Kirkland, “The Higher Learning”

Edward Chase Kirkland, ‘The Higher Learning,”
from Dream and Thought in the Business Community, 1860-1900

LET  us begin with certain statistics which are a matter of  record.  Following  the  Civil War,  men  of  wealth greatly increased their donations to higher education. Whereas  before  that  conflict  Abbott  Lawrence’s  gift of $50,000  to Harvard  had been of exceptional size for an institution  at the college level, a merchant-banker, Johns  Hopkins,  gave  by  will  in  1870   $3,5oo,ooo to found  a university in Baltimore; Leland Stanford  gave $24,ooo,ooo to  a university  named after  his son  and located on the family farm in California; and John  D.Rockefeller,  under  astute guidance, contributed  all in all$ 34,ooo,ooo to  rescue  the  University  of  Chicago from obscurity and transform it into a great university. Officially he became “the Founder.”  1 As far as our time period  is concerned,  the great  foundations  which  did so much for education were just over the horizon. Hand in hand with the dollar, the businessman marched into the potential control room of Academe. Whereas clergy­ men had once dominated boards of trustees, businessmen, bankers, and lawyers now  took  their  place. Working with  a  very  limited  sample  of  fifteen  private  insti­tutions of higher learning, Earl J. McGrath, later to be­come Commissioner of Education  of the  United States,found  that from  186o I861  to  I9oo-190I  the percentage of  businessmen on  boards increased from  2 2.8 to 25.7; of bankers from 4.6 to 12.8; and of lawyers from 20.6 to 25.7. Perhaps to redress this .picture it should be added that the percentage of educators was at the same time increasing from 5  to 8.

Conceivably this business interest in higher education might be, as Veblen in his essay on The Theory of the Leisure Class implied, another evidence of the rich seek’:’ ing for  merely honorific associations. Or  it might be a response such as Abram Hewitt, steel master, son-in-law of Peter Cooper, and graduate of Columbia, expressed in dedicating the new Morningside Heights  campus of that institution in 1896: “In  this country  patents of no­ bility are wisely prohibited,  but a tide  to immortality is surely within the reach of those to whom the trustees may finally award the privilege and the glory of erecting any one of these buildings.” 3 This appeal was honorific, too.

Occasionally  prominent  businessmen uttered  crav­ings for learning. Commodore Vanderbilt,  the consummate Philistine in matters of taste, once incautiously confessed to the clergyman his wife had introduced into the family to give a higher direction to her husband’s interests, “I’d  give a million dollars to-day,  Doctor,  if I had your education!” Somewhat startled by the family surprise  at  this  heretical  utterance,  the  Commodore backtracked a little: “I seem to get along better than half of  your  educated  men.” 4
More  representative  in  all probability  were  the  opinions  of  Andrew   Carnegie. Granting  that the  old academic training was a necessary prelude for  the learned professions, Carnegie regarded the latter with measured enthusiasm. True,  these sought from  life fame rather than the more “ignoble” material­ ism of wealth, hut all through  the professions-politics, law, and religion-there was a flaw, a “narrow,  selfish, personal vanity.” On whether the education given in an “academic’ or ‘literary” college was desirable for those going into business, Carnegie weighed no alternatives:
Men have wasted their precious years, trying  to extract education from an ignorant past whose chief province is to teach us, not what to adopt, but what to avoid. Men have sent their sons to colleges to waste their energies upon obtaining a knowledge of such languages as Greek and Latin, which are of no more practical use to them than Choctaw…. They  have been crammed with the details of petty and insignificant skirmishes between savages, and taught to exalt a band of ruffians into heroes; and we have called them “educated.” They have been “educated” as if they were destined for life upon some other planet than this. . . . What  they have obtained has served to imbue them with false ideas and to give them a distaste for practi­ cal life. . . . Had they gone into active work during the years spent at college they would have been better educated men in every true sense of that term. The fire and energy have been stamped out of them, and how to so manage as to live a life of idleness and not a life of usefulness has be­ come the chief question with them.

