Nicholas Murray Butler.

Scholarship and service; the policies and ideals of a national university in a modern democracy online

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celebrates. That the framework of the educational
system of the State of New York embodies the result
of the conflicting views, political and social, of Alex-
ander Hamilton and of George Clinton, we know.
That the life history of that system bears in the fullest
measure the evidence of Hamilton's genius and of
Hamilton's intellectual vitality, is a matter of undis-
puted record and should be recalled on this day and in
this presence.

The seed thought which underlies and gives purpose
to the whole educational policy of New York from its
very beginning when it was a colony, when it was a
province, and later when it became a State is that
the educational process is a unit and that its super-
vision and control should be gathered into one single
department of state education. Rivalries, misunder-
standings, personal interests, and ambitions long re-
tarded the complete fulfilment of this fine aim. From
the time of the first establishment in 1812 of the
office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction


until the enactment nearly ninety years later of the
admirable law which is now in force and under which
we live, the complete unification of the educational
administration of the State proved to be impossible.
That unification has now been wholly achieved. This
building is its revelation and its embodiment. It has
been achieved to the very great satisfaction, I feel
sure, of every student of education and of the en-
lightened citizenship of the State. It is an achieve-
ment for New York; it is an example for our sister

This evidence of practical sagacity reflects and ex-
emplifies a profound philosophic truth. The moment
that we think straight about education and free our-
selves from cant, from phrase-making, and from for-
mulas, we know that intellectual and moral growth is
an undivided process. We know that it cannot be
divided into water-tight compartments, any one of
which may be filled with ignorance while the human
being affected still floats on the sea of intelligence.
We know that it cannot be cut up into fragments at
war among themselves, with some one fragment tak-
ing precedence over others. We know that every
educational institution has a common purpose and a
common end, and that to attempt to set one against
the other, to bring about conflict and rivalry and jeal-
ousy between them, is to incite educational civil war.
The division of education into stages, the classification
of educational institutions into types, is a mere matter
of administrative convenience, a simple administra-


tive device with nothing to justify it but our adminis-
trative convenience and necessity. If any one sup-
poses that this device rests upon some profound prin-
ciple that fixes a gulf between one stage or grade of
education and another, and that compels these stages
to have different and disputing interests, then in my
judgment that person is absolutely wrong. It is a
constant struggle in all of our educational adminis-
tration to keep these administrative conveniences in
the subordinate place where they belong. We are al-
ways to have a great and serious care that our adminis-
trative devices are not erected into shibboleths and
so made the means of cramping, narrowing, or crush-
ing the life history of even a single human soul.

The point of this remark lies, as an American humor-
ist has said, in the application of it. That application
is this: The process which this building symbolizes,
the process to aid and guide which the school, the col-
lege, and the university are founded, is one that would
go on in some fashion if schools and colleges and uni-
versities had never been heard of. These institutions
do not create education, although they sometimes con-
spire to make it extremely difficult. When one re-
flects upon the ravages which have been committed
in the name of education and upon the assaults on our
intelligence which have been made by educated men,
he sees the point of view of the cynic who would urge
us to agitate for compulsory illiteracy ! He is dis-
posed to paraphrase the dying words of Madame Ro-
land, and to cry out: "Oh, education, what crimes are


committed in thy name!" All of which means that
our supreme care in reflecting upon this great public
interest must be to keep it natural, to keep it true, to
keep it free from contamination alike by false and low
ideals and by mere mechanical devices.

Education suffers sometimes from those who rush to
aid it, from those who invent mechanical devices for
it and who become so much more interested in the
mechanical device than in the process itself. If we
could only learn that all our devices, all our machin-
ery, are subordinate and adjuvant, and are to be kept
in their proper place ! When we become supremely
wise and supremely skilful perhaps we shall be able to
dispense with them altogether.

At the heart of this educational process, giving it
great dignity and direction, lies the most precious
thing in the world, human personality. Human per-
sonality is an end in itself. To watch it grow, to help
it grow, to take note of the results of its growth are a
constant joy and delight. The putting forth of new
power, the giving evidence of a capacity previously
non-existent, and the growing responsibility for capa-
ble and wise self-direction are the tests of an educa-
tion that is real rather than one that is merely formal
and mechanical.

This human personality begins to manifest itself at
birth, and already in the kindergarten and in the ele-
mentary school it is the subject of observation and
care; but it is precisely this same human personality,
a little more mature, a little better disciplined, a lit-


tie more closely addicted to fixed habits, that gives
purpose to the university. There is no qualitative
change; there is a quantitative gain in power, in habit,
in capacity; but the quality, the essence, the spiritual
life at the seat and centre of the process are precisely
the same at whatever point in the institutional scale
you bring it under observation.

