Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/164

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.




By Professor T. D. A. COCKERELL


SEEKING to define the functions of a university in a few words, I have thought that we might say: the purpose of a university is to conserve useful truth and to add to it. It should be in some sort the axis of our intellectual and moral growth, whence proceed the flowers and fruits of achievement. This is, of course, claiming a great deal for the institution, but it must be remembered that currents flow both ways, and the so-called product of the university is really the outcome of all human progress. Perhaps a homely illustration may serve our purpose. On pleasant evenings one may see the inhabitants of suburban districts engaged in watering their gardens. Superficially, they seem to hold in their hands useful little machines, from which, by a light pressure of the fingers, they are able to project sprays of water, strong or weak, straight or spreading, at their pleasure. Now we know that the water comes from a great reservoir, and the amateur gardeners have nothing to do with its origin or the force with which it escapes from their pipes, beyond, indeed, contributing their share of the water-rates. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of practical gardening, a mere deluge of water, unguided in its application, would be worse than useless; consequently the pipe, the nozzle and the gardener are essential factors for any kind of success. The university would be nothing without the great reservoir of accumulated human knowledge and experience. From this it draws its material and its energy, and yet not altogether so, for its own members, day by day, contribute intellectual capital. Literally construed, our analogy of the gardener probably breaks down in every case, because there is something creative in all human activity, though it may be, and perhaps usually is, reduced to a negligible quantity. Broadly speaking, however, the resemblance is sufficient for the purposes of argument. The university is, as it were, a nozzle through which flows, under the influence of human volition, the directed and organized output of man's mental activity. In the case of the gardener, very much—in one sense everything—depends upon his judgment, his ability to direct the water where it is needed, and in the best manner. It is even so with us. I have in the definition above not said merely that the university is to conserve truth, but useful truth. An intensely selective process is implied, and for this the power of judgment. Thus another definition is