Copyright
William Rainey Harper.

The trend in higher education online

. (page 7 of 24)
Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperThe trend in higher education → online text (page 7 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be given the student for the freest play of individual
choice. And by so doing evils for which no remedy
exists may often be avoided.

A prominent president of a university in the
eastern states has uttered a teaching which in this
day and generation is indeed astonishing. It is to
this effect: The purpose of the university in its
dealings with its students is to impose upon each of
them a like impression ; to remove the individualities



96 THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

of the students, and to send them out as if all had
been formed in a given mold. We cannot possibly
count the cost of the waste such a policy would oc-
casion; and yet this is the poUcy of a large majority
of our institutions.
y The second point of wastage in the internal
adjustment of the higher education to the student is
the use of methods not well adapted to the needs of
students who are of different stages of development,
or who have different needs. A good deal of high-
school work is being done in the junior and senior
years of the college and university. These lower
methods having once been adopted by the instruc-
tor, at a time when, perhaps, he was engaged as a
high-school teacher, they are still employed to the
great injury of the college man, who ought to have
risen far above them. The departments in which this
waste is most common are the departments of Htera-
ture and history, as well as those deahng with lan-
guage. The waste is probably greatest in the teaching
of the classics; and here it has become so conspicu-
ous as to bring reproach upon this department. The
teachers of the classics are themselves in large meas-
ure to blame for any reaction which may have set
in against this subject.

In many instances the use made of the laborator)'
method involves great waste. It is undoubtedly
true that every college student should have a severe
and rigorous laboratory training in one or more
subjects of science; but it does not follow that he



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION 97

must learn the laboratory technique of every subject
of which he may desire some knowledge. If he is
to do his Hfe-work in some field of science, this may
be expected ; but if not, it is a waste of time to require
him to perfect himself in all the detail of the labora-
tory, in every subject which he may wish to study.
T he opportunity must be given the general student
to become. informed upon the princijxles, and more
important facts of some subjects, without spending
all of the time at his disposal upon the merel^MmLe-
chanical side.

Teachers of science are, sad to say, now doing
just what teachers of the classics have been doing
for many years, and just what has made the study
of the classics so distasteful to many students; that
is, they are dealing with the student in each depart-
ment as if he were going to make a specialty of that
department; in other words, they are doing their
work as if with a professional student. This is
distinctly injurious, not only to many students, but
as well to the departments concerned.

Another source of waste closely related to the
kind just spoken of is found in the work of many
of our doctors of philosophy, especially those who
have spent two or three years in the universities of
Europe. These men and women, many of them
comparatively young, and many of them without
experience as teachers, are given teaching in the
lower college classes. After three or four years
spent in the work of research, they seem to ignore



98 THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

the fact that there is any other kind of work, or that
there is any other method of work than that employed
by the most advanced students. They therefore
employ university methods with freshmen and sopho-
mores, and the result is an utter waste of energy and
time, both for the student and his instructor. When,
now, we add to this the insane purpose manifested
by some of them (especially those who have been in
Germany) to Germanize everything with which they
come into relation — a purpose that has grown out
of the novelty of their German experience, and the
youthful desire to advocate something not exclu-
sively American — we have a combination of evils to
which may be traced a very considerable amount of
waste. So common has this evil become that in
some of the larger institutions a man who has taken
his degree in a foreign university is not even consid-
ered as a candidate for appointment until he has
had opportunity to get a new perspective by having
had three or four years of work at home again. We
are sometimes told that the college life spoils many
men who otherwise would have been useful. This
is true. It is also true that many a good man and
woman have received great injury from their Ger-
man experience. After a while, in most cases, the
injurious influence disappears, and then the real and
great value of the experience is seen; but in the
meanwhile the work of such men and women, unless
closely observed and directed, will mean loss for
those with whom it is done in the lower classes.



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION 99

The third source of waste in t he ad justment of j he
highere^cation t o the student is the lack of prop er"
and effective correlation in the different subjectsoT



the college curriculum. If a student does work m a
particular subject or department, without knowing
the various connections of that subject or depart-
ment, its relationship to other subjects or depart-
ments, he loses at least one-half the profits of the
course. If a student does work in one subject after
another and in one department after another, with-
out discovering the interrelationship of the other
subjects or departments, and all the while conceives
these subjects and departments as distinct entities
without relationship, he loses far more than one-half
the value of his work.

