Nicholas Murray Butler.

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

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did, but for what they wished to do; and we like to
believe that somewhere and somehow beyond this ken


of ours they are able to go forward unfettered with
their work.

Philosophers and poets have in turn been moved to
look upon life now as a tragedy and now as a comedy.
For one it is an inexplicable mystery, and for another
it is something that can be in every part weighed,
measured, counted, and in so far understood. In fact,
life is all these things and yet none of them. It has
an aspect, as it turns its face to the revolving sun of
time, that is now tragic, now comic, now mysterious,
now understandable; but it is much more than all
these and far different from them all. Life is so much
the ultimate fact that everything else must be stated
in terms of it, while it can be adequately stated in
terms of nothing but itself. The serene penetration of
a Sophocles, the robust aspiration of a St. Augustine,
the subtle gentleness of a Pascal, and the magical re-
flective power of a Kant have all been exhausted, and
more than exhausted, in attempting to transmute life
into language and life's problems into simpler terms.
Sophocles, St. Augustine, Pascal, and Kant have be-
come immortal through the literally splendid char-
acter of their studies and portrayals of life; but life
remains after all that they and a thousand others have
contributed to its understanding, the ultimate fact.
Its absence is as inconceivable as its extinction is in-

In this commemoration service we stand in contem-
plation of the two most impressive and controlling
facts of life memory and faith. It is upon memory
and upon faith that we rest for everything that we


call real and for everything that we call inspiring.
Odd as it may sound, there is no such thing as the
present. By the present we mean only the invisible
dividing line between what has just been and what will
in an instant be. While we speak the little word now
with which we try to fix the passing moment, that
moment has already gone to join the unmeasured and
the unplumbed past which looks to memory alone for
its existence. The intuition of Heraclitus was cor-
rect. Everything constantly changes. What we really
mean by the present is the most recently past, with
perhaps some reference to the nearer aspects of the
oncoming future. What is past is in turn drawn by
the slender and imperceptible thread of the present
from the exhaustless store of that future which is
posited by faith and on which that same faith builds
all of life's activities, hopes, and ambitions. We re-
member those who were with us on yesterday and we
have faith that they will be with us again on the mor-
row. He who would build his life only upon what he
sees and hears and touches, and therefore upon what
he thinks he knows, builds not upon reality but upon
the oldest and most persistent of illusions. The philo-
sophical egotist, heedless of the teaching of Socrates,
hath said in his heart that there is no world but his
own. Upon him we need waste no words, but may
leave him in self-satisfied contemplation of his petty

To-day, then, we find ourselves first of all remem-
bering. We recall with affection the names, the
forms, the activities of those who are no longer within


our sight. They are very real and ever present to us
by reason of our manifold and powerful associations
with them. We can trace their footsteps and the
marks of their handiwork in, about, and upon the fab-
ric, seen and unseen, of the university of our love.
Then we turn from our memory to our faith. We try
in vain to picture where those who have gone may
now be or how they may now be at work. Somehow
we cannot divest ourselves of the feeling, the belief,
the faith that, while there has been interruption in
the form of their activity and in the conditions of
their existence, that activity and that existence still
are. The alternative revolts intelligence and reduces
reason to irrationality.

There is yet another figure which helps us to link
our memory and our faith. In this university we
have before our eyes one of the storied hanging-gar-
dens of the world. Into it there come each year hun-
dreds, and even thousands, of tender shoots of the
human plant. In this garden they are set out, some-
times in even rows, sometimes irregularly, according
as each one will flourish best. They are nourished
and cared for. They are trained to grow upward,
and, if it be their nature, they are made to stand alone
and to support their own weight. In the fulness of
time these tender shoots have grown into fine strong
plants and trees. They put forth buds and flowers.
They throw protecting shade, and when the due time
comes they ripen and scatter themselves over the soil
of the garden to enrich and to fertilize it for new gen-
erations like their own. They have manifested their


presence and they have left a remembrance, some of
beauty, some of strength, some of protecting shade,
some of fertilizing and enriching power. Each one
has done its part. Each has drawn into itself from
the soil of the garden in which it is set, rich with the
tradition and human service of over a century and a
half, and from the atmosphere of freedom and confi-
dent hope that glistens round about, those foods which
each living thing knows how to choose and to make
into structure, and, through structure, to grow, to
blossom, to fade, and to pass back into the great
stream of life from which all life comes. In this hang-
ing-garden there is no death. There is only that
changed life which brings forth life again more abun-

"I with uncovered head
Salute the sacred dead,

Who went, and who return not. Say not so !
'Tis not the grapes of Canaan that repay,
But the high faith that failed not by the way;
Virtue treads paths that end not in the grave;
No bar of endless night exiles the brave;

In every nobler mood
We feel the orient of their spirit glow,
Part of our life's unalterable good,
Of all our saintlier aspiration;

They come transfigured back,
Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation !"


