Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/March 1911/The Progress of Science

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The president of one of the leading universities in the east and the president of one of the leading state universities have recently expressed opinions in regard to the tenure of office of the university professor which deserve careful attention. In his annual report to the trustees, President Butler, of Columbia University, writes:

A teacher or investigator who offends against common morality has destroyed his academic usefulness, whatever may be his intellectual attainments. A teacher who offends against the plain dictates of common sense is in like situation. A teacher who can not give to the institution which maintains him common loyalty and that kind of service which loyalty implies, ought not to be retained through fear of clamor or of criticism. Then, too, a university teacher owes a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.

In the issue of Science for February 17, President Van Hise, of the University of Wisconsin, says:

... the instructional force of a university, both young and old, must be efficient. Whether or not a man is retained in a faculty should depend upon his capacity to meet his duty to the institution. There is no possible excuse for retaining in the staff of a university an inefficient man.

It is certainly desirable that professors should be moral, efficient, sensible and loyal; they should have even other qualifications than those which they share with domestic servants. But it is a far cry from this to the claim that the president should dismiss professors whenever they seem to him to lack these traits. Such a claim obviously traverses academic traditions. Professors receive their appointments at the average age of forty years. If a mistake is made, it is the fault of those who appoint, and they should accept the responsibility. Professors who prove to be less competent in the management of large classes in the undergraduate college and in the professional schools should be relieved from them, but it is more economical to pay an occasional professor his salary without lull return, than to place the whole university under the law of supply and demand. By the nature of things, some professors are less competent than the average of them all, and any university could temporarily raise the average by replacing ten per cent, of the faculty. But it would be the old story of killing the hen that lays the golden eggs.

President Van Hise says:

The question now arises as to what should be done in the case of a man of professorial rank, whether full, associate or assistant, who is not efficient. Not infrequently papers with reference to this subject appear to assume that universities exist for the instructional force; that the main thing is to give that force a comfortable and happy time, an opportunity for a somewhat easy existence as a teacher, leisure for browsing through literature, and long vacations.

A scientific man should give references to his authorities; but President Van Hise apparently thinks that professors in general hold such opinions and would like to form a privileged class. According to President Butler they do form such a class. He writes in his report:

The happenings of the past decade [that is since he became president] have made the lot of a member of the permanent teaching staff of Columbia University one that is indeed fortunate.... It may be that there is some other career that is equally fortunate, but if so, the fact does not appear to obtrude itself upon the public attention.

President Butler, however, seems to realize that professors do not share his opinion as to their happy lot, for in an editorial article in the last Educational Review he writes:

Truly the academic animal is a queer beast. If he can not have something at which to growl and snarl, he will growl and snarl at nothing at all.

In the Educational Review for October last he quotes from The Nation the following:

There is a fine opening for a new institution to show what a college can be wherein the personal domination by the president is abandoned, and in its stead we have a company of gentlemen and scholars working together, with the president simply as the efficient center of inspiration and cooperation, and with some inconsistency remarks:

Concerning this statement two things may be said with a considerable amount of emphasis. The first is that the condition described in the last four lines is precisely what is to be found at every American college and university that is worthy-of the name, and that no evidence to the contrary has ever been produced by anybody. The second is that, while the attempt to create a contrary impression may be originally due to ignorance, when persisted in it can only be attributed to malice.

Permanent tenure of office for the professor is not such a unique state of privilege as President Van Hise imagines. A president's wife has permanent tenure of office; he can not dismiss her because he regards her as inefficient or because he prefers another woman. In the army and navy, in the highest courts, to a certain extent in the civil service of every country, there is permanence of office. Indeed it is nowhere completely disregarded; service is always a valid claim for continued employment. Perhaps one wife in fifty is divorced by the courts, one army officer in a hundred court-marshalled, one judge in a thousand impeached; but such actions are taken after definite charges and opportunity for defence.

Permanent tenure of office is intended to improve the service, not to demoralize it. It is attached to honorable offices, where public spirit and self-sacrifice are demanded, and the wages do not measure the performance. In Germany, France and Great Britain the permanence of tenure has given dignity and honor to the university chair, attracting to it the ablest men and setting them free to do their best work. In this country the better the institution, the more permanent has been the tenure of office. Up to the time of the writing of President Butler's report only one professor had ever been dismissed from Columbia University, and then it was for entering the confederate army.

