resulting schedule of uniformity and mediocrity.
These duties are, all and several, created by the imposition of a central control, and in the absence of such control the need of them would not arise. They are essentially extraneous to the work on which each and several of the constituent schools are engaged, and their only substantial effect on that work is to force it into certain extraneous formalities of routine and accountancy, such as to divert and retard the work in hand. So also the control exercised more at large by the governing board; except in so far as it is the mere mischief-making interference of ignorant outsiders, it is likewise directed to the keeping of a balance between units that need no balancing as against one another; except for the need which so is gratuitously induced by drawing these units into an incongruous coalition under the control of such a board; whose duties of office in this way arise wholly out of the creation of their office.
The great and conspicuous effect of abolishing the academic executive and the governing board would be, of course, that the university organization as now known would incontinently fall to pieces. The several constituent schools would fall apart, since nothing holds them together except the strong hand of the present central government. This would, of course, seem a monstrous and painful outrage to all those persons who are infatuated with a veneration of big thing; to whom a “great” — that is to say voluminous — university is an object of pride and loyal affection. This class of persons is a very large one, and they are commonly not given to reJection on the merits of their preconceived ideals of “greatness.” So that the dissolution of this “trust”-like university coalition would bitterly hurt their feelings. So intolerable would the shock to this popular sentiment presumably be, indeed, that no project of the kind can have any reasonable chance of a hearing.
Apart from such loss of “prestige value” in the eyes of those whose pride centres on magnitude, the move in question would involve no substantial loss. The chief direct and tangible effect would be a considerable saving in “overhead charges,” in that the greater part of the present volume of administrative work would fall away. The greater part — say, three-fourths — of the present officers of administration, with their clerical staff, would be lost; under the present system these are chiefly occupied with the correlation and control of matters that need correlation and control only with a view to centralized management.
The aggregate of forces engaged and the aggregate volume of work done in the schools would suffer no sensible diminution. Indeed, the contemplated change should bring a very appreciably heightened efficiency of all the working units that are now tied up in the university coalition. Each of these units would be free to follow its own devices, within the lines imposed by the work in hand, since none of them would then be required to walk in lock-step with several others with which it had no more vital articulation than the lock-step in question.
Articulation and co-ordination is good and requisite where and so far as it is intrinsic to the work in hand; but it all comes to nothing better than systematized lag, leak and friction, so soon as it is articulation and coordination in other terms and for other ends than the performance of the work in hand. It is also true, the coalition of these several school units into a pseudo-aggregate under a centralized control gives a deceptive appearance of a massive engine working to some common end; but, again, mass movement comes to nothing better than inhibition and misdirection when it involves a coalition of working units whose work is necessarily to be done in severalty.
Left to themselves the several schools would have to take care each of its own affairs and guide its endeavours by the exigencies of its own powers and purposes, with such regard to inter-collegiate comity and courtesy as would be required by the substantial relations then subsisting between them, by virtue of their common employment in academic work.
In what has just been said, it is not forgotten that the burden of their own affairs would be thrown back on the initiative and collective discretion of the several faculties, so soon as the several schools had once escaped from the trust-like coalition in which they are now held. As has abundantly appeared in latterday practice, these faculties have in such matters proved themselves notable chiefly for futile disputation; which does not give much promise of competent self-direction on their part, in case they were given a free hand. It is to be recalled, however, that this latterday experience of confirmed incompetence has been gathered under the overshadowing presence of a surreptitiously and irresponsibly autocratic executive, vested with power of use and abuse, and served by a corps of adroit parliamentarians and lobbyists, ever at hand to divert the faculty’s action from any measure that might promise to have a substantial effect. By force of circumstances, chief of which is the executive office, the faculties have become deliberative bodies charged with power to talk. Their serious attention has been taken up with schemes for weighing imponderables and correlating incommensurables, with such a degree of verisimilitude as would keep the statistics and accountancy of the collective administration in countenance, and still leave some play in the joints of the system for the personal relation of teacher and disciple. It is a nice problem in self-deception, chiefly notable for an endless proliferation.