Except for  those who had “antiquarian”  tastes and for those going into  the professions, “the  education  given today  in our colleges is a positive disadvantage.”

Judgments such as these were echoed by other  than businessmen. A labor agitator from  the mid-West  announced:  “We have no objection  to  the education of rich  men’s  sons-too proud  to  work  and  too  lazy  to steal-at private schools and colleges, to  become law­ yers, doctors, preachers or what not.” 6  And Henry George,  counseling  his  namesake son  on  whether  he should go to Harvard or the Brooklyn Eagle, concluded, “Going  to college, you  will make life friendships but you will come out filled with much that will have to be unlearned. Going to newspaper work, you will come in touch with the practical world, will be getting a pro­ fession and learning to make yourself useful.” 7  In sum, from  the business point of view the indictment against the American college was that it delayed the start in business life, taught what was useless, and gave students bad habits and bad attitudes, the worst of which was a desire to live by  wit rather  than  work  and a disbelief in the  dignity  of labor.8   Those  with  these fears were hardly reassured by two articles in the North  American  Review of  1888: “The  Fast Set at Harvard  University” and a rejoinder to it almost as disturbing as the original indictment.

If this disfavor for college education is coupled with the  flood of  donations  and  the  infiltration  of  college directorates by businessmen, a natural inference would be that business had a systematic, concrete transforma­ tion which it wished to effect throughout  higher educa­ tion. Of its paper power on the premises there was little doubt. Charters and laws gave to presidents and trustees embracing  authority   in  matters  general  and  detailed. One trustee of Northwestern University,  a patent law­ yer and an officer of the Western  Railroad Association, declared,

      As to what should be taught in political and social science they [the
professors] should promptly and gracefully submit to the determination
of the trustees when the latter find it  necessary to act. . . . If the trustees
err it is for  the patrons and proprietors, not for the employees, to change
either the policy or the personnel of the board.

When  an outsider polled some trustees at Chicago, Columbia, Princeton,  Yale, Johns Hopkins,  Pennsylvania, and American University, he found that their opinion agreed almost unanimously with the oracle from Northweatern. But it was one thing to assert a power, another to exercise it. In actuality the revolution which business desired was not brought about at the guillotine. In 1930 Arthur  O. Lovejoy, one of the founders of the American Association of University Professors and one of  the  earliest and  doughtiest  champions of  academic freedom, could write in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: “The greater gifts to American education have, however, usually been notably exempt from formal restrictions  upon freedom  of teaching; and in a number of privately endowed universities, it [academic freedom] has been better assured than in many state institutions.” 12 That  more heads did not roll was partly due to the fact that  the guild of scholars and teachers was in general conservative and had mastered the adroit arts of com promise, postponement, and evasive action.1a

The easiest way for innovators, therefore, was to start · de novo,-to establish a new institution with new purposes, and  if  possible a  new  faculty,  recruited  from academic progressives. A clear need for a nation depend­ ent upon steam, electricity, and invention was technical or  engineering  instruct:on.  “Every   college,”  asserted Joseph  Medill of  the  Chicago  Tribune, “should  have a department  of mechanism and a chemical laboratory to  impart  the  secrets  of  nature  and  the  sources  of force.”  14  Existing colleges sought to adjust to such de­mands and new institutions came into existence to meet them. The obligation to create and finance these experi­ments was at the outset, as so many addresses put it, one for  private  philanthropy.  Well  before  the  Civil War, at Harvard  and at Yale foresighted administrators or devoted teachers had undertaken instruction in science applied to arts and industries. Usually no funds were available. But  in  I 847   Abbott   Lawrence,  merchant, manufacturer,  and railroad builder, made the first of his donations to the Harvard enterprise. The Lawrence Scientific School was intended to be an engineering one. A decade later, Joseph E. Sheffield of New Haven, pro­moter,  financier, and  builder  of  railroads in  the  mid­ West and in New England, took pity on the struggling efforts of Yale to provide instruction  in applied science and gave a building and an endowment  to the Sheffield Scientific School.15