It is possible to adduce arguments for the introduction of the competitive system into the university. Thus President Butler holds that it is undesirable to pay equal salaries. He says:

In my judgment such a policy would fill the university with mediocrities and render it impossible to make that special provision for distinction and for genius which the trustees ought always to be able to make.

But it appears that the general course of social evolution is not towards competition. In the university it would probably be adverse to the finer traits of scholarship and character, most of all when, as under our present system, the competition would be for the favor of presidents and trustees. The president may assume superhuman responsibilities, but he is after all human in his limitations. He may regard common sense as agreement with him, common loyalty as subservience to him, respect for the opinions of mankind as deference to that small portion of mankind which has money to give.

If there is to be competition in order to retain university chairs, then the university must be prepared to forego able men or to compete with other professions in the rewards it gives. It must offer prizes commensurate with those of engineering, medicine and law, namely, salaries as large as a hundred thousand dollars a year. It is further true that under these circumstances a I man must be judged by his peers. There are doubtless advantages in a system of severe competition for large prizes under honorable conditions, as well as in permanent tenure of office with small salaries and a free life; but confusion and harm result from running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. A university which dismisses professors when the president thinks that they are inefficient or lack common sense is parasitic on the great academic traditions of the past and of other nations. A single university which acts in this way will in the end obtain a faculty consisting of a few adventurers, a few sycophants and a crowd of mediocrities. If all universities adopt such a policy, while retaining their present meager salaries and systems of autocratic control, then able men will not embark on such rotten ships. They will carry forward scientific work in connection with industry and will attract as apprentices those competent to learn the ways of research.


Princeton University has now no president and could get on admirably without one. It is true that the professors at Princeton who disagreed with the president and opposed his policies were not dismissed for lack of common sense and common loyalty. On the contrary, they won victories in a fair field where each side contended for principles. It is also true that at Princeton one professor has been able, first with and then without the favor of the administration, to carry out the plans which he formed. But the question arises whether Princeton could not to advantage place the control of Its policies formally in the hands of its faculties.

If the new graduate college should, like the colleges of the English universities on which it is confessedly modelled, be placed in charge of its fellows and professors, letting them be responsible both for appointments and for finances, then there could and would be gathered there a group of scholars such as has not been seen in this country since the early days of the Johns Hopkins University. There are but few of the younger men on whom the future of scholarship and research depends who would not gladly go to such a college, whether as teachers or as students.

The graduate college of which Professor West has dreamed, for which he has worked and which he has now made an accomplished fact is described by him in the last number of The Century Magazine, with special reference to the ideal of the scholar's life. Thanks to the bequest of Mrs. Swan, to the liberal gift of Mr. Proctor followed by gifts from other alumni, to the subscriptions to a memorial of Grover Cleveland, who was the first chairman of the committee of the graduate college, and to the large endowment left by Mr. Wyman, the graduate college has resources amounting to between three and four million dollars. Of this sum about six hundred thousand dollars will be spent on the buildings, including the Cleveland memorial tower, the Proctor dining ball and the Thomson residential court. The greater part of Mr. Proctor's gift and practically the whole of the Wyman bequest will be devoted to the endowment of professorships, fellowships and opportunities for research and publication. With the library, the laboratories and the academic buildings of the university, with the beauty of its architecture, the charm of the open country, the academic and national traditions of the place, the infant college is surely endowed by the fairies with all ideal gifts.

Professor West has been charged with exploiting the externals of culture, and it may be that he exhibits a touch of the pedantry that he ridicules. But his article in The Century is broad and sympathetic; bis plans and ideals

Design for the Graduate College of Princeton University.

Ground Plan of the Buildings of Princeton University,
showing the situation of the Graduate College.

are both fine and possible. It is not desirable for students to sleep in dark closets and eat at cheap boardinghouses, or for professors to live in hidden little flats and wash the dishes. Beauty and dignity are as far removed from extravagant luxury as from squalor. Professor West justly says:

Three elements compose the graduate college. Foremost is a body of first rate professors, to be added to others now in the faculty, interesting men, scholars of high power, eminent in their subjects, and able to waken young men. Do we need to say this is the capital A in the alphabet? If so, let it be said again and underscored, because it would be absurd to say anything else. The second element is a company of students of high ability. . . . The third element is the buildings, the material home wherein this community shall find the realization of its desires.

