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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES.
BY PRESIDENT BARTLETT OF DARTMOUTH, PRESIDENT ANGELL
OF MICHIGAN, PROFESSOR SHALER OF HARVARD, PRESIDENT
ADAMS OF CORNELL, PRESIDENT HYDE OF BOWDOIN, PRINCIPAL
DAWSON OF M'GILL, AND PRESIDENT DAVIS OF CALIFORNIA.
How far should a university control its students ? The
inquiry relates, of course, to the American, and not the European,
university. The latter is quite a different institution from the
former. The German university may be summarily character
ized as a cluster of professional schools, preceded by the long
(seven years) and rigid drill of the gymnasium. Oxford and
Cambridge stand in a somewhat similar relation to such an elab
orate training as is given at Winchester and Eugby. Of these
universities it may be remarked in passing that they are suffi
ciently inflexible in the courses of study they prescribe and the
amount of attendance they require for their degrees, and rigid in
regard to some matters of conduct, though lax enough in others.
The American university is a very different affair. The name
covers a variety of institutions, no one of which fully corresponds
to the European one. Some of them have nothing of the foreign
university character, but only the gymnasium or college elements,
which, indeed, greatly predominate in our largest so-called uni
versities, and are not wholly eliminated from Johns Hopkins.
VOL. CXLIX. NO. 392. 1
2 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Our universities being predominantly colleges, and the' great
majority of their students being under-graduates or college stu
dents, I propose to direct my suggestions to the question of con
trolling college students, with reference to whom primarily and
almost exclusively it has been publicly raised. The proposition
that the university student should choose his own studies and
govern himself was originally applied to a body of young men the
majority of whom were not propprly university students.
It may be admitted that professional students are to some de
gree in different circumstances from college students. They are
older and more mature; mostly men in years and experience.
They have gone through an invaluable previous training, have a
wider horizon of knowledge, and are held and urged by the near
prospects of their life-work and the impending necessity of a
livelihood. They should require much less of external guidance
and control. Yet they are not left to themselves. Professional
schools of all kinds firmly hold their students to certain prescribed
courses of lectures, reading, examinations, and attendance, which
are accepted by all parties as wise and necessary, and on which
no further remark is here called for.
Students enter college mostly in the transition period from
boyhood to manhood. Perhaps the average age in this country
is not far from eighteen years. Some, indeed, are men, but very
many are still boys. As a body they are at an age when, during
nearly three-quarters of their college course, they are, by the wise
laws of the land, under parental government. This patent fact
alone would seem to furnish a valid basis for the answer to the
question. I have heard it affirmed by a high college official that
the notion of a college faculty standing in loco parentis is an
exploded notion. If so, the more the pity. But there certainly are
colleges, not a few, where it is not exploded or obsolete. By what
right shall the parent, when he sends his son into new difficulties
and temptations, consent to the withdrawal of all that guardian
watch and care which the public polity and the wisdom of ages
require of him while the son is at home ? And by what right
shall the institution to which the young man in his minority is en
trusted by the parent assume that not only direct parental
guardianship, but all substitute for it, is abrogated by the trust?
I have heard it asserted, in a similar strain, that the whole duty
of a college professor is discharged and ended in the lecture-room.
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. 3
If these two maxims were settled principles in all our colleges,
judicious parents might well hesitate, and even refuse, to send
their sons to such places of irresponsibility. Better place them
in any kind of apprenticeship, for then they would be held to
duty and responsibility. But such views do not universally pre
vail. In many of our best institutions the personal influence of
the instructors is even more efficient outside of the lecture-room
than within it ; and most institutions feel the obligation, so far
as practicable, to supply the parent's moral influence, while fur
nishing the intellectual influences which he could not personally
bestow. Otherwise the transition from the well-regulated home to
the heartless institution would be the saddest of orphanages.
Furthermore, the clear underlying principle of the student's
position carries with it the condition of control. He goes to col
lege to be equipped for the thinking and acting of manhood. He
goes unformed, inexperienced, susceptible, exposed, compara
tively crude in judgments, and often abounding in juvenile ten
dencies to irregularity and excess. Now, are such young men to
be coolly left to themselves, unaided by external supports ? Or
are they to be actively and positively helped in every available
mode by the men to whom they have come for help, by their
knowledge, their experience, their riper judgment, their advice,
and, so far as is needed, their wise and firm control ? To ask the
question is to answer it. To fail in the use of all such available
influences is clearly a dereliction of duty and a breach of faith to
the pupil. If the student is able to educate himself, why put
himself under instructors and methods at all ? For to choose
one's studies and govern himself meanwhile, taken strictly, com
prises the whole matter and method of education.
