Popular Science Monthly/Volume 76/April 1910/The Denominational College

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THAT church and state should be separate has long been held in the United States. It is one of our proudest boasts that every citizen of our country is free to worship God in his own way. It is also usually assumed that each may have his own definition of the God he worships. Our educational system, as well as our government, is based upon this assumption that it is best for state and church to be entirely independent of each other; for, in America, as in most enlightened countries, the education of the youth is considered a duty of the state. The public schools provided for by public funds are nonsectarian. The highest branches of the system, the state college and state university, are similarly constituted and similarly provided for. Neither upon entrance in these institutions nor later is any profession for or against any religious denomination, or any expression of "attitude," demanded of boards, trustees, presidents, principals, instructors or students. Religious organizations are permitted to exist among the members of these institutions, and are accorded the same assistance and courtesies as are technical, literary or purely social clubs, but the fact that they are religious organizations does not of itself entitle them to any additional consideration.

This is apparently an ideal condition. Our educational system attends to the intellectual and technical training of our youth, and to the task of developing them into useful and desirable citizens. The church, an independent organization, gives such religious and theological instruction as each citizen desires for himself and his family. Each citizen follows his individual preference as to the kind of religious teaching he needs, and of his own free will pays for it, directly instead of indirectly, and in accordance with his own rating of his duty towards it and the value of the services which it renders.

Unfortunately, however, this apparently ideal condition exists in but a part of the educational machinery of the United States. Besides our excellent system of public grade schools, high schools, technological schools, colleges and universities, we have an enormous number of educational institutions which were not founded by public legislation, and are supported by private munificence. The entire situation may be stated as follows: (1) Our city evening schools, schools for the blind, reform schools, Alaskan and Indian schools, are entirely public institutions; (2) the miscellaneous schools (of cookery, music, oratory and various special arts), the business schools, the orphan asylums and other benevolent institutions are founded and supported as private institutions. Of the remaining educational institutions, some are public, some private. The percentage of attendance of pupils and students, as calculated from the table given on page viii of Vol. I. of the Report of the U. S. Commissioner of Education printed in 1907 (from which are taken also the general data given above, and which will hereafter be referred to simply as U. S. Report), is as follows:

Kind of Institution Percentage
in Public
in Private
Schools for the deaf 95 + 4 +
Schools for the feeble-minded 95 + 4 +
Elementary schools (primary and grammar) 92 + 7 +
Normal schools 83 + 16 +
Secondary schools (high schools and academies) 79 + 10 +
Colleges and universities 33 + 66 +
Professional schools 17 + 82 +

It will be seen that the state is doing in a tolerably complete manner what it has evidently assumed is its duty, in all but two of the classes of institutions to which it gives any attention whatever. But in the case of the professional schools and the colleges and universities the state is merely dabbling in the matter, leaving so great a proportion of the work to private enterprise that of the youth being educated in such institutions seventy-four per cent, are receiving such education through private munificence. If our postal system, or our system of criminal reformation and punishment, were carried on partly by the state, partly by private enterprise, we should regard it as a very curious condition of things, and should cast about us for a remedy. But as yet we fail to observe the anomaly in this very important matter of public education.

Let us now take up the subject from the point of the comparative number of public and private institutions, rather than from that of the total attendance of students, and confine our examination to one of the two kinds of institutions of which the state controls but an insignificant proportion. We may classify the colleges and universities conveniently through the aid of tables 29, p. 578; 32, p. 636 and 34, p. 640 of the U. S. Report. All institutions classed as schools of technology (table 36, p. 650) are omitted from this consideration, even though their official title is sometimes "College of ———." (It may be stated in passing that according to this table the national government is responsible for 2 and the states for 34 of these institutions. The source of support or the founder of the remaining 8 is not specified and has not been investigated.) These statistics may be regarded as tolerably correct, although, inaccuracies undoubtedly occur. Consequently the general view of the situation which they offer is approximately correct.

