Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/April 1903/The Carnegie Institution and the National University

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1413624Popular Science Monthly Volume 62 April 1903 — The Carnegie Institution and the National University1903James Howard Gore




THE recent gift of Mr. Carnegie for the founding 'in the city of Washington, in the spirit of Washington, an institution which, with the cooperation of institutions now or hereafter established, there or elsewhere, shall, in the broadest and most liberal manner, encourage investigation, research and discovery, encourage the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind; provide such buildings, laboratories, books and apparatus as may be needed, and afford instruction of an advanced character to students whenever and wherever found, inside or outside of schools, properly qualified to profit thereby' has awakened unprecedented interest in the educational world.

There has been no lack of persons ready to criticize the purpose of the institution and the methods by which the avowed purpose is to be carried out. And this criticism has not always been favorable.

That it should be located in Washington, is acceptable to all; that the 'spirit of Washington' should be observed in formulating the lines of activity meets with universal approval. But there are many who feel competent to expound the 'spirit of Washington' and stand ready to measure the new institution by the standard derived from their interpretation of this spirit.

Those who have dreamed of a national university, who have looked upon education as a function of the general government and saw in such a university the culmination of a general educational system—ignoring the anomalous condition of state supervision of the schools up to the state university and in some instances only including the state university, with a higher institution over and above all—such persons declared that the directing forces of the Carnegie Institution have not caught the 'spirit of Washington.'

The workers for a national university have appealed to our patriotic affection for Washington by quoting from his will these words:

I proceed after this recital, for the more correct understanding of the case, to declare; that, as it has always been a source of serious regret with me, to see the youth of these United States sent to foreign countries for the purpose of an education, often before their minds are formed, or they had imbibed any adequate ideas of the happiness of their own; contracting too frequently, not only habits of dissipation and extravagance, but principles unfriendly to publican government, and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind, which thereafter are rarely overcome; for these reasons it has been my ardent wish to see a plan devised on a liberal scale, which would have a tendency to spread systematic ideas through all parts of this rising empire, thereby to do away local attachments and State prejudices, as far as the nature of things would, or indeed ought to admit, from our national councils. Looking anxiously forward to the accomplishment of so desirable an object as this is (in my estimation), my mind has not been able to contemplate any plan more likely to effect the measure, than the establishment of a University in a central part of the United States, to which the youths of fortune and talents from all parts thereof may be sent for the completion of their education, in all the branches of polite literature, in arts and science in acquiring knowledge in the principles of politics and good government, and as a matter of infinite importance in my judgment, by associating with each other and forming friendships in juvenile years, be enabled to free themselves in a proper degree from those local prejudices and habitual jealousies which have just been mentioned, and which, when carried to excess, are never-failing sources of disquietude to the public mind, and pregnant of mischievous consequences to this country. Under these impressions so fully dilated,

Item.—I give and bequeath in perpetuity, the fifty shares which I hold in the Potomac Company (under the aforesaid acts of the Legislature of Virginia) towards the endowment of a University, to be established within the limits of the District of Columbia, under the auspices of the general government, if that government should incline to extend a fostering hand towards it.

(Signed July 9, 1790.)

An analysis of this will shows that its author advocated the breaking down of local attachments and prejudices by stimulating a love for the nation and bringing together youths from all sections; that he wished to keep the young men in this country instead of encouraging them to go abroad—two propositions that are somewhat antagonistic, since the one seeks to broaden students by eliminating state lines, the other to keep them narrow by erecting national barriers. Furthermore, this eradicating of 'habitual jealousies' was to be accomplished by 'the establishment of a University in a central part of the United States,' and it will be noticed that later on, by implication, he defines this central part to be 'within the limits of the District of Columbia.' It therefore seems that the correct standpoint from which to appreciate the 'spirit of Washington' is the date when the 'District of Columbia' was the 'central part of the United States,' and the welfare of the nation depended upon isolation and intellectual training by domestic talent rather than foreign culture. At this date, what could have been Washington's ideal of a university course of study? Could it have been far beyond the curricula of the colleges then in existence? An examination of the courses of study at that time available would determine what a national university should offer unless it be asserted that this spirit, so frequently referred to, could grow with the country while the arguments for intellectual unification inwardly and insularity outwardly should continue in force.