Like so many things in Boston, the Massachusetts In­stitute  of  Technology  was  a  compound  of  business enterprise and vaulting culture. Taking advantage of the fact that the state was filling in the Back Bay, a region which  eventually  became Boston’s “West  End,”  William B. Rogers, a Virginia-born  scientist, and others conceived of asking the state for a land grant in that area on which to construct a civic cultural center. The Massa-chusetts Institute  of Technology  was a covering  term for a Society of the Arts, to be devoted to research and publication, for a museum for the Boston Society of Natural History, and for a School of Industrial Science. Although the petitioners asserted that “in the recent progress  of  the  Industrial  Arts,  including  commerce and agriculture, as well as the manufacturing  and more strictly, mechanical pursuits-we meet with daily-in­ creasing proofs of the happy influence of scientific culture  on  the  industry  and  the  civilization of  nations,” and although they enlisted among their sponsors the Bos­ ton Board of Trade,16  the Legislature was unfavorably· impressed by the amorphous character of their proposals. Eventually,  however, the  General  Court  gave a grant of lands on condition the promoters raise $ 1oo,ooo. The largest of the donations discharging this stipulation came from  Doctor  William J. Walker  of Charlestown, Mas­sachusetts, who  had retired from  medicine to accumulate a fortune  in railroad and manufacturing  stocks in order  that  he “could  contribute  to education.” On  his death  his millions were  distributed  to  his family  and forty  feminine friends and to three educational  institutions. Harvard  had earlier refused a g1ft to the Med1cal School  because this  most  piquant  of  donors,  cannily aware  of  the  prerequisites to  innovation,  had insisted upon a faculty  acceptable to him.17

The  Massachusetts General  Court  also came to the rescue by  assigning a portion of the national land grant under the Morrill Act to  the Institute  as a College of Mechanic Arts.    This good  luck  apparently gave more  urgency  to  the  proposal for an industrial and practical institution. Edward Atkinson, cotton capitalist and member of the Board of Government  of the Institute,  confessed years later that he and his associates “were qualified . . . to direct that institution by what we did not know more than by what we  did.” 19  Nor  did  they  have the  only  word  in  the matter.  William  Atkinson,  brother  of  Edward  and  a professor at the Institute,  was writing  in  1866, a year after the school was opened, that the faculty were debating whether  Tech  should be limited to the special sciences taught “with  a modicum” of English, French, and German,  or whether  through  a curriculum  of English and scientific courses Tech  should replace the classical one of older institutions, but still “aim as they do, to give a well-proportioned  liberal education.” 20

Among the most persistent correspondents of Francis Amasa Walker the  second  president  of  the  Institute and  its  real founder,  was Governor  Leland  Stanford who, seeking for some therapy to lift the grief of himself and his wife over the death of an idolized son, had deter­ mined to found at Palo Alto a university for the children of California. Despite the myriad consultants to whom he applied, Stanford had an accurate idea of the kind of institution he wanted. Ordinarily  reserved, on this matter he talked freely:

I have been impressed with the fact that of all the young men who come
to me with letters of introduction from friends in the East, the most
helpless class are college men. . . . They  are generally prepossessing in
appearance and of good stock, but when they seek employment, and I
ask them what they can do, all they can say is “anything.” They have no
definite technical knowledge of anything. They have no specific aim, no
definite purpose. It is to overcome that condition, to give an education
which shall not have that result, which I hope will be the aim of this
University. … Its capacity to give a practical not a theoretical education ought to be accordingly foremost.

