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Thoughts on the present collegiate system in the United States online

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admitted upon an examination conducted by the fac-
ulty. A room is assigned to each student within
the college buildings. In most instances two stu-
dents occupy the same room ; though in the
more recently erected college buildings, two dor-
mitories are attached to each sitting room. The
student is required to be in his room during study
hours, and always at night. Board is generally
furnished at the price of cost by the college.
The same charge is made to every pupil for tuition
and board and room rent. The other expenses
depend upon the student himself.

There are generally three daily recitations or
lectures to be attended by each student through-
out the whole course. A recitation or lecture
commonly occupies one hour, though this time
may in some colleges be abridged. When a class
is large, it is formed into two or three sections,
each pursuing the same studies, unless, as it some-
times happens, the division is made on the princi-
ple of scholarship, and then the better scholars are
tasked more severely. The upper classes are


not so commonly divided, as their instruction
is to a greater extent carried on by means of

A year, in imitation of the English colleges, is
divided into three terms, and three vacations.
The vacations occupy about twelve or thirteen
weeks. During this time students and officers
are at liberty to employ their time as they please.
One of the vacations extends to the length of
six or eight weeks, and takes place either in the
summer or winter. The former is the proper
season for vacation, if the health of the faculty
and students, and the interests of education are
considered. The latter, however, is frequently
chosen, in order to accommodate those young
men who wish to be absent for the purpose of
teaching schools in the country.

Examinations are held at the close of each
term, or at the close of the year, or at some other
specified time, of all the students, in all the
studies to which they have attended. These
examinations are viva voce, and occupy in the aggre-
gate a considerable portion of time. As, however,
in this manner only one person can be examined
at a time, the scrutiny which falls upon any indi-
vidual can neither be very severe nor very long
continued. The examination is, I believe, always
restricted to the book which has been studied ;
the student not being considered responsible for
any thing that may not have been acquired in the
recitation room.

Examinations are, so far as I know, always



conducted by the instructor himself. It is of course
the special duty of the visitors to be present on
such occasions, but, so for as I know, this duty
is almost never discharged. Sometimes they
appoint a committee of examination, from their
own number, and when this has been made an
office of small emolument, I have known it to be
discharged with punctuality ; but never otherwise.
Sometimes, committees are appointed from the
community at large, consisting of persons who are
supposed to be interested in the cause of educa-
tion. This plan has sometimes succeeded, but
in other cases I have known it to fail altogether.
In but few districts of our country could it be
relied upon as at all an efficient aid to the labors
of instructors.

If, after examination, a student is found to be
deficient in the studies of his class, his deficiency is
sometimes publicly announced, sometimes he is re-
quired to make up this deficiency in vacation, and
in some institutions, he is not allowed to become a
candidate for a degree unless he have passed his
examinations in all the studies of the college

The studies of each class occupy one year.
At the close of the year those students who have
incurred no disability, are advanced to the next
higher class. Those who have been thus ad-
vanced through all the four classes are candidates
for the degree of Bachelor of Arts ; and proceed
to this degree as a matter of course.

The studies of each College are appointed by


its Corporation or Board of visitors. These may
differ in some unimportant points, yet are in all
the Northern colleges so nearly similar that students
in good standing in one institution find little diffi-
culty in being admitted to any other. In order to
illustrate the nature and amount of the studies
pursued in a New England college, I here abridge
from one of the catalogues published within the
present year, 1S41-2, the statutory course pre-
scribed for a candidate for the degree of A. B.
In Latin, select portions of Livy, Tacitus, Ho-
race, Cicero de Oratore, Juvenal ; — In Greek,
select portions of Xenophon's Anabasis, Me-
morabilia, the Iliad, some of the tragedies
*of Sophocles and Eschylus, with Demosthenes'
Oration for the Crown ; In Mathematics, Geom-
etry, plane and solid. Algebra, Trigonometry
plane and spherical, and its applications to
practical mathematics, and Analytical Geometry ; in
Natural Philosophy, Mechanics, Pneumatics, Hy-
drostatics, Optics, and Astronomy ; — In natural
Science, Chemistry, Vegetable and Animal Phys-
iology, and Geology; — In Intellectual and Mora,
Science, Rhetoric, theoretical and practical, Logicl
Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Political Econ-
omy, Butler's Analogy, and the American Con-
stitution. Many of these studies, besides being
pursued by means of a text book, are illustrated by
full courses of lectures and ample experiments.

I have remarked that the degree of Bachelor
of Arts is conferred in course upon every pupil
who has, with a reasonable degree of success.

pursued the studies of the college course. I
ought to mention that in some instances, of late,
the course has been divided. At the option of
the student, after the first year, the Modern
languages and History with some branches of
Physical Science may be substituted for the further
prosecution of the Latin and Greek languages
and the Mathematics ; and students pursuing this
latter course are equally entitled to a degree with
the others.

