Popular Science Monthly/Volume 84/January 1914/The Democratic Organization of a State University

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By Professor JOSEPH K. HART


DEMOCRACY has been working for more than a century to understand its own genesis and genius; but not enough attention has been paid to the most central element in the development of the complete democracy of the future. We have talked too much about ideals, but not enough about methods of realizing our ideals. Fallacious methods prevent the attainment of the things we most desire.

It is felt by many, perhaps by most, that self-government demands particularly strenuous processes of education in the development of the young. This is an ideal: but it has not been felt by many that a democratic social order must see to it that the public education institutions shall be thoroughly democratic in all their parts—in methods, in processes, in atmosphere, in actual results, as well as in ideals; and that this democratizing of our educational institutions is the most fundamental problem of democracy.

One type of American teacher has distinctly taken the attitude that the public schools must be absolute monarchies, with the head teacher as monarch and all other members of the school as his subjects, vassals and slaves, in order that these ideals might be compelled in all of them. A great American teacher has said that the school is the modern representative of the old Roman Empire with its arbitrary demands that the barbarians shall yield to the civilizing influences of education.

But, as stated above, it would seem that if education in a democracy is to be for democracy it must be democratic in every respect. The school, claiming to be the intellectual institution of the community, should be able to recognize the logic of such a statement and accept it.

This should certainly be true in the case of the university of a state, at least. Usually a university claims to be the center of intelligence of the state. But, if it is to be recognized as the center of intelligence in the democracy, it should be willing to take the most intelligently democratic point of view that is attainable.

Under a completely democratic conception of education what will be the nature of the organization of a state university? Such an institution attempts to bring together two rather inharmonious ideals or points of view, and usually one-or the other of these ideals secures an undue advantage, thereby limiting the work that should be accomplished by the whole institution. The primary ideal of a state university should be service to the state. As a great modern teacher has said, our "State universities should be training schools for servants of the common weal." But as institutions universities tend to take upon themselves conventional ways and to become ends in themselves; or to set up ends of their own, which are to some degree unrelated to the purposes which underlie their original foundation in the civic life. Even a state university may come to feel that it has its own sufficient standards and its own complete internal tests as to what should be considered the constituents of its own success.

The university ideal has always been an aristocratic rather than a democratic ideal, and it is with difficulty that the state university accommodates itself completely to the democratic ideal of service to the whole state. That old aristocratic ideal has held that culture is a possession of the exceptional individual and an adornment of living, rather than a great social goal and the preparation of all individuals for real service in the common good.

How can these two ideals—the one of public service, the other of personal culture—be harmonized in a state university? The real problem that faces any such an institution at any time is this: how can we keep the university ideal of a great institution of learning, and at the same time keep the state's ideal of service to the welfare of the whole people? It is easy to become purely formal, on the one hand, and to insist that learning is its own excuse for being; that the idea of use degrades culture; and that the state can well afford to support an institution devoted to the purposes of learning, whether that learning have any actual relationship to the life and problems of the state or not. On the other hand, it is almost as easy to take a purely utilitarian view of such an institution and to assert that any sort of activity that can call itself service to the people is worth doing, and that any sort of development of learning in the abstract is a waste of the state's resources.

Neither of these two tendencies must be permitted to become dominant. Each is an extreme from which the institution must be saved. Formal culture is not a democratic ideal; neither is a purely utilitarian "service to the state" taken by itself. The former becomes aristocratic and unsocial; the latter becomes inane, futile, useless. How can the state university maintain both these ideals, the one, of learning, the other, of service, at the same time? How can it make sure that these two ideals shall mutually nourish, criticize and develop each other?

In the first place there should be a board of control, made up of representatives of the people, who have a real interest in the development of such a completely democratic institution. This board should be inclusive of the whole social life of the state—industrial, professional, commercial, cultural—and in addition they should have some comprehension of the inner meanings of education. That is to say, they should be men and women who realize that the world moves on, and that education is central in that movement.

They should have, for their services as representatives of the people in the control of the state's highest institutions of learning, a broadly social conception of education, and an understanding of the power of truth, a real love of truth, and a belief in the growth of truth in the life of the individual and the state.