 

 

 
Of the first ten appointments to the Faculty  made and accepted,  there were only two  not in engineering and science; of these exceptions one was a college administrator and another, Andrew  D. White,  “Non-Resident Professor of History.” 22

For many schools other than M.I.T., the Morrill Act of 1862, the charter of the land-grant colleges, provided stimulus and  means. There  is no  need for  me to  re­ emphasize how  its receipt in New  York State enabled Ezra Cornell and Andrew D. White  to establish Cornell University  with its motto-“I would found  an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,” including  science  and  engineering.23    So  much  atten­ tion has been directed to the Morrill Act in terms of the type  of  institution  that  developed,  the  “people’s  colleges,” that not enough emphasis has yet been directed to  the  background  of  the act, aside from  the agricul­tural influence. Not  surprisingly in view of his location in an industrial state, President Wayland  of Brown University seems to have been an early expositor of the advantages of industrial education, in the narrow sense of that term; Justin  Morrill, the Vermont  Representative whose name the act honored, also admitted that “as  the son of a hard-headed blacksmith/’ he “could not overlook  mechanics.” 24   Perhaps  one  explanation  for the neglect of this phase of the Morrill Act  is that, as President Francis Amasa Walker said later, the “exigency” for the Morrill Act was not “very great.” 25  Cer­tainly after it, as before, men of business continued  to found and support schools of applied science and of engineering. It would be a mistake, however, to feel that wealthy  men were the only founders. As Walker  said of schools of technology, “They were created through the foresight, the unselfish devotion, the strenuous endeavors of a few rich men, and of very many poor men, known as professors of mathematics, chemistry, physics, and geology.” 20

Obviously enheartened by their success with schools of  technology  and  engineering, some business leaders began to consider the possibility of establishing colleges for  instruction  in business, institutions of more repute and higher standards than the proprietary “business colleges” of the day. Some businessmen were, to be sure, given pause as to what such institutions of higher business  learning   should   teach-an  enduring   problem.

Charles Elliott  Perkins in the nineties wrote  Henry L. Higginson, the Boston banker,

You might teach hotel keeping at Cambridge, but you can’t teach
railroading, because it involves too much. You can teach branches of it,
as you do now-engineering and draw­ ing, for example. But the
commercial part of it-how  to save part of every dollar you get in and
how to get in all you can-that you cannot teach at school.27

 

Yet already a Philadelphia merchant,  Joseph Wharton,  had submitted  a plan to  the  trustees of the  University of Pennsylvania and accompanied it with a gift of $ 100,000. In 1888 the Wharton School of Finance and Economy  was opened. The  motives were in part honorific-Wharton wished to commemorate a “family name which has been honorably  borne in this community  since the foundation  of the city”-but in greater part  educational.  Wharton was particularly  impressed by the plight of young men who inherited wealth. Since they  could  not  be  reclaimed  by  hard  work,  as their fathers had been, higher education of the right sort was the answer. We  aim to produce “educated  young  men with  a taste for  business, vigorous, active workers,  of sturdy   character  and  independent   opinion,  having  a lofty faith in all things good, and able to give a reason for  the faith that is in them.” The  proposed course of instruction was superior to the apprenticeship in business which Carnegie was to celebrate; apprenticeship resulted in narrowness and empiricism, nor was it systematic.28

Among  the  five professorships Wharton foresaw  for his  school,   only   two   seemed  strictly   vocational­ the  professorship of  accounting  and  that  of  mercan­tile law. The others-professors on money, banking, industry,  commerce, and transportation-were clearly to provide a “liberal education in all matters concerning Finance and Commerce.”

This was liberal in the sense of general, for the donor specified in formidable  detail  what  was to  be taught. The  professor  of  money  and  currency   was to  teach “particularly  the necessity of permanent  uniformity  or integrity  in the coin unit  upon which  the money system  of  a nation  is based” and  “the  advantages of  an adequate precious-metal fund  for  settling international balances as well as for  regulating and checking  by redemption the paper money and credits of a modern nation.”  For  his part,  the  Professor  on  Industry,  Commerce, and Transportation should demonstrate  how a great nation should be as far as possible self-sufficient, maintaining  a proper balance between agriculture, mining, and manufactures, and supplying its own wants; how mu­ tual advantage results from reciprocal exchange of com­ modities natural to one land for the diverse commodities natural to another, but how  by craft in commerce one nation may take the substance of a rival and maintain for itself a virtual monopoly of the most profitable and civiliz­ ing industries; how  by suitable tariff legislation a nation  may thwart such designs, may keep its productive industry active, cheapen the cost of commodities, and oblige foreigners to sell to it at low prices while contributing largely toward defraying the expenses of its government.29