The degree of Master of Arts is conferred upon
every Bachelor of three years standing, who ap-
plies for it and pays the customary fee. After
his graduation, the connexion of the student with
the University or College ceases. Jn England,*
by paying a small annual fee, he continues a mem-
ber of the University, is entitled to a seat in the
scnatus academicus, and a vote upon all ques-
tions coming before that society, and if he choose,
may proceed regularly to the higher degrees in
the several faculties of Law, Medicine or Divin-
ity. With us, all degrees besides those of A.
M. are honorary, and are supposed to be confer-
red on account of high professional attainment.
Coileges confer these degrees on the graduates of
each other ; although, more properly, I suppose
they ought to restrict themselves to their own grad-
uates. These degrees are, as I have said, al-
ways conferred by the Board of Visitors, or as it
is called, the Corporation.

It has always I believe been found necessary, in
order to secure the amount of diligence desirable


in a course of academical education, to provide a
system of accessory stimulants in addition to those
derived from the simple love of truth. The love
of pleasure is commonly in young persons, too
strong to be controlled by the love of knowledge,
or by the remote prospect of professional success.
Nay, even the principle of duty too frequently
requires to be strengthened by the hope of present
advantage ; and hence the kind and the degree of
stimulants, entering into a College course, deserves
a portion of our attention. In the Universities
of the continent, the difficulty of procuring situa-
tions of honor or emolument, and the impossibility
of being admitted to them without good Uni-
versity standing, provides all the stimulus which
the nature of the case requires.

In the Universities of England, the system of
stimulants is carried, as it seems to me, to an inju-
rious extent. The number of premiums, schol-
arships and exhibitions, each of considerable
pecuniary value, annually conferred upon success-
ful scholarship, is very great. Besides these there
are in the possession of each University, between
three and four hundred fellowships, worth, I think,
about two hundred pounds sterling per annum,
exclusive of residence, and these are awarded,
commonly by examination, to the most distin-
guished graduates.

The Fellows may hold their office for life, and
from them the tutors, and heads of colleges, and
the professors and other officers of the University
are always selected. In addition to these, about


four hundred Church livings are in the gift of
each University, or of the several Colleges ; and
these are always bestowed upon the Fellows or
other distinguished members of the society.

All this is visible and tangible. But this
presents only a most imperfect conception of
the stimulating force applied to the student in
an English University. Oxford and Cambridge
form a part, and no unimportant part, of the social
system of Great Britain. To these institutions,
the youth of the higher classes, from every part
of the realm, resort to spend the latter period
of their pupilage. There the youthful aristoc-
racy meet and become acquainted with each
other. Thither are the eyes of parents from
every county in the Kingdom turned with fond
anxiety. Thither do the bar, the pulpit, and
the senate look for the young men who have
there made it known that nature has marked
them for distinction. And besides all this, there
was never so vast a people bound together by
so many and so indissoluble social ties as that of
Great Britian. The British Nation, or rather
the elite of that nation in a remarkable degree
form one great family. London, '' that mighty
heart," sends out its pulsations to every extrem-
ity of the empire, and is in turn receiving from
every extremity the hfe-blood which it vitalizes
and sends back again. Every man of distinction
is expected to report himself there during some
part of the ''season," and he must do it in order
as Sir Walter Scott says, "to keep himself


abreast of society." Hence men of eminence
are much more generally known to each other
than in any other country that ever existed. And
hence the stimulating effect of social opinion is
stronger than in any other country upon earth.

Now the Universities live and move and have
their being in the very blaze of this social efful-
gence. Every distinguished man holds, and is
proud to hold through life, his connexion with his
College and his University. He hears with inter-
est of all that concerns its prosperity. He feels
a pride in every pupil of his College or University
vvho has distinguished himself. At the last
election of High Steward for the University of
Cambridge, gentlemen went from all parts of the
Kingdom, merely to give their vote, though public
cares obliged them to return the very next hour after
they had done it. An instance of this kind
came within ray own knowledge. Nor is this
an uncommon case, but the contrary. Such is
the interest which the educated classes in Eng-
land take in these cherished institutions of learning.

