Nicholas Murray Butler.

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

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the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the
way wherein they must walk, and the work that they
must do. ... And it shall be that every great mat-
ter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter
they shall judge themselves; so shall it be easier for
thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee."

More tractable than most sons-in-law, Moses ac-
cepted the good advice of Jethro, and the record tells
that in future Moses refrained from interference with
matters of detail and occupied himself solely with
those of importance.

The distinction between government and adminis-
tration and the principles of good administration could
not be better stated than by Jethro. Government is
the establishment of principles, laws, policies, and ad-
ministration is the carrying out and executing of those
principles, laws, policies. In Columbia University this
distinction has been accepted and acted upon with in-
creasing completeness for thirty years. The records
of the university make plain that before 1887 or there-
about, the trustees concerned themselves not only
with the government of the university but directly
with its administration. Since July I, 1887, however,
and more completely since 1892, the statutes of the
university have put all initiative and virtually com-
plete responsibility for the educational policies and
work of the university in the hands of the university
council and the several faculties. These bodies are, by
their nature, legislative, and the execution of the policies
authorized by them is confided to the president, to


deans, to directors, to secretaries, and to other appro-
priate officers of administration. Democracy in gov-
ernment is understandable and the professed aim and
faith of most modern men. Democracy in administra-
tion, however, is a meaningless phrase. There can be
no democracy in collecting the fares on a street-car,
or in painting a house, or in writing a letter. Vague
and inconsequent writers are, nevertheless, in the
habit of using the nonsensical phrase "democracy in
administration," apparently without appreciation of
the fact that the words are literally nonsense. To dis-
tinguish between government and administration and
then to establish sound principles of administration
are no less important now than in the days of Jethro
and Moses.

The organization of Columbia University is pre-
scribed by the charter, but a reading of the charter
provisions would give no idea of the practical working
of that organization in the present year of grace. The
charter gives the trustees full legal power and author-
ity to direct and prescribe the course of study and the
discipline to be observed. The trustees have, however,
by statutes of their own adoption, long since put the
first of these powers in the hands of the university
council and of the faculties, and the second in the
hands of the president, the deans, and the directors.
There is record of but a single instance since 1892
where any exercise of the powers so committed to the
council or the faculties has been amended or rejected
by the trustees, to whom all such action, if important,


must go for formal approval; and no case of discipline
has been appealed to the trustees since many years
before that date.

The present functions of the trustees, as distinct
from their legal powers and authority, are to care for
the property and funds of the corporation, to erect and
to maintain the buildings necessary for the work of
the university, and to appropriate annually the sums
which in their judgment are necessary and expedient
for the carrying on of the university's work. In ad-
dition, the trustees select and appoint a president and,
following the quaint language of the charter, "such
professor or professors, tutor or tutors to assist the
president in the government and education of the
students belonging to the said college, and such other
officer or officers, as to the said trustees shall seem meet,
all of whom shall hold their offices during the pleasure
of the trustees."

In practice it is only the first of these functions, that
of caring for the property and funds of the corporation,
which the trustees perform without consultation with
other members of the university. In the planning and
erection of new buildings those individuals or groups of
individuals who are to occupy and use any given build-
ing are always consulted as to its plan and arrange-
ment. For at least twenty-five years no appointment
to the teaching staff has been made, with two excep-
tions, save upon the recommendation and advice of
those members or representatives of the teaching staff
most immediately interested. The two exceptions were


cases in which donors of new endowments asked for
specified appointments to the positions which the en-
dowments made possible, submitting in each case am-
ple testimony to the competence of the persons named.
To all teaching positions below the grade of assistant
professor, hundreds in number each year, the power of
appointment is vested in the several faculties. These
appointments are confirmed as a matter of form by
the trustees, but there is no record of any such ap-
pointment having failed of confirmation. It seems
plain, therefore, that for a quarter of a century the
practice at Columbia University has been in accord
with those ideals of university government that put
the largest possible measure of responsibility and
power in the hands of the university teachers, and that
it is probably far in advance of the policy pursued at
most other universities of rank either in Europe or in
the United States.

As the work of university administration becomes
precise and better organized, it is better done. Funds
are by no means adequate to permit the institution of
a thoroughly competent and perfectly organized ad-
ministrative staff in Columbia University, but so far
as means will permit the sound principles of adminis-
tration that have been described are uniformly fol-
lowed. After a policy has once been formulated and
adopted by the appropriate legislative university au-
thority, it is intrusted for execution to an individual.
That individual is chosen for his known competence in
the transaction of business and in dealing with men.