The  gospel of  protection  appears again as one among several items prescribed in a section entitled “general tendency  of instruction.”  30  The  curriculum  drawn  up under  these injunctions  included  philosophy, a course in the history of relations between church and state, and heavy doses of government  and history, the latter with a list toward the social and economic.31 Probably the Wharton School was in the light of modern educational practice largely a device to give students at the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania a major in history and the social sciences.

Probably  the fact the school did not lead directly to a career, along with its reputed  easiness, was the reason it was only “moderately  successful” and that “the  most vigorous young  men went elsewhere.” 32   At least these were  the  admissions of  William  H.  Rhawn,  a Philadelphia  banker,  who  toward  the  end  of  the  eighties, began a campaign to put the American Bankers’ Association behind the idea of improved business instruc­tion.  His  apostle for  the  new  gospel was Edmund  J. James, Professor of Public Finance and Administration in the Wharton School. James delivered a series of papers before the bankers and elsewhere and talked and organized personally to such good purpose that he became president in  turn  of  Northwestern University  and of the University of Illinois.38 Meanwhile Rhawn secured from the American Bankers’ Association a resolution “most earnestly” commending “not only to bankers but to all intelligent and progressive citizens throughout  our country the founding of schools of finance and economy for  the  business training  of our  children,  to  be estab­ lished in connection  with  the  universities and colleges of  the land  upon  … the  Wharton plan.”34

Actually  all  this  exhortation  and  exertion  resulted up to the new  century  in the establishment of only two such  institutions -one at the  University  of  California and a second at the University  of Chicago. At the for­mer institution  a committee of the Regents was wildly enthusiastic over a school which  met the “demands of practical  men,”  made  “successful  business men,”  and “kept them at their career.” The California situation was unique. The  state was isolated, and since its production was “far  beyond the consumption of our people” new markets must be developed, particularly “in the Pacific Ocean which invites us to the greatest commercial con­ quest of all times.” A School of Commerce was a means to this end.35   At  the University  of Chicago, where all things were new, the administration made haste slowly because of “the desire of the authorities being not to lay too great emphasis upon work of this character, in con­ trast  with  the  longer-established college work,  in  the early years of the University.” 86

Here as elsewhere, failure is sometimes more revealing than success. In the late nineties the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New  York entered into negotiations with Seth Low, one of its members who was also President of Columbia University, about the establishment at the University  of a course in commercial history, commercial geography, domestic and foreign commercial law, and accounting, which the Chamber would  finance with  $I o,ooo.87  Years later announcing the establishment of a business school, Professor E. R. A. Seligman of the Department of Economics revealed how the academicians had successfully blighted this early courtship. Anyone  who has listened to faculty discussions can hear the familiar overtones: students of quality and a faculty of competence could not be recruited, and more importantly the “Department  of Eco­nomics and others realized the real obligation was graduate  work  and  research  rather  than  professional teaching.” The  best policy was “wait and see.” 88   Business meanwhile had to find such comfort as it could in the School of Political Science with its general and philosophical studies.89

Actually, of course the establishment of technological and business schools with  concrete  practical programs was not the nub of the matter. The  real issue was the transformation, if any, that the vision and demands of businessmen wrought  in the literary colleges and their traditional  curriculum.  That  the  business community should continue  to display an interest in higher learning of this sort certainly challenges explanation. As will be revealed later, Veblen’s theory  that the leisure class in a pecuniary culture wanted this higher learning pre cisely because it was useless does not square with what was going on. Businessmen did not want to sacrifice their sons to any  Deity  “sicklied o’er  with  the pale cast of thought.” 40    One  businessman father  rejoiced  that  his son had failed the examinations for  the College of the City of New York and had thus been saved from a life of “elegant leisure.” “Whenever  I find a rich man dying and leaving a large amount of money to found a college, I say to myself, ‘It is a pity he had not died while he was poor.’ ”