There should be also on this board of control at least one member, man or woman, who understands something about the scientific nature of educational methods and processes, so that the board will be able to determine, by its own intelligence, whether the work of the university is being well done or not.

The members should be able to form for themselves a great working conception of the purposes of a state university and a general working program for such an institution. Such a conception will rightly gather around some such ideal as the following: A state university is a group of men and women of all degrees of general development, from the boys and girls just in from high school, to the mature men and women who may be leaders of the thought and action of the state. Whether young or old, these members of the university should all be students—seekers after truth, sincerely interested in life and its problems. But first of all they should be real men and women, real citizens of the state, and real members of society.

At the lower fringe of the group they may be primarily learners, at the upper fringe primarily teachers; but, both above and below, and especially in the great central main mass of the group there should be a natural and healthy mingling of the two attitudes. That is, they should be students, who are learning and teaching, and teachers who are instructing and learning.

So, all in all, a state university should be a group of men and women who are trained, and are in training, for service in the actual life and problems of the state; who are becoming intelligent in their work, and who are preparing to help the state solve its present and future problems, as true state's men and state's women, servants of the commonwealth and leaders in the constructive, democratic life of the state. And if they are not of this type, then there is no real reason why they should be members of the university, as teachers; and if they can not reach this point of view, there is no real reason why they should remain as students.

There should be, as president of the university, a man of broadly democratic and social intelligence, interested in all aspects of education and capable of understanding the meaning of democratic service for the state. The executive attitude and interests should be profoundly public, civic, social. In no sense should the executive feel a personal ownership in the university; but he should have a sense of personal responsibility, that the university must be administered in such ways that the present democratic aspirations of the state for a larger life may be met and the future democratic life of the commonwealth may be provided.

For these reasons one of the executive's chief characteristics should be his ability to appreciate men and his willingness to judge of the worth of men for membership in the university, either as teachers or as students, by the promise that they show of ability to contribute something constructive to the progress of democracy. At the present time, in many schools, the efficiency of strong men is lessened by the petty tyrannies of executive control and by undemocratic forms of domineering authority which serve no purpose save the satisfaction of the petty tyrant involved. The president should see to it that the strong men and women of the university faculty are given broad freedom to work, both within and without the university, at those constructive programs which they are prepared to offer. The president's real service to the university and the state is not in his own exaltation; but only in his securing to the university a field for broadly social educational work, and in his securing teachers of the right sort to occupy this field. There are men in every university who have these broadest ideals of social scholarship, "learning at work in the service of the state," who need to have larger freedom for their work.

Such a president will, however, scarcely ever be chosen by a board of control acting independently. As a matter of fact a democratic organization of the university would demand that the people of the state, represented by the board of control, the faculty, represented by a committee elected by themselves, and the student body, represented by a committee chosen in the same way, should all have a share in the selection of the president. He is to be the representative of the people. He is to work with the faculty. He is to be a leader and an inspirer of the student body. How can he be all of these unless all of these interests have some share in his choice? The state might well pay any sum needed to secure such a man.

If we turn for a moment to a more definite discussion of the faculty, it should be said that a faculty for such an institution should be made up, mostly, of real teachers; that is, of men and women who are interested in teaching young men and women rather than in research work, and who have just enough of the research ideal to give them zest for their work and to keep them, intellectually, active and young.

There should be, undoubtedly, in each department a real research man, whose main function should be to stimulate the constant growth of the department along intellectual lines. But the faculty as a whole should be interested primarily in the social outcome of education rather than in the purely intellectual outcome. They should be trained teachers with the social point of view; that is, with a conception of truth as something that comes up out of the great social world and returns into the greater social world to make life more complete and worth while.

There should be no teaching of the younger members of the university by mere research men. The first contact of the freshman with the university should be with the broadest and sanest members of the faculty. That is to say, the faculty should be strong enough to be able to afford real teachers for the freshmen. There is more to be said with reference to the organization of the faculty and the university in general, but before proceeding to that a brief statement is necessary here about the student body.

