Alexander Meiklejohn.

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whom men respect and honor as their guides and leaders.
No man who cannot lead his peers is fit to teach the younger
generation. The education of a boy consists in coming
into active contact with a group of minds which have com-
mand of human thinking; he learns by feeling how they
think, and by imitating them.

Again, the college has no list of dogmas or doctrines
which it seeks to teach. There is no catalogue of things
to be believed, nor any list of problems which should not
be discussed. I have heard the suggestion made that
certain matters are not to be regarded as "subjects of
reasonable controversy." I am sure that for a college no
such prohibition can be made. I do not mean that every
problem of human life will be discussed by every student
all the time. There must be pedagogic common sense in
choosing things to think about. But are there matters
which are not "subjects of reasonable controversy"? I
know no other test than this any matter concerning
which reasonable men differ is a subject of reasonable con-
troversy. And if there be such reasonable disagreements,
young minds should know about them in proper time.

On the other hand, if there are still other subjects on
which all men have the same opinions, there can be little
harm in letting younger people know of these agreements.
The only genuine pedagogic sin I know is that of dragging
our students by the nose to preconceived conclusions,
blinding their eyes to paths that lead on this side or on that
toward truth, and yet pretending that we are leading them
into the ways of human thought. Such teaching is not
honest; and it will find its own reward for those who give
as well as those who take it.

I do not mean that there is no place for schools which
choose to teach some special doctrines which they think
important. Such schools are different from free colleges,
not in kind but only in degree. No college, however free,
can escape the prepossessions of its background, the mental
attitude from which it springs. But in the schools of


which I speak, some special conscious limitations are taken
on; the school commits itself to teaching this or that as
true. Such schools must first of all try to be fair to doc-
trines other than their own. But they must also deal
honestly with those for whose support they ask. They
have no right to put a label on and then to act and teach
as if the label did not mark them off from others; that is
what honest labels do.

Does the receiving of gifts from private donors or public
governments destroy or hamper the freedom of the college ?
Yes, in some degree. Taking the college world at large,
such influences are subtly, or not so subtly, felt. But
there is no essential reason why they should be present.
If they are, some one has failed to understand his task
and hence to do it. No college, clearly conceived and
honestly administered, would take a gift to which such
influence was attached. No college is for sale, and nothing
that is for sale, subtly or obviously, can be a college.

I think that the Association of University Professors,
fine as it is in purpose, has tended to increase misappre-
hension at this point. The Association in its proposals
and discussions has sundered the college in two. It has
opposed the teachers and the administrators. Trustees
and presidents, it seems to say, must further the material
interests of the college, must pay the bills, and find the
wherewithal to pay them. Professors, on the other hand,
have no concern with interests like these; they are the
scholars and teachers, interested in the truth. Professors
are free, but trustees and presidents well, they must
get the money, so perhaps they must give up some measure
of their freedom. What does this mean?

It sometimes seems as if professors said, "Let presidents
and trustees get money as they can; let them make promises
to donors or legislators if need be; but we will see that the
promises they give are broken; no man can influence us."
Professors free; trustees and presidents slaves, that seems
to be the doctrine. But surely such a doctrine is false


and hateful. No college can live half-slave and yet half-
free. Professors have no right to freedom unless the college
as a whole is free. The freedom of professors is a myth
unless it lives within the freedom of the college.

I think that in the large, with very little reservation, the
colleges are free, trustees and presidents as well as teachers.
Donors and legislators are eager to give to institutions which
no man can buy; that is their reason for giving. But
public confidence in such freedorn is not so easy to secure.
Men carry the notions of property and ownership from
other fields into the college field; they make a gift into
a bargain, and so they fail to understand. The college
must explain itself, must make its friends, must make its
friends and foes alike perceive that it is one in purpose;
honest in dealings, seeking to free men from ignorance
and self-interest, seeking to make for men knowledge and
self-criticism. It has no other purpose in any part or
fragment of its being.

A harder relationship to understand is that of professors
and propaganda. How shall men express opinions within
the classroom or outside, and yet not make the college seem
to be a partisan in public disputes. There are two very
different ways in which it might be done. We might
arrange that no professor should be a partisan on any
public issue; he must remain a scholar, seeing the principles
beneath the popular disputes, impartially making all sides
clear, and yet not advocating any one of them. Or on the
other hand, we might make up a college faculty of many
advocates, at least one advocate for every important line
of popular thought and impulse, trusting to each to push
his cause as strongly as he can. In either case, the college
as a whole would remain free and uncommitted. Which is
the better plan ? I wonder if we need to choose between