At the same time it is well known — too well known to command particular attention — that in current practice, and of necessity, the actual effective organization of each of these constituent school units devolves on the working staff, in so far as regards the effectual work to be done. even to the selection of its working members and the apportionment of the work. It is all done “by authority” of course, and must all be arranged discreetly, with an ulterior view to its sanction by the executive and its due articulation with the scheme of publicity at large; but in all these matters the executive habitually comes into bearing only as a (powerful) extraneous and alien interference, — almost wholly inhibitory, in effect, even though with a show of initiative and creative guidance. And this inhibitory surveillance is exercised chiefly on grounds of conciliatory notoriety towards the outside, rather than on grounds that touch the efficiency of the staff for the work in hand. Such efficiency is commonly not barred, it is believed, so long as it does not hinder the executive’s quest of the greater glory. There is, in effect, an inhibitory veto power touching the work and its ways and means.
But even when taken at its best, and when relieved of the inhibition and deflection worked by the executive, such an academic body can doubtless be counted on to manage its collective affairs somewhat clumsily and incompetently. There can be no hope of trenchant policy and efficient control at their hands; and, it should be added, there need be no great fear of such an outcome. The result should, in so far, be nearly clear gain, as against the current highly efficient management by an executive. Relatively little administration or control would be needed in the resulting small-scale units; except in so far as they might carry over into the new régime an appreciable burden of extra-scholastic traffic in the way of athletics, fraternities, student activities, and the like; and except so far as regards those schools that might still continue to be “gentlemen’s colleges,” devoted to the cultivation of the irregularities of adolescence and to their transfusion with a conventional elegance; these latter, being of the nature of penal settlements, would necessarily require government by a firm hand. That work of intimately personal contact and guidance, in a community of intellectual enterprise, that makes up the substance of efficient teaching, would, it might fairly be hoped, not be seriously hindered by the ill-co-ordinated efforts of such an academic assembly, even if its members had carried over a good share of the mechanistic frame of mind induced by their experience under the régime of standardization and accountancy.
Indeed, there might even be ground to hope that, on the dissolution of the trust, the underlying academic units would return to that ancient footing of small-scale parcelment and personal communion between teacher and student that once made the American college, with all its handicap of poverty, chauvinism and denominational bias, one of the most effective agencies of scholarship in Christendom.
The hope — or delusion — would be that the staff in each of the resulting disconnected units might be left to conduct its own affairs, and that they would prove incapable of much concerted action or detailed control. It should be plain that no other and extraneous power, such as the executive or the governing boards, is as competent — or, indeed, competent in any degree — to take care of these matters, as are the staff who have the work to do. All this is evident to any one who is at all conversant with the run of academic affairs as currently conducted on the grand scale; inasmuch as it is altogether a matter of course and of common notoriety within the precincts, that this is precisely what these constituent schools and units now have to do, each and several; with the sole qualification that they now have to take care of these matters under the inhibitory surveillance of the executive and his extraneous interests, and under the exactions of a super-imposed scheme of mechanical standardization and accountancy that accounts for nothing but its superimposition. At the same time the working force of the staff is hampered with a load of dead timber imported into its body to administer a routine of control and accountancy exacted by the executive’s need of a creditable publicity (15*)
This highly conjectural tracing of consequences to follow from this hypothetical dissolution of the trust, may as well be pursued into a point or two of detail, as touches those units of the university coalition that have an immediate interest in point of scholarship, — the Collegiate (“Arts”) division and the Graduate School. The former being left to its own devices and, it might be hoped, being purified of executive megalomania, it should seem probable that something of a reversion would take effect, in the direction of that simpler scheme of scholarship that prevailed in the days before the coming of electives. It was in the introduction of electives, and presently of alternatives and highly flexible curricula, that the move first set in which carried the American college off its footing as a school of probation and introduction to the scholarly life, and has left it a job-lot of ostensibly conclusive short-cuts into the trades and professions. It need not follow that the ancient curriculum would be re-established, but it should seem reasonable that a move would take effect in the direction of something like a modern equivalent. The Graduate School, on the other hand, having lost the drag of the collegiate division and the vocational schools, should come into action as a shelter where the surviving remnant of scholars and scientists might pursue their several lines of adventure, in teaching and in inquiry, without disturbance to or from the worldly-wise who clamour for the greater glory.