The student body is, of course, the most important part of the university. The rest of the university exists for the sake of the student body. A university student body is always, under normal conditions, an inspiring body.

In turn, they should be constantly inspired. They should be so carefully looked over on their entrance to the university that the state may be perfectly assured that none is among them merely to waste time and squander the resources of the state and his own life.

And thus assured of their interests and their ability, the students should have some real share, some genuine control in the organization and life of the university. The university exists to minister to the growing life of the students. It should be used by them as a means to their education; and since education is a broadly social process, the university must recognize its broadly social meanings and organize itself, democratically, along all the lines that minister to, that support, that compel or nourish any element of democratic personality. The spirit of genuine cooperation and effectiveness should be apparent everywhere; and old-time aristocratic suspicions of the student body should be done away with. Real training for democratic living can come only through sharing real responsibility.

Let us now return to a more complete discussion of the organization of the university. The whole faculty, every member being present or accounted for, should come together daily for at least a week before the regular opening of the school term in the fall. Out of the incidental or special studies of the summer, the experiences in travel or investigation, or the broadening influences of reaction, every member of the faculty should have something valuable to suggest with reference to the growing problems of the institution and the necessary policies. He who has nothing to suggest as to policy should be regarded as only half a member of the faculty: teaching is not all of university life. Each member of the faculty should feel a share in the determination of policies. All suggestions should be presented in organized form, so stated to secure easy reference to appropriate committees.

These suggestions should be turned over, for analysis and recommendation, to the official committees of the faculty. There should be a large number of these and they should deal with all aspects of the scholastic and social life of the institution. The first few days of the faculty meetings may very well be given over to committee meetings of various kinds. Every member of the faculty should be a member of some official faculty committee, each thus being engaged in helping to work out the official policies of the institution. On the latter days of this week of meetings there should be regular meetings of the full faculty, every man present or accounted for, at which the constructive program of the university year shall be thoroughly considered.

All new suggestions should be carefully gone over in appropriate committees; all new problems considered in full; all the larger needs of the institution fully and freely discussed, both in committee meetings and in appropriate faculty meetings. The result of this week's work of individuals, faculties and committees should be, in the main, the determination of the general institutional policies for the year.

The regular faculty meetings should be for real discussion and deliberation; and it should be distinctly understood that the deliberations are worth something and that the decisions are to become the actual policies of the university, to be really administered by the officials of the institution, within the limits of the university's resources. A large university policy made up of suggestions offered freely by members of the faculty and worked out by the faculty itself in its own corporate meetings will command the loyalty and support of the faculty in a new way; and it will give some excuse for holding faculty meetings.

In addition to all these things, however, there should be a large number of voluntary committees, working with the organization and under general control of the university policy, having no authority to bind the university in any specific way, but simply helping in making the university policy successful. Every member of the faculty should be a member of some one of these voluntary committees. These opportunities for university service are unlimited; but there should be such voluntary committees on the following lines, at least:

1. Athletics: There should be in addition to the official committee on athletics a voluntary committee of fifteen or twenty members of the faculty loosely working together to secure a larger participation of the student body and faculty alike in athletics and physical education activities of all sorts. This committee should be composed of men and women interested in all forms of athletics and physical education, and it should work with class officers, with fraternities and: sororities, and all other sorts of organizations in developing a larger university attention to infra-university physical education, and especially outdoor sports. It is likely that this should be a faculty-student cooperative committee.

2. On social affairs and social life: One of the constant complaints made in the average university is with reference to the lack of interest on the part of the faculty in the social life of the student body; and it is a more or less disgraceful fact that a very large number of the university students and faculty as well have practically no part in what is ordinarily called the social life. A committee of cordially cooperating faculty-student membership could do very much towards minimizing some of the excesses of social life on the part of some and the unhealthy lack of social life on the part of others. Perhaps the most important part of the committee's work might be the interesting of faculty members in the actualities of the social life of the school. There should be no attempt, of course, to dictate in any sense at all, but only to cooperate in securing to every individual some normal exercise of his social instincts.