No one who loves a college can fail to feel the attraction
of the former plan. We like to think of scholars as standing
apart from common quarrels, as looking deeper into life


than common men, as finding the principles that underlie
all common controversies. And so they do, and ought to
do. And yet they do not by such study escape men's
disagreements; the superficial quarrels reappear down in
the lower levels of our thought; scholars are not agreed
regarding the issues of human life. They have their points
of view, their attitudes of mind, their working theories,
their own beliefs. Shall they be advocates of those beliefs?
They cannot help it. But on the other hand, are there no
limits to the forms their partisanship may take? I think
there are. A man who advocates a view as if there were no
other views, who finds the total truth in some mere frag-
ment of an insight which has come to him, who sees and
formulates no underlying principles beneath the strife of
parties, is no proper college teacher. A college has a right
to expect that every one who serves its cause, whatever
else he do, shall keep its faith, its partial insight if you
like, that truth is broader than a creed and deeper than
the theories of any sect or class.

Shall college teachers be advocates or critics? I do not
think we are ready to choose as yet. We want both types
and are not ready to let either go. Most of our men prefer
the impartial role; some have the zeal of advocates. And
if the scholars keep themselves alive to human situations,
if partisans hold fast to academic faith, we need not
interfere. We should not like to see our "ninety-three
professors" declaring that all our acts are right right
beyond question; nor do we wish our scholars to retire
to quiet places, reflecting sadly on the weaknesses of fellow
men. One thing we know whatever individual professors
do or think, the college must be impartial; it must not be an
advocate; it must urge no cause but its own, the cause of
knowledge and self-criticism.

There are, however, two or three remarks which may be
made upon the issue just considered.

Should we, in choosing teachers, take account of their
opinions? If we are well enough acquainted with their


work to pass on their appointments, we cannot well help
knowing what they think. And yet we must not take
account of it. We might, if we had found ourselves by
blind unconscious preference appointing men of our own
points of view, seek out opponents of ourselves to keep the
balance. But on no other ground could we be justified in
choosing a man because of his beliefs.

May teachers be dismissed because they hold and ad-
vocate this view or that? Such action would contravene
the very spirit and purpose of a college. Professors must
be good men, must study well, and teach successfully.
If these requirements are met, no question can be raised
regarding their opinions. The college has no fear of any
opinions. It takes them all and judges them. If this be
true, the tenure of the teacher is not that of one who is
paid to work as he is told, who may be sent away if those
who pay him do not like the work he does. His tenure is
rather that of the judge who, by the very nature of the
task assigned him, is placed beyond control or punishment
by those on whom his judgment must be made.

I think there is a case against the allowing of college
presidents to play the role of public advocate. So far as
teachers are concerned, safety is found in numbers. No
one of them can claim to represent the college as a whole.
Whatever one of them may say, a dozen of his fellows will
be found to take another point of view. But presidents
are wont to speak each for his college. Nothing about them
is more obvious than just their singularity. And when a
president takes his place in sect or party he takes the college
with him as no professor can. I have no doubt that in the
public mind one president, engaging in propaganda as a
partisan, can do more harm in shaking confidence in aca-
demic fairness and impartiality than could a hundred
teachers if they should storm and rave in every sect and
party that the country knows. And if it should appear
that, on the whole, the college presidents are very much
alike in mental attitude, are in most cases committed to


a single point of view regarding human problems, I think
that very rightly the colleges would fail of influence upon
the public mind, would lose the public confidence on which
the doing of their work depends.


How shall we win and keep that confidence? That is
the urgent problem for us and for the people whom we
serve. How shall we teach unless the people listen? How
shall they listen unless they know that we can teach and
that we will?

Unless a people find, in colleges or elsewhere, some place
of criticism, some place where truth is sought, where
thought is free, there is no hope for freedom of the people.

The college must teach, and, first of all, must make the
people understand what teaching is. How shall we let
them know that we are building knowledge for their use,
that we are serving every interest that they have and yet
are slaves to none of them, that we will listen to every
thought they bring and yet will weigh and value them with
thoughts of other men in mind ?

There is no other way than this: to study and to teach.
And teaching is the attempt to make men free.

Physician, heal thyself!



AS I survey the program of yesterday afternoon and
this morning my mind is caught by the figure of the
cookery or bakeshop. A cook from foreign parts has
been brought in to concoct for us some delicious dish, pastry,
pudding, or pie. And those of us who precede him on the pro-
gram are simply bringing out from the pantry the ingredients
which he requires. Mr. Eliot came laden with culture,
Mr. Thorndike with discipline; Mr. Hocking set forth the
specific purpose, and to-day Mr. Stearns has presented
athletics for mingling in the bowl. It is with much fear
and trembling that I present my own bundle, the Student
Activities. I am aware that they are regarded by many
cooks of college theory as spoiling the flavor of the edu-
cational food. Or at the best they are only a frosting
for the cake, a sauce for the pudding, and I sadly fear that
this imported cook may have sauces and frostings of his
own for the sake of which he may reject with scorn the
offering I have been commissioned to bring.