Still it might be argued that the refinements, resulting from  a classical education, had a practical value. Commodore Vanderbilt’s unexpected allegiance to the life of the mind was the voice of experience: “I’ve  been to England,  and seen them lords, and other  fellows, and knew that I had twice as much brains as they had maybe, and yet I had to keep still, and couldn’t say anything through fear of exposing myself.” 42   Once when James Caldwell, Tennessee utilities magnate and banker, came North  to see Morgan “on a matter of business,” he had to wait while the “superintendent  of the Art  Museum of New York”  and the banker opened and examined a treasure which had just arrived from Europe. It proved to be a plain-looking picture, executed upon a board, and called the “Fra Angelica.”It clearly was antique, and no doubt  very rare piece, but not pretty, and to me, who am no art critic, it seemed·quite ordinary; but he and the art superintendent took on over it mightily and it was quite some time before we could get him back to “business.” 43

 

Clearly something more than accounting or commercial law was required to impress a banker who preferred  to deal with “gentlemen”  who could be invited on board his yacht and into his library.44

Though   some  sacrifice  was  probably   desirable  in order  to be at ease with  contacts,  the interest of businessmen in literary education was usually remote from calculations of loss and gain. Higher  education simply was “a good thing,” and they  wished to finance it; let able educators determine  the detailed objectives of ex­penditures. Of Johns Hopkins, Daniel Coit Gilman, first president  of  the  Baltimore Gottingen,  wrote,  “Fortunately,  the  founder  . . . did  not  define  the  distinguished name that he bestowed upon his child, nor embarrass its future  by  needless conditions. Details were left to a sagacious board of trustees whom  he charged with the duty of supervision.” 45  In the nineties Rockefeller’s ideas on higher education were probably some­ what similar, though it is hard to disentangle them from the opinions of the swarms of solicitors and counselors buzzing around  him. The  University  of Chicago, the destination  of  his great  benefaction, was to “help  the world”  and “to  do the world more good.” The  implementation  of these vague and lofty  purposes, what the age knew as “uplift,” was left to “the  management.” 46

On those rare, celebrant occasions when the oil king was tempted to the Midway campus and cajoled into giving speech, he explained his philanthropy  to the institution on the grounds of Christian stewardship and advised students that some must be followers and fill the “humblest positions uncomplainingly  and acceptably.”  Find  your niche. “Whatever position this is, it is the highest position in the sight of good men and in the economy of God.” Certainly  this is one of  the few  echoes at the college level of the argument heard for lower education that it served the safety of the status quo. Even here the connection is inferential.47

Most  businessmen did   not  resort  to  Christian  and Platonic  generalization  to   justify  the   changes  they wanted in higher education. In their eyes, the greatest waste of time in college was the very core of the curriculum-the classics. In spite of Senator Pugh of Alabama, who felt  Latin  and Greek  disqualified students “from all  industrial  pursuits,” 48    there  were  distinctions  between the languages. In 1897 among the businessmen of Chicago polled by Professor Thurber,  no one believed Greek  had “any  practical value,” one thought  that for those employed in business law, collections and credits, or  in executive departments  handling  correspondence, Latin was “highly  advantageous,” though salesmen and buyers did not need it.49  Over a decade earlier Charles Francis  Adams,  Jr.,  president  of  the  Union  Pactfic, speaking in the consecrated spaces of Sanders Theatre , informed the Harvard  Phi Beta Kappa that the worship of Latin and Greek was a college fetich.

