Popular Science Monthly/Volume 82/May 1913/Scholarship and the State

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By Professor F. C. BROWN


FROM time to time articles appear from the press and more frequently still words are passed from person to person, which indicate that a great many citizens of our American states believe that scholarship exists only for the pleasure and profit of those who seek it. It is believed that this attitude arises more from lack of information and thought on the subject than it does from the general bad practises of those who proclaim scholarship. Consequently this paper shall purpose to set forth one simple, and it is believed irrefutable, argument for state support to scholarship.

The state may be regarded as an expression of the continuity of human life, and we may therefore postulate that it is its first duty to perpetuate itself. In spite of the fact that science shows that it is highly improbable that any state can live forever, it is nevertheless generally agreed that if the state so conducts itself as though it intended to live forever, it will live the longest and be the happiest while it does live.

Unfortunately there are many people who seem to think that the only duty of a state is to look after the welfare of the present generation. They somewhat seriously ask, "What has posterity ever done for us?" Perhaps we may compromise with these, for the sake of our discussion, on the basis that neither the present nor the future welfare of the community can exist independent of the other. In general there is a lack of far-sightedness among American citizens. H. G. Wells calls it, "state blindness." He says: "The typical American has no sense of the state." President Vincent, however, believes that the state is coming to stand for a common life which seeks to gain ever higher levels of efficiency, justice, happiness and solidarity. Ambassador Bryce, who seems to know us better than we know ourselves, declares:

The state is not to them (Americans), as to Germans, or Frenchmen, and even some English thinkers, an ideal moral power charged with the duty of forming the characters and guiding the lives of its subjects.

I wish to present in this paper an ideal for the permanent and increasing betterment of the state and to suggest means for carrying out the ideal, for, as Arnold Toynbee once said:

Enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things, first an ideal which takes the imagination by storm and second a definite intelligible plan for carrying the ideal into practise.

The future welfare of the state depends on economic and moral conditions. If the natural resources are used up and new resources are not discovered to supplant them, if the soil is worn out, the coal and other minerals are used up and wasted, the rivers are allowed to fill up, then organized human life will be almost impossible. On the other hand, if all the natural wealth were preserved and the coming generations should not be taught so as to appreciate proper moral standards, then obviously the natural wealth would be of no use.

The postulates naturally lead us to declare that it is the state's duty to investigate how it may best safeguard its future, and also to take what action best judgment may dictate. The first question that arises is whence is this best judgment to come. Plato's ideal state was to be provided with seers or wise men selected and trained according to the judgment of the wise men of the previous generation. But this idea is fundamentally at variance with the ideals and practises of our democracy. The people of the states of our time do not believe that any wise man, or any set of wise men, have the ability or the right to know beforehand what youths will when matured fully be best suited to direct the welfare of a single generation, much less the ability to select the future men of best judgment.

The idea is pretty well grounded in the American states, particularly in the west and the middle west, that the state should with all its power endeavor to see that every youth within its bounds should have equal opportunities to make the most with his native ability. No human power can distinguish a Lincoln before he has well matured. It is the privilege of the state, yes, it is even its duty, to see that every person shall do as much as possible, leaving it in a large measure to the individual to know what he should do. We must therefore admit that it is the duty of the state to offer educational assistance to all who will take it, and that this education must usually partake of two ideals which are apparently diametrically opposite. The ideal education will fit the individual to be proficient in some useful line of activity, and at the same time give him such a general education that he may be morally sound. The first is the element of the professional education and the second is the element of the liberal education. Excellence in the first requires, providing the number of individuals are properly distributed, essentially a narrow life, and gives a high efficiency with large immediate rewards both to the individual and to the state. Excellence in the latter gives a broad view of the functions of the individual and of the relative values of the various activities. So long as we maintain our democratic habits and insist on selecting our wise men fully developed from among the masses, the state should insist, as far as its wealth and its power will permit, that all the individuals should have a liberal education. No method of reasoning or no experience of the past can show that the state can wisely permanently entrust the education of the individuals to any group of men or any group of interests. Logically this could only happen when the group interests become identical to the interests of the state.

The danger of permitting commercial interests to provide all education would be probably as great as the danger of extending that privilege to religious denominations. The commercial interests are not fearing a dearth in their supply of presidents and directors of their companies. These high offices can willingly be handed over to the friends and sons of the controlling millionaires. What they do want is trained labor. They want the stenographers who can give the greatest numbers of words for their money. They want draughtsmen who can give the most and best designs for a particular machine. They want in every case experts who can give the best judgment on a particular line of goods. It is of less than secondary interest to the factory owner, whether any of his employees can vote intelligently and conscientiously, or it may be stated more broadly that he little cares whether the men of his corporation are morally sound. Although it may seem a little inconsistent, he does want men who will not rob his cash register, or purposely endanger the owner's life. Consequently there are organized commercial interests at work in this country trying to get the universities to give the professional students a more narrow education than they now receive. They call it a more efficient education. They insist that it is scandalous that an engineering graduate is not worth more than twenty cents an hour to start, forgetting that the ideals and practises of society should be raised »to a higher level by the work of the university. The late Mr. Crane recently, in criticizing the professional education of the University of Illinois, stated that the cost of training was out of all proportion to the product. He figured that the really successful electrical engineer cost the state upwards of $18,000. My reply is that the electrical engineering profession to-day stands as a monument to good investment of money and energy in pure and applied science, and this without calling especial attention to the betterment of society by the better class of engineers.

On the other hand, if the church controlled education, the training would perhaps be so idealistic that there might be considerable doubt if any of the practical needs of the professions would be met. A really successful electrical engineer would not be produced at any cost. Church education, naturally conservative, would be entirely inadequate for the needs of our changing democracy, even if it should try to eliminate creed. The conclusion is that even if the preachers, the doctors, the dentists, or the engineers would furnish all the money to educate their kind, the state can not afford to risk giving them this privilege.