I am incHned to think that more than half of the
students who leave college are as ignorant as babes
of the organic and logical relation which exists
between the various courses in the ordinary curricu-
lum. The division of the work into technical
departments is an artificial and misleading one,
but it is so fixed that, like the letter of the sacred
Scriptures, it is by many supposed to be a part of the
original creation itself. This vitiates in a greater
or less degree the value of the entire college disci-
pline, for it is the relationships of thought, and of
life that a man ought to know, if he is to know any-
thing. Not to know something of this is to be in
possession only of scattered and impractical pieces
of information; to have no basis or foundation on



loo THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

which to build one's own system of thought and
thinking; to have the various parts of a machine
without the abiUty to put them together. The fact
that the parts cost much more than would be asked
for the entire machine put together, but that until
they are put together they are of no use, is what
makes the waste.

We hayelalready considered waste in the prepa-
ration for the higher educatibri, waste mTEe machin-
ery of it, and waste in the adjustment of it to the
student in general. We must now consider waste
in the. adjustment of it to the student in particular.
Under this head the three points which seem to me
to suggest important problems, each of which stands
related to this question of waste, are: the presence
in the college of men who are not helped toward hfe
by the college work; the results of the free elective
system, with lack of careful supervision; the inter-
migration of students from necessity and from
desire.

As to the first point, I take it for granted that
scholarship is not the only factor which enters into
a successful college hfe. There is much else for
which one should strive, and much else the posses-
sion of which, even without scholarship, is a suffi-
cient gain for the expenditure of time and money
involved in a college course. But even with this
broad interpretation, the college course is one from
which many who enter upon it receive injury, rather
than benefit. As to how many actually are thus



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION- loi ;

injured a definite answer cannot,/ o? cpjur^e. beii ', > •,
given, though it is safe to say that the proportion
is much larger than supposed. In every such case
there is distinct waste, on the part both of the man
and of the institution. The number of those who
drop out, in spite of the most strenuous efforts to
retain them, is, in part, evidence of this statement;
for in these days no strong and worthy man is com-
pelled to give up college training for lack of means. ■'
Many men pull through the college course by the
hardest kind of work, because of the pressure of
friends who themselves feel, and who succeed in
making the student feel, that he will disgrace thein^
and himselljf he does. not finish the traditional and
•^erieotyped four-year course. Many institutions re-
tain on theiFTSlTs'lliLldentS'^who by no means fulfil
their requirements; and at last graduate them with
the degree, although it is known that in so doing
the institution is stultifying itself, and inflicting a
grave injury on those who have earned the right to
receive the degree. What is the proportion? I
should not be surprised if, when all the facts are col-
lected, it should prove true that lo or 20 per cent, of
those who go out from colleges had better never have
been entered; better, I mean, for the men's own sake
as well as for that of the institution. It would be
impossible, however, to gather the data on which to
base an accurate statement. This is a serious waste,
and yet one which might in large measure be avoided.
Ifoniy it were possible to leave the college honorably^—*



iq2 THJ! TR^l^D IN HIGHER EDUCATION

a§:ex, saj^;JvijQ_j.earsi, i. -e., at the end of thrsopho-

inore'year, many men would go out to take up life's

work in some department in which they would

achieve success, rather than linger along in jcoUege

" without profit, and with distinct injury, until it is too

4ate to take up serious work in another line. If the

colleges would do their full duty and drop from their

number those wHo had no business to be retained,

"good would be done these men and waste would be

avoided.

My second point here is that the results of an
elective system which has not been carefully super-
vised show that such a system is another cause of
waste. I suppose that even the most ardent advo-
cates of electives will grant that, Hke all systems, it
should be carefully guarded and directed if it is to
give the best results. Thus in the smaller colleges
there is waste- because the system is not sufficiently
developed; in the larger institutions the waste occurs
because the student does not receive sufficient as-
sistance in making out his schedule of study. But
with the time at my disposal I may not enlarge upon
this point but must pass to the third subject — the
intermigration of students from necessity and desire.
It frequently happens that a student is compelled
to leave one college and go to another. This change
is made necessary in many instances by the removal
of parents, by the exigencies of climate, and by vari-
ous other circumstances. In other cases,^ however,
a student desires to make such a change, even



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION 103

though it be not absolutely necessary. This desire
usually grows out of the feehng that a change would
in itself be beneficial, or that in a different environ-
ment something helpful might be secured. This
tendency to intermigrate is especially noticeable
among graduate students; and in their case it is
more easily accompHshed.