Let us apply these principles a little in detail. Clearly there
should be a somewhat firm control of the attendance. Eequirements
of this nature, such as are insisted on in professional schools, are
still more indispensable in the college. To form and fix habits of
systematic, steady application is one of the prime benefits of a
public school. The value of this one element of a right college
training can hardly be overestimated. Few young men are so
well established as to dispense with such regulations ; the major
ity greatly need them ; not a few would be life-long failures
without them. And these regulations should require not only
presence at the institution, but habitual attendance on its stated
4 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
exercises, with allowance, of course, for reasonable excuses. Reg
ular attendance is even easier than irregular, while the difference
in the permanent effect on the individual is beyond computation.
For this reason nothing is gained and much is lost by an exces
sive allowance of "cuts"; and protracted absences from the lec
ture-room are never compensated for by cramming for examina
tion. One great institution, which had allowed unwonted latitude
in this respect, has already found it necessary to begin a retreat.
Equally legitimate is a general prescription of the course or
courses of study. A full discussion of this subject cannot be
entered upon here. But so long as some professional schools find
it needful rigidly to require the main part of professional educa
tion, objections to a similar procedure in the college fall to the
ground. From the fact that he has not been over the field, the
youth is incompetent to judge what is the best drill and culture
for him. And while diversity of ultimate aim may modify the
latter part of the basal education, specialism comes soon enough
when the special training begins. And those institutions seem to me
wisest which reserve their electives till the last half of the college
course, then introduce them sparingly, and not miscellaneously,
but by coherent courses. A general and predominant introduc
tion of electives is fruitful of evils. It perplexes the faithful
student in his inexperience. It tempts and helps the average
student to turn away from the studies which, by reason of his
deficiencies, he most needs. It gives opportunity to the lazy
student to indulge his indolence in the selection of ' ' soft " elect
ives. Striking and even ludicrous illustrations of these last two
influences could readily be furnished, did the space permit. Other
undesirable influences of the premature multiplication of elect
ives, affecting the students as a body, have already been appre
hended by some who strongly favored the system in regard to
which we may await further developments.
Regulations governing the conduct and deportment of the
young men in their relations as students are also indispensable.
No considerable company can get on without well-settled rules
adapted to their special circumstances. To attempt it is con
fusion. The well-disposed majority need them for guidance, the
ill-disposed minority for restraint, and all for comfort and pro^
tection. College codes have properly been made simpler than
formerly, when English precedents prevailed. But firm codes are
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. 5
none the less indispensable. In view of facts constantly coming
to the knowledge of the public, as within a few weeks in regard to
the acts of students of at least four " universities," and multitudes
of facts well known to college faculties, it has a comic aspect to
talk of the student's governing himself. He must be governed,
wisely and kindly, but governed. He is, by his accepted condi
tion, "under tutors and governors." The cooperation of the
young men should be secured, as far as practicable, and friendly
relations maintained between student and faculty. This is, hap
pily, taking place more and more. But neither individually nor
collectively are students the persons to govern. They are not
there to guide and regulate, but to be guided and regulated.
It belongs to their age and fundamental relation. Not myself
believing in the surrender of college government to college
students, I will not criticise the views of those who do. I may
say, however, that so far as my observation goes, the seeming sur
render is but superficial, the faculty retaining always the ultimate
control, referring only what it is pleased to refer, and with a veto
power behind. But however this may be, it is certain that in
some institutions the students themselves advocate no such ar
rangement. Thus at Dartmouth College, where the general
good order will probably bear a comparison with that of any other
New England college of an equal number of students, not only
have the young men, in their free class discussions, always de
cided adversely to the plan, but their college periodical, on the 19th
of last April, put forth a vigorous protest against the scheme,
ridiculing it as "an abortive attempt " by the "ukase of a single
sentence " to transmute " impulsive youth, needing guidance and
restraint," into "mature men," dominated by wi'sdom and prin
ciple. It affirmed that the student's daily actions give the lie to
the oft-repeated statement that appeals to his honor alone are
necessary, pronounced the strong government to be the one that
is "respected," and ended with the assertion: "What our col
leges really need is more of West Point." Unquestionably students
respect a firm and impartial college government.
I only add, without arguing, the opinion, resting on the prin
ciples previously indicated, that a general religious control should
be asserted not sectarian, but Christian : daily attendance on
chapel service, and attendance on some Sunday public service,
according to the preference of the parent or guardian. It is
6 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
pleasant to see many recent indications that public sentiment is
moving again in this direction.