But now as I make my contribution to the program, it
seems to me that it should be done, not with apology and
timid protestation, but rather with confidence, with the
assured conviction that no cake or pudding can be worth
the eating unless it have this last delicate touch of per-
fection which my condiment will give. May I confess that
until I found myself obliged to write this paper on Student
Actitivies, I had not realized how important, how essential
they are. Is it not true in general that one of the best
ways of discovering that a cause is important, or a truth
significant, is to make a speech about it? Usually one



makes a speech not because he chooses to do so, but be-
cause he is invited to do so. And when the speech has to be
prepared and delivered the sheer necessities of the case
demand that one believe that what he says is worth saying,
no matter what it may turn out to be. In order to make
this speech at all I must believe that student activities have
a place in the life of the college community, and as I seek
to determine that place I have no doubt that it will seem
more and more important and significant.

To begin, then, I am convinced, as I write this paper,
that in any ideal college, student activities are of funda-
mental importance and that any one who would cook up
a college without them need hope to find little appreciation
of his wares. I can say this with freedom and irrespon-
sibility to-day because mine is not the task of selecting or
compounding the elements. I have an article to sell and
I will sing its praises long and loud. It is for the cook to
decide whether or not he will have it in the dish and if he
takes it in, to give it proper mingling with the other stuffs
which other vendors have brought in.

The name "student activities" is intended, I presume,
to express a difference or contrast. The name marks them
off from the studies, those elements of the college life which,
by implication, are either not student affairs or not activi-
ties. I fear that our teachers in the colleges do not like the
implication. We do not like to have studies regarded as
peculiarly belonging to the Faculty, nor, on the other hand,
do we wish them degraded to the realm of the mere pas-
sivities. And so the very name itself arouses antagonism.
It suggests that here is a feature of the college life which does
not mix very smoothly with the others. It is not a good
label if one would recommend his wares to college teachers
who are eagerly striving to tempt the intellectual appetities
of the boys entrusted to their charge.

If we include under the phrase "student activities apart


from athletics" such enterprises as debating, dramatics,
music, newspapers, literary magazines, philanthropic and
religious organizations, as well as social functions of various
types, one may express a very common faculty point of
view concerning them in the words, "The less said about
them the better." And with that judgment properly
interpreted, I am inclined to agree. But I should person-
ally not intend to minimize the importance of such activi-
ties. It is not a safe generalization to declare that phases
of human life are important in direct ratio to the degree
to which they are publicly talked about. It is rather
assumed amongst us that many very elemental and signifi-
cant features of our common life are not to be talked about
at all they are to be taken for granted, to be accepted as
given in the very nature of things. And it is just this " given-
ness," this inevitableness of "student activities" which
should first of all be recognized as we approach them.
We choose to bring boys together into social groups in
order that we may teach them, may train their minds, may
furnish them with information. But it is an inevitable
incident of such a process that the boys should find them-
selves together and should at once engage in common
activities which seem to them attractive and at least enter-
taining. We keep them busy or try to do so five or six or
seven hours a day; with due allowance for the separation
of sleep, they have many more hours than these to spend
together in enterprises of their own choosing. We did
not bring them together for the sake of these activities,
but from our bringing them together, these activities follow.
They are, as it were, a necessary accident of the teaching
process. Whether we will or not, there they are and there
they will remain in some form or other so long as boys are
brought together in the common life of a college campus.
And yet, in the presence of these inevitable accidents
of our central purpose many of our teachers grudgingly
acknowledge their presence, but, resenting it, they say,
"Let them alone, the less said about them the better."


Now if this attitude were not born in resentment, I
should find it very congenial. The conclusion which it
states seems to me excellent, even though the reasoning
which leads to it is atrocious. The truth is that we talk
too much about student activities, meddle with them too
much, and legislate about them too much. And I say
this not because they are bad, but because they are too
good to be spoiled by our clumsy interferences; not because
I am opposed to them, but because I should like to see them
freely develop and grow as the spontaneous activities of
the boys whose growth and development is our chief con-
cern. To tamper with them seems to me like tampering
with one's complexion. In one sphere at least we are sure
that the improvement of the general health gives better
permanent results for the complexion than temporary
tampering, however satisfying for the moment. My im-
pression is that the same principle holds good in the beauti-
fication of colleges; make them strong and healthy and the
activities will take care of themselves.