At the date when this will was signed, July 9, 1790, the following colleges were in operation in the United States:

Harvard (1636). Hampden-Sidney (1776).
Yale (1701). Washington and Lee (1782).
College of William and Mary (1692). Washington University (1782).
University of Pennsylvania (1749). Dickinson (1783).
Columbia (1754). St. Johns (1784).
Princeton (1746). Nashville (1785).
Brown University (1764). Georgetown (1789).
Dartmouth (1769). University of North Carolina (1789).
Rutgers (1770).

In Yale College we find the following courses offered for the session of 1702:

(1) Latin, five or six orations of Cicero; five or six books of Virgil; talking college Latin; (2) Greek, reading a portion of the New Testament; (3) Hebrew, Psalter; (4) Some instruction in mathematics and surveying; (5) Physics (Pierson); (6) Logic (Ramus).

In Dartmouth College, for the session of 1811, the following courses were offered:

Freshmen—Latin and Greek classics; arithmetic; English grammar; rhetoric.

Sophomore—Latin and Greek classics; logic; geography; arithmetic; geometry; trigonometry; algebra; conic sections; surveying; belles-lettres; criticism.

Junior—Latin and Greek classics; geometry; natural and moral philosophy; astronomy.

Senior—Metaphysics; theology; natural and political law.

The following courses were offered at Harvard for the session of 1825:

Freshmen—Livy, five books; plane geometry; Graeca Majora; Horace, algebra; English grammar.

Sophomore—Solid geometry; English history; Cicero; analytic geometry; rhetoric.

Junior—Logic; moral philosophy; chemistry; Tacitus; Homer; calculus; mechanics; electricity.

Senior—Intellectual philosophy; astronomy; Butler's analogy; political economy; chemistry; natural philosophy.

By comparing even the latest and most advanced of these courses of study, one will see that the best high schools of the present day are nearly the equivalent of the institutions from which Washington could have drawn his ideals, and that a university that now begins where the best colleges of his time left off, would surely be the equal of all that he could have hoped to see in his national university. Such institutions we now have in every state and in almost every city.

During the early years of our national existence it might have been possible to bring into one institution the greater part of the young men desiring higher training by offering superior courses of study, but later, when college graduates began sending their sons, the alma mater was the first choice and was the college finally selected unless the opportunities were far greater at some other institution or else for economic reasons a near-by or home college was chosen. Now, when great efforts are put forth by the authorities of a university to keep pace with its foremost rival, this 'going away to college' is very great as may be seen in the accompanying table.

Harvard. Uni-
versity of
Yale. Uni-
versity of
Columbia. Totals.
Chicago students at 74 3 82 8 137
Boston students at 3 5 2 5 15
New York students at 205 10 205 4 425
Connecticut students at 46 27 6 83 162
Philadelphia students at 47 27 4 5 83
Washington students at 33 7 25 2 9 76

The small number of Boston students who do not attend Harvard suggests the fact that there is in this city a preponderance of Harvard alumni, and the large number of students from New York at Harvard and Yale illustrates a similar condition, as does also the small number of Boston, New York, Connecticut and Philadelphia students at Chicago, though in this last instance distance doubtless exerts some influence.

It is evident that in the manifold centers of instruction with students from practically all the states, the process of 'freeing themselves from local prejudices and jealousies' is more effectual than if there were congregated at one place numbers so great that state associations would be formed for social reasons.

In Germany the migration of students is encouraged, and in this country the Association of American Universities is endeavoring to formulate a plan by which students may pass from one institution to another, receive credit for work wherever done and return for his degree to the university at which he matriculated.

