Copyright
Alexander Meiklejohn.

The liberal college online

. (page 7 of 13)
Online LibraryAlexander MeiklejohnThe liberal college → online text (page 7 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the truth might try to hinder me. Perhaps the church,
perhaps the state, perhaps the home or school, perhaps
the radical who finds the world all wrong, or the conservative
who finds it right, each one of these, thinking his own the
truth, may hate me for the other truths I hold beside his
own. And shall I yet be free to criticize, to seek the mean-
ing of the whole?" And still the court replies: "Of course
you shall; who could restrain you?" And then the secret
fear that lurks within the teacher's heart comes out. "Per-
haps the college might restrain me. Have you forgotten
that I am chosen and paid by other members of the college
group? I do not choose myself as teacher. I do not
decide whether or not I shall be kept, nor on what terms.
I am the servant of another group of men whose will is
law. Perhaps they might restrain me."



IV

It is quite clear the court must summon the trustee, to
ask of him the answer to the teacher's question. "Are
you the owner of the college?" "Yes, in the legal sense,
I am." "And who elected you to hold this place of power?"
"My fellow trustees." "And have you, as a group, the
power to choose the teachers, to fix their terms of service
and of compensation, to tell what subjects shall be taught
and how they shall be taught?" "We have." "And are
you as a group the representatives of all the different classes,



THE COLLEGE y/S CRITIC 79

interests, and parties within the social order, or are you very
much alike in point of view?" "We are, I think, a special
group, and being chosen by ourselves, we tend to keep
within a fairly limited point of view." "What then, we ask
of you, shall be our answer to the teacher's question? Is
he a free man in his work? May he have confidence that
in the task of bringing different points of view together
you will support him, and not demand that he give favor
to your own?" And here, I think, a trustee who is honest
and intelligent, will hesitate and qualify his answer. "We
are not paragons of wisdom," he will say; "we have our
frailties and our prejudices, our interests and our limitations,
and doubtless these have their effects upon the judgments
which we make about the business of the college. And
yet against this fact two others may be weighed. We are
trustees, not for the furthering of our interests, but for the
sake of education, because we wish to do whatever we can
to help the cause of learning. Again, although we are a
special group, we are upon the whole within the class of
those who hold the splendid human faith in freedom of
thought and speech, by which all higher civilizations have
been lifted up. You ask me whether or not the teacher
may be free, and I reply, 'Yes, that is our purpose, however
well or ill we may succeed in making it effective."

What, then, shall we say of the trustee? I think his plea
is good. He does not claim to do more than he can. In
the days gone by he has done splendid service for the col-
leges. And yet the method of self-election cannot remain
as a final form of college organization. A college is a place
of criticism. From this it follows that not even in the
legal sense can it be permanently owned by any special
self-selecting group of men. I am not raising here the
question of special interest or self-seeking. That issue
seems to me at present unimportant. I am not asking
how the personnel of boards of trustees may be improved.
I do not think that any other method of choice would have
given us trustees so able or so well adapted to their work.



80 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

But the real issue is that of the intellectual leadership of a
people who believe that they believe in democracy. The
colleges cannot lead, as critics lead, unless the people trust
them. And in the field of thought, as in the realm of
politics, our people will not permanently follow leaders
whom others choose to guide them. The college as critic
must command the confidence of every one who comes
to it for judgment. It may not be of any party, any sect,
or any creed. It may not be committed to any interest,
any cause or any class. It must in some sense stand apart,
aloof; it must command the confidence of men. I think
that we have kept the present scheme of choosing our trus-
tees because there is no other group whose wisdom we could
trust to choose them. But we are on the road toward
giving this responsibility to the graduates. What charge
could be more terrible against the college than this that
those whom it has trained, whom it sends out prepared to
care for other institutions cannot be trusted to take care
of it? However terrible the charge, I think it has so far
been true. But in the future, as we learn to do our work,
I think our graduates will be toward us more nearly what
they ought to be. I think their heads will be turned round
again, and as they go with us along the way we shall trust
them to take the fortunes of the college in their hands, to
keep it safe and free from harm. They have the will to
do it now, and we must add to this an understanding of
what the college is and what it wills to do.