In favor of such intermigration in the earlier years
of college hfe nothing can be said. The change from
the high school or preparatory school to the freshman
class is, as a matter of fact, a case of intermigration,
and one which often is injurious to the student.
The change should come at the end of the sophomore
year. But, leaving aside the first two years, or sup-
posing that the first years have been spent in an
institution near one's home and in close touch with
a preparatory institution, it is a question of vital
importance whether for one of the later years, at
least, a change from one institution to another
would not prove highly beneficial. I can readily
imagine the objections which could be urged, but,
in spite of these, I would ask whether, considering
everything, a student would not be broader and
stronger if he divided his college course between two . ../.
institutions ? This transfer, if it could be arranged ?
without loss of actual time, would make it possible to \
avoid a certain stagnation of interest, which after a
year or two comes to many of the very best students. ]
In any case, it will be advantageous for a student to |
pursue his professional or graduate studies in some



104 THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Other than the institution in which his undergraduate
work was done.

It would be worth our while in this connection to
study the graduate membership of some of our lead-
ing universities. I have in mind one, for instance,
in which two-thirds of all the graduate students are
bachelors of the institution in which they are doing
their graduate work. This is wise neither for the
student nor for the university. The greatest gain
would follow the policy of students' moving about,
from South to North, from East to West, and West
to East. But at the present such intermigration is
very difficult because the lack of understanding and
of co-operation between institutions discourages it.
The failure of leading universities to co-operate
closely with each other, especially in New England,
has been the occasion of loss and injury to the cause
of higher education, which it is impossible to com-
pute; and in this matter of intermigration, a foolish
independence and selfishness prevail, that seem
wholly unworthy of the high cause in which uni-
versities are engaged.

From the subject of waste resulting from the
adjustment of the machinery of the higher education
to the students in general and in particular, we shall
take up now waste as it is related to the work of
instructors. What the instructor does is, after all,
the key to the whole situation in the field of the
higher education, and much — one is tempted to
say everything — depends upon his work. An ob-



WASTE m HIGHER EDUCATION 105

server, even if he be not a close observer, will find
waste going on in the administration of our higher
institutions, which may be charged (i) to the usage
of retaining in ofl&ce men and women who are incom-
petent; (2) to the policy of requiring too much work
in the classroom of instructors; (3) to the failure to
make proper financial provision for the support of
instructors.

Of the many sins which are, or are supposed to
be, chargeable to the account of higher institutions
the greatest, and the most grievous, is that of retain-
ing men and women in ofiice who are incompetent.
Instances of this occur when the instructor con-
cerned, at one time perhaps entirely successful, has
through illness or old age reached a physical condi-
tion which makes it impossible to render the service
demanded. Here sentiment comes in, and the
instructor is permitted to go on from year to year, to
the injury of those who are compelled to sit under his
instruction.

In other cases influence of one kind or another
retains an instructor in a position which he was
never fitted to fill. In still other cases a false
delicacy, a feeling of consideration for the interests
of the instructor which entirely disregards the inter-
ests of the institution and of the student, permits the
instructor to hold his position long after his incom-
petency has been demonstrated.

There is not an institution of any rank throughout
the country in which the sin which I have described



io6 THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

is not being committed to a greater or less extent all
the time. In some cases it is laxity of the ofl&cials
which is at fault; in others it is the very constitution
of the institution which makes such sinning un-
avoidable.

It is pitiable to hear college men describe the con-
ditions to which in some cases they were subjected —
conditions the real injury of which often only becomes
apparent when in later Hfe the man begins to reahze
how his alma mater robbed him (robbing would
seem to be the most appropriate name for this usage),
the saddest element in the situation being that many
students do not at the time appreciate the fact that
they are being robbed. This waste is greater by far
in the smaller institutions than in the larger, for al-
though in the latter there may be the same propor-
tion of incompetent men, the larger election granted
makes it possible for the student to avoid these whose
incompetency has become especially conspicuous.
The waste here is something which is, indeed, ap-
palling, and it is a waste which perhaps is on the
increase.

Closely associated with this policy, and partly
responsible for it, is another which is almost univer-
sally practiced in our higher institutions — that of
requiring from instructors too large an amount of
classroom work. This plan is adopted, it is said,
for reasons of economy. Experience shows, how-
ever, that it is a most expensive policy, if all the facts
are considered.



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION 107

I have no hesitation in saying that an instructor
in freshmen and sophomore work should do no more
than ten hours a week of classroom work, and of
instructors doing work still higher only five or six
hours should be required. A greater waste cannot
be conceived than that of confining college instruc-
tors to an amount of routine work which paralyzes
every effort made to engage in independent research
and investigation. The American college system
has actually murdered hundreds of men who while
in its service have felt that something more must be
done than the work of the classroom, and who,
because of this feeling, have died from overwork.
It has actually destroyed the intellectual growth of
thousands of strong and able men, who, if oppor-
tunity had been offered, might have done for America
what the German professor, with his greater oppor-
tunities in this respect, has done for Germany. The
American institution of higher learning cannot take
its place beside that of other lands until the fact of
this waste is recognized and something is done to
stop its continuance. As a part of this indictment,
we must count also the usage still practiced in many
places of requiring one man to do work in two or
more departments, which are not always closely
associated. This, of course, means death to every
desire or effort to do honest or successful work.

