Nicholas Murray Butler.

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

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of printing has been discovered. The proper use of
the lecture is the critical interpretation by the older
scholar of the information which the younger scholar
has gained for himself. Its object is to inspire and to
guide and by no means merely to inform.

Indeed, there is some reason to doubt whether the
undue dominance and prominence of the didactic
point of view in the modern university is altogether
an advantage. The happy days at Bologna when the
students and their rector managed the university,
when professorial punctuality was enforced by fines,
and when the familiar professorial practice of dwelling
unduly on the earlier parts of a subject to the neglect
of the later parts was checked by the expedient of
dividing a topic into puncta and requiring the doctor
to reach each punctum by a specified date, certainly


had much to commend them. Then it was the stu-
dents who made the rules and disciplined their teach-
ers; now it is the teachers who make the rules and dis-
cipline their students.

The chief object of the university's teaching, of its
libraries and its laboratories, is after all to arouse in-
tellectual interest, to stimulate curiosity, and to send
out a young man on his voyage of discovery filled with
ardent enthusiasm, enriched by close association with
wise and noble-hearted men, and imbued with the high
ambition to make the most of himself and of his chosen
field of study. If even the most numerously attended
university can do this for a hundred men each year,
and if five of the hundred become distinguished and
one of the five eminent, that university has been suc-
cessful. It has done a noteworthy service to American
life, to scholarship, and to science.


Address delivered at Swarthmore College, November 14, 1902


Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1820 the Amer-
ican college, as the term is traditionally used and pop-
ularly understood, came into existence. Before 1820
it would be difficult to distinguish the college, except
perhaps in two or three instances, from the secondary
school of familiar form to-day, the high school or
academy. This college uniformly (so far as I know)
gave a four-year course of instruction in prescribed
studies. The students came at the age of fifteen or
sixteen and were graduated at nineteen or twenty.
They were disciplined carefully in a narrow intel-
lectual field, and it did most of them great good.
They were obliged to do many things they did not
like in ways not of their own choosing, and they gained
in strength and fibre of character thereby. Ambitious
boys who looked forward to law or theology, and often
to medicine too, as a professional career, sought the
college training and college association as a basis and
groundwork for their later studies and their active
careers. For the most part they acquitted themselves
well, and the sort of training that the college gave
commended itself to the intelligent people of the coun-
try. The nation was young and crude in those days,
and it was pushing far out into new and unbroken
territory. It had rivers to bridge, forests to hew, fields



to clear and to sow, homes to build, States to found.
That was a noble era of creative industry. Life was
often hard and luxuries were few. Yet the college went
wherever the population broke a way for it. Eleven
colleges were founded before the Revolution,* and
12 between 1783 and 1800; no fewer than 33 came
into existence during the thirty years that followed,
and 1 80 between 1830 and the close of the Civil War.
Many of those founded before 1830 were in the newly
broken territory. Two were in western Pennsylvania,
5 in Ohio, 3 in Kentucky, i in Tennessee, I in Indi-
ana, 3 in Illinois, and I in Missouri. These colleges
differed from each other in many ways, but they
agreed in that they conferred one degree at the con-
clusion of the course, that of bachelor of arts, for sub-
stantially the same kind and amount of work. Post-
graduate studies, so called, were almost or quite un-
known, and the completion of a college course was the
attainment of a liberal education, as the phrase goes.
Judged by to-day's rigorous and exacting standards of
scholarship, the graduates of these colleges did not
know very much. Nevertheless, their minds were
carefully trained by devoted teachers, sometimes men
of rare genius and human insight, and they loved
letters for their own sake. They grew in manhood
and came out of the college halls full of ardor in the
pursuit, of high ideals.

It was this sort of institution which gave the Amer-
ican college its reputation and which put into the de-
gree of A. B. the valued significance which it has now


so largely lost. Latin, Greek, and mathematics were
the only subjects a knowledge of which was required
for entrance to this college. The Latin included gram-
mar, four books of Caesar's Commentaries, six books of
Vergil's JEneid, and six orations of Cicero. The
Greek included grammar, three books of Xenophon's
Anabasis, and two of Homer's Iliad. The mathe-
matics included arithmetic, a portion of plane geom-
etry, and algebra as far as quadratic equations. These
subjects the boy mastered in school or academy or by
private tuition; everything else that he learned was in
the college course. Many of the weaker and less for-
tunate colleges gave some, or even nearly all, of this
instruction themselves.