Many of the universities of the east have at one time or another received appropriations from the state, and some state control has been and still is exercised. But such institutions must nevertheless be classed as private rather than public. The comparative number of colleges and universities under public versus private control is as follows: National, 2; state, 46; city, 4; private, 620. The total is then 52 founded and chiefly if not entirely supported by public funds, as against 620 privately founded and privately supported institutions. Some of these private colleges and universities date from the early days of American history, when the government was not yet strong enough to undertake educational work, and private organizations gave their time, energy, and money to its accomplishment. The fact that the government is now able to do its duty along the line of education of its citizens does not in the least detract from the high honor due those early pioneers who by individual effort paved the way for the accomplishment by the state of a great and necessary task.

These six hundred and twenty privately founded institutions, which still educate almost twice as many of our young men and women as do the public colleges and universities (Cf. tables 1 and 2, pp. 545 and 546 of the U. S. Report), are as a rule conducted in accordance with the personal wishes of their founders and, according to the three tables quoted above four hundred and seventeen of them are avowedly denominational in attitude. The term denominational is here used in its broadest sense, to include both Roman catholic and protestant institutions. These colleges and universities are, of course (though why "of course" is as yet unexplained), all exempt from taxation. This one fact proves beyond cavil that church and state are not separate in America. Exemption from taxation of an institution of learning which also gives religious instruction or brings religious influence to bear means to this extent state aid, and consequently direct connection with the state.

The citizens who at its foundation endow a denominational institution and continue to support it also pay their share of the tax which supports the state college and state university. It seems at first, then, that their right to maintain in addition their own private institution for religious teaching should pass unchallenged, and, if the denominational college were for religious teaching alone, none might object. But its religious teaching is greatly adulterated. The denominational college and university compete with the work of the state institutions, and infringe upon the right and duty of the state to attend to the intellectual training and preparation for citizenship of its youth. The specious argument may be presented that these private institutions, founded in the past to accomplish the twofold task of educating ministers for the ministry and citizens for citizenship, still exist for the sake of helping out with the educational work of the country, the great task of the state colleges and universities. But the state will not do its whole duty until the entire responsibility devolves upon the state alone. If the state does not provide enough colleges (using this general term now for both college and university), it is the state and no one else who should set about the task of providing additional ones. The state is no pauper on the hands of its citizens when it comes to a question of providing and maintaining a sufficient number of reform schools or of penitentiaries. No more should it be so in the far more vital matter of the education of its normal and desirable citizens.

Briefly, the national, state and municipal governments are not doing their duty until their citizens are offered such adequate opportunity for intellectual and technical training as to render unnecessary all such offering of opportunity by institutions founded upon a private or religious basis. This position places no difficulty in the way of private citizens or organizations who wish to give direct financial aid to institutions of learning. Their gifts would instead reflect higher honor upon them, inasmuch as they would be a manifestation of unadulterated patriotism. Those who wish to give to the cause of religious instruction would find the field as large and attractive, and untrammeled by other real or apparent motives, in the various institutions or organizations to which their donations would be made.

Moreover, the impetus in this matter must come from the state itself. The remedy will not be begun by the denominational college, for, unless something is done from without, it will continue to exist from mere inertia. The remedy will not be begun by the students, for they will in general follow the line of least resistance, and attend the institution which other members of their families and their friends have attended. They will attend the college which their parents aid materially with financial support. They feel a moral obligation to help swell its roll of attendance, and they have been taught, as were their parents before them, that the college supported by their church deserves somehow a more direct and solicitous care and interest and aid than does the college supported by their state. Yet it is the students of the denominational college who receive from it the most direct harm, along with the educational advantages of which they avail themselves. They are subjected daily to the influence of some particular denomination, in either a direct or indirect method. The denomination may be the one to which their parents belong, and to which they would also ally themselves, or have already allied themselves; but the harm consists in that they are led blindly along, instead of being left to make the choice of their own free wills, as our country in the beginning proposed every one should be. The harm consists even more in that all through their course of study they find general and religious education constantly commingled, in direct contradiction to the assumption that religious freedom exists in America. The student has no way out of the dilemma but to assume that the freedom is simply a freedom as to which particular denomination shall for him be united with the state. The list of denominations from which he may choose is a limited one, inasmuch as of the seventeen denominations represented among the four hundred and seventeen avowedly sectarian colleges, almost three fourths of them are under the control of but four denominations, as will be shown from the following table, deduced from tables 29 and 32 of the U. S. Report.