The responsibility of the university is doubly great
because of its traditions, because of its resources, be-
cause of its equipment, because of its opportunity, and
because it is the last of man's formal expressions of
method as to the proper training of his fellow man.
The university is the very last rung on the trellis-
work that we put up in order that this tender plant,
reaching up from earth toward heaven, may find some-
thing upon which to rest its tendrils as it grows out
into an independent strength and life of its own. But
the university cannot be out of sympathy or out of
contact with the schools, with the institutions of every
type that deal with human personality in its earlier
and less mature forms. A true university is a proving-
ground for personality and for intellectual power and a
splendid gymnasium for the exercise of the muscles of
the intellect and of the will. The primary purpose of
the university is to provide the companionship of
scholars for scholars at a time when sufficient matur-
ity has been reached to make the joy of the intellec-
tual life intense and productive. If I may borrow a
charming phrase from a colleague of mine, I should
say that a university is a company of scholars in which


those who have discovered the mind make full, prof-
itable, and productive use of their discovery.

The temptation to define a university is very great
and the task is very difficult. The university has
manifested itself in many forms and in many ways.
It is a far cry from the little group of students of the
art of healing who gathered long ago about a bubbling
spring in the south of Italy and made the University
of Salerno; from the band of eager scholars of the
Roman law who congregated in Bologna to hear Ir-
nerius tell what it was that the Roman world, already
lost, had left in form and structure to the civilization
that the barbarian peoples were building upon the
place where Rome once was; from the day when a band
of these students exposed themselves to heat, to cold,
to fatigue, to expense, to danger, in order that they
might tramp, foot weary, across the plains of France
to hear the masters of the schools expound the knowl-
edge of the time on the hills that rise on either side of
the River Seine, which were the birthplace of the
University of Paris it is a far cry, I say, from all
that to the great busy universities of Berlin, of Vienna,
of Paris, to the halls and walls of Oxford and of Cam-
bridge, to Edinburgh and to St. Andrews, to the uni-
versities of our own land, of Canada, and those on the
other shore of the southern sea. But they all have
something in common. It is possible to seek and to
find that common denominator and to relate all these
great undertakings and achievements of the human
spirit in a class and so to define them.


Nearly twenty years ago I ventured to offer a defini-
tion of a university which I have seen no reason to
change. A college of the liberal arts is not a university,
even if its requirements for admission be higher or
more complicated than usual. The college has its
task, which is the training of American citizens who
shall be educated gentlemen. A college surrounded by
or allied to a group of technical or professional facul-
ties or schools is not a university. A university is an
institution where students adequately trained by
previous study of the liberal arts and sciences are led
into special fields of learning and research by teachers
of high excellence and originality, and where by the
agency of libraries, museums, laboratories, and publica-
tions knowledge is conserved, advanced, and dissemi-
nated. Teaching is only one function of a university,
and perhaps the smallest one. Its chief function is the
conservation, the advancement, and the dissemination
of knowledge, the pushing out of that'border-line be-
tween the known and the unknown which constitutes
the human horizon. The student who has felt the
thrill of discovery, however slight, however unim-
portant; the student who has put his foot on ground
in letters, in science, in philosophy, where no man's
foot had ever been before, knows what it is to feel the
exaltation of discovery. He has entered into the spirit
of the university. He has joined the household of

What the Germans call the philosophical faculty is
at once the essence and the glory of the university.


There can be no university where the spirit and the
methods of this faculty do not dominate. Indeed, a
university is a thing, a place, a spirit, and not a name
at all. No institution can become a university by
merely calling itself so. It must come into spiritual
kinship with those that have worthily borne the name
since universities were. If Mr. Lowell exaggerated a
little when he said at Harvard some years ago that a
university is a place where nothing useful is taught,
surely he exaggerated on the right side. Doubtless
what he had in mind was the fact that the university
is a place where everything else is not subordinated to
the immediately gainful or practical. The university
is the resting-place of those activities, those scholarly
aspirations, those intellectual endeavors which make
for spiritual insight, spiritual depth, and spiritual
beauty, but which cannot be transmuted into any coin
less base than highest human service.

Then the university relates itself in closest fashion
to the needs and aspirations of the state, the civic or-
der, the community. The university is the home of
that freedom of the spirit which is liberty; liberty to
think, liberty to speak, liberty to teach, always ob-
serving those limits which common sense, right feel-
ing, and a decent respect for the opinions of mankind
put upon all of us.