S. C. BARTLETT,
President of Dartmouth College.
I ASSUME that we who are asked to discuss the question, " How
far should a university control its students ? " are expected to
consider chiefly the management of collegiate students rather than
of students in professional schools.
Like the similar question, " How far shall a father control
his son between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one ? " it is easy
enough to give an answer in general terms, but not easy to give
one in detailed and specific terms.
Probably all will agree that the college authorities should aim
to do all in their power to bring the student through his college
course with a vigorous body, a mind well-disciplined and stored
with knowledge, and a pure, strong, and manly character. The
control which is essential to the accomplishment of this result
with the great body of students may be, and should be, exercised.
But there are serious practical difficulties in applying this simple
principle in the management of a college.
There is the very grave difficulty which arises from the differ
ence in the ages of the students. Some of them are in years, and
in physical, mental, and moral development, mere boys ; others
are mature men. It is not at all unusual to find students sixteen
years old and those twenty-five or even thirty years old in the
same class. Methods useful with the former are absurd with the
latter. If we may borrow terms from the German schools to ex
press our thought, we may say that we are embarrassed by having
in the American colleges boys so young that gymnasial methods,
both of intellectual and moral training, are suitable for them,
and men old enough and sufficiently advanced in mental de
velopment to be trained under university methods. I think the
average age of the students in the Western colleges and universi
ties is somewhat higher than that in the Eastern institutions of
similar grade. This may in part account for what I suppose to
be a fact, that rather more freedom is accorded to students in
most of the larger Western colleges than in most of the Eastern.
The average age of those admitted to the freshman class in the'
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. 7
University of Michigan for many years has ranged from nineteen
to nineteen and a half years. The average age of the under
graduate here is about twenty-one. Of course, such a body of
students can be treated differently from a body whose average
age is nineteen. Still, as a few of our students are only sixteen,
we are not free from the embarrassment named.
Another difficulty springs from the fact that with a large
proportion of students the college life falls at the period when
their passions and impulses are at their maximum strength, and
when experience and reason have not taught them self-control in
a large degree. Though not vicious, they may be thoughtless,
and are often carried away in a whirl of temporary excitement to
words and acts which they soon after condemn. What is wise
treatment of young men in these moods is not always easy to say.
Again, the problem of college government is often made
serious from the fact that too often students, from some cause,
have regarded the relations of college teachers to them as antag
onistic ; have felt that it was their privilege, if not their right
and duty, to outwit their guardians and cause them as much
trouble as possible. This is an old college tradition, for the
existence of which students are not alone responsible. It is in
part due to unwise methods of government, more in vogue formerly
than now, and especially to attempts to exercise excessive control
of students. The tradition, however, and hardly anything is
more enduring and invincible than a college tradition, still
afflicts some colleges whose faculties no longer give provocation
for this hostile attitude of their pupils.
To meet these and other difficulties, what means of control
are commanded by the college authorities ?
First, they can make and, so far as practicable, enforce rules
and regulations to govern the conduct of students.
Secondly, they have the moral aid of the elevating and regu
lating power of the intellectual pursuits of their pupils, and also
of such appeals as can be made to them when assembled.
Thirdly, the personal power of the teachers in their close in
tercourse with the students can be employed in removing the pes
tilent idea of official antagonism to them, and in elevating their
aims and character.
Of these three instrumentalities for controlling students, the
first should be used as little as possible, and the other two as
8 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
much as possible. Control by mere authority should be used as
little as is compatible with the high ends sought in the conduct
of a college. It must, indeed, be made plain to students, so that
there is no shadow of a ground for misunderstanding on the
point, that the faculty, and not the students, govern the college.
But this being established, let the rules be as few and as simple
as possible, and only such as can be reasonably well enforced.
Let the hand of authority be displayed only when indispensably
necessary. Punctuality in attendance and fidelity in work should
be insisted on. If a fair degree of success in obtaining these
is secured, the other details of the student's life may gen
erally be left to him with safety. But he should be
made to understand that a decent and manly life is expected of
him always and everywhere. It is unwise and useless to confront
him, in a pamphlet of college laws, with a long list of mala pro-
hibita, which he is forbidden to commit. No college faculty has
genius enough to name all the acts which ought to be forbidden.
The wily student who is presented with the catalogue of forbidden
sins is tempted to commit all which are not included in the list.
But he knows what is decent and becoming and manly as well as
the Professor of Moral Philosophy, and if informed that conduct
which is manly will always be expected of him, he is much more
likely to refrain from unbecoming acts than if held in subjection
to a long code of petty rules and to a system of espionage.