But now the teacher speaks again: "What of the presi-
dent? You have not summoned him. His is the power
which all men fear." Then, let him come! What is the
charge? "He is too powerful. Through him trustees
must act and speak; by him teachers are recommended
for election; to his approval teachers must submit their
work; by him the college is explained abroad; to him



THE COLLEGE AS CRITIC 81

come graduates seeking for information and offering advice;
he must be master of the college life; he, as the common
servant of them all, assumes to dominate the whole." This
is the charge. What does the culprit answer? We feel
his kinship with the undergraduate when once again we
hear the plea, "Guilty but not responsible." The president
is far more powerful than he ought to be. But just what
is his power? Is it not this, that he adjusts conflicting
interests? All about him are parties and causes, men who
cannot agree, and they demand some one to judge between
them. Trustees and donors, departments and faculty,
teachers and other teachers, alumni, old and young, serious
and gay, the undergraduate boy of every type and kind,
each has his point of view, each has his special purpose,
each serves a cause. And all these forces surging in the
college must find some place of meeting, some point of
contact. That point of contact is the president. But all
the power he has comes from the forces round about him.
If they can understand each other; if they, amid their
separate points of view, can find the common purpose of
the college as a whole; if they are minded not so much
to urge the special cause as to advance the general cause of
learning, just in so far as they do this, administrative
power will dwindle and fall away. I do not mean that
members of the college are selfishly pursuing separate
claims, but I do mean that we have fallen into a way of
doing college business that constantly increases presidential
power. I think this way of doing things has come upon
us quite inevitably, and that because we have not been
content with studying and teaching; we have been growing
too. At times it seems as if that were our greater task.
More wealth has come, more books, more land, more
buildings, more prestige, more students, more courses, more
teachers, more of everything. And every member of the
college has been stirred by instincts of growth to claim his
share and use it. But I am daring to hope that for the
colleges at least the days of growth are nearly past, that we



82 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

shall soon decide we have enough of things that men can
give, so much we cannot well take more. And when that
day does come, we may be quiet and peaceful, doing our
work. And when the day is here, I venture to predict
the president will lose much of his power, will take the
place he really ought to hold. During the time of growth
the struggling, fighting forces of the college life have torn
him from his proper place and hurled him aloft above the
heads of all. And they have kept him there by the sheer
pressure of their contacts from beneath. But in the hap-
pier days to come when conflicts cease, I hope he may
escape from his captivity, may come to earth to stand
among his peers, teacher and student as his fellows are,
officially, if you please, the chairman of the faculty.

You see the court predicts that in the coming years two
changes will take place in college organization two
changes by absorption. Trustees, we think, will be ab-
sorbed by graduates, become their council, agents, repre-
sentatives. And presidents will be absorbed by faculties,
lions by lambs. And we shall have within the college walls
three groups, teachers, their pupils, and the pupils they
have had before. Thus shall the teacher lose his fear of
interference from without, thus shall he be the college in
the active sense.

VI

The college as teacher! The teacher as critic and inter-
preter! That is thejword I bring to you to-day, the prin-
ciple that underlies all the deliberations of this our court.
Do we need teachers, scholars who stand aside to criticize
and to interpret us? Surely we do. We as a people are
embarked upon a fearsome enterprise. We have the thirst
for freedom on our lips, the zest for justice in our veins.
Do we need guidance as we venture forth? Never did
people need it more. And we must make it for ourselves;
freedom accepts no guidance from outside. We must put
learning at the helm of life. And who shall place and keep