Upon him rests the responsibility, easily fixed when
need be, for the prompt and effective carrying out of
the measures put in his hands.

By the provisions of the charter, all officers of ad-
ministration and instruction are appointed to hold
their offices during the pleasure of the trustees. Use-
ful reflection is invited by the question why it should
usually be considered so normal and so natural for a
teacher to exercise his pleasure to exchange one aca-
demic post for another, while so abnormal and so un-
natural for the governors of an institution of learning
to exercise their pleasure to substitute a more satis-
factory individual teacher for a poorer or less satis-
factory one. It would seem that the phrase "during
the pleasure of the trustees " opened the way to a ter-
mination of academic relationship without any neces-
sary reflection whatever upon the character of the in-
dividual teacher. Indeed, this is precisely the judicial
construction that has been given to these words. In
the case of People ex rel Kelsey v. New York Medical
School, decided in 1898, the Appellate Division of the
Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by
Mr. Justice Barrett, used this language in distinguish-
ing between removal after charges and removal at the
pleasure of the trustees (Appellate Division Reports,
New York, 29:247-8):

The decision of a Board upon charges, after a hearing, cannot
in any proper sense be deemed a manifestation of its pleasure.
The power in the one case is absolute, in the other judicial.


It seems quite reasonable, too, that these alternative powers
should thus have been conferred. It seems equally reasonable that
a majority vote should have been deemed sufficient for removal
at pleasure, while a three-fourths vote should have been required
for a removal upon charges. When a professor is removed at plea-
sure, no stigma attaches to the act of removal. His services are no
longer required and he is told so. That is what in substance such
a removal amounts to. When he is removed upon charges, how-
ever, he is sent out into the professional world with a stain upon
his record. The distinction here is obvious and the intention to
discriminate, just. If a professor misconducts himself, he may be
disciplined. The College in that case deems it improper to give
him an honorable discharge or to permit him to depart with the
impunity attached to a mere causeless dismissal. If, however, its
relations with him are severed merely because he is not liked or
because some one else is preferred, dismissal at pleasure is provided
for. In the latter case, it is reasonable that the majority in the
usual way, should govern an act. If the former, it is just that the
stigma should not be fastened upon the professor without a hear-
ing and a substantial preponderance in the vote. . . .

Upon the other hand, the College should not be tied to a par-
ticular person who, however able and worthy, happens to be
afflicted with temperamental qualities which render association
with him disagreeable. There can be no good reason why such a
person should be permanently inflicted upon his associates, so long
as he does nothing which renders him amenable to charges. . . .
The appointment of a professor is not an appointment to office in
the corporation any more than is the appointment of an instructor.
It is an appointment which implies contractual relations in some
form of which the by-law is the foundation. The professor may
leave at his pleasure; the Board may terminate his professorship
at its pleasure. If the relator's view be correct, the "pleasure" is
his and his alone. It would follow that he has an appointment
which constitutes a unilateral contract of retention at his own
pleasure for life or during good behavior} in other words, a contract


which he alone can specifically enforce and which is entirely de-
pendent upon his individual will. We think this theory is entirely

The sound common sense of this judgment cannot be
gainsaid. It would be little short of a calamity were it
not possible for an academic teacher to change his
place of occupation without thereby reflecting upon
the intelligence or the integrity of those with whom he
had been associated, and similarly if it became im-
possible for the governing board of a school system or
of a school or college to substitute one teacher for an-
other without bringing charges against the person dis-
placed. Any contrary theory assumes a pre-estab-
lished harmony of which not even Leibnitz dreamed
and a pre-established competence which would render
it impossible for any one to be appointed to a teaching
position who was not ipso facto entitled to steady pro-
motion and increase in compensation and to a lifelong
tenure. If advancement and success in the teaching
profession are to depend upon merit and not merely
upon status, there must be clear thinking and definite
action in respect to these matters. Security of tenure
is desirable, but competence and loyalty are more de-
sirable still, and a secure tenure purchased at the
price of incompetence and disloyalty must sound a
death-knell to every educational system or institution
where it prevails. These are all matters of grave im-
portance in the government of an educational system
or an educational institution. They cannot be dis-
missed with phrases or formulas, but must be met and


decided in accordance with sound principle and the
public interest.