The University thus stands prominently ante
ora omniurru To obtain rank there, is to place
oneself immediately in a position in society ; it
shows to all, who in their several departments,-
need the aid of talent, that a man is worth taking
up. He becomes a marked man. Something is
expected of him and he feels that if he only jus-
tifies this expectation, his fortune is made. I was
passing one day through the courts of Westmin-
ster HalJ, with an intelligent and excellent friend,


a member of parliament, and I was struck with
the fact, that, as he pointed out to me the judges
and barristers of distinction, he never failed among
the first items of information concerning them, to
mention their University standing. Now where a
position in society is a matter of so much impor-
tance as in England, it must at once be seen that
the means for obtaining such a position which the
Universities afford, must be of incalculable value.
And thus when the whole power of the social sys-
tem is brought to bear upon the University, we can
form some conception of the stimulus which it
exerts upon the student of high and generous im-

Now to all this we have nothing that bears even
the shadow of a resemblance. There is in this
respect no point of analogy which by any law of
association, would lead us to think of the two
systems in connexion. Tn most of our colleges,
rank is assigned to the orators at commencement
according to scholarship ; but even this custom is
in danger of passing into desuetude. Some of
our institutions, awed by the hoarse growl of
popular discontent, have feared that a distinction
of this kind savored of aristocracy, and have
dropped it like a polluted thing. In but one of our
Colleges, to my knowledge, is there any system of
premiums for excellence in scholarship. Our com-
munity is divided into state sovereignties, and so-
ciety has here no centre, no heart like London,
nor can it ever have. A graduate leaves his Col-
lege when his course is completed, and his cod-


nexion with it and his interest in it cease. We
have no centre to which talent of all kinds tends.
A class, as soon as it leaves the walls of College,
is scattered in a few days to every State and Ter-
ritory in the union. The College or University
forms no integral and necessary part of the social
system. It plods on its weary way solitary and in

Ibant soli sub node per umbram.

The Colleges have but little connexion with
each other. The public, when strenuously ap-
pealed to, does not deny them money. They are
interested in education in general and are desirous
that the means of education should be afforded
to a large class of the community. But here the
interest ceases. After men have bestowed money,
they seem utterly indifferent as to the manner in
which it is to be employed. The educational
system has no necessary connexions with any thing
else. In no other country is the whole plan for
the instruction of the young so entirely dissevered
from connexion with the business of subsequent
life. At West Point Military Academy, the stand-
ing of a young man in his class, determines his
place in the army. Every one must see how
strong an impulse this connexion must give to
diligence and good behavior. Our Colleges suf-
fer greatly from the want of something of this

I have thus endeavored to present a plain view
of the collegiate system of the United States.


To some readers it may seem tediously minute, to
others brief and unsatisfactory. I have, however,
thought it necessary to present an outline of this
character in order to the accomplishment of my
purpose. I wish to examine the system as it is,
and it seemed useless to undertake such an exam-
ination without reviewing briefly the nature of the
thing to be examined.

I shall now proceed to consider the different
parts of the system, point out the defects of each,
and offer a few suggestions in passing respecting
the mode of their improvement.



Sect. 1. Of the Visitorial Power.

The first question that here presents itself for
discussion is the following : — Whence arises the
necessity for the exercise of visitorial power
in a system of collegiate instruction. The answer
to this question will immediately- present itself,
when we have considered the difference between an
establishment for public, and one for private educa-
tion. A private school or academy is established by
the instructor on his own responsibility, and solely
for his own benefit. Like any other producer,
he asks what is the product most in demand in
the market, and having answered this question
satisfactorily to himself, he offers to furnish the
product to those who may desire and can pay
for it. If he and his employers agree, his
business prospers. If they differ, his business fails ,
and he must either abandon or modify it. If his


employers are satisfied, his end is accomplished.
If he be incompetent or unfaithful, the thing
speaks for itself, and in a very short time works
its own remedy. The public is in no manner
interested in the result. Beyond the parents who
pay the teacher, the success or failure of the
experiment is no man's concern. No immunities
are granted to the instructor. The public sup-
ports him by none of its funds, and therefore
the public has no right to interfere with his
affairs, or to inquire whether he manage them
well or ill.

In the case of a public institution, however, all
this either is or ought to be reversed. This will
appear from several considerations.

1 . A collegiate establishment is supported in
part by the public. Either the whole State, or
a large number of individuals in the State have
advanced a considerable amount of funds which
are devoted exclusively to the support of the in-
stitution. Not unfrequently legislative grants are
annually made for the same purpose. The
amount of capital thus invested in New England
alone, would amount, I presume, to more than a
million and a half of dollars. This sum having
been invested for a particular purpose, it is evi-
dent that the public has a right to visitorial power,
in order to ascertain whether the income arising
from it be appropriated according to its original
design. Boards of Trustees or Corporations, are
the agents to whom this power is committed, and
they are bound to exercise it according to the design
for which they were appointed.