(910 Per Cent.)
(24—Per Cent.)
(910 Per Cent.)
(18—Per Cent.)
(716 Per Cent.)
(16+ Per Cent.)
Latter Day Saints
(12 Per Cent.)
Roman Catholic
(15+ Per Cent.)
(6+ Per Cent.)
(4+ Per Cent.)
Seventh Day Adventists
(15 Per Cent.)
(3+ Per Cent.)
(2+ Per Cent.)
(2— Per Cent.)
Church of God
(15 Per Cent.)
United Brethren
(1+ Per Cent.)
(1+ Per Cent.)

The stigma of "godless institution" used as an epithet of reproach, is so often applied to the college of the state by zealous supporters of the private college as to actually give the student the impression that an institution which does not combine some form of religious teaching or influence, some Sunday school work, with its general instruction, is acting in opposition to the good of the country, rather than in conformity with one of its most cherished principles.

It may be that the student does not wish to ally himself with any of the religious denominations which maintain colleges, but attends one of these colleges since there is no restriction announced as to the church membership or religious affiliation of prospective students, but instead a distinct effort made to win any and all students of general good character. He will be subjected constantly to petty humiliations because he does not worship his God in the same formulas as do his fellow students. If he fail to attend even the "voluntary" chapel and Sunday services conducted by the college, not to mention the various prayer services, he realizes that his absence is noted by classmates and members of the faculty, even in the unlikely case that no comments are made. In order to escape isolation and a greater or less degree of ostracism, he finds it expedient to attend the services. He goes through with song, prayer, responsive reading, or whatever form the exercises may take, carefully concealing his lack of sympathy with them. In this way a definite species of hypocrite is developed. Our colleges, to their unspeakable shame, are full of such products. They occur among instructors as well as students, for the instructors must add to the reasons of the student the additional one that they wish to retain their positions. Consequently such instructors attend and even assist in conducting services with which they do not feel the least genuine sympathy. The fault is not that of instructors and students, for they came for educational purposes to an institution which avows that its aim is educational, and that no distinctions are made on account of religious attitude. The fault is that of the college, in bringing to bear a compulsion of such a sort that there is no resort but submission and consequent hypocrisy.

Granting, therefore, that the denominational college is a pernicious and undesirable incubus upon the American system of public instruction, it becomes advisable to define the term more exactly, and to make it more clear that in it are combined church and state inasmuch as religious education and general education are here given in combination, in an institution exempted by law from taxation. The denominational college may then be defined as follows: A general educational institution which (1) was not founded by and is not supported by the state (state in this sense including national, state and municipal governments), which (2) aims to further the cause of some one religion or of some one religious denomination, which (3) holds daily religious services during each college week, which (4) makes some limitation in regard to the church membership of its trustees, president, or teaching force.

The examples given in this article will be from protestant rather than from catholic or Jewish colleges, simply because the writer is best acquainted with the protestant colleges. The statistics given are based upon those of the United States commissioner of education, who makes his report chiefly concerning protestant and catholic colleges. The conclusions drawn, however, should be the same for all religions and religious denominations.

Beginning with a consideration of the second clause in our definition, we may see the method in which this is accomplished, from the following quotations. In the original articles of incorporation of a highly reputable college we read as follows:

The object of this institution shall be to promote the general interests of education and to qualify young men for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the various duties of life.

In the historical statement of the catalogue of the same college we find:

The college has not lost sight of the design of its founders that it should be a thoroughly Christian institution.