But whether our ignoring of student activities be due to
hatred or to love, there are times when even the most
abstract teacher is startled into recognition of them. Last
Sunday evening I heard the Dean of one of our great law
schools tell about the work of his school. And almost his
first remark was, "You will not find any 'activities' at the
law school; we give a man enough to do for all the time he
can give to activity." And with his words, there flashed
across my mind the vision of a liberal college without
outside activities. What would it be like to teach liberal
studies to a group of students who should give all their
time to their studies, whose work should be their play,
whose time should be wholly at our command? I think
I have still enough of the spirit of the teacher to thrill at
that vision. But as I saw it and reflected on it, there came

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to mind those terrible words of Newman in which he con-
trasts the little we can do for the student with the much
that he can do for himself.

"I protest to you, Gentlemen, that if I had to choose
between a so-called University, which dispensed with resi-
dence and tutorial superintendence, and gave its degrees
to any person who passed an examination in a wide range
of subjects, and a University which had no professors or
examinations at all, but merely brought a number of young
men together for three or four years, and then sent them
away as the University of Oxford is said to have done some
sixty years since, if I were asked which of these two methods
was the better discipline of the intellect, mind, I do not
say which is morally the better, for it is plain that compul-
sory study must be a good and idleness an intolerable
mischief, but if I must determine which of the two courses
was the more successful in training, molding, enlarging
the mind, which sent out men the more fitted for their
secular duties, which produced better public men, men of
the world, men whose names would descend to posterity,
I have no hesitation in giving the preference to that Uni-
versity which did nothing, over that which exacted of its
members an acquaintance with every science under the

"How is this to be explained? I suppose as follows:
When a multitude of young men, keen, open-hearted,
sympathetic, and observant, as young men are, come
together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to
learn one from another, even if there be no one to teach
them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each,
and they gain for themselves new ideas and views, fresh
matter of thought, and distinct principles for judging and
acting, day by day."

Now with these words of Newman ringing in our ears,
let us state and answer a fair question, "Would you, if you
could, free an undergraduate college from its activities?"
My own answer is flatly in the negative. I believe that


whatever a liberal college may be with them, without them
it would be a sorry place in which to live. And for this
conclusion there are at least two reasons. First, I am
convinced that the complete absorption of the student in
his studies would not in most cases give the best kind of
college training. Not only are we trying to give college
boys acquaintance with a great body of knowledge; more
important than this, they must also acquire understanding,
interpretation of what they are learning, reconstruction of
what they have known. And for this process there is need
of leisure, of deliberation and contemplation, of a certain
quiet waiting for sub-conscious processes to do their part.
These results cannot be achieved merely by digging and
grinding. In addition to the work there must be the
leisure; the two must be combined if the fruits of culture
and intelligence are to be reached. Again, if we view
college life fairly, we dare not fail to take account of the
constantly repeated statement of graduates that they count
certain "activities" as having been of far greater educational
value than the studies given and taken in the classroom.
I am sure that this statement contains more of falsity than
of truth. But there is a truth in it, and it behooves us to
isolate it and look it squarely in the face. As I look back
on my own experience of teaching and disciplining, I seem
to see what these graduates mean. I see it most clearly
when I try to single out from the long line of students some
one group which shall stand forth as intellectually the best
best in college work and best in promise of future in-
tellectual achievement. Much as I should like to do so,
I cannot draw the line round my own favorite students
in philosophy, nor the leaders in mathematics, nor those
successful in biology; nor could I fairly award the palm
to the Phi Beta Kappa men who have excelled in all their
subjects. It seems to me that stronger than any other
group, tougher in intellectual fiber, keener in intellectual
interest, better equipped to battle with coming problems,
are the college debaters the boys who, apart from their


regular studies, band themselves together for intellectual
controversy with each other and with their friends in other
colleges. I am not concerned to argue here the pros and
cons of intercollegiate debate. It has its defects as well
as its virtues. But if it be true that in this activity many
of our best minds find their most congenial occupation and
are furthered in intellectual growth rather than hindered
in it, here is a challenge which we cannot fail to meet in
the administration of college life and studies. And in
some measure, though in different forms, what is true of
debating holds true of dramatics, of writing, of music,
and the other activities. When boys form their clubs or
"crowds" for the spontaneous, enthusiastic pursuit of some
chosen ideal, they gain from it a power, a liveliness of in-
terest which can never be gained where that spontaneity is

But now I shall be asked: Would you substitute these
activities for the studies give up the classroom for the

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Online LibraryAlexander MeiklejohnThe liberal college → online text (page 8 of 13)