The plea is that the state university, as the only fit organ of the state, must first of all not merely consent to train men for the professions that serve the masses, but that it must demand this right. Of course we are assuming that the state is not a poverty-stricken one, and that it is not fighting for a bare existence. Secondly, the state's university must insist on giving its students a broad education. By this is meant that all students should not only be trained toward a professional career, but that they should also have the elements of a liberal education. They should by all means appreciate the value of scholarship in most lines of endeavor. President James says:

I believe that the proper way to train a man or woman who is going to practise one of these learned professions, so far as a school can train him, is to prepare him for independent work in the sciences underlying his profession.

I understand that to mean that a graduate in electrical engineering should be prepared to carry on research work in physics.

And what is scholarship? It is the discovering of new knowledge and the proper dissemination of this knowledge. The discovery is the most important because it is the basis and the inspiration. There can be no permanent scholarship without research. I believe that it is more difficult to keep a semblance of scholarship alive without research, than it is to keep religion alive without spiritual leadership.

In how far is it wise to expect the state to foster research? To answer this question we may first inquire into the economic importance of investigation. A few years ago the members of the agricultural college of the University of Illinois went before the legislature and showed that they could make it possible to increase the yield of corn in Illinois by one bushel per acre, and that thereby they would repay all the money to run their college, if they did nothing else. This argument was so plain that the legislators could understand it and they gave practically all the money asked for. The money showed such good results in such a short time, that the engineering departments were then emboldened to lobby before the legislature, trying to show that money expended on research in engineering would be of great benefit to the state. They said that in ceramics they would investigate all the clays of the state to find building materials to replace the fast vanishing supplies of wood and iron. In mechanics they would investigate reinforced concrete so as to make it possible to construct buildings that would last for generations at a small cost. The legislature could understand this argument and so it gave bounteously to the engineering experiment station. The experiments in this station attracted attention over the whole world. The president then asked for an unheard-of lump sum of money for the graduate college in arts and sciences, merely to further knowledge in those subjects which were not of immediate value to the masses. This also was granted. The result of all this movement was that at the last legislature the University of Illinois was granted a sum of money in excess of any one sum ever before in the history of the world by a single legislative enactment. This was in Lorimer's state and in Lorimer's time, strange as it might seem.

According to Dr. W. E. Whitney, in charge of the General Electric Company research laboratories, the advances in incandescent lighting alone in this country in the last ten years represent a saving of $240,000,000 a year or nearly a million dollars a day. He also calls attention to the fact that as a result of investigations with the mercury arc, his company has already had a sale of over a million dollars extra. There are a great many concerns in this country spending over a hundred thousand dollars annually on research. And why do they do it? Because it pays the company. Dr. Whitney believes that the advances of Germany over the other countries is largely traceable to their apparent overproduction of research men by well-fitted universities and technical schools. My argument is very simple. If an electrical concern that must at all odds pay dividends to the present generation, can afford to pay over a hundred thousand dollars annually for research, how much can the state afford to pay for research in pure science, in physics, in mathematics and chemistry, which will be absolutely essential to radical progress a century hence. The law governing the relation between visible radiation and temperature has been the guiding principle to most of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by present day commercial firms for more efficient lighting. New laws by the physicists of to-day will set new guiding principles for the millions of the future. The laws of induction as discovered in pure physics had to precede the most wonderful development in electrical engineering that this age or any age has witnessed in any line. My whole argument can be summed up here briefly as follows. Knowledge is the source of all power. If the state would get more power it must gain more knowledge. No wonder President E. J. James has been led to exclaim,

Why, research is the life of the state university! It (research) is fundamental to it! Without that it could not be a university in any proper sense of the term. If its professors are not doing this, they are not qualified to give the training which we have in mind for the youth of the state who go there. So that research, investigation, is a fundamental quality of the state university, which is going to do for the people of the state the service which they have a right to expect.

Perhaps the moral status of the state is as important as food and shelter. I believe that the moral condition can be improved only by a further acquisition of the facts as to what promotes and what hinders well-being. Thus all knowledge improves moral conditions. The intelligent investigation of the results of alcoholic drinks is doing more toward driving out the drink habit than all the hatchets. The intelligent and unbiased investigation of the moral status of small towns can not help but improve conditions. The man whose researches have shown him definitely what can be done to improve morals will always mark progress. The man who can point out just how the practise of the simple virtues of honesty and faith can better any particular conditions is certain to better social conditions.

It may be mentioned that all research in the right spirit has a moral value, which, however, it is difficult to evaluate in simple units. Any man who is striving to extend the bounds of human knowledge is thus far a source of inspiration to all who know him, and a lesson in faith and hope to those who know of him. Particularly in a university the teachings of a man of research are those that are most likely to inspire the spirit of wonder and high ideals among the students. It has hardly been the province of this paper to point out how the installation of the proper ideals, free from tawdry sentiment, among university students, permeates the whole society of the state.

Why must not a state entrust the seeking after knowledge to institutions outside the state? One university professor once said that it was useless for a state to try to build up a respectable graduate school near Chicago University. The inference was that the state could well let Mr. Rockefeller's millions seek after new knowledge and then help itself. Of course it might, but this attitude when looked into carefully is ridiculous. It is just as bad as for a citizen to depend on his generous neighbor's parlors to entertain his company. If a state would be a parasite and depend upon forces outside itself to develop new knowledge, then by the laws of nature it must take the chances of a parasite. But I believe that with a healthy, wealthy and vigorous body of people, state pride will forever demand that the state shall do its share toward productive scholarship.