THE COLLEGE AS CRITIC 83

it there if not the colleges? I dream of college teachers
who shall be guides for all the thinking of our people
men who shall watch the things we do, shall understand
them as the men engaged in them can never do, men whom
their fellows reverence and trust because they find them
intimate with truth interpreters and critics of our com-
mon life. I would not have them run to every market-
place to shout their theories; I would not have them claimed
by any party, sect or creed; I would not have them try
to do the active work which active men can do with greater
skill than they. But I would have them at the helm of
life, looking before to see the way men go. And round them
here and there would gather boys to study with them and
to catch their spirit. And older men, knowing their teach-
ing, would come to talk with them and share their wisdom.
Thus, at this point and at that, would be a college, men
following a way of life, a life with learning at the helm.



II

THE FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE



THERE have been many disputes about freedom. And
there will be many more. It is a matter about which
men feel deeply. It has therefore been argued about
more than it has been studied. "Shall not a man be free to
think what bethinks and say what he thinks?" one group de-
mands. "What are you going to do with a fellow who has no
common sense ? " retorts the other. And on the relations of
Liberty and License, especially as both names begin with Li,
there have been many passionate pronunciamentos.

We, are apparently just entering on another phase of this
old conflict. It is presented very commonly in the head-
lines of our newspapers. "Another professor dismissed.
Teaching investigated and condemned. Faculty members
protest in vain. Trustees firm." The reader is given the
impression that a conflict is going on in the colleges, that
trustees and professors are arrayed in opposing camps.
It is understood that one party is demanding freedom of
thought and speech while the other is insisting upon com-
mon decency and common sense. And further, it is noted
that the two parties find their demands mutually hostile
and irreconcilable. Just why freedom and common sense
should be irreconcilable does not appear to the casual ob-
server, or perhaps appears only to him. And yet it is very
easily taken for granted that they are. And so the issue
is formulated. Trustees and professors are in conflict
about freedom of thought and speech.

Now if there be such a conflict within the college, it is

84



THE FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE 85

not to be avoided. It would be well to have it out, and that
quickly. I should like, in this paper, to contribute, so far
as I may, to the "having it out." 1 do not expect to end the
controversy. My purpose is rather to find out whether or
not there is one, and if so what it is. Especially I should
like to know just what it is that the professor wants and that
the trustee is said to be unwilling he should have. What is
academic freedom?

In the first place, what kind of a thing is it ? Is it a right,
or a duty, or an obligation, or a privilege, or a perquisite,
or what is it? Is it something which the professor wants
for his own private satisfaction? That would make it a
perquisite or a privilege. And we should have the very
natural question, "Why may not other people have the
same freedom which the professors claim?" But the ques-
tion which we really ask on this plane is just the opposite
one. The question is, whether the professor may have the
same degree of freedom as other men have; whether,
because of his peculiar responsibilities, he ought not to be
specially limited in thought and speech. There are, we all
know, dangers with professors. There is always the danger
that some one will take a professor seriously; and so it may
be necessary to take care what he says. And it is also
possible that his thinking may carry him along one of the
roads that thought travels, that he may really get some-
where else; therefore there may be need of prescribing
whither he shall and shall not go. These are dangers which
mark him off from the common run of men. And so the
question on this level is, to what degree the professor should
be denied this privilege of freedom of thought and speech
which a democracy normally allows its citizens.

But freedom as a privilege is not fundamental. The duty
or obligation to be free is the essential thing. I take it
that the community is so related to the college and the
college so related to the professor, that the community
makes a demand upon the college with regard to the pro-
fessor. It says, "I demand of you that for the sake of my



86 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

welfare you see to it that the study of my scholars and
the learning of my children be free." And the duty, the
obligation, of the professor is to the college just as the
obligation of the college is to the community. In order
do to its service, he must be free; he is a trickster and a
fraud if he is not free. When he speaks of freedom, he is
not playing with his own perquisites and possessions; he is
facing his master and the commands of his duty are upon
him.