2. To these institutions is committed the pow-
er of conferring academical degrees, or publicly
recognised certificates of a certain amount of lit-
erary and scientific acquirement. These degrees
were formerly to a great degree, necessary to en-
trance upon the study of either of the learned
professions. The rules in these professions have
of late been in this respect, greatly relaxed, yet
the desire even at present manifested to obtain a
degree, shows whatever may be said to the contra-
ry, that this form of testimonial has not by any
means lost its value. It is always understood to
mean that a man has passed through that course of
liberal study, which, in the judgment of the com-
munity in which he lives, is necessary lo a well
educated man. It is obvious that such a testimo-
nial, if conferred with any thing like a strict regard
to merit and attainment, must be of material value
to any young man just entering upon the duties of
active life. It creates a presumption in his favor,
which is no contemptible advantage. It is the
guarantee to the public, without examination of
the candidate, that a certain portion of his life
has been devoted to liberal studies. And it is
manifest that the general literary and intellectual
character of a community must be greatly affected
by the degree of attainment which this testimonial
is made to represent. What would be the intel-
lectual condition of a community if nothing were
required of the candidate for a degree but a
knowledge of English Grammar and Geography ;
that is, if this amount of knowledge were all


that was required of him who was recognised as a
liberally educated man. The exclusive power of
conferring this testimonial being thus given to col-
legiate institutions, it constitutes a second differ-
ence between them and private establishments for
the purpose of education.

Let us next observe the reason for which these
privileges are conferred.

I think it will be admitted without controversy,
that this capital is not invested and these privi-
leges are not conferred for the purpose of sup-
porting instructors in Colleges. They deserve
nothing more for laboring in this vocation than in
any other. A man can no more claim a salary
from the public as a matter of right, because he
teaches Greek and Geometry, than because he
teaches English Grammar and Arithmetic. A man
who teaches the former branches of education
may incidentally derive benefit from the arrange-
ments which the community may make with re-
gard to this subject, but this is not the reason for
which the community has made them.

Nor is it, I think, the object of the public, in
the encouragement which it gives to collegiate
education, simply to multiply the number of pro-
fessional men, whether Lawyers, Physicians, or
Divines. This is a matter which may very well
be left to individual preferences and individual
talents. In all intelligent communities, the supply
of professional labor will commonly be at least
equal to the demand for it. The demand, as in
other cases, creates the supply. If this mode of


labor be lucrative, it will attract producers in suf-
cient numbers to meet the exigencies of society.
With respect to two at least of the professions,
there is more reason at all times to apprehend a
glut, than a scarcity.

3. Nor is it the object of these encouragements
to fix a general standard of acquisition, and then
induce as large a number as possible to attain to it.
For, in the first place, it would be difficult if not
impossible, to hit upon such a standard as would
meet the wants of those who desire a valuable
education, and be at the same time within reach
of all who wished to attain to it. And, besides,
the only method by which all who desired to
make this acquisition could be reached, would be
to give it away altogether. If this were done, it
would greatly increase the number of those who
would make this modicum of attainment, but to a
large portion of them the gift would be worse than
useless. It would unfit them for more active
pursuits, and would not enable them to procure a
sustenance by intellectual exertion. It would
produce a large amount of very moderately edu-
cated talent, without giving any real impulse to
the mental energy of the community.

4 . The object then for which I suppose these en-
couragements to a liberal education are given is,
to furnish means for the most perfect development
of the intellectual treasures of the country. In
order to the most perfect condition of any society,
it is necessary that, whenever unusual talent of any
kind exists, it be so cultivated as to be able to ac-


complish the highest results of which it has been
made capable. This talent is very equally dis-
tributed among the various orders of society, least
of all is it limited to the rich. But the means
for the thorough and radical training of a human
mind are very expensive. They involve the cost
of libraries, philosophical apparatus, laboratories,
and a formidable array of teachers of distinguished
ability. Were these to be provided by individual
enterprise, the expense would be so great that
none but the rich would be educated and by far
the larger part of the talent of a country must per-
ish in useless obscurity. Hence arises the reason
why a large portion of these means, all that which
involves the outlay of considerable capital, should
be the property of the public, and why it should
be open to the use of all who might by the use of
it be rendered in any way benefactors to the whole.
The design therefore of university establishments,
so far as the public is concerned, is not to furnish
education to the poor or to the rich, not to give
away a modicum of Greek and Latin and Geom-
etry to every one who chooses to ask for it, but to
foster and cultivate the highest talent of the nation,
and raise the intellectual character of the whole,
by throwing the brightest light of science in the
path of those whom nature has qualified to lead.

From these remarks, we may easily learn the
nature of that responsibility which devolves upon
the Trustees or Corporation, or in general, upon
the visitorial power of a college. The visitors are
entrusted with all the capital appropriated by the


public, or by individuals, for carrying forward this
specific purpose. They have the power of ap-
pointing and removing all college officers. They
alone confer degrees, and they determine the
course of study which shall be pursued by the
candidate for a degree. They have a general
power of visitation, and may, within legal and
constitutional limits, alter or amend or modify the
course of liberal education as they please, and
thus to a considerable extent, cause the intellect-
ual character of the community to be what they
wish. And when we consider that the Trustees of
the Colleges in New England alone are intrusted

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Online LibraryFrancis WaylandThoughts on the present collegiate system in the United States → online text (page 3 of 10)