He also writes:

The truth at the heart of this history is that a university is a community, and a community made up of teachers and learners, an actual respublica litteraria (to quote an old name for the University of Cambridge), and that in this established and continuing society lies the safety of learning as a self perpetuating force and the promise of learning as a usable force in the world.


Francis Galton is now dead at the age of nearly eighty-nine years. One more of the great men who gave distinction to the Victorian era has been lost from the small surviving group which in science includes Hooker, now ninety-four years old, Wallace, eighty-nine years old, and Lister, eighty-four years old. In the generation a decade younger there are eminent men still living—Avebury, Rayleigh, Crookes, Roscoe. Geikie and other men of science—and perhaps Great Britain better than any other nation retains the fertility for the production of genius. It may indeed be that the men active in our own day are no less able than those of the nineteenth century; that remains for the next generation to decide. For us. however, these men—Darwin, Kelvin and the great company of leaders in science and letters of the Victorian era—are as giants whose stature we can not reach.

Galton published in 1909 a volume entitled "Memories of my Life," which gives a characteristic and charming account of his varied work and experiences. He was of Quaker descent,

Sir Francis Galton.

Part of an Autograph Letter from Sir Francis Galton,
written in his eighty-ninth year.

and, as is fitting, a member of a distinguished family. The tenets of his grandfather did not prevent him from making a large fortune by the sale of arms in time of war; he wrote about birds and was skilled in statistics, One of his grandsons was Sir Douglas Galton, the eminent engineer. On his mother's side Francis Galton was a grandson of Erasmus Darwin and a half cousin of Charles Darwin. His wife also belonged to a distinguished family—she was the daughter of the dean of Peterborough and the sister of the master of Trinity College; it is the irony of fate that they have left no lines of descent.

It is not needful to review here Galton's remarkable contributions to science, nor would it be possible to do so. At first sight his work seems to be disconnected; but it represents a normal evolution and nas one fundamental basis, namely, the application of quantitative methods to phenomena theretofore outside their control. Beginning with geographical explorations and by the inevitable nature of the man improvements in the conditions under which such explorations are carried forward, he next took up the unstable phenomena of meteorology, devising the graphic method of the weather chart and inventing new instruments. But he soon passed to the still more complicated phenomena of biology, anthropology and psychology. Here his genius touched many subjects. Mental imagery, composite photographs and fingerprints are familiar to all. His great contribution is the study of human heredity by exact methods and its application to the improvement of the race. Galton's word "eugenics" may be soiled by ignoble use; but his work is one of the most original creations of pure science and at the same time one of its most important applications—so great indeed that Galton's body may some day be taken from the quiet churchyard where it lies to be placed beside Darwin and Kelvin in Westminster Abbey.

Galton united certain characteristics which the disciples of George Fox seem to have bred into their blood with the traits which those who knew Charles Darwin found in him. A few days before his death the present writer had the privilege of presenting his name for honorary membership in an academy of sciences to succeed William James. These two men are the greatest whom he has known. James possessed the more complicated personality; but they had certain common traits—a combination of perfect aristocracy with complete democracy, directness, kindliness, generosity and nobility beyond all measure. It has been said that eugenics is futile because it can not define its end. But the answer is simple—we want men like William James and Francis Galton.


We record with regret the deaths of Professor Leonard Parker Kinnicutt, director of the department of chemistry in the Worcester Polytechnic Institute; of Dr. Edward Gameliel Janeway, professor of medicine and dean of the University and Believue Hospital Medical College, and of Dr. Willibald A. Nagel, professor of physiology at Rostock.

Sir Joseph Larmor, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and secretary of the Royal Society, has accepted an invitation to become the unionist candidate for the vacancy in the parliametary representation of Cambridge University.—Dr. W. K. Röntgen, professor of physics at Munich, and Dr. Ewald Hering, professor of physiology at Leipzig, have been appointed knights of the Prussian order pour le mérite. Dr. Gustav Retzius, formerly professor of anatomy at Stockholm, has been appointed a foreign knight of this order.—Dr. Samuel G. Dixon, professor of hygiene in the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. George Wharton Pepper, professor of law, have been elected trustees of the university.

It was announced on January 20 that Mr. Andrew Carnegie had added $10,000,000 to the endowment fund of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The institution was established in 1902 with a gift of $10,000,000. and Mr. Carnegie recently added $2,000,000. These gifts consist of preferred bond of the Steel Corporation bearing five per cent, interest and their market value is considerably above their par value. Mr. Carnegie's gifts to public purposes now amount to about $200.000,000.