Address at Johns Hopkins University on Commemoration Day,
February 22, 1915


In accordance with fortunate custom, members of
this university are assembled to commemorate its
ideals and its purposes, to recall with affectionate re-
gard the names of those great ornaments of the uni-
versity who are gone, and on this occasion also to wish
Godspeed to him who has recently been chosen to its
high office of president.

More or less that is not new has of late been written
about this office, as well as more or less that is not
true. The office itself is in its historic evolution the
outgrowth and the product of personality. It depends
for its usefulness and effectiveness wholly upon per-
sonality and not at all upon authority. Judged by the
length and the security of tenure of its various incum-
bents at different institutions, the office is what would
be called in the business world an extra-hazardous
risk. Disturbance relating to it is not infrequent, and
eviction from it is not unknown. Nevertheless, am-
bition to hold it is well-nigh universal among academic

The beginnings of the modern office of university
president are to be seen in the careers of Tappan at
Michigan, of Wayland at Brown, and of Anderson at
Rochester. Barnard, of Mississippi and of Columbia,



was probably the first to give to the office its sig-
nificant relationship to general educational policy and
to the philosophy of education. White of Cornell,
Gilman of Johns Hopkins, and Harper of Chicago
were the earliest of that small but powerful group who
have been able to put their hands to the invigorating
and inspiring task of creating a new institution out of
an idea. Eliot of Harvard is the pioneer among those
whose work and pleasure it has been to put a wholly
new and reconstructed modern building upon an old
and highly respected foundation. These men, two of
whom fortunately still live to give us constant coun-
sel and guidance, will occupy the chief places in our
academic Pantheon of the nineteenth century. As
their names are heard it will be recognized -that they
have, each in his own way, helped to establish another
striking characteristic of the office that they adorned
its direct relation to public service and to the instruc-
tion and elevation of public opinion. It is a matter of
just pride to those who have chosen the academic life
and who follow it, that American citizenship and
American scholarship bear upon their rolls such names
as these.

It is worth while to notice the reaching out in other
lands, where universities are much older than with us
and where tradition is less rudely disturbed than is so
often the case here, for the establishment among them
of those academic relationships and responsibilities
that have done such service in America. When the
Ministerialdirektor in the Cultusministerium of Prus-


sia is a sufficiently powerful personality, he is in effect
president not of one Prussian university but of the en-
tire eleven. Shortly before his death I was walking
one summer day in the forest at Wilhelmshohe with
Doctor Friedrich AlthofF, a true ava% avSp&v and one
of the most devoted and efficient administrators of
education that the world has known. Doctor AlthofF
was then, and had been for many years, Ministerial-
direktor in the Prussian Cultusministerium. He asked
a number of questions as to how university business
was transacted in America, as to how responsibility for
certain acts and policies was fixed, and in particular as
to how appointments to important academic posts
were made. When in reply the great variety of meth-
ods for doing all these things in the United States was
described to him at some length, Doctor AlthofF threw
up his hands in despair and said: "Impracticable!
Impossible ! Here I do all that myself, or take care
that it is done." He went on to express the hope that
his life might be spared to work out some plan for the
better organization of the Prussian universities to the
end that, without in any way separating them from the
ultimate and complete control of the state, each uni-
versity might have an administrative head of its own
charged with substantially the same duties as fall to
the lot of a university president in America. In France
the accomplished Liard in Paris, and in Great Britain
the principals of the four Scottish universities, as well
as Michael Sadler at Leeds, Herbert Fisher at Shef-
field, and Sir Henry Miers, just now leaving London


for Manchester, have duties and responsibilities that
are in most respects analogous to those that devolve
upon the university president here. Upon the judicious
and far-sighted use of the opportunities that the office
affords will depend in large measure the influence, the
importance, and the productiveness of the univer-
sities of the world during the next generation or two.
The duties and responsibilities of the office of uni-
versity president may be summed up in very few
words. They are the jealous care and close oversight
of the work and interests of the university taken as a
whole, and the guidance of its relations toward the
public. The statutes of a given university may be
more or less specific in regard to the office of the presi-
dent, and they may intrust to the incumbent of that
office greater or less authority, but the fact remains
that the office will be in chief part what the incumbent
makes it, and the measure of its authority will be the
force of his personality. No autocrat and no self-
seeker can long maintain himself in it. A great office
makes a great man seem greater still by reason of the
opportunity it affords him for the use of his powers; a
great office makes a small man seem smaller still by
reason of the fierce light which it causes to fall upon his
littleness. It is one of the most satisfactory incidents
in the history of the American democracy that it has
brought into existence an important and conspicuous
office whose incumbent is set apart by his very in-
cumbency to represent in our American life the prin-
ciples and ideals upon which universities are built and