In 1790 state capitals were as far apart in time as national capitals are to-day, and the prejudices and jealousies that now differentiate people of different nationalities are no greater than those that in Washington's time separated the citizens of the various states of the Union. And though the nations of the world will never be brought under a single government, the desirability of removing national prejudices is as great now as was a century ago the elimination of state jealousies. The logical conclusion therefore would be that the 'spirit of Washington' moved forward a hundred years, would call for an international or world university.

Suppose Mr. Carnegie had responded to the invitation to found a national university and had given ten million dollars for that purpose, in what respect could it have been greater than the institutions now in existence?

The assets of a university are: (1) the endowment and educational plant per se, (2) the faculty, (3) the felicity of its situation.

The entire Carnegie bequest would be exhausted before Harvard or Columbia could be reached, and the University of Pennsylvania would be barely passed. It is thus apparent that even when supplemented by the opportunities for study which Washington affords, the advantages in a material way would not exceed existing institutions by an amount sufficient to overcome sentimental or other reasons that attract students elsewhere.

A superior faculty can be secured, in general, only by offering salaries in excess of those now paid, and if the new faculty is to be greater in point of numbers and superior in attainments to all other faculties, the income on the entire amount given would not suffice to meet this charge alone.

Again, such men could be found, in general, only in existing institutions, unless the risky experiment of taking untried persons should be followed, and the withdrawal of each superior man from a university would weaken it or the institution that was called upon to fill the vacancy thus created.

Washington unquestionably possesses material educational advantages, but the institutions already located there are living up to them at least in as complete a degree as could be reached by a new institution, unless it should become merely a competitor. To be more than a rival, it would require an endowment sufficiently great to procure an equipment and faculty surpassing those now in existence.

The advocates of a national university declare that it should not be a rival to existing institutions, and Mr. Carnegie asserts that the aim of his institution is 'To increase the efficiency of the universities and other institutions of learning throughout the country, by utilizing and adding to their existing facilities, and by aiding teachers in the various institutions for experimental and other work, in these institutions as far as may be advisable.' The purpose of one is to destroy existing institutions—the intention of the other is to build them up.

Assuming that the plan of operation of the Carnegie Institution to be along the lines announced in the daily press, it is easy to see that the work of no institution will be duplicated but supplemented, that students will be sent to the universities rather than drawn from them, and that the ablest professors will be left under conditions where they can do the greatest good to the greatest number.

If a great specialist were called from his present position to Washington to conduct work more advanced than he now performs, the number of persons annually benefited by his instruction would be lessened. Suppose he should remain where he is, and these advanced workers be sent to him, he would be able to carry on the greater part, if not all, of his regular work and direct these special investigators as well. No institution would be crippled by the loss of its strongest men, but on the contrary it would be strengthened by the coming of exceptional students.

The Carnegie Institution might also reach a class that could not be benefited by a national university intended for graduate students only, for it could assist and encourage the exceptional man even if, through force of circumstances, he had been unable to obtain a degree. This surely is in the spirit of the man who became the commander in chief of an army without having passed through a military academy.

The fear that the humanities will be neglected in this institution is not well founded. For, though emphasis has been laid upon the opportunities Washington affords for scientific investigation, there is no implication that the sciences alone will receive attention. The advanced student in linguistics or philosophy needs direction and access to libraries and museums, and since it is impossible to bring into one place the ablest directors and the richest collections of books and original material, the very best that can be done is to send the investigator to the expert for direction and leave him free to pass from one city to another while searching the sources from which his knowledge must be drawn. Such workers are beyond the need of recitation drill and daily contact with an instructor, and it is very sure that while one guide might suffice, there would be no one locality where his work could be carried on to the best advantage.

It is likely that the Carnegie Institution will concern itself first of all in obtaining authentic and complete information regarding the great specialists of the world, the extent and scope of all libraries, museums, workshops, laboratories and special facilities for advanced work of every sort and character. It has secured groups of advisers in the various branches of art, science and philosophy, and thus doubly equipped, is able to direct intelligently the student where to go and how to proceed in order to complete the task which he had undertaken. If, in addition to this advice, the institution should find it possible to give financial aid to the worthy investigator the fondest hope of Washington will be more than reached and a grander spirit than his will become a thing of life.