It has seemed to me that man's faith in liberty has
weakened a good deal in these later years. As I read
the signs of the times abroad and at home, I should
say that man's belief in liberty is less vital, his grip


upon it less firm, than they were a hundred years ago.
On every side and in almost every land it is now pro-
posed to achieve those aims for which liberty has been
supposed to be the best agent, by substituting for
liberty the essentially mediaeval instrument of regula-
tion. There are strong and able men who believe
that what the single tyrant could not accomplish the
many-headed majority may do. It appears to be likely
that the world will undergo another experience of this
time-old experiment which has been tried so often, un-
til once more its futility is made plain to every one;
and then, doubtless after some of us are gone, by
common consent the search for liberty and its right
exercise will be resumed.

But there is happily no sign that liberty is to be
driven out of the university. If the universities give
liberty a home and keep alive the little flame that has
illumined the world so brightly and so long, man is
just as sure to return to the pursuit of liberty and its
right exercise as the dawn is to follow the darkest night.

Liberty implies a discipline which is self-discipline,
and liberty is not license. It implies a discipline by
which the human spirit has taken over from the world
about it, from history, from tradition, from morality,
from human feeling, a great fund of material and made
it into habits of self-control, self-direction, self-order-
ing. The institutions of civilization are the world's
highest and best example of a disciplined liberty. It
is a function of the university to show liberty at work
under the restraint which self-discipline imposes.


Moreover, true liberty implies reverence and carries
reverence in its breast; reverence for that which lasts,
reverence for that which has proved itself, reverence
for that which bears the marks of excellence, reverence
for that which calls man up out of and above himself.
That university falls short of its opportunity which
does not give constant lessons in a liberty that is self-
disciplined and that is reverent.

This liberty which the university cherishes is the
persistent foe of all forms of artificial equality, of all
forms of mechanical procedure, and of all manifesta-
tions of a smug satisfaction with chains of an intel-
lectual and moral narrowness. It is a function of the
university in every land to make this so plain that he
who runs may read.

We must not shut our eyes to the fact that the task
of the university grows greater as the difficulties of
democracy grow heavier and more numerous. But the
university dare not shrink from its responsibility, from
its call to public service, from its protection of liberty.
The university must not follow, it must lead. The
university must not seek for popularity, it must re-
main true to principle. The university must not sac-
rifice its independence either through fear of criticism
or abuse or through hope of favors and of gain. We
dare not be false to our great tradition. Remember
that of all existing institutions of civilization which
have had their origin in the western world, the univer-
sity is now the oldest save only the Christian church
and the Roman law. The university has witnessed the


decline and fall of empires, the migration of peoples,
the discovery of continents, and one revolution after
another in the intellectual, social, and political life of
man. Of all these the university may say, in the well-
known words of the pious <#Lneas, omitting only his
adjective of misery,

"Quaeque ipse vidi
Et quorum pars magna fui."

The university has been at the heart and centre of
almost every great movement in the western world
that has an intellectual aspect or an intellectual origin.
Its responsibility was never so heavy as it is to-day.
This is true whether you look to Germany, to Italy, to
France, to Russia, to England, to Scotland, to Canada,
to America, to the Latin-American republics, or to the
new commonwealths of Australia and South Africa.
What is it that the statesmen of New China, feeling
the flow of a fresh life-blood in the nation's veins, first
propose to imitate out of all the world ? They wish to
imitate the university as Europe and America know it,
and for the very purposes which have made it so per-
manent and so powerful in Europe and in America.

We are looking out, by common consent, upon a new
and changing intellectual and social sea. The sight is
unfamiliar to the individual but not to the university.
The university has seen it so often, whether the change
has been for good or for ill, that the university knows
that if only it keeps its mind clear and its heart true
and the prow of its ship turned toward the pole-star, it


will survive these changes, whatever they may be, and
will contribute to make them beneficent. The uni-
versity knows by long experience that it wili come out
of all these changes stronger, more influential, and
bearing a heavier responsibility than ever.

I do not speak of the university which is brick and
stone and mortar and steel. I do not even speak of
the university which is books and laboratories and
classrooms and thronging companies of students. I
speak of the university as a great human ideal. I
speak of it as the free pursuit of truth by scholars in
association, partly for the joy of discovery in the pur-
suit of knowledge, partly for the service to one's fellow
men through the results of discovery and the pursuit
of knowledge.

When I look back and remember what the univer-
sity so conceived has done, when I remember the great
names, the noble characters, the splendid achieve-
ments that are built forever into its thousand and
more years of history, I think I can see that we have
only to remain true to our high tradition, only to hold
fast to our inflexible purpose, only to continue to
nourish a disciplined and reverent liberty, to make it
certain that the university will remain to serve man-
kind when even the marble and steel of this great build-
ing will have crumbled and rusted into dust.