Now, all this speculation as to what might happen has, of course, little else than a speculative value. It is not intended, seriously and as a practical measure, to propose the abolition of the president’s office, or of the governing board; nor is it intended to intimate that the captain of erudition can be dispensed with in fact. He is too dear to the commercialized popular imagination, and he fits too convincingly into the businessmen’s preconceived scheme of things, to permit any such sanguine hope of surcease from skilled malpractice and malversation. All that is here intended to he said is nothing more than the obiter dictum that, as seen from the point of view of the higher learning, the academic executive and all his works are anathema, and should be discontinued by the simple expedient of wiping him off the slate; and that the governing board, in so far as it presumes to exercise any other than vacantly perfunctory duties, has the same value and should with advantage be lost in the same shuffle.
NOTES:1. “He has stifled all manly independence and individuality wherever it has exhibited itself at college. All noble idealism, and all the graces of poetry and art have been shrivelled by his brutal and triumphant power. He has made mechanical efficiency and administrative routine the goal of the university’s endeavour. The nobler ends of academic life will never be served so long as this spokesman of materialism remains in power.”
History will relate that one of the eminent captains, through an incumbency of more than a quarter of a century, in a university of eminent wealth and volume, has followed a settled policy of defeating any overt move looking to scientific or scholarly inquiry on the part of any member of his faculty. Should a man of scholarly proclivities by any chance sift through the censorship exercised in virtue of the executive’s appointing power, as might happen, since the captain was himself not qualified to pass a grounded opinion on any man’s qualifications in that respect; and should he then give evidence of continuing to spend time and thought on matters of that nature, his burden of administrative and class-room tasks would presently be increased sufficiently to subdue his wayward bent; or, in an incorrigible case, the offender against the rule of academic sterility would eventually be retired by severance of his connection with this seat of learning.
In some sinister sense the case reflects credit on the American academic community at large, in that, by the close of this quarter-century of preventive regimen, the resulting academic staff had become a byword of nugatory intrigue and vacant pedantry.
2. So far has this predilection made its way in the counsels of the “educators” that much of the current discussion of desideranda in academic policy reads like controversial argument on “efficiency engineering,” — an “efficiency engineer” is an accountant competent to advise business concerns how best to increase their saleable output per unit of cost. And there has, indeed, been at least one tour of inspection of American universities by such an “efficiency engineer,” undertaken in the service of an establishment founded with a view to academic welfare and governed by a board of university presidents. The report submitted by the inquiry in question duly conforms to the customary lines of “scientific management.”
3. “Education is the one kind of human enterprise that can not be brought under the action of the economic law of supply and demand. It can not be conducted on ‘business principles.’ There is no ‘demand’ for education in the economic sense…. Society is the only interest that can be said to demand it, and society must supply its own demand. Those who found educational institutions or promote educational enterprise put themselves in the place of society and assume to speak and act for society, not for any economic interest.” — Lester F. Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 575.
4. Indeed, the resemblance is visible. As among professional politicians, so also as regards incumbents and aspirants for academic office, it is not at all unusual, nor does it cause surprise, to find such persons visibly affected with those characteristic pathological marks that come of what is conventionally called “high living” — late hours, unseasonable vigils, surfeit of victuals and drink, the fatigue of sedentary ennui. A flabby habit of body, hypertrophy of the abdomen, varicose veins, particularly of the facial tissues, a blear eye and a colouration suggestive of bile and apoplexy, — when this unwholesome bulk is duly wrapped in a conventionally decorous costume it is accepted rather as a mark of weight and responsibility, and so serves to distinguish the pillars of urbane society. Nor should it be imagined that these grave men of affairs and discretion are in any peculiar degree prone to excesses of the table or to nerve-shattering bouts of dissipation. The exigencies of publicity, however, are, by current use and wont, such as to enjoin not indulgence in such excursions of sensual perversity, so much as a gentlemanly conformity to a large routine of conspicuous convivialities. “Indulgence” in ostensibly gluttonous bouts of this kind — banquets, dinners, etc. — is not so much a matter of taste as of astute publicity, designed to keep the celebrants in repute among a laity whose simplest and most assured award of esteem proceeds on evidence of wasteful ability to pay. But the pathological consequences, physical and otherwise, are of much the same nature in either case.