Latin I will not stop to contend over. That is a small matter. Not only is it a comparatively simple language, … but it  has its modern uses. Not only is it directly the mother tongue of all southwestern Europe, but it has by common consent been adopted in scientific nomenclature. Hence, there are reasons why the educated man should have at least an  elementary knowledge of  Latin. . . . The  study  of Greek-as a traditional requirement-is  a positive educational wrong. It has already wrought great individual and general injury, and is now working it. It  has been pro­ductive of  no compensating advantage. It is a supersti­tion.60

 

What to put in their place? French and German, “working tools” of the modern age, perchance even Spanish. “There is a saying that a living dog is better than a dead lion; and the Spanish tongue is what the Greek is not,­ a very considerable American fact.” 61 James Caldwell, who could not afford to be as bold as an Adams because · he was not as cultured,  thought  the classics should be studied first in translation: “By the way, I think Dryden’s  translation  of  the  Aeneid  is as remarkable  and shows as much talent as Vergil did in the original.” 52 Unwittingly,  L. C. Armstrong,  the masterful principal of Hampton  Institute, put the antithesis in a nut shell: “The   darkey,”  he wrote,  “prefers  Greek  to  common sense-like everybody  else.” 153

Veblen to the contrary notwithstanding,    the  business banner  read,  “Greek must go.” And it did, first as a requirement  for admission, then  for  the degree of A.B. This  successful outcome, it should be pointed out, owed quite as much to college administrators, like Eliot of Harvard  and Hyde of  Bowdoin,  as to  businessmen inside  or  outside  of boards of trustees.55

One motive for the drive against Greek was the desire to find room  for  something  else. Curriculum  builders and tinkerers always come up against the hard fact that four  years have only so much time. The  business com­ munity,  which,  as we  have seen  earlier,  was  relying upon  political economy and even developing the discipline’s resources, might have been expectd  to aprrove the insertion into the curriculum  of more instruction  in this and related subjects. Unhappily  for  the  academic prosperity  of these subject matters, businessmen feared them as foes or sought them as allies to their prejudices. Thus an independent oil operator anticipated if students would  devote  themselves to social science rather  than “pouring  over musty  dead languages, learning the dis­ gusting stories of the mythical gods, and all the barbarous stuff of the dead past, . . .  then a Standard Oil Company would be impossible.” 56  Others dreaded, and quite rightly, that free-trade textbooks would be used.57  With his customary  acumen,  Charles  Elliott  Perkins  penetrated to a deeper, troubling  question.

My idea of teaching is that you have got to know some­ thing before you
begin, & that it is for that reason that the world has settled down into a
belief that the classics are the best studies for training the mind….  No
two doctors would agree about  what is called political economy, of which
the late Francis Walker, and, say, Professor Perry may be taken as
distinguished  teachers,  & yet diametrically opposed  to one another on
the most important question political economy deals with, and that is the
question of money and its influence on the affairs of mankind.5s

 

President  Andrew  D. White  exhibited his usual guilefulness as an administrator when he established instruction in economics at Cornell. He had lecturers on both sides of  contested  opinions. Even  then  “sundry  good people” complained “it  was like calling a professor of atheism into a theological seminary.” 59

However  much curriculum  changes undermined  the business indictment  that  college learning  was  useless, they  were a minor factor  in overcoming  the assertion that  colleges  inculcated  wrong   attitudes  and  habits. What  was really important  was a change in the morals and tone of these institutions. This was not a matter of compulsory chapel. As far as one can see, when chapel went  under, as it sometimes did, business-minded trustees or alumni hardly murmured. Furthermore  in the technical schools the requirement of compulsory chapel attendance  was waived, perchance on  the ground  that the  scientific course was ill adapted  to  the  saving of souls.60   Yet it was these very schools that led the way to  a  new  dispensation  in  morals  and  habits. Francis Amasa Walker,  surveying the possibilities of the affiliation of M.I.T. with a university, concluded that the advantages would be dearly bought

if the technical students, through association with a university, are to
come habitually in contact with young men who have not seriously taken
up the work of their lives, who regard college merely as a place in which
to have a good time or to indulge in sport or dissipation, who have no
settled purpose and no manly aims, and especially if the technical
students are to.  come habitually in contact with young men who regard
labor as degrading, who look upon the rough clothes and the stained
fingers of the laboratory and the workshop as badges of inferiority in
character or in social standing.61