And now, in close connection with what has just
been said, let me state another cause of waste; viz.,
the failure on the part of our higher institutions to



io8 THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

make proper financial provision for the support of
their instructors. To remedy this condition three
things must be done : Larger salaries must be paid to
those engaged in the work, in order that there may
be avoided the intellectual waste which always at-
tends the struggle of living on half the sum actually
needed — a struggle which compels resort to any and
every kind of effort to make ends meet that were
never intended to meet. Again, there must be a
larger support in the way of facihties for doing work.
In many cases a man's real power in the course of a
year would be doubled if there were only a hundred
dollars with which to purchase this or that necessity
for his work — a necessity the lack of which dis-
courages and disheartens him to such an extent
that all spirit for his work is lost. And, finally, there
must be a pension system in every institution; for
the lack of a pension system is a source of continu
ous and incalculable waste. The one condition of
the highest intellectual effort is repose of mind
This repose of mind is impossible if the professor
realizes, as he must, that in case of illness or inability
to perform his daily routine he will be thrown out
upon the world with nothing back of him, or that in
the case of his death his family will be without means
of support ; while, on the other hand, the satisfaction,
the contentment of mind, based upon the knowledge
that, whatever happens, there will be an opportunity
to Uve, will stimulate him to stronger and more
effective activity.



'(



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION 109

Thus, while we are talking of our economy, the
facts show that we are guilty of an extravagant waste
for which no amount of money will make compensa-
tion — a waste of mental vigor, of creative power, due
to overwork and anxiety for lack of that which might
be supplied with but a httle management. The
pension system, too, would remove all sentimental
ground for retaining in office men whose work was
finished, and so there would be here a double econo-
my to prevent waste.

I have spoken now of most of the factors which,
in the work of institutions of higher learning, gener-
ate waste. In conclusion it remains to say a word
concerning the institution itself as a source of waste
in the work of higher education. I have in mind
three things: the waste rising from unnecessary
competition — the unnecessary dupHcation of work;
the waste which comes when higher work is under-
taken at the expense of lower; and the waste involved
in the substitution of pretense for fulfilment. These
topics require barely to be mentioned, for they will
be understood by everyone who has given even a
little thought to the work of higher education.

The fact must be apparent that there are too
many colleges — not too many good colleges, but too
many such as they are; the result is a competition
which in many ways demoraHzes the work of higher
education and leads to waste. I could furnish a
hundred examples, but one will suffice. I refer to
the lowering of their admission requirements by two



no THE TREND IN HIGHER EDUCATION

of our western state universities in order to draw the
students away from non- state institutions — an effort
attended, unfortunately, with marked success. When
we take into account the great numbers of so-called
higher institutions, all founded on the same plan,
and nearly all lacking any adequate equipment for
work in science, we cannot fail to see the waste
involved in this dupHcation of work, when other
work of a more important character is left untouched.
And when we recall that nearly every institution
called college or university feels itself under the
necessity of trying to cover the whole field of human
knowledge, and that consequently no single part
receives in these institutions even decent attention,
we ask: Why do intelligent men continue thus to sin
against reason and against God by bringing shame
and reproach upon a cause so holy as that of higher
education ?

This suggests immediately a second kind of
gross institutional waste; viz., the doing of higher
work at the expense of the lower. There are at
least two hundred colleges and (so-called) univer-
sities in the United States of whose work this state-
ment may be made. These institutions have a
preparatory school as well as a college course.
The number of students in the preparatory school is,
let us say, one hundred and fifty; in the freshmen
and sophomore classes, forty; in the junior and
senior classes, twenty to thirty. The income is
restricted for the most part to the fees of the students,



WASTE IN HIGHER EDUCATION iii

and will average possibly, from all sources, twelve
to fourteen thousand dollars. In order to keep up
the name of college, the income is made to cover
the expense of seven or eight years; i. e., the pre-
paratory and the college. In order to do the work
of the junior and senior years, even nominally,
when the classes are so small, as much of the total
income is spent upon the instruction of these years
as for that of the five or six years below. It must be
evident, then, that even with this disproportionate
expenditure the work of the junior and senior
college years can in such institutions be done only
in a superficial way. For in them the faciUties of
libraries and laboratories are largely lacking; the
range of elective work is very narrow; and a single
instructor is expected to offer work in two or three
or four distinct departments. The most significant
fact in the situation, however, is that, the money
paid by the students in the lower years having been



Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperThe trend in higher education → online text (page 7 of 24)