In a supplementary catalogue of the same college we learn that the instructing force

may assemble the students as freely for song and prayer as for athletic associations and class parties. There are no restrictions at this point, either directly or indirectly. The atmosphere is just as religious as the teachers and students choose to make it.

The reader will note that the "freedom" here referred to lies wholly in the teachers' privilege of increasing the already existing religious atmosphere, not in any possibility of curtailing it.

Each of the three following quotations is from a catalogue of a college of excellent standing. The first reads:

In accordance with the spirit of the founder, the college is undenominational, but distinctly Christian in its influence, discipline and instruction.

The second is similarly worded, as follows:

All instruction is given from the religious viewpoint with reverent recognition of and regard for the divine wisdom and power hedging us about and with which we have to do.

These statements do not leave us to infer that religious instruction is simply coordinate with other instruction, but make the claim that the teaching is a combination of the two. A reductio ad absurdum would lead to the query how Christian or religious mathematics differs from secular mathematics, or how such an interpretation of Horace's "Odes" or of the "Chanson de Roland" differs from the secular interpretation, and whether Christian bacteriology differs from catholic or Jewish bacteriology. A more moderate statement in this regard is exhibited in the third citation:

It is a Christian college, conducted in the belief that Christian faith is the source of the highest culture, and that, in the words of its founder, "All education should be for the glory of God"; and accordingly it uses the means which legitimately come within its province to foster a Christian life in those who are connected with it.

A rather naïve method of cooperation of college and church is shown in the following citation, again from a catalogue of a college of high standing:

The college is distinctly Christian, and recognizes Christian character as its highest attainment. It is unsectarian in its management. Inquiry is made of the students at entrance as to their denominational affiliation, and what churches in the city they desire to attend. Lists are sent to the pastors of these churches, who seek out the students and bring about them the influence of church homes.

Apparently this inquiry and resultant action is official on the part of the college. One is tempted to wonder what disposition is made of students who signify a desire to attend a church of some denomination not represented in the city in which this college is situated. Possibly a substitute is offered, with the assurance that it is "just as good." In case a student does not wish to decide upon his church affiliation until a later date than that of his entrance into college, special action is perhaps taken upon the case. Further quotation of such examples is forbidden by lack of space. Any one who will take the trouble to examine a dozen non-state college catalogues, selected quite at random, will realize that there is no scarcity of examples fully as pertinent and often even more striking than the ones cited above.

In passing to the third clause of the definition, we realize that definite and individual examples are hardly necessary. It is the exception, not the rule, if any non-state college does not hold its morning chapel, its Sunday service, and its Sunday vespers. It is usual, as will be seen from an examination of catalogues, for these services to be compulsory. Attendance is "required," with or without penalty for non-attendance, or is "expected," or "urged" or is "voluntary," which latter word may be variously interpreted. For the sake of definiteness, however, some citations may be made from catalogues:

The principles and influences of the college are distinctively Christian, but the college has no connection with any particular denomination. A short service is held each morning in the chapel at a quarter past nine o'clock. All students are required to be present at this service, and on Sunday are expected to attend the services at the church of their choice. . . . On Sunday, vesper services are held in—.

Another example is as follows:

Every undergraduate student is required to be present twice each week at morning prayers in the chapel, unless excused by the president. If a student at any time falls short of this requirement by four absences he must during the next two weeks attend four times in addition to the four times above provided for. Failure to comply with this rule will render him liable to suspension. Every undergraduate in residence at the university is required to attend at least one half of the Sunday chapel services each quarter. Failure to comply with this rule will render him liable to suspension.

Still another citation, from the catalogue of still a third college, is as follows:

Daily attendance at morning prayer or an alternative duty, as described below, is required of every student, except seniors enrolled in a university professional school down town. These chapel exercises are held from 10:15 to 10:30 each morning. For every fifteen absences, a student will be required to hand in within ten days after the fifteenth absence an original theme of 800 to 1,000 words upon a subject assigned him by the chancellor touching morals and religion. This theme will be graded according to its merits, and awarded the same weight in determining the student's standing as if it were a course requiring fifteen hours' recitation. Two failures to hand in themes will be entered as a condition, being treated as a failure in a term examination. Where a student is absent from college for five or more days continuously, with a good excuse, his chapel absences will be excused also. Where a student is absent from college less than five days continuously, even though excused, his absences from chapel will be counted.