The essential principle in the doctrine of academic freedom
as a duty may, I think, be stated in this way. Most men,
outside our institutions of learning, having the choice be-
tween freedom and non-freedom of thought and speech,
choose the privilege of the latter. They prefer not to be
free. It is for this reason that they demand that the man
within the college shall adopt the former. To explain this
statement, I must try to explain what colleges are for.
If we can understand this, I think we may get a grip on
academic freedom. May I therefore try to describe the
mission of the college with regard to human opinions and
judgments?

Every one knows, or may know if he stops to think about
it, that his opinions, the judgments which he believes, are
not very good, are not so true as they might be. "Mine
own they are," we say, "but poor things." In the realm
of politics, for example, we all have opinions and act upon
them, but we know that we do not know very much about
politics, and further that, if we did know more, we could
make better opinions. And the men who differ from us,
as well as those who agree with us, are in like situation.
They too are doing each his best, and yet it is not very
good. Our judgments upon politics, yours and mine, are
rather poor things; they are not very true; for reasons of our
own we claim the privilege of holding opinions, of believing
them, of acting on them, even though we know that as
opinions they are no better intellectually than are we who
make them.



THE FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE 87

There are two ways in which this unsatisfactoriness of
our opinions is brought home to us, and each of them seems
to me to reveal the need of colleges which are free.

The more obvious bit of evidence about the quality of
our opinions is that our neighbors think less highly of them
than we do ourselves; in fact, they contradict them. And
these contradictions come, not only from our equals in
intelligence, but also from our superiors. I may believe
in Social Cooperation, but my neighbor holds fast to In-
dividualism. And on the whole he seems to be as good a
mind as I. In other words, I think that my opinion is
true, but just as good a mind as mine thinks it is not. That
makes the chances even that I am wrong. But worse and
more disturbing than our equals are our superiors, the
better men who differ from us. No matter what opinion
we hold, we know that other minds, better informed and
better trained than ours, can make a better. And so,
however brave a face we put on it, we know that our su-
periors, the men whose mental fibre is stronger and more
delicate, can think their way to better thoughts than ours.
I feel sure that this awareness of our ineptitude, this knowl-
edge of our ignorance, is one of the reasons why we build
colleges.

The second and more disturbing observation about our
beliefs is that of their connection with our interests. Here
again, not in a conscious way, but none the less effectively,
we seem to have chosen not to be free. Men seem to think
by classes, and thoughts to express desires and needs rather
than facts. We do not like the story that when the Con-
stitution was made men voted in groups according to the
bearing of the votes upon their holdings or lack of holdings
in property. And yet the story is told. And in the telling
is revealed, not conscious lack of honesty, not conscious
putting of private interests before the public good, but
rather a blind unconscious bias in human thinking. And
in the present day there is no lack of illustrations. Holders
of property to-day are very much agreed about the rights



88 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

of property. And laboring men are on the whole con-
vinced that labor does not get its share and must have more.
Germans agree that Germany must have her place out in
the sun, and France and England find the moral law de-
manding that they keep the Germans in their proper place.
Even professors sometimes agree as to the interests they
have in common. They are in large agreement concerning
college presidents, college trustees, and professorial freedom.
They hold the dogma of their class, that members of the
class should have more power. And when one leaves his
class and joins the presidents, we know the merry farce of
changing points of view, of widening experience, of greater
insight into many things.

I do not wish to press the point too far. I am not saying
that human beliefs are simply selfish desires finding expres-
sion in the forms of thought. The man who proves that
human thinking is "interested" in this sense, proves that
his proof is "interested," and we should ask of him not
whether his proof is good or bad, but what he hopes to gain
for himself by setting up the proof. Nor am I taking as
my own the current popular philosophy which scoffs at
"absolutes" and finds the meaning of truth in service to
the actual ends of actual men. That doctrine too is ren-
dering doubtful service in these times of stress. But I am
only saying this that as we view our fellows and our-
selves, we find ourselves in groups according to our interests,
and in those groups we find common beliefs related to
those interests. There is a bias in our thinking. We
cannot trust ourselves to be impartial. To do our daily
work we must be special in our points of view. Uncon-
sciously we use our thoughts as instruments to further our
ends. But when we stop to think about it, we hate the
special interested point of view; we know that it is not
true, not worthy of our deeper selves. And in the seeking
for escape from it, we find a second impulse to the building
of the colleges, the colleges which shall be free.