5. See pp. 68-73, 79-81, above.
6. As bearing on this “hired-man’s loyalty” of the academic staff and the means of maintaining it, see, e.g., a paper by George Cram Cook in the Forum for October, 1913, on “The Third American Sex,” especially pp. 450-455.
7. Unfortunately, the language wants a competent designation for public-minded personages of this class; which comprises something appreciably more than the homiletical university executives alluded to above, and their understudies, while it is also not strictly inclusive of all these executives. There is indeed a fairly obvious contingent comes in from among those minor politicians and clergymen who crave the benefit of an inoffensive notoriety, and who are at the same time solicitous to keep their fellow-men in mind of the unforgotten commonplaces. One will necessarily have misgivings about putting forward a new technical term for adoption into a vocabulary that is already top-heavy with technical innovations. “Philandropist” has been suggested. It is not a large innovation, and it has the merit of being obviously self-explanatory. At the same time its phonetic resemblance to an older term, already well accepted in the language, should recommend it to the members of the craft whom it is designed to signalize, and with whom phonetic considerations are habitually allowed weight. The purists will doubtless find “philandropist” a barbarism; but that is an infirmity that has attached to many technical designations at their inception, without permanently hindering their acceptance and serviceability; it is also not wholly unfitting that the term chosen should be of such a character.
8. “The time has come, the walrus said,
To talk of many things.”
Within the last few years one of the more illustrious and fluent of the captains of erudition hit upon the expedient of having a trusted locum tenens appointed to take over the functions of the home office for a term of years, while the captain himself “takes the road” — on an appreciably augmented salary — to speak his mind eloquently on many topics. The device can, however, scarcely yet be said to have passed the experimental phase. This illustrious exponent of philandropism commands an extraordinary range of homily and is a raconteur of quite exceptional merit; and a device that commends itself in this special case, therefore, may or may not prove a feasible plan in general and ordinary usage. But in any case it indicates a felt need of some measure of relief, such as will enable the run of presidential speech to gain a little something in amplitude and frequency.
9. So, e.g., a certain notably self-possessed and energetic captain of erudition has been in the habit of repeating (“on the spur of the moment”) a homily on one of the staple Christian virtues.
10. These resulting canons of blameless anility will react on the character of the academic personnel in a two-fold way: negatively and by indirection they work out in an (uncertain but effectual) selective elimination of such persons as are worth while in point of scholarship and initiative; while positively and by direct incitement it results that the tribe of Lo Basswood has been elected to fill the staff with vacancy.
At the same time the case is not unknown, nor is it altogether a chance occurrence, where such an executive with plenary powers, driven to uncommonly fatuous lengths by this calculus of expedient notoriety, and intent on putting a needed patch on the seat of his honour, has endeavoured to save some remnant of good-will among his academic acquaintance by protesting, in strict and confidential privacy, that his course of action taken in conformity with these canons was taken for the sake of popular effect, and not because he did not know better. apparently having by familiar use come to the persuasion that a knave is more to be esteemed than a fool, and overlooking the great ease with which he has been able to combine the two characters.
11. In all fairness it should be noted, as a caution against hasty conclusions, that in both of these cases this initial scholarly intention has been questioned — or denied — by men well informed as to the later state of things in either of the two universities in question. And it may as well be admitted without much reservation that the later state of things has carried no broad hint of an initial phase in the life-history of these schools, in which ideals of scholarship were given first consideration. Yet it is to be taken as unequivocal fact that such was the case, in both instances; this is known as an assured matter of memory by men competent to speak from familiar acquaintance with the relevant facts at the time. In both cases, it is only in the outcome, only after the pressure of circumstances has had time to act, that a rounded meretricious policy has taken effect. What has misled hasty and late-come observers in this matter is the relatively very brief — inconspicuously brief — time interval during which it was found practicable to let the academic policy be guided primarily by scholarly ideals.
12. As a commentary on the force of circumstances and the academic value of the executive office, it is worth noting that, in the case cited, an administration guided by a forceful, ingenious and intrepid personality, initially imbued with scholarly ideals of a sort, has run a course of scarcely interrupted academic decay; while the succeeding reign of astute vacuity and quietism as touches all matters of scholarship and science has, on the whole, and to date, left the university in an increasingly hopeful posture as a seminary of the higher learning. All of which would appear to suggest a parallel with the classic instance of King Stork and King Log, Indeed, at the period of the succession alluded to, the case of these fabled majesties was specifically called to mind by one and another of the academic staff. It would appear that the academic staff will take care of its ostensible work with better effect the less effectually its members are interfered with and suborned by an enterprising captain of erudition.