The college course, properly so called, was made up
of more Latin, Greek, and mathematics, some English
literature and rhetoric, a little logic, a little political
economy, a little moral philosophy, and, usually, a lit-
tle mental philosophy or metaphysics. Occasionally
chemistry crept in; more often a combination of me-
chanics and physics called natural philosophy. His-
tory, unless it was ancient history, played a small part,
and the modern European languages were rarely in-

This institution, with the requirements for admission
that I have named, with the course of study that I
have outlined, the students being (usually) from six-
teen to twenty years of age, is the college which dis-
tinguishes the American educational system from that
of Europe. The degree that it gave is the A. B. de-


gree of the golden age to which one hears such con-
tinual harking back. What has become of this insti-
tution, the American college ?

The college, or academical department, embedded in
the great universities of to-day, is the lineal descendant
of the old college, but strangely unlike its ancestor.
Even the separate and independent college the small
college, as it is called is in many ways very different
from the older institution of the same name. The
changes and improvements of the past fifty years have
removed many of the old educational landmarks and
rearranged many of the old elements of secondary and
collegiate instruction. To speak to-day in the terms of
fifty years ago, without marking carefully the changes
in the meaning of those terms, is to talk nonsense.

Almost the only colleges which retain the character-
istics of the old, traditional type are those which have
been without the means to respond favorably to the
influences which have destroyed that type. The small
college with low standards of admission to a four-year
course is closer to the American college of history and
of rhetoric than is any other.

But if the old college itself has disappeared, the ideal
for which it stood remains. That ideal was to train
men roundly, thoroughly, and well for manly and worthy
living. Their spirits were to be furnished, not their
pockets filled, by a course of study and training which
fell just at the right period of their lives, and by close
and intimate association with others having aims
similar to their own. No purpose could be more lofty


than this, none more practical among a democratic

What the old college used to do in four years to this
end is now done in part by the new college and in part
by the secondary school. Four years are still required
to complete the traditional course of study in the
liberal arts and sciences, but the whole four years are
no longer passed under one institutional roof. Taking
Columbia College as a standard, one half of the old
college's work, measured in terms both of time and of
content, is done by the secondary school and the re-
sults are tested by the college admission examination.
This change has come about by the general raising of
the requirements for admission, both in quantity and
in quality, which has gone on at most colleges since
1860. These requirements for admission have been
raised because the country has been better served by
having the earlier part of the work formerly done in
college transferred to the secondary schools. So trans-
ferred this work has been brought within the reach of
tens of thousands of boys who could never have left
home to get it, and who could never have entered upon
a four-year college course for lack of means. In 1898
only one third of the nearly twenty thousand boys
who were graduated from the public high schools
looked forward to a course in a college or a scientific
school, and only 7.18 per cent of all the boys in the
public high schools were preparing for a college course
of the old type. If they had had to depend upon the
college alone for their liberal studies, they would have


known nothing of them. Moreover, secondary-school
teaching nowadays compares very favorably with
college teaching. The best secondary schools have
scholarly teachers, well-furnished libraries, and well-
equipped laboratories that many a college might well
envy. Some of the newer subjects are, on the whole,
taught better in the high schools than in many colleges.

These are my reasons for believing that the change
which has raised the requirements for admission to col-
lege is a good one and a permanent one.

While this change has been taking place, the colleges
have for the most part drifted. Too few of them have
followed clearly conceived and persistently executed
policies. Most of them have been simply played upon
by forces from without, and these forces have been re-
ceived with varying degrees of stubbornness. Hence
the chaos of standards and of degrees which exists at
this moment. Where the requirements for admission
have been raised since 1860 by two years of work and
where the course of study in college is still four years
long, there is a six-year course in the liberal arts and
sciences in the place of the old four-year course.
Where the requirements for admission have been
raised, and the years spent in college lessened by one,
there is a five-year course in the liberal arts and sciences
in place of the old four-year course. Where the re-
quirements for admission have been raised and a
four-year course in college maintained, one or two
years of which are given to professional studies, there
is left a four-year or a five-year course (as the case


may be) in the liberal arts and sciences, and the de-
gree of A. B. is no longer given wholly for work in arts,
but for work partly in arts and partly in professional
studies. In some cases the phrase liberal arts and
sciences is interpreted broadly, in some narrowly.
Often an attempt is made to distinguish between the
older group of college studies and the newer ones, and
degrees of bachelor of letters, science, and philosophy
have been introduced to mark the completion of the
courses other than the traditional one.