for which they exist, and to hold these principles and
these ideals insistently before the public attention.
The man of letters, the experimental scientist, the ac-
complished student of history or of economics, is, by
reason of his university position, under obligation to
represent one aspect of university activity and uni-
versity interest to the public at large. It is the func-
tion of the university president to represent the uni-
versity and that for which it stands in their entirety.
In any large and complex university organization the
wise president will live almost entirely in the future.
The detailed matters of to-day will be dealt with by
others. He, however, will constantly scan the horizon
on the outlook for new problems and new opportu-
nities for scholarship and for service.

Within the university itself it is the proper function
of the president to be the friend and counsellor both of
the scholars who teach and of the scholars who learn.
He has the opportunity and privilege to bring to the
consideration of their several problems and difficulties
the point of view of the whole university, and thereby
to place at the service of each individual teacher and
student who seeks his aid the results of consideration
given elsewhere to similar problems and of experience
in dealing with them that others have had. It is also
his duty to interpret the plans, the policies, and the
needs of the university's teachers and directors of re-
search to such governing body as may exist to hold
and to care for the university's property and to allot
its income in aid of various university undertakings.


All this was clearly understood and admirably stated
by President Gilman when he wrote at the very be-
ginnings of this university these words concerning the
office of the president:

The President of the University is the authorized means of com-
munication between the Board and the various officers of instruc-
tion and administration employed in the University; it shall be his
duty to consult with the Professors in respect to the development
of their various departments, and the general interests of the Uni-
versity; to determine the appropriate duties of the Associates and
Fellows; and to exercise such superintendence over the buildings,
apparatus, books and other property as will ensure their protec-
tion and appropriate use. In respect to these matters and all others
which concern the welfare of the University, he shall consult fre-
quently with the Executive Committee, and he shall attend the
meetings of the Board of Trustees. Purchases, alterations, repairs,
and other incidental expenses must not be ordered by any of the
officers of the University without his previous assent or the expressed
authority of the Board.

Nothing would be more unfortunate than for the
office of university president to cease to be an educa-
tional post and to become merely a business occupa-
tion. Such a change would certainly be followed by
the speedy deterioration of the university's ideals and
by the unconscious commercialization of its methods.
With such a change the reign of the questionnaire
wretched word ! would be abroad in the land, and the
ubiquitous inquisitor, governmental or private, armed
with his measuring-rod, his tape line, and his tables of
statistics, would speedily reduce the university to a
not very desirable form of factory. Systems of cost-


accounting would displace productive scholarship in
furnishing a standard of judgment as to a university's
management and usefulness.

The notion that appears to be held by some that
there is a divergence of interest between those teach-
ers who teach and those teachers who are chosen to
have particular responsibility for the care and support
of teaching is wholly illusory. It is the true function
of educational administration to reduce machinery to
a minimum, to keep it out of sight and as much as
possible out of mind, and as completely as means will
permit to set free the two great and largely interde-
pendent functions of teaching and research.

At no time has the academic career been so impor-
tant as it is to-day, at no time has it ever been so well
compensated, and at no time have those who pursue
it been offered larger opportunities for the exercise of
influence on public opinion. It is now the custom
everywhere in the world to seek the counsel and the
opinion of the professorial class when any matter of
public interest is under consideration or in dispute.
This applies, unfortunately, not only to matters of
which the professorial class have cognizance, but also
to matters of which they know little or nothing. The
result has been to put a new and strange burden upon
professors and to offer a temptation to the assumption
of infallibility that has proved too much for some aca-
demic persons in more lands than one. The per-
formances, both vocal and other, of not a few univer-


sity professors in many countries, including our own,
in connection with the great war in Europe, have
made it seem desirable to many of us to insist upon
dropping the title of Professor and to substitute for it
the less combative Mister.

It is the fashion of the moment not to have any
fixed principles of knowledge or of conduct, but to pro-
fess belief in the capacity and ability of each individ-
ual to make a world philosophy of his own out of such
materials as chance and temperament may provide.
This fashion is quite closely followed just now by
large numbers of those in academic life, and indeed it
is sometimes exalted as the one sure and certain method
of finding an acceptable substitute for truth. There
would appear to be need of a new Socrates who,
whether as gadfly or in some less disagreeable guise,
shall do over again what some of us had supposed was
satisfactorily done once for all during the closing dec-
ades of the stirring fifth century before Christ. It is
a long time since Socrates extracted from Gorgias the
admission that with the ignorant the ignorant man is
more persuasive than he who has knowledge.