    And the Boston  Herald saluted M.I.T.  as a place with­ out  , hazing, lawless behavior, foppery and frivolity wh1ch are so often associated with college life.’  It was a place of work and self-help.62   That  institutions  of  a different  sort  should  strive  for  a similar one was  evident  from  Joseph  Wharton’s meticulous instructions for his school: “The  students must be taught and drilled, not lectured to without care whether or not attention  is paid; any lazy or incompetent student must be dismissed.”       Nor were donors the only ones pushing  h1gher education  in the  direction  of  “hardness ” Faculty, flowing back from the German universities, in­troduced  new standards of performance  and individual responsibility.64

Much more difficult to interrelate with business atti­tudes  were the  extracurricular  activities, like athletics, which during this period became an enduring  charac­teristic of college life. Even Veblen, for all his derision of sport  and fraternities, came up with ambiguous conclusions. After  first blaming the “barbaric”  phenomena of sports and the “predatory impulse” of fraternities on the students,  he pointed out  that  both were related to the  “‘sporting and gambling habit” which he had ascribed earlier  to  the  leisure or  wealthy  class.65   Such  uncertainty  arose perhaps from  Veblen’s  effort  to  be both historian  and systematic schemer. The  responsible state ments  of  businessmen about  athletics,  for  instance,  are in  reality  few.  Wharton wished  to  encourage  them  at his school  within  moderate  limits “as  tending  to  vigor and self-reliance.” 66   But with  all his omniscience  in the design  and  construction of  his university   plant,  Stan­ford  failed to provide a gymnasium  and playing fields.67 Though it is implausible  to  believe that  undergraduate activities were a part of a business design for transforming the higher learning, their adventitious  appearance on campus  might  make college  education  more  acceptable to the business community. In certainly  one of the most penetrating  reminiscences   of  undergraduate  life  ever written in  America,   Henry Seidel  Canby   recalls  the Yale of the nineties:

There never was a more strenuous preparation for active life anywhere
than in the American college of those days. . . · The cry in our
undergraduate world was always “do some­ thing,” “What  does he do?”
Freshmen hurried up and down entry  stairs seeking news for  the
college paper,  athletes, often with drawn, worried faces, struggled daily
to get or hold places on the teams, boys with the rudiments of busi­ness
ability were managers of magazines, orchestras, teams, or co-operative
pants-pressing companies. Those who had a voice sang, not for sweet
music’s sake, but to “make” the glee club… No one that I remember did
anything that was regarded as doing, for its own sake. No, the goal was
prestige, social preferment, a senior society, which would be a
springboard to Success in Life. We were prepared to create a trust or
organize a war, not to control the one for human uses and to stop the
other before it be­gan.

At the college as at the school level,, the emphasis upon character and upon the nature of the moral and mental training  received  made a good  share  of  the  arguments over the subject matter,  once the strictly vocational  was disregarded, an irrelevance.  Along  the line of discipline and  trainmg  alone,  the  college  could  appeal  to  busi­ness. Charles F. Thwing, president  of Western Reserve and one peculiarly sensitive to impulses from  the outside world,  announced:

The  four  qualities most needed in practical concerns one might say
are judgment, energy, tact, patience. They  are the foundation on which
the four-square house of business is built. The college helps to construct
each of these walls. It builds the wall of  judgment, for it trains one to
see  to· discriminate, to relate, to infer. It builds the wall of energy, for
it creates and conserves strength, enlarges resources, dissipates fear,
and enriches power. It builds the wall of tact for it trains the gentleman.
It builds the wall of patience for it lifts the heart away from the impact
of to-day onto the appreciation of yesterday and the vision of to-morrow.

…. Enough.
RMc

 

 

 

Leave a Reply