13. There is a word to add, as to the measure of success achieved by these enterprises along their chosen lines of endeavour. Both of the establishments spoken of are schools of some value in many directions, and both have also achieved a large reputation among the laity. Indeed, the captains under whose management the two schools have perforce carried on their work, are commonly held in considerable esteem as having achieved great things. There is no desire here to understate the case; but it should be worth noting, as bearing on the use and academic value of the presidential office, that the disposal of very large means — means of unexampled magnitude — has gone to this achievement. A consideration of these results, whether in point of scholarship or of notoriety, as compared with the means which the captains have disposed of, will leave one in doubt. It should seem doubtful if the results could have been less excellent or less striking, given the free disposal of an endowment of 20 or 30 millions, and upward, even under the undistinguished and uneventful management of commonplace honesty and academic traditions without the guidance of a “strong man.” It is, indeed, not easy to believe that less could have been achieved without the captain’s help. There is also evidence to hand that the loss of the “strong man” has entailed no sensible loss either in the efficiency or in the good repute of the academic establishment; rather the reverse.
14. Within the precincts, it is not unusual to meet with a harsher and more personal note of appraisal of what are rated as the frailties of the executive. There are many expressions to be met with, touching this matter, of a colloquial turn. These will commonly have something of an underbred air, as may happen in unguarded colloquial speech; but if it be kept in mind that their personal incidence is duly to be read out of them, their tenor may yet be instructive, and their scant elegance may be over-looked for once, in view of that certain candour that is scarcely to be had without a colloquial turn. They should serve better than many elaborate phrases to throw into relief the kind and measure of esteem accorded these mature incumbents of executive office by the men who assist behind the scenes. So, in bold but intelligible metaphor, one hears, “He is a large person full of small potatoes,” “The only white thing about him is his liver,” “Half-a-peck of pusillanimity,” “A four-flusher.” Something after this kind is this aphoristic wisdom current in the academic community, in so far as it runs safely above the level of scurrility. In point of taste, it would be out of the question to follow the same strain of discourteous expressions into that larger volume of more outspoken appraisal that lies below that level; and even what has so been sparingly cited in illustration can, of course, not claim a sympathetic hearing as being in any way a graceful presentment of the sense intended to be conveyed in these figures of speech. Yet the apology may be accepted, that it conveys this sense intelligibly even if not elegantly.
Indeed, a person widely conversant with current opinion and its expression among the personnel of the staff, as touches the character and academic value of a capable and businesslike executive, might unguardedly come to the persuasion that the typical academic head, under these latterday conditions. will be a feebleminded rogue. Such is, doubtless, far from being the actual valuation underlying these many artless expressions that one meets with. And doubtless, the most that could be said would be that, in point of orientation, the typical executive, qua executive, tends to fall in with the lines so indicated; that the exigencies of the executive office are of a kind that would converge upon such an issue “in the long run” and “in the absence of disturbing causes”; not that the effectual run of circumstances will at all commonly permit a consummation of that kind and degree.
“Indeed… we may say as Dr Boteler said of strawberries. ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.'”
15. It will be objected, and with much reason, that these underlying “school units” that go to make up the composite American university habitually see no great evil in so being absorbed into the trust. They lend themselves readily, if not eagerly, to schemes of coalition; they are in fact prone to draw in under the aegis of the university corporation by “annexation,” “affiliation.” “absorption,” etc. Any one who cares to take stock of that matter and is in a position to know what is going on can easily assure himself that the reasons which decide in such a case are not advisedly accepted reasons intrinsic to the needs of efficiency for the work in hand, but rather reasons of competitive expediency, of competitive advantage and of prestige; except in so far as it may all be — as perhaps it commonly is — mere unreflecting conformity to the current fashion. In this connection it is to be remarked, however, that even if the current usage has no intrinsic advantage, as against another way of doing, failure to conform with the current way of doing will always entail a disadvantage.