Just as seven cities contended for the birthplace ot
Homer, so not fewer than seven American academic
wits are contending for the honor of having originated
the pungent saying: "Academic freedom means free-
dom to say what you think without thinking what
you say." There is no real reason to fear that aca-
demic freedom, whether so defined or otherwise, is or
ever has been in the slightest danger in the United
States. Evidence to the contrary is quite too mani-
fold and too abundant. What is constantly in danger,
however, is a just sense of academic obligation. When
a teacher accepts an invitation to become a member of
an academic society, he thereupon loses some of the
freedom that he formerly possessed. He remains, as
before, subject to the restrictions and the punishments
of the law; but in addition he has voluntarily accepted
the restrictions put upon him by the traditions, the
organization, and the purposes of the institution with
which he has become associated. Try as he may, he
can no longer write or speak in his own name alone.
Were he to succeed in so doing, what he might write
or say would have, in nine cases out of ten, no sig-
nificance and no hearing. What he writes or says gains
significance and a hearing because of the prestige of
the academic society to which he belongs. To that
prestige, with all that that word means, the academic
teacher owes a distinct, a constant, and a compelling


obligation. To maintain one's connection with an aca-
demic society while at war with its purposes or disloyal
to its traditions and organization is neither wise nor
just. No one is compelled to remain in an academic
association which he dislikes or which makes him un-
comfortable. What the ancient Stoic said of life itself
is true of a university: "The door is always open to
any one who has an excuse for leaving."

On the other hand, academic obligation is reciprocal.
The academic society of which the individual teacher is
a member owes to him encouragement, compensation
as generous as its resources will afford, and protection
from unfair attack and criticism, as well as from all
avoidable hamperings and embarrassments in the prose-
cution of his intellectual work. Each individual mem-
ber of an academic society is in some degree a keeper of
that society's conscience and reputation. As such the
society as a whole must give him support, assistance,
and opportunity.

The same type of mind which insists that it knows no
country but humanity, and that one should aim to be a
citizen of no state but only of the world, indulges it-
self in the fiction that one may be disloyal to the aca-
demic society which he has voluntarily joined, in order
to show devotion to something that he conceives to
be higher and of greater value. Both contentions af-
front common sense and are the result of that muddled
thinking which to-day is bold enough to misuse the
noble name of philosophy. One effect of much recent
teaching of what once was ethics is to weaken all sense


of obligation of every kind except to one's own ap-
petites and desire for instant advantage. That eco-
nomic determinism which is confuted every time a
human heart beats in sympathy and which all history
throws to the winds has in recent years obtained
much influence among those who, for lack of a more
accurate term, call themselves intellectuals. These are
for the most part men who know so many things which
are not so that they make ignorance appear to be
not only interesting but positively important. They
abound just now in the lower and more popular forms
of literary production, and they are not without rep-
resentation in academic societies.

The time has not yet come, however, when rational
persons can contemplate with satisfaction the rule of
the literary and academic Bolsheviki or permit them
to seize responsibility for the intellectual life of the

Neglect of one's academic obligation, or carelessness
regarding it, gives rise to difficult problems. Men of
mature years who have achieved reputation enough to
be invited to occupy a post of responsibility in a uni-
versity ought not to have to be reminded that there is
such a thing as academic obligation and that they fall
short in it. It is humiliating and painful to find, with
increasing frequency and in different parts of the coun-
try, men in distinguished academic posts who choose
to act in utter disregard of the plainest dictates of
ethics and good conduct. It is fortunate indeed that,
however conspicuous are instances of this disregard,


they are in reality negligible in number when compared
with the vast body of loyal, devoted, and scholarly
American academic teachers. It is noticeable, too,
that instances of this lack of a sense of obligation
rarely arise, if ever, in the case of those men whose in-
tellectual occupations bring them in contact with real
things. It is only when a man is concerned chiefly
with opinions and views, and those opinions and views
of his own making, that he finds and yields to the
temptation to make his academic association the foot-
ball of his own ambitions or emotions.

It is important, too, that academic teachers shall
not be so absorbed in their own individual work as not
to give thought and care to the larger problems and
interests of the academic society to which they belong.
No part of a university system is without experience
that is of value in helping to meet satisfactorily the
questions that arise in other parts. The professor of
law who is interested in the work of the law school
alone, or the professor of engineering, of medicine, or of
classical philology, who cannot find time or induce-
ment to concern himself with questions affecting the
entire university, or those parts of it that are foreign
to his immediate field of interest, is doing only half
his academic duty. No formula can be suggested for
improving these conditions. They will be removed
only by patiently pointing out, year after year, what
the words obligation, loyalty, and duty mean, and by
refusing to let them all be transmuted either into labels
for ancient superstitions or names for various forms


of personal advantage. In order to keep confidence
in the ultimate achievement of a university's aim, and
in order to avoid discouragement at the slow progress
that is making, one may take comfort in the saga-
cious saying of Schiller: "Let no man measure by a
scale of perfection the meagre product of reality."