In many colleges attendance at daily chapel is not compulsory, and no penalty is imposed for non-attendance. In such institutions there often exists a "custom" which has almost the same effect as the written rule. The libraries and reading-rooms are closed during the chapel hour, and instructors are officially requested to lock their class-rooms, so that no place for work or recreation is left to the students during the session of chapel. Students who in spite of this arrangement fail to appear with due regularity at chapel are made the subject of unpleasant comment among their fellow students and often directly, while instructors who do not feel the impulse toward worship at precisely the same hour of the day as their colleagues receive from the president or some other official a gentle reminder that their presence at this "voluntary" chapel is advisable.

The last clause in our definition is an important one. The reader will doubtless think at once of one of the greatest and best universities of our country, the president of which must always be of a certain religious denomination. His personal preference as to Tennyson or Browning is not inquired about, nor is he asked whether he believes in high tariff or free trade, or is a prohibitionist or a socialist. But investigation is made as to whether he has formally subscribed to a certain creed of a certain religion, although no one thinks for a moment that he will make a better executive on this account, or even did think so when the ruling was made. That all or a certain number of the trustees of a college shall be members of a specified church is likewise a familiar state of things, hardly needing illustration. For instance in the historical sketch of a certain college founded by a private citizen, it is mentioned that this gentleman was of a certain religious denomination "and he provided that the trustees of the institution should be members of that body." In the catalogue of another college we find this statement concerning its charter: "It provides that the number of trustees shall never be greater than seventeen, seven of whom shall be clergymen and ten laymen."

No one who has given the matter slight attention would be inclined to believe that the point in our definition concerning church membership of the instructional force applies to but an inconsiderable number of institutions, and is the exception rather than the rule. The contrary, however, is the case. Proof from a different source than the college catalogue is at hand, and has the advantage of being absolutely disinterested in its origin. Such proof consists in the blanks of teachers' agencies. These blanks almost invariably, and probably always, contain the items "church membership" and "church affiliation" in the list of "qualifications for teaching" to be filled out by the prospective teachers. This information would not be asked for were it unnecessary. Moreover, the writer has the opportunity of quoting from letters written in a most kindly attitude by teachers' agencies of high standing, concerning registration blanks in which membership in orthodox churches kad not been indicated. The first extract is as follows:

It will not help you. . . that you are a member of the Universalist church. . . . Sometimes employers will go so far as to state that they want a member of the Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, or Baptist church, these four being the most common of the so-called orthodox churches.

It is of interest to note in passing that this agency discovered by business experience what we have above shown by statistics, as to what denominations control most of the colleges. In our statistics, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists lead, Roman Catholic, which evidently does not employ the aid of agencies, or of this particular agency, to any noticeable degree, being fourth. In our statistics Lutheran and Christian come next, followed by Congregational. The reason that Congregational seems to this agency to rank with the three first quoted will doubtless appear from the latter part of this article. Another extract from a similar letter is as follows:

It is likely, however, that you will be handicapped there, as you will be handicapped in most colleges, by your lack of church membership. Have you never been a member of a church? You understand that most colleges are directly or indirectly connected with some church, and as a general rule the president insists upon membership in some church.

An extract from a third letter reads as follows:

You are handicapped for the majority of positions for which you would otherwise be eligible because you are not a member of a church. We had a letter to-day from. . . that is in no way sectarian and yet they absolutely demand in the teacher they desire a member of some protestant church. Frequently the denominational schools make no requirement as to a particular church but do demand membership in some church.