If now the college be defined in terms of these two im-



THE FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE 89

pulses, it is essentially, not accidentally, a place of freedom.
It is a place in which the human mind is seeking deliverance
from its bonds the bonds of partial knowledge and self-
interest. It has no hope of fully achieving such freedom,
and yet this end defines its work. Men form their opinions
from partial knowledge; the college must know, so far as
may be known, all that the human mind has thought and
learned which bears on these opinions. Men fashion their
thoughts according as their interests and activities have
molded and shaped their minds; the college may have no
special interests shaping it. It must in this sense stand
apart, viewing all interests of men alike with equal eye, and
measuring each in terms of every other and the whole. It
is a place of knowledge and of criticism.

What then is academic freedom? It is, it seems to me,
the very quality of a college. The question whether or not
a college is free is meaningless. An institution which is not
intellectually free is not a college, whatever else it be.
States may be servants of partial insights and partial in-
terests, and so may factories and corporations, and even
schools of medicine; but not so colleges. A college is our
social and individual striving to escape the bonds which the
world's work would fix upon us. It is the search for free-
dom from ourselves

II

The actual carrying on of the college enterprise brings
one to many rather puzzling problems. Even for an
individual self-criticism is not an easy task. To do two
things at once to go about one's work, planning and
acting as if one's thoughts were true, and yet to know and
act as if one's thoughts were wrong and partial to do
both things at once is hard for busy, single-minded men.
It is no wonder that we fail. But it is even harder for an
institution like a college to do the task. A college has so
many independent parts which do not know each other,
which take themselves for granted, which have not stopped



90 THE LIBERAL COLLEGE

to think about themselves, or other parts, or even the
college as a whole. Trustees, professors, presidents, de-
partments, graduates, students, donors, outside world are
all factors in the situation. Each has its share in making
for our people knowledge and self-criticism. And they
have hardly begun to criticize, to understand themselves,
to realize the work they have to do.

But worse than either of these difficulties is the fact that,
though the college has compounded its medicines to cure
the public mind, the patient does not come for treatment;
he does not know that he is ill. We say that colleges are
built because men know their ignorance, that is, the igno-
rance of their fellows, and wish to cure it. But motives
are not always clear, even to those who act on them. And I
am sure that, in the large, our public does not keenly feel
the need of criticism; on the other hand, I am not sure
that, if it did, the college is the doctor whom it could choose
for diagnosis and prescription.

What shall we do to lure the patient, to get some living
forms on which to practice our profession ? I see no other
way except to hang our shingle out and let it swing in public
places. Perhaps to change the figure would give it more
attractiveness. "Clearing House for Opinions; Discount
on Popular Prejudices; Foreign Exchange!" And if we
catch a patient, we must make it clear to him that he is ill,
yes, very ill, and that the social mind is ill also, and all his
friends. I fear the method is not quite professional. But
something must be done to make people understand that
colleges are ready to do a piece of work, and that the work
is sorely needed in our country and by our generation.

Assuming then that we have caught a patient, may I
proceed to tell him just what our methods are and what
they are not, to arouse his hopes, excite his fears, especially
to let him know what college freedom is?

And first, let it be understood, the college is not simply
a school for boys. It is a place to which boys should go
because the teachers of men are to be found there, scholars



THE FREEDOM OF THE COLLEGE 91


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAlexander MeiklejohnThe liberal college → online text (page 7 of 13)