Some or all of these changes and developments may
be decided improvements upon the older order of things,
but the point I wish to make is that the results are not
colleges or college courses as those words were once
used. Discussions of the new in terms of the old are
futile and misleading unless the terms employed are
carefully distinguished and defined. In current dis-
cussions and debates about the place and value of the
college there is easily noticeable a good deal of un-
conscious juggling with words and an equally notice-
able lack of acquaintance with the facts as they are.
It is a perfectly defensible position to hold that even
with the raised requirements for admission the college
course should still be four years in length, but this
position must not be defended by appeals to the old
college and its standards. The supporter of this
position is not a conservative; he is a radical innovator
who holds that a six-year course is now necessary in
order to lay the basis for professional studies and to
make the preparation for life for which four years for-


merly sufficed. He must defend his new plan and must
prove that it promotes scholarship, strengthens char-
acter, and increases the influence and the usefulness of
the college in our democratic society. If he can do
these things I, for one, will throw in my lot with him
without hesitation. If he cannot prove his case, then
I prefer to pursue the old ideal along established lines
by methods adapted to our new knowledge and our
wider experience.

As I view the facts, the traditional American college
is disappearing before our eyes, and will, unless the
disintegrating influences are checked, disappear en-
tirely in another generation or two. What we shall
have left will be either an agreeable finishing school,
or country club, for the sons of the well-to-do, or a
combination of academy and school of general science.
This, again, may be a good thing; and it may, on the
whole, be a gain rather than a loss to assimilate our
educational system to those of continental Europe by
eliminating the college as the connecting-link between
secondary school and university. But those who so
hold must not argue in the name of the college which
they would destroy. They must defend the early
specialization involved in putting or rather in keep-
ing the professional and technical schools right on
top of the secondary school. They must defend the
transformation of the American college into a univer-
sity faculty of philosophy. It is because I do not be-
lieve that either defense can be successful that I differ
with those who attempt these things, and prefer to


make a struggle to retain the American college as

The two most active and dangerous foes of the Amer-
ican college to-day appear to me to be those who regard
a secondary-school training as adequate preparation for
professional and technical study in a university, and
those who, mistaking the form for the substance, in-
sist that the course of collegiate study must be four
years or nothing, unless it be that an especially hard-
working student is permitted to squeeze four years'
work into three.

The former sacrifice the ideal to the commercial and
the material, and make every school of law, medicine,
divinity, and technology in the land a competitor of
the college. The college cannot stand that sort of
competition indefinitely, and our life will be the poorer
and the narrower if it goes.

The latter, by transforming the college into a uni-
versity, at least for the latter half of its course, not only
radically alter the college training and the college de-
gree considered as ends in themselves, but also put
the college in a position where it is economically im-
possible and, from the view-point of social service and
educational effectiveness, unwise to require the com-
pletion of its course as a prerequisite to professional
and technical study. In only four professional schools
has this been done, two schools of law and two schools
of medicine; and already, I am told, expressions of
dissatisfaction, or incomplete satisfaction, with the re-
sult are heard. The fact that the policy is indefensible


is clearly shown by the tendency to permit so-called
college students to pursue professional studies for one
or two years of the undergraduate course. This is an
elaborate evasion of the issue, and one by which the
degree of A. B. is made either meaningless as an arts
degree or else one given for the completion of a two
or a three year course in the liberal arts and sciences,
and not for one of four years.

Again I say that these new conditions may conceiv-
ably be better than those which they displace. But, if
so, the American college is gone and in its place has
come a new and different institution, no matter what
its name, and the baccalaureate degree is hereafter to
be a university and not a college degree. It seems to
me to be perfectly clear that in this case the small
college will eventually disappear utterly, even though
the name survives. The collegiate or academical de-
partment of a university will continue in a position of
increasing insignificance save where maintained for
a longer or a shorter time by special causes as an
American shadow of a German faculty of philosophy.

Probably few or none of us wish for any such develop-
ment as this. Least of all is it wished for by those who
insist so strongly upon the maintenance, at all haz-
ards, of a four-year college course and the existing
standards of admission; yet it is the almost certain re-
sult of the policy which they are now pressing upon us.
Mistaking words for things, they are striking heavy
blows at that which they would like to protect. They
should realize the force of the statement of Francis


Wayland, even truer now than when made sixty years
ago: "There is nothing magical or imperative in the
term of four years, nor has it any natural relation to a
course of study. It was adopted as a matter of ac-
cident; and can have, of itself, no important bearing
on the subject in hand."

I want to retain the college not alone as the vestibule
to the university where scholars are trained and where
men master the elements of the professional knowl-
edge required in the practice of law, medicine, teaching,
engineering, and other similar callings, but as the
school wherein men are made ready for the work of
life. If the college is wisely guided these next twenty-
five years, its students who are looking forward to
active business careers after graduation ought far to
exceed in number those who choose scholarship or a
learned profession as a career. For such students the
college will be all in all; and with no university course
or professional school to look forward to, the college
will be the one centre of their academic memories and
affections. But to draw such students and to hold
them in large numbers, and so to impress itself upon
the country as effectively in the future as in the past,
the college must be really a college and leave off try-
ing to be a university. This means that it must come
back into its own natural and most useful place.