Address at the Annual Commemoration Service, St. Paul's Chapel,
Columbia University, December 6, 1914


To one who knows and loves Columbia University
and who has passed his whole life in the university's
service, this day and this occasion are full of solemn
significance. In our noble commemoration service we
are to reflect on the immortality of the university, its
ideals, its hopes, its achievements on the one hand,
and on the quick passing of even the fullest and the
longest human life on the other. The occasion invites
us to compare these two phenomena and to interpret
them each in terms of the other. We are to picture
to ourselves for a few moments the planning and the
upbuilding of one of humanity's freest and finest prod-
ucts, and we are to dwell upon the life and the ser-
vices of those workmen whose task on the great struc-
ture is done. To some it was given to draw plans and
to lay foundations; to others it was given to aid wisely
and well in making the superstructure rise upward
through the long course of years; to still others it
was given to add to the building those marks of beauty
which are the fruit of genius and to surround it with
those tender associations which are the accompani-
ment of fine and gentle character. Where the task is
infinite and the time unending there can be no ap-
praisal of service in terms of accomplishment. The
greatest accomplishment seems small indeed when



measured by such standards. Service in such a task
must be appraised, recorded, and lovingly dwelt upon
in terms of sacrifice, of purpose, of spirit.

The progress of civilization if civilization has
really progressed is marked in each of its several
stages by typical visible institutions into which the
prophets, the seers, and the spiritual leaders of an
epoch put all that is best in themselves and in their
time. The spiritual life, the reflection, and the aspira-
tion of the Middle Ages poured themselves out into
those great cathedrals which dot the hills and plains
of Europe, with their towers and spires pointing
toward the heaven that they fain would reach, with
their windows bearing in superb adornment symbolic
representation of all that the Middle Ages held most
dear, and with their doors wide open that all men
might enter to see and hear and share in their message
and in their meaning. The form of reflection and the
form of faith that built those splendid churches are no
longer found dominant among us, but they themselves
remain, not alone as monuments of one of the most
splendid periods in the whole record of human achieve-
ment but as milestones along the pathway of the hu-
man spirit toward its distant goal. Even to-day we
can almost see the patient artist of centuries long gone
working with devoted skill and with loving care to the
end that an arch, a window, an altar-piece, or a pinna-
cle might be made more beautiful and might carry
forever on its carved face more of what he himself, in
his simple-minded, placid faith, was and felt. Time


has passed; stupendous changes have come over the
mind and the spirit of man, and another form of hu-
man institution has pushed the cathedral aside into
history. That newer institution is almost as old as
the cathedral itself, but it was ages long in coming into
its full inheritance. That institution is the university.
Everywhere the university embodies the ambitions, the
ideals, and the hopes of the age in which we live. It
includes the anxious and assiduous pursuit of truth
on the one hand, and the training and guiding of the
younger generation on the other, as well as the pour-
ing out of all the fruits of its experience and its wis-
dom before the people so that the whole people may
share those fruits to their inestimable advantage.

He who really understands a university and enters
into its spirit understands his own time and all time.
The university puts behind it and away from it the
meaner and the baser motives and feelings. It has
no place for greed, for jealousy, for vanity, or for
empty boasting. The only emulation it admits is
emulation in the pursuit of truth and in the service of
mankind. Its life is an open book; its treasures are
the men who make it and the men whom it in turn
makes. No other product of humanity no form of
government, no work of letters or of art, no discovery
in science, and no new conquest of nature's forces-
is so human, so truly human, and so fully representa-
tive of humanity as is the university truly conceived.
Its fabric may be bombarded and burnt, but its spirit
cannot be touched by cannon or by fire. It may be


deprived of means with which to exert its powers and
capacities to the utmost, but it cannot be prevented
from doing all that is possible for it to do in pursuit
of its everlasting and uplifting purpose. Those who
can see in the university nothing more than a group of
stately buildings, a collection of rare and useful books,
quantities of modern and well-adapted apparatus, and
thronging companies of students eager to be shown
how to grasp hold of life in some fashion that will
produce adequate economic return, do not see the uni-
versity at all. All these things are there, but they are
on the surface only. The deeper things in a univer-
sity's life and history are only known and felt by those
who are able to go beneath the surface as it presents
itself day by day, and to feel the majestic onward
sweep of the great current of spiritual life with its
grand tradition that finds in the university at once a
garment and a form of highest and most lasting ex-

It is from a university so conceived that there have
gone out in the year now closing many noble and gen-
erous lives. Some of them had been so fortunate as
to be permitted to carry large and heavy stones to the
rising structure and to leave their names carved for-
ever upon it. Others have been mysteriously taken
from the work when life was all before them, when
they were just beginning to feel the joy of the task
and to appreciate in some measure its larger meanings.
To-day we remember them not alone for what they

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Online LibraryNicholas Murray ButlerScholarship and service; the policies and ideals of a national university in a modern democracy → online text (page 4 of 18)