The professors should not depend so much for the control of
students on legislation as on getting near enough to their pupils
to exert a positive moral influence upon them, on appeals to their
manliness, on engendering in them the spirit of right-doing.
Some teachers lack this power. But it should be coveted and
sought after as one of the ( ' best gifts" of a college officer. Mem
bers of the faculty should spare no personal efforts to induce stu
dents to abandon bad traditions and usages. They should strive
to reach and control the younger students through the counsel
and influence of the older. That is one of the most effective ways
of controlling thoughtless, impulsive students. By all means the
attempt should be constantly made to produce a public opinion in
college in favor of manly conduct and in condemnation of all kinds
of unmanly conduct, from mere childish tricks to disorder and vice.
Nor will a wise administration content itself with dealing with
students as a mass. There should be most careful and considerate
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. 9
treatment of individual cases. The number who are inclined to
go wrong is usually small, unless in some special excitement which
takes good men for the moment off their feet. That small number
should be constantly looked after with the desire to make some
thing of them if possible. Sometimes a professor who has special
nearness of -access to one of these men can do more for him than the
executive officer of the college. But by sympathetic admonitions
and appeals, by enlisting in the work older students, who are his
friends, by all means at command, the effort should be made to
save him to a career of industry and virtue if possible. If he can
not be saved, of course he must be made to withdraw ; but unless
he has been guilty of some flagrant offence, there should be as
little demonstration as possible about his withdrawal. There is
room for great wisdom and tact in dealing with these individual
cases, which form the centres of wrong-doing.
While, then, it should be distinctly understood as not open to
debate that the faculty must govern the college, and must absolute
ly decide in any issue between them and the students, still the con
stant aim and unceasing study should be to make it unnecessary
for them to use their authority by cultivating in all ways among
the students the manly and earnest spirit which makes the resort
to authority unnecessary, and especially by leading the students
to feel that their teachers are not spies and antagonists, but their
true friends, eager to assist them in every way. A great improve
ment has taken place in this generation in the relations of
college officers and students, and in the general demeanor of
students. That improvement has been largely due to the
adoption to a greater or less extent of the principles advocated in
this paper. In most colleges the petty and detailed supervision
of the student's daily and hourly life has been relaxed or
abandoned. Less reliance for insuring good conduct is now
placed on manifold restraints than on the appeal to a manly
spirit in the student. I am of the opinion that the introduction
of the elective system in the latter part of the college course has
also been most beneficial from a moral, as well as from an intel
lectual, point of view. The compulsory pursuit of unwelcome
studies in the junior and senior years used to cause much friction
But notwithstanding the gratifying improvement which this
generation has seen in the management of colleges and in the
10 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
manners and life of undergraduates, this question of the amount
and kind of control which should be exercised will continue to
present difficulties so long as the college has to conduct both
gymnasial and university work.
As to professional schools, when a part of universities, the
same general principles as to work, attendance, and life are appli
cable as in the college, though, owing to the more advanced
years of the students, certain obvious modifications in the appli
cation of these rules may be made. There is now a wholesome
tendency to more rigorous demands on professional students than
have been made in years past.
JAMES B. ANGELL,
President of the University of Michigan.
IN CONSIDERING the problem of discipline in our higher institu
tions of learning, it is well first to place clearly before our minds
the immediate objects which such establishments should have in
view. It is evident that these objects must go far to determine
the system by which the conduct of youths who attend our col
leges and universities is to be controlled. It is very clear that the
essential aim of our higher educational establishments is to take
youths who have received a considerable training in preparatory
schools, who have attained the age of about eighteen years, and
have begun to acquire the motives of men, and fit them for the
higher walks of active life. To the youth must be given a share
of learning whicli may serve to enlarge to the utmost his natural
powers. He must be informed and disciplined in the art and
habit of acquiring information. He must also be disciplined in
the ways of men, in the maintenance of his moral status by the
exercise of his will, in self-confidence, and in the faithful per
formance of duty for duty's sake. Every influence which tends
to aid him in putting away the irresponsible nature of the child
should be brought to bear; every condition which will lead him to
send forth his expectations and ambitions from his place in the
school to his place among men should surround him.
While all persons who have considered the problem of higher
education will doubtless agree with the proposition that our uni
versity authorities should endeavor above all things to bring the
youths under their care into the independent position of men, they
doubtless perceive that there are very considerable difficulties in
DISCIPLINE IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. H
the way of attaining this result. The most serious of these