One of the unsatisfactory aspects of the relations be-
tween the individual teacher and his college or uni-
versity lies in the procedure, or rather lack of pro-
cedure, that is followed when a person teaching in one
institution is sought by the authorities of another. It
appears to give some teachers no qualms of conscience
to receive and to consider an invitation from another
institution without discussing this with colleagues or
administrative authorities of the institution which they
are serving, or even without revealing it to them. In
fact, there is a certain surreptitiousness about the
tendering and accepting invitations to pass from one
college or university to another that is not creditable
either to those who tender the invitations or to those
who receive and either accept or reject them. A high
standard of professional honor and professional obliga-
tion would seem to require that an institution which
wishes to tender an invitation to an officer of profes-
sorial rank elsewhere, should advise the president of the
sister institution of that fact; and similarly that when
it is desired to tender an invitation to an officer of less
than professorial rank, advice of that fact should be
sent to the head of the department of the college or


university in which the person in question is serving.
Academic officers are very quick to resent being in-
vited to withdraw from service, no matter how serious
the reason, but many of them have no compunctions
whatever in deserting their assigned work on short
notice, or on no notice at all, in order either to accept
service in another institution, or to enter upon a prof-
itable business undertaking, or to give expression to
their emotions. There can be no serious standards of
professional conduct in the calling of academic teacher
until matters like these are regarded as important and
are given their place as controlling influences in shap-
ing conduct.


From the Annual Report as president of Columbia University,
June 30, 1920


Few things are more noticeable in much current
writing and discussion than the twisting of well-known
terms from their accustomed meanings. This twisting
is quite often done consciously and for purposes of
propaganda. Perhaps no word in the English language
has suffered more from this ill treatment than the fine
word liberal. The historic and familiar significance of
this term is that which is worthy of a free man, of one
who is open-minded and candid, of one who is open to
the reception of new ideas. In this sense the thought
which lies behind the word liberal has dominated
every really progressive theory of education from the
time of Plato to the present day. Just now, however,
the word liberal is widely used as though it were sy-
nonymous with queer, odd, unconventional, otherwise-
minded, in perpetual opposition. There was a time
when in the neighborhood of Boston the test of liber-
alism was the rejection of the Andover Creed, and
possibly the rejection of the Apostles' Creed itself.
Many would include among liberals those who favor
all sorts of social, industrial, and governmental tyr-
anny, which are by their very nature incompatible with
liberty. An enemy of the family and an experimenter
with what is called trial marriage is now called a
liberal. The person who would destroy government
and substitute for the political state of free men a



close-working combination of industrial autocracies is
called a liberal. One who sneers at the religious faith
or the political convictions of others, and takes care
that his attitude is publicly advertised, is called a lib-
eral. Under such circumstances it is plainly necessary
to look to one's definitions. The aim of the school, the
college, and the university has often been described as
that of making liberal-minded men and women; but
surely this need not be interpreted to include freaks,
oddities, revolutionaries, and those whose conduct
carries them close to the border-line which, if crossed,
would require them to be put in confinement in the in-
terest of social welfare and social safety.

The truly liberal man or woman will be self-dis-
ciplined, and will aim to make knowledge the foundation
of wisdom, to base conduct upon fixed character, and
to maintain an even temper at difficult times. Con-
sidering the conditions of the time in which they lived,
the ancient Stoics give us some admirable examples of
what is truly meant by a liberal. We cannot afford to
let this word be lost or to have it stolen before our eyes.
Its application should be denied to those individuals
and those traits for which it is wrongly claimed, and
its true definition and use should be insisted upon
everywhere and at all times. Otherwise, we shall have
to find some other definition of the aim of education
than that of making liberal men and women.

It would be idle to ignore the fact that there is wide-
spread public dissatisfaction with the results of present-
day education. Horace Greeley's famous classification


of college graduates with horned cattle is too often
quoted with approving sarcasm. The mounting cost of
education, both tax-supported and other, and its di-
verse competing forms are increasingly attracting un-
favorable public attention and increasingly arousing
sharp public criticism. The qualifications of those who
teach are not always spoken of with approbation. In
the past it has been usual to assume that whatever is
done in the name of education, like that which is done
in the name of philanthropy or religion, is of necessity
well and deservingly done and is to be supported with-
out murmur. There are, however, too many signs that
education does not satisfactorily educate to justify or
even to insure a longer continuance of this uncritical
acquiescence. What is the trouble ?

Perhaps a hint of where to look for an answer may

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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 9 of 18)