Let us now return to a statistical consideration of the private educational institutions. We have noted that of the 620 such colleges, listed in the U. S. Commissioner's Report, tables 29, 32 and 34, 417 are avowedly denominational. Of the remaining 203, 99 are quoted as non-sectarian, while four are not specified. In the catalogues of three of these four, the claim is made that they are non-sectarian, thus bringing the number of such colleges up to 102. From the definition of denominational or non-sectarian college which we have accepted, it follows that any college which conforms to all or even half of the four clauses of this definition may not be called non-sectarian. Stating this affirmatively, we find that: Any college which (1) was founded by a private citizen or organization of citizens, and which (2) conducts devotional exercises at least five days in the week at which student attendance is "required," or "expected" or "urged" or not distinctly stated as "voluntary" in its catalogue, may not rank as non-sectarian, in spite of any claims it may make to that effect, but must rank as a denominational college. In case a college was privately founded, but states in its catalogue that all religious exercises which it conducts are "voluntary" such college shall not be classed as sectarian unless some stated restriction exists concerning the church affiliation of its president, or all or a part of its board of trustees.

Of the 203 colleges to be considered with reference to the above definition, the catalogues of 62 have been examined. No investigation has been made of the colleges of secondary rank listed in table 34 of the TJ. S. Rep. as "Colleges for women, Division B," of which 32 claim to be non-sectarian and one is not specified. The conclusions to be drawn for these 33 would doubtless be similar to those which we shall deduce from the remaining 70 colleges which claim to be non-sectarian. An examination of the catalogues of 63 of these 70 colleges gives the following results: In accordance with our definition, 16 of these institutions may fairly rank as non-denominational colleges. The remaining 47 out of 63, that is to say, 75 per cent., of the colleges examined, must be classed as denominational. It may be of interest at this point to state that all of the quotations made above from college catalogues, for the purpose of illustrating "denominational" practises of colleges, have been made from the catalogues of colleges disclaiming in those very catalogues that they are denominational colleges.[1]

Subtracting these from the number of non-sectarian institutions given in the U. S. Rep. and adding it to the number of sectarian ones there given, we then obtain the following more nearly correct statistics concerning the total 672 colleges and universities of the United States:

Public (52) Private (620)
National State City Non-sectarian Sectarian 461 Not Investigated
2 46 4 16 Sectarianism
Thirty-three women's colleges of secondary rank.
Seven colleges of primary rank.

What are the general conclusions to be drawn? It is evident that one of two things must be done. The denominational college must be entirely supplanted by the state college, placed in as numerous and methodical branches over the United States as are the high schools and grade schools at present. In each community of a certain number of inhabitants there should as regularly be a good public college as there is now a public high school in each similar smaller community. Besides federal and municipal institutions there should be national ones, not of the same grade, but for entrance to which graduation from a federal institution might be a prerequisite. Whether these suggested institutions should come into existence by taking over the "plants" of the present denominational colleges or by some other method need not be worked out in this article. Ways and means can always be discovered when an act is recognized as a necessary one.

If this is not done, there is but one alternative. If the denominational colleges continue to exist, and to combine general training and education for citizenship with religious instruction, basing such religious instruction upon the contents of the accepted book or books of any religion, or the interpretation of these books by any church or personal interpreter, or propound any more definite monotheism than the motto on our coins, "In God we trust," and if these colleges continue to be exempt from taxation then we must at once and forever abandon the pleasant fallacy that in the United States church and state are independent.

  1. The references for these quotations are as follows: Iowa College Bulletins, Vol. V., No. 2, pp. 7-8; No. 3, p. 4. Wellesley College Calendar, 1905-6, p. 21. Wabash College Catalogue, 1906, p. 11. Colorado College Catalogue, March, 1907, p. 120. Smith College Official Circular, Series 1, No. 2, 1905-6, p. 11. Western Reserve University (College for Women) catalogue for 1906-7, p. 59. Princeton University Catalogue, 1906-7, p. 255. New York University Catalogue, 1905-6, p. 179. Bryn Mawr Program, 1906-7, p. 45. Amherst College Catalogue, 1906-7, p. 6.