3. On student activities: Every student should take part in some non-scholastic enterprise about the school. At the present time some students have too many of these enterprises in their control, while others are probably just to that extent prevented from having any real share in the out-of-school interests of the student body. Such a committee, of course, could make itself officiously offensive, but a committee of teachers who had not enough tact to be helpful in matters of this kind certainly would be made up of men and women who have no business to be teaching. Such a committee should have a large membership and should be organized to help promote all phases of legitimate "student activity" in the university.

4. On religious and moral problems in the university: Our state universities are lacking in their provision for the larger religious and moral enterprises. Officially, perhaps, little can be done by the school; but a volunteer committee, working with student organizations, can do very much to save those organizations from becoming insipid and to secure to the student body some actual participation in the world's treasures of religious culture, and to help them find their vital relationship to the real work of the world along religious and moral lines.

5. On relationships with the state at large: Here is, perhaps, one of the most important opportunities for such volunteer committee work. The committee should be made up of a strong group of men and women who are vitally interested in the problems of the state. The committee might well be a sort of critical directorate and moral support for the university extension work. It should feel perfectly free to criticize that extension work when it does not seem to be getting proper results in its plans for the state; and it should not hesitate to present plans to the university as to its opportunities in relation to the state.

Doubtless there are other lines also in which volunteer committees of interested men and women could be of equal service to the university, to the student body, and to the state at large, but these are enough to illustrate the possibility involved.

The one point which needs to be made clear is this, that every member of the university faculty ought to have a chance to share in some real way in the determination of the policies of the university, and in shaping its integral social destiny. Otherwise, such members will either dry up into mere scholastic bean-pods in which their knowledge will rattle around, or else they will become disgusted with the bare formalities of the university and resign to go into work that offers larger opportunities for the use of real intelligence.

Complaint is often heard that faculty meetings are lifeless and dry. The reason is that the committee work of the average faculty is monopolized by a few members who take the attitude of dictators of policies, which the many are expected to follow; these being asked, at stated intervals, to come in from their scholastic duties to vote to confirm the determination of the makers of the policies. The arguments of committee members are usually dogmatic and dictatorial under this system, and the question of the non-committee members are usually scholastic and formal, for they have usually no interest in and little knowledge of the subject.

Now no man can be a real teacher in his class room, in the larger social sense demanded by our modern world, who has not had some share in determining the actual conditions and policies under which that class-room work is conducted. Every man worthy of being a teacher is worthy of having some part in determining the conditions under which he teaches. Every man worthy of having a position in a university at all has some intelligence with reference to the organization and the educational policy of such an institution. In so far as he has such intelligence the state is being defrauded if that intelligence is not called into use in helping to determine policies. Aristocratic conceptions of authority should not blind us to these facts.

Certainly there is nothing more anomalous in all our modern world than an undemocratic character in the very institutions which we boast of as being the training schools of democracy. How such undemocratic institutions fail to train for real democratic living is being shown in the fact of the all but complete failure of the school in relation to democratic living. Certainly the schools, and especially the university, ought to be able to work out processes of real democratic administration within themselves as the chief centers of democratic progress.

Such a plan, as proposed above, with all the corollaries implied but not expressed, is very possible of execution. Not only is it possible, but if our higher education is to be really for democracy, such organization must soon come to be. When it does come it will include much more than is set forth above. Among other things, it will include larger recognition of the fact that the student body is an integral and most important part of the university; and that in all questions affecting the real policy of the university the student body must have a chance to express its deliberate will in a democratic sort of way. But before that chance comes to the student body it is likely that the problem of the democratic participation by the faculty in the actual affairs of the university must be solved.

Doubtless, monarchical, arbitrary, undemocratic ways of doing things will remain longer in the schools than anywhere else, strange as that may seem. But doubtless, even in the schools, there will some time be found enough intelligence to bring to an end such undemocratic survivals from the time of absolute monarchies, and to a beginning the organization of education along lines that will make democracy the very atmosphere of life, in school, out of school, and in all the constructive years that follow school.