Plans to bring this about have been proposed. Most
of them aim at shortening the time devoted to the
course of the new college, and so at getting rid of one
or two of the extra years that have been put on to the


course in liberal arts and sciences since 1860. The
reasons why any lowering of the standard of admis-
sion to college would be against the public interest, I
have already stated. Three different plans of getting
through with the college course in three years instead
of in four have been suggested. The first is to reduce
the amount of work required for the degree so that it
can be readily completed in three years. This is the
plan at Harvard College, where the twenty-one courses
required for the A. B. degree in 1880 have been dis-
placed by a requirement of seventeen and one-half
courses, one and one-half of which may be anticipated
at entrance. The second is to permit a student to take
four years' work in three, if physically and mentally
competent to do so. This plan seems to me objection-
able, in that it throws upon the student rather than
upon the college the necessity of meeting a new and
involved educational situation. It also tempts some
men to overwork, others to loaf.

The third plan, and the one which commends itself
to my judgment, is to recast and remodel the college
course entirely on a two-year or a three-year basis ac-
cording to the standard set and upheld for admis-
sion. The existing four-year course cannot be squeezed
and pulled into a two-year or a three-year shape. It
cannot be offered to one student on one set of con-
ditions and to others on another set. There must be
an entire reconstruction, and the new course, whether
it occupy two years or three, must have a unity, a pro-
portion, and a definiteness of its own. It must be a


pyramid with a new altitude, and not the old pyramid
truncated. It must be built of the best of the old
bricks with plenty of new ones added thereto.

It should be borne in mind, too, that, contrary to the
hypothesis of some critics, the new and shortened col-
lege course is not at all the result of the widely preva-
lent tendency to hurry or to "hustle," nor is it sug-
gested only by the needs of the professional schools
in the great universities. It will, I think, displace the
longer course because it is intellectually, ethically,
and educationally better. It will train better men and
render greater public service than will the present
spun-out four-year course with its inclusion of almost
every subject of study known to man. There is no
more obvious psychological fallacy than to suppose
that the longer the time spent in getting an education,
the better the results. The chances are that the con-
trary is true. Habits of dawdling, drifting, and incom-
plete and unconcentrated attention persisted in from
sixteen or eighteen to twenty or twenty-two years of
age will weaken any but the very strongest minds and
characters. Less time better used is a useful motto
for the colleges to adopt.

In the reconstruction which is just beginning, in the
effort to get back the American college and to keep it,
much depends upon enforcing a sound and helpful
standard for admission to college. This has been, and
in many cases is yet, the most difficult part of the
problem to deal with. But the progress of the past
few years is astonishing and full of promise. Co-


operation between colleges and between colleges and
schools has given us the College Entrance Examination
Board, whose uplifting and steadying influence is felt
everywhere. Through it the secondary schools learn
what to aim at, and the colleges learn what to expect
and insist upon. The enormous educational advan-
tages of an examination are gained, while the difficul-
ties and dangers of examinations which repress and
depress good teaching are reduced to a minimum.

It will be seen, therefore, that I am hopeful that or-
der is to come out of the present chaos, that the real
facts of the existing complicated situation will be rec-
ognized, and that an educational reconstruction can
be effected that will save the college for a new period
of service to the highest ideals of the American people.


From the Annual Report as president of Columbia University,
June 30, 1910


The large increase in compensation to the teaching
staff which has been made during the last few years
has done inestimable good. The money spent upon
these advances in compensation, representing as it does
the annual income at 4 per cent on about three million
dollars, is one more evidence of the generous and
thoughtful care which the trustees have exhibited
from the earliest days of King's College for the com-
fort and satisfaction of the teaching staff. It is doubt-
ful whether ever before any similar action of equal
magnitude has been taken by those charged with the
government of a university. Indeed, while much re-
mains to be done to adjust salaries to the new stand-
ards and cost of living, it may fairly be said that the
happenings of the past decade have made the lot of a
member of the permanent teaching staff of Columbia
University one that is indeed fortunate. In addition to
the enjoyment of the privilege of devoting several
months each year to rest, recreation, or private study
and writing, he has been relieved of much drudgery
and routine work that were formerly laid upon him;
he has in very many cases been advanced in compensa-
tion from 20 to 50 per cent; he has been given the privi-
lege of leave of absence during half of every seventh

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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 6 of 18)