One result of so many differing man-made, or pro-
fessor-made, universities is a frequency and variety of
conflict that it would tax the mathematician to enumer-
ate and the historian to classify. The notion that
nothing much that is permanent and worth while has
been either known or accomplished until our own brave
selves came upon the scene makes education difficult


and, from some points of view, impossible. If the
world is to begin over again whenever a new appoint-
ment is made to a professorial chair, it is reasonably
plain that the man in the street will soon dispense with
the services and the guidance of the men of everlasting
beginnings. In much the same way we are now asked
to believe that whenever a callow youth makes a
minute addition to his own stock of information the
sum total of human knowledge has been increased as
the result of scientific investigation. It is just this
mixing up of the individual with the cosmos and of the
morning paper with the history of civilization that is
the weakest point in academic teaching at the present
time, particularly in those subjects which once were
history, economics, politics, ethics, and public law.
Those who remember the striking lectures of Heinrich
von Treitschke, recently discovered by England and
America and now much discussed in both countries,
will recall the fact that he gave but scant attention to
the teaching of the history of Europe and of Germany,
although his chair was supposed to deal with those
subjects. What Von Treitschke really did was to
make lectures on the history of Europe and of Germany
the vehicle for the very effective and emphatic expres-
sion of his own personal opinions on men and things in
the world about him. In some degree, therefore, Von
Treitschke was the forerunner of that now very con-
siderable class of American university professors who
devote no small part of their time to expressing to their


students their own personal views on the politics, the
literature, and the society of the day, while in form
offering instruction on anything from astronomy to
zoology. There is something to be said for the policy
of making academic teaching effective by relating it
to present-day interests and problems, but there is
nothing to be said for turning academic teaching into
an exercise in contemporary journalism. When every
considerable town has its own Napoleon of finance
and every political group its Hamilton or its Jefferson,
there is some danger of getting mixed as to standards.
All these are troubles which have come upon the
professorial class as a result of the public appeal made
to us for an expression of opinion on current topics.
If one be a profound student of Plato he is expected
without warning to pass an illuminating critical judg-
ment upon the latest outgiving of Mr. George Bernard
Shaw. If he happens to be well versed in the economic'
thought of Germany and Austria, he is called upon for
an authoritative expression of opinion regarding the
strike of coal-miners in Colorado. If by any chance
he has ever written a book on any aspect of railway
organization, management, or finance, he runs the
risk of being clapped upon a public commission to
supervise and in part to control the railway systems of
a state or nation. All these are dangers and embar-
rassments to which the alert university professor,
whose name is known in the newspaper offices, is now
constantly subjected. Avoidance of them is possible
only for the sagacious and well-balanced scholar who


knows that no single master-key will unlock all human
doors of difficulty.

One of the chief tools of the present-day academic
conjurer is the blessed word sociology, particularly in
the hands of some one not a trained sociologist. Both
Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer would be not a
little surprised to see what has become of the term
that they fondled so tenderly. It is now stretched to
include everything that can possibly relate to the
diagnosis of social ills as well as everything that can
possibly relate to social therapeutics. Not even the
subtlest of physicists has yet worked out a theory of
the elasticity of gases that is adequate to explain the
potentialities of the word sociology. This word, once
so innocent and so impressive, is now under a cloud
because of its attempt to establish a world-empire.
Poetry and alchemy, science and song, religion and
mythology, philosophy and magic, are all reduced to
mere counters in its great world-game. Naturally
these smaller and ambitious states have become rest-
less and are showing signs of revolt. They wish to be
permitted to live their own lives and not to be made
mere vassals of a mighty overlord who possesses all
knowledge, who wields all power, and who monopolizes
all explanations. Just now law is under attack from a
curious mixture of sentiment and lore that calls itself
sociological jurisprudence, and which I understand to
be a sort of legal osteopathy. We can only await with
some concern the reactions in the appropriate labora-
tories when a sociological physics, a sociological chem-


istry, and a sociological anatomy appear upon the


Of the American university student it must be said
that in far too many instances he is prevented from
getting on as well as he should because he is over-
taught. In particular, he is overlectured. The tra-
ditions of school and college are still strong in the uni-
versities, and the ideal university relations of scholarly
companionship between teacher and taught have diffi-
culty in establishing and in maintaining themselves.
To use or rather to abuse the academic lecture by
making it a medium for the conveyance of mere in-
formation is to shut one's eyes to the